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I. THE BAPTISM WITH FIRE
You will find the first of the three fires in Matthew iii. 11: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” That is the first of the three fires, the baptism with fire—what does it mean? Now we know what it means to be baptized with water—we have seen that—but what does it mean to be baptized with fire? You will get your answer by asking two things: first, what is fire said to do in the Bible? and, second, what happened to the Apostles at Pentecost when they were baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire?
1. The first thing that the Bible says that fire does is, fire reveals. In 1 Corinthians iii. 13, we read: “Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire!” And the first thing that a baptism with fire does is to reveal what a man really is, to show us to ourselves as God sees us. I remember the night before I preached that sermon, late on Saturday night after the sermon was all arranged, I got down and said, “Heavenly Father, I think I have a sermon for to-morrow night, but I don’t believe I have got that of which the sermon speaks. I am going to preach on the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire, and how can I preach on it if I have not had it? Now, in order that I may preach an honest sermon, baptize me with fire right now.” God heard the prayer, and the first thing that came to pass was that I had such a revelation of myself as I never had before in all my life. I had never dreamed that there was so much pride, so much vanity, so much personal ambition, so much downright meanness in my heart and life as I saw that night. And men and women., if you get a baptism with fire, I believe one of the first things that comes to you will be a revelation of yourself as God sees you. Is not that just what we need, a revelation of ourselves to-day that will spare us the awful humiliation of the revelation of self in that day when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ ?
2. The second thing that fire does is, fire refines, or purifies. In Malachi iii. 1-3, we are told of the purifying power of fire. There is nothing that purifies like fire. Water will not cleanse as fire does. Suppose I have a piece of gold, and there is some filth on the outside of it; how can I get it off? I can wash it off with water. But suppose the filth is inside it, how will you get it out? There is only one way: throw it into the fire. And, men and women, if the filth is on the outside it can be washed away with the water of the Word; but the trouble is that the filth is on the inside, and what we need is the fire of the Holy Ghost penetrating, into the innermost depths of our being, burning, burning, burning, cleansing. What a refining came to the apostles on the day of Pentecost! How full of self-seeking they had been up to the very last Supper! At the Last Supper, they had a dispute as to who should be the first in the Kingdom of Heaven, but after Pentecost they no longer thought of self, but of Christ. How weak and cowardly they had been right up to the crucifixion! They all forsook Him and fled, and Peter denied Him, at the accusation of a servant maid, with oaths and curses. But after the day of Pentecost, that time Peter that cursed and swore and denied Christ when the servant maid accused him of being a follower of Jesus, faced the very council that condemned Him, and said, “If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole, be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole.” Ah, friends, cleansing is a very slow process by ordinary methods, but a baptism with fire does marvels in a moment.
3. In the third place, the Bible teaches us that fire consumes. In Ezekiel xxiv. 11-13, we are told of the consuming power of fire, the fire of judgment that will consume the filth and dross of Jerusalem. And the baptism of fire consumes in fact it cleanses by consuming; it burns up all dross, all vanity, all self-righteousness, all personal ambition, all ungovernable temper.
We had once at the Bible Institute in Chicago, a young woman who was much that a Christian should not be. When we heard she was coming, all of us in authority thought she never ought to have come to the Bible Institute. I thought so when I heard she was coming, for I had known her in the school from which she came, and I knew she was one of the most unmanageable scholars they ever had in the school. She was stubborn, willful, proud, quick-tempered, boisterous loud, and pretty much everything a girl ought not to be. When I heard she was coming to the Bible Institute. I said, “So-and-so coming to the Bible Institute! What in the world does she want at the Bible Institute?” But her uncle was one of the best friends the Institute ever had, and so, out of consideration for her uncle, we admitted her. Now, we require of every student in that Bible Institute that some definite work to save the lost should go hand in hand with Bible study; for Bible study, unless it is accompanied with actual work for the salvation of souls, will dry up a man’s soul quicker than almost anything else. We required the young woman to go into the tenements, the homes of the poor and the outcast. One afternoon this girl had been visiting in Milton Avenue and Townsend Street, two of the poorest streets of Chicago. After a time she became very tired with climbing up and down the stairs, and going in and out of the filthy homes; and instead of returning to the Institute, she walked on in a very rebellious frame of mind, and went down to the Lake Shore Drive, the finest avenue in Chicago, along the shore of the lake. As she passed by those magnificent mansions there, she looked up at them with an eye that danced with pleasure, and said, “This is what I like. I have had enough of Milton Avenue; I have had enough of climbing stairs and going into tenements. This is what I like, and this is what I am going to have.” She came back to the Institute, and went straight to her room, still in a very bitter and rebellious frame of mind. The tea-bell rang before the battle was over, and she went to the table and took her place, and sat down, and there at the tea-table the fire of God fell right where that girl was sitting. She sprang from her seat and rushed over to a friend at the other table, and threw her arms around her, and exclaimed, “I am a volunteer for Africa!” and the fire of God in a moment burned, and burned, and burned, until that young woman was so changed, her actions were so changed, her views of life, her tastes, her ambitions, her very face was so changed in a moment, that when her old friends saw her and heard her they could hardly believe their own eyes and ears. Later on she went back to that same school down in Massachusetts, where had been such a hindrance, and with burning words poured out her heart to the girls there, and with mighty power led them to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.
Is not that what we need to-night, a fire that will burn up this pride of ours, this selfishness of ours, this vanity of ours, this worldliness of ours, burn up all these things that hinder the world from coming to Christ, because we make men think that Christianity is unreal? You women with unconverted husbands, is not that what you need, a baptism with fire, transforming your life and clothing it with beauty, so that your husband will say, “I must have what my wife has got?”
4. In the next place, fire illuminates. Oftentimes when in Chicago I look off towards the north-west of the city, suddenly I see the heavens lit up and then grow dark again, then they are illuminated once more and then darkened. The great foundry doors had been opened and shut, and opened and shut, and this light in the heavens was the glow from the furnaces. Fire illuminates, but no fire illuminates like “the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire.” When a man is baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire, truth that was dark to him before becomes instantly as bright as day; passages in the Bible that he could not understand before become as simple as A B C, and every page of God’s Holy Word glows with heavenly light. A baptism with fire will do more to take the infidelity and skepticism and false doctrine out of a man than any university education. How many a young fellow comes out of a theological education more than half an infidel, but the great day comes when that half-infidel preacher is baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire, and his doubts and his questionings and his criticisms go to the Winds. How many an untaught or half-taught man has so wonderful an acquaintance with the truth of God that men who are scholars sit at his feet with profound astonishment, because he has been illuminated with the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire!
Take the case of this girl again. I was away when the event I described happened, and the first thing I heard when I returned was what had taken place with her. I was going from the men’s side of the institute, and was passing between the church and the women’s end when this young girl turned into the gate and met me. She looked up into my face, and said, “Oh, Professor Torrey, have you heard?” “Yes, Jack, I have heard.” I said, and, by the way, that is an indication of her character that she should be called Jack; “I have heard what has happened,” and then she just began to pour out her soul. She fairly danced on the side-walk as she told me, and I knew for once what it meant to dance before the Lord! Then she closed about this way: “One of the best things about it is that the Bible is a new book. The Bible used to be just the stupidest book I ever read, and I didn’t believe it was the Word of God at all. I did believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, because your lectures compelled me. But The Bible was a stupid book. But oh, now God is showing me such wonderful things in the Bible.”
Now be honest. Are there not some of you to-night that profess to be Christians, to whom the Bible is a stupid book? If you would tell the honest truth, would you not rather read a novel than the Bible? You do read the Bible, because you think you ought to: but you get no enjoyment out of it. What you need is a baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire, and that would make the Bible a new book; glory would shine from every page.
5. The next thing that fire does is, fire makes warm, it makes to glow. You stand before a furnace door, behind which is a glowing fire. You have in your hand a bar of iron; it is cold, and black, and forbidding, and there is no beauty in it. But you take that cold, dark, forbidding bar of iron, and you open the furnace door and thrust it into the glowing fire. Soon it is warm, then it becomes red hot and glows with marvelous beauty, and you have the cold bar of iron glowing with fire. You and I are cold—oh, how cold we are! and the Lord Jesus takes us and He plunges us into the fire of the Holy Spirit. We begin to grow warm, and soon we glow, glow with love to God, glow with love to Christ, glow with love to the truth, glow with love for perishing souls. Men and women, the great need of the day is men and women on fire. Brethren, that is what we need in the pulpit, ministers on fire. What cold men most of us preachers are! Orthodox enough, it may be, and we present the most solemn truth with great force of reason and great beauty of rhetoric and most convincing eloquence; and our audiences sit there and admire our strong preaching, but they do not repent of their sins. Why not? Because we are not on fire. We convince the intellect, but we do not melt the heart. But put a minister who is on fire in the pulpit. Wesley was such a man, Whitefield was such a man; Charles G. Finney was such a man—put a man on fire in the pulpit, and the audience will melt. But we need that kind of people in the choir as well. What beautiful choirs we have nowadays. Why, they sing almost like angels, and people sit there admiring them but nobody is converted by their singing. But when we get a man on fire to sing, or a woman on fire to sing, or a choir on fire to sing, something is brought to pass. That is what we need in our Sunday School classes. We need a young man or a young woman to teach a Sunday School class, and they know the lesson capitally and study all the latest “helps,” and make the lesson tremendously interesting, but the boys and girls and men and women in their classes are not converted because the teachers are not on fire. Oh, men and women of London, the need in London more than anything else to-night is a baptism with fire on the minister, a baptism with fire on the elders, a baptism with fire on the deacons, a baptism with fire on the choir, a baptism with fire on the Sunday school teachers, a baptism with fire on the personal workers, and a baptism with fire upon the men and women in the congregation. We sang a hymn just now, praying that the fire of God might fall in Mildmay Conference Hall to-night. If it does, men and women, if it does, London will be shaken.
6. The next thing that fire does is, fire imparts energy. The men of science tell us that every form of energy can be transmuted into fire, and that given fire you can generate any form of force or energy. When a baptism with fire comes then comes power. That was the principal manifestation at Pentecost. The fire of God fell, and with the energy of that fire men went out from that upper room, and 3,000 people were converted. A man takes me to his factory. He says, “This machinery is the best in the world.” He takes me down into the engine-room, and says, “Look at that great engine, it is so many horse-power, and there is power in that engine to move every wheel in this great factory.” Then I go back to the factory and I look around. There is nothing doing at all. “It is very strange,” I say; “did you not tell me that this was the best machinery in the world for this purpose, and that that engine downstairs could move every wheel in the factory? Well, I notice the connections are all made, and everything is in gear, and the lever is carried the right way, but there is not a wheel moving in all the factory. What is the matter?” “Don’t you know?” he says. “Come downstairs, and I will show you,” and he takes me down again to the engine-room to the engine, and he throws open the door and says, “Look in there.” And lo! there is no fire in the fire-box. I go off to the railway. There is a great engine standing on the rails, and I am told it is the finest engine that was ever turned out from the locomotive works. It can drag a heavily freighted train up a hundred-foot grade. The engine has been coupled on to about half-a-dozen unloaded cars. I look at the engine and say, “What, did you tell me? Can it draw a heavily loaded train up a hundred-foot grade? Then will you please explain something to me? That engine has only six empty cars behind it, the coupling is made, the throttle is open, and yet it is not moving, and cannot pull a car, and yet you say it can pull a hundred. What is the matter?” I am taken on to the engine, and the door of the furnace is thrown open, and when I look in I see there is no fire in the fire-box. That is what is the matter.
Friends, I go into churches to-day, and oh, what beautiful organization I see, what magnificent architecture, what eloquent preaching I hear, what marvelous singing! And yet not a wheel in the whole institution moving for God. What is the matter? There is no fire in the fire-box. What we need today is the fire of God in the fire-box, and thank God the promise is “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire.”
7. One thing more about this fire—fire spreads; nothing spreads like fire. I remember hearing some years ago, before I went to live in Chicago, about an old Irish woman, who had a little shanty in the city, with a little shed back of it, in which she kept a cow. And one night she was milking her cow, and the cow suddenly kicked and knocked over her lantern. The lantern fell on a wisp of straw, which caught fire, and set the shed afire. The shed set the shanty afire, and the shanty next to it caught fire, and the shanty next to that, and the one next to that, and soon the fire leaped over the south branch of the Chicago river to the east side, and on and on it swept, and in forty-eight hours it had cleared an area of one mile wide and three miles long, and there were but two buildings left in all that section of Chicago. Fire spreads. If a fire is kindled here to-night it will sweep all over London, and all over Great Britain, and Ireland.
That night I spoke of at the beginning of my sermon, we had a stranger from London in Chicago, who came to hear me preach. He came downstairs in response to my invitation, and he told us, “I am just in Chicago to-day from London, and I want this baptism of fire;” and he got it. When he left the church he went to his room, and sat down and wrote a letter to the Bible class of which he was a member in London. The teacher read it to the class, and the fire of God came into that class, and in about two weeks after he had sent the letter he got word from London that the fire which fell in Chicago had been kindled in that church in London. Nothing spreads like fire. Do we not need the baptism with this fire to-night?
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