The Promise Is
By R. A. Torrey
"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call"(Acts 2:39).
What is the "promise" to which Peter refers in this verse? Doubtless many of you know that there are two differing interpretations of this verse. One interpretation is that "the promise" of this verse is the promise of salvation and that the verse therefore sets forth the covenant privilege of believers to have their children saved. No one believes in the covenant privilege of believers to have their children saved more firmly than I do, but is that the meaning of this verse?
The other interpretation is that "the promise" of this verse is the promise of the "gift of," (or to put it in other words, "the baptism with") "the Holy Spirit." Which of these two interpretations is correct?
There are two laws of interpretation universally accepted by all rational, or really intelligent, interpreters of the Word. The first law is called "the law of the usus loquendi." The other law is "the law of context."
The law of the usus loquendi (or to use plain English, which is far better than Latin, "the law of usage"), is that when you find a word or phrase in the Bible and you wish to know exactly what it means, the thing to do is not to run for a dictionary to get the definition of the word or phrase, for the dictionary was not written by Bible scholars. The thing to do is to take your concordance and look up every place in the Bible where that word or phrase is used and interpret its meaning by its usage. The exact meaning of words is seldom determined by etymology; it is determined by usage.
What is the usage of this phrase, "the promise," in the Bible, especially what is the usage in this particular book in the Bible in which this verse is found? Turn back to Acts 1:4 and 5: "He charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, said He, ye heard from Me: for John indeed baptized with water: but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." What "the promise" is there we are not left to guess. We are told that "the promise" is "the promise" of being "baptized with the Holy Spirit."
Turn to Acts 2:33: "Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath poured forth this which ye see and hear." Here again we are told that "the promise of the Father" is "the promise of the Holy Spirit" which had just been poured forth on that very day when every one of the apostolic company had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. In other words the meaning of the expression is precisely the same here as it was in the first chapter.
Six verses further down we come to the verse we are now studying. Can anyone tell me any reasonable rule of interpretation by which this peculiar expression can mean one thing in Acts 1:4 and 5, precisely the same thing in the next place where it occurs, that is, Acts 2:33, and something entirely different in the next place where it occurs, only six verses further down?
Beyond any possible intelligent question, the phrase "the promise of the Father," in Acts 2:39, refers to the baptism with the Holy Spirit. The law of the usus loquendi, even if it stood alone would settle the question, but it does not stand alone.
The Law Of Context
Let us now apply the law of context. The law of context is this: That when you find a passage of Scripture of which there are two or more possible interpretations and you wish to know which one of the several different interpretations is the correct interpretation, you should look at the passage in its context, that is, in the light of what goes before it and in the light of what comes after it. Many a passage in the Bible, if it stood alone, might mean one, two, three, four or even more things. But standing where it does, it can mean but one of the two or more things.
Let us apply the law of context here. Let us read what goes immediately before--verse 38: "Peter said unto them, Repent ye and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him."
Here Peter in the preceding verse declares exactly what the promise is to which he refers. He says, "Ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him." The promise, then, is unmistakably the promise of the "gift of" (or to use the synonymous phrase, "the baptism with") "the Holy Spirit."
The two laws therefore agree, and they both determine, beyond the possibility of intelligent question, that the promise of Acts 2:39 is the promise of the gift of, or baptism with, the Holy Spirit. Let us then read the verse in the light of this settled fact: "For to you is the promise," that is, to the people whom he was addressing, who were for the most part Jews. Thus far there is nothing in it for you or me, for we were not there, and we are not Jews. But Peter did not stop there: "And to your children," that is, to the next generation of Jews, or if you will, to all coming generations of Jews, and that does not take many of us in.
But thank God, Peter did not stop there, but added, "And to all that are afar off." That does take us in, for we are the Gentiles who were "once afar off, but are now made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13). But lest there be any doubt about it, Peter does not stop even there, but adds: "Even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him" (R.V.); that is the call not merely to service, but the call to salvation.
We are thus here told in plain words, the meaning of which is unmistakable, that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is for every child of God, in every age of the Churchís history. The baptism with the Holy Spirit is the birthright of every believer in Jesus Christ. It is true that not every believer has claimed his birthright, but it is his, promised by God and provided by God, through a crucified, risen and ascended Savior, and if you have not claimed your birthright, it is your own fault, and you may claim it today....
Obligation to Be Baptized
This glorious truth has its solemn side. If each one of us may be--and beyond a question we may--baptized with the Holy Spirit, then there rests upon us the most solemn obligation to be thus baptized. It is not merely a matter of privilege; it is a matter of most solemn duty.
If you and I pay the price of this blessing it will be ours and souls will be won to Christ who will not be thus won if we do not pay the price and therefore do not obtain the blessing; and if we do not pay the price and therefore do not obtain the blessing, we shall be responsible before God for everyone that might have been saved who was not saved because we did not pay the price and therefore did not obtain the blessing.
I oftentimes tremble for myself and for others who are in the ministry. By the ministry I do not mean merely the ministry as ordinarily defined, as including only ordained ministers. I use it in the broader sense applying to all believers, for we are all called to minister the Gospel in some way. It may not be by preaching; it may be in quiet, humble, personal work. I say I tremble for myself and for my brethren in the ministry. Why? Because we are preaching error? Oh, no, I do not mean that now.
It is true there are many in these days who claim to be preaching the truth who are preaching in reality the most pernicious and destructive error, and I do tremble for them: I would rather take my chance before the bar of God as a bootlegger than to take my chance there as one who is called to preach the Gospel, but who, instead, was preaching error--damnable and destructive error. But that is not what I refer to now.
Do I mean that I tremble for those who are not preaching error, but are not preaching the truth? For you all know it is quite possible for a man never to preach a word of error and yet not preach the saving truth. There are many, many ministers nowadays from whose lips a heterodox word has never escaped, and yet they are not preaching the truth. They are preaching on all kinds of extraneous and unimportant questions....
But that is not what I mean now. What I mean is this: I tremble for those who are preaching the Gospel--preaching the Gospel in its simplicity, in its purity and in its fullness, but preaching it "with enticing words of manís wisdom," and not "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4). Oh, a man may preach the most sound and most able orthodoxy and preach his audience right into hell! The deadest thing on earth is dead orthodoxy!
It is not enough that we preach the Gospel, not enough that we preach it in its simplicity, its purity, its fullness, but we must preach it in the power of the Holy Spirit. We can do this only insofar as we are definitely baptized with the Holy Spirit and insofar as we are definitely filled again and again with His glorious power for each new emergency of Christian service. I repeat again, if we pay the price of this blessing and are therefore baptized with the Holy Spirit and filled again and again with His divine power as we preach, there will be souls won to Christ through our ministry, whether it be through the ministry of public preaching or the ministry of personal work, who will not be thus won if we do not pay the price and therefore do not obtain the blessing, and therefore if we do not pay the price of this blessing and consequently do not obtain it, we shall be responsible before God for every one who might have been saved but who was not saved because we did not pay the price and therefore did not obtain the blessing. We must be, we must be, we must be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
From The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does by Dr. R. A. Torrey. To read more about the Holy Spirit and how to be filled with the Holy Spirit, ask for this book in magazine format when you send your gift this month.