In Matthew 3:11 we find the following: “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 shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”
Does John mean that Christ would baptize them with two things or one — viz., the Holy Ghost under the similitude of fire? Did he mean that they should be baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire, personally or nationally?
He means he would baptize some of them with the Holy Spirit, the others with fire. The next sentence explains this fully: “And will gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” There were the two classes—one to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and gathered into the garner of God, the other to be baptized with fire, burned up with unquenchable fire.
There are two baptisms spoken of in Matthew 3:11. One is the baptism of the Spirit, the other of fire. John was speaking to a mixed multitude, and we are not to conclude, that the same would receive both. The apostles on Pentecost and the household of Cornelius were baptized in the Holy Spirit. All the wicked will be baptized in unquenchable fire in eternity. The passage in Peter regarding the filth of the flesh is evidently an allusion to the Jewish washings which were for cleansing the filth of the flesh. He had just declared, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us,” etc.; and then, lest his Jewish brethren should think baptism was for cleansing of the flesh also, he put in the explanation, “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh”—that is, not a mere fleshly washing, but an institution to affect the mind or conscience. The answer is, seeking of a good conscience. We have a clear conscience when we know we have obeyed God.
Elisha G. Sewell