Cessationism under the biblical spotlight...
By Philip Powell ( October 2000 ) - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
A BRIEF HISTORIC SURVEY
John Wesley (1703-1791), who with his brother Charles saw the start of the great world-wide Methodist movement was regularly in dispute with another minister called Conyers Middleton. In response to inquiries about the gift of tongues by Rev Dr Conyers Middleton, John Wesley (JW) said, "Sir, your memory fails you again: It has undoubtedly been pretended to [ie practised], and that at no great distance either from our time or country. It has been heard of more than once, no farther off than the valleys of Dauphiny. Nor is it yet fifty years ago since the Protestant inhabitants of those valleys so loudly pretended to [ie practised] this and other miraculous powers, as to give much disturbance to Paris itself... He who worketh as He will, may, with your good leave, give the gift of tongues, where he gives no other; and may see abundant reasons so to do, whether you and I see them or not."*29
On another occasion John Wesley preached, "It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian; and, from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby, heaped riches and power and honour upon the Christians in general, but in particular upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not, (as has been vulgarly supposed,) `because there was no more occasion for them,' because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause was, `the love of many,' almost of all Christians, so called, was `waxed cold.' The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his church, could hardly `find faith upon the earth'. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church; because the Christians were turned heathens again, and had only a dead form left."*30
Today (21/09/00), as I am writing this piece, I received a copy of Edmund Hamer Broadbent's (1861-1945) magnificent book THE PILGRIM CHURCH, which I first encountered when studying at the AoG Commonwealth Bible College (CBC) in Brisbane, (1957-1959), the city where we have just returned to live. It has been re-published by Gospel Folio Press, PO Box 2041, Grand Rapids, MI 49501, USA and contains a foreword by Dave Hunt. The enthralling record of the faithful remnant church as distinct from the structured (organised) false Christendom, which masquerades as the church, focuses on the persecutions not the incidents of supernaturalism of church history, but nonetheless the author provides convincing evidence of God at work through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Writing of Christ's declared intention for His church, the author records, "Each of these consists of those disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who, in the place where they live, gather together in His Name. To such the presence of the Lord in their midst is promised and the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given in different ways through all the members (Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 12:7).
Each of these churches stands in direct relationship to the Lord and draws its authority from Him and is responsible to Him (Revelations 2 and 3). There is no suggestion that one church should control another or that any organised union of churches should exist, but an intimate personal fellowship unites them (Acts 15:36).
The chief business of the churches is to make known throughout the world the gospel or glad tidings of salvation. This the Lord commanded before His ascension, promising to give the Holy Spirit as the power in which it should be accomplished (Acts 1:8).
Events in the history of the churches in the time of the Apostles have been selected and recorded in the Book of the Acts in such a way as to provide a permanent pattern for the churches. Departure from this pattern has had disastrous consequences, and all revival and restoration have been due to some return to the pattern and principles contained in the scriptures."*31
Elsewhere he writes, "The practice of founding churches where any, however few, believed, gave permanence to the work, and as each church was taught from the first its direct dependence on the Holy Spirit and responsibility to Christ, it became a centre for propagating the Word of Life." *32
"The growth of a clerical system under the domination of the bishops, who in turn were ruled by "metropolitans" controlling extensive territories, substituted a human organisation and religious forms for the power and working of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the scriptures in the separate churches."*33
"In Phrygia, Montanus *34 began to teach (156), he and those with him protesting against the prevailing laxity in the relations of the church to the world. Some among them claimed to have special manifestations of the Spirit, in particular two women, Prisca and Maxilla. The persecution ordered by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (177) quickened the expectation of the Lord's coming and the spiritual aspirations of the believers. The Montanists hoped to raise up congregations that should return to primitive piety, live as those waiting for the Lord's return and, especially, give to the Holy Spirit His rightful place in the church." *35
At this point we should acknowledge the possibility of bias and prejudice. I am reminded of the well known statement made by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis to the effect that we are all biased so we might as well choose the bias with which we are biased. We all read history in the light of our particular mindset. Montanists *36 are viewed by many as heretics, but as Broadbent shows there were several expressions of the movement both within and outside of the RCC. *37
There are only 16 sayings which are extant that are regarded as coming from Montanists. We are thus relying for our view of the movement as it was seen by its opponents. The only literature we really have on them comes from Eusebius of Caesarea and Epiphanius of Salamis. The indication is that the move-ment was erratic. The earliest group may have started in the Spirit and like so many present day Pentecostals and charismatics ended in the smoke of confusion and uncorrected excesses, which inevitably express themselves in false doctrine.
A Montanist group seems to have predicted the second coming, with the New Jerusalem descending on Phrygia, which presents us with another interesting parallel between what happened historically and what is happening today. Both the Montanists and the Revival Now people adopt false teaching about the End Times and the Return of Christ. Our only point in referring to the Montanists and to some other groups is to produce historic evidence for our basic biblical premise. We do not in any way endorse the excesses of Toronto and Pensacola, which undoubtedly parallel the heresies of some of the Montanists. There is nothing new under the sun.
IRENAEUS (AD 115-202), pupil of Poly-carp, who was a student of John the apostle wrote: "In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to the light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostles term spiritual." *38
JUSTIN MARTYR (AD 100-165) "It is possible now to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God."*39
TERTULLIAN (AD 160-220) invited the heretic Marcion, who was his contemporary, to produce among his followers anything similar to that which was evident among orthodox Christians. "Let him exhibit prophets such as have spoken, not by human sense but with the spirit of God, such as have predicted things to come, and have manifest the secrets of the heart; let him produce a psalm, a vision, a prayer, only let it be by the Spirit in an ecstasy, that is in a rapture, whenever an interpretation of tongues has occurred to him."*40
PACHOMIUS (AD 292-348). In his book LIVES OF THE SAINTS (1756) A Butler refers to Pachomius, who after seasons of prayer was able to speak, under the power of the Holy Spirit, the Greek and Latin languages, which he had never learned.*41
MARTIN LUTHER (AD 1483-1546) In a letter to one of his followers (1545) "When you depart lay your hands upon the man again and say, `These signs shall follow them that believe; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.'"
On the basis of the available evidence one is forced to the conclusion that throughout history there can be discovered incidents, remote at times, but nonetheless there, which prove beyond reasonable doubt that the supernatural manifestations of the power and presence of God through the gifts of the Spirit have occurred and recurred among God's people under God's providence.
THE COVENATERS AND PURITANS
Alexander Peden was a Scottish minister who was ejected in 1662. His farewell sermon lasted until midnight! He became a field preacher and had all sorts of experiences where he just escaped arrest through a prophetic word, which warned him of where to go or where not to go.
A strict cessationist would have some trouble with his biography.*42 The book is full of prophetic words, which happened to Peden all through his career.
Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a Christian Scottish writer in the seventeenth century, who saw no conflict between an authoritative bible and the Almighty God giving divine revelation to people outside of the bible. He records how this has happened through the history of the church:
"There is a revelation of some particular men, who have foretold things to come, even since the ceasing of the Canon of the Lord, as John Husse [John Hus], Wickeliefe [Wycliffe], Luther, have foretold things to come and they certainely fell out, and in our nation of Scotland, M. George Wishart foretold that Cardinall Beaton should not come out alive at the Gate of the Castle of St Andrews, but that he should dye a shamefull death, and he was hanged over the window that he did look out at, when he saw the man of God burnt, M. Knox prophesied of the hanging of the Lord of Grange, M. Ioh Davidson uttered prophecies, knowne to many of the kingdome, diverse Holy and mortified preachers in England have done the like..."*43
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) was the prominent Baptist preacher in England during the 19th century, who spoke of a "sermon at Exeter Hall in which he suddenly broke off from his subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said, `Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer'. At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room, which was used as a vestry, and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, `It's the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won't expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief'." *44
"On another occasion while he was preaching, Spurgeon said there was a man in the gallery who had a bottle of gin in his pocket. This not only startled the man in the gallery who had the gin, but it also led to his conversion."*45 Spurgeon gives further examples of his prophetic ministry:
"While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, `There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took nine pence, and there was four pence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for four pence!' A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, `Do you know Mr Spurgeon?' `Yes,' replied the man `I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and under his preaching, by God's grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place: Mr Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took nine pence the Sunday before, and that there was four pence profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul through him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.'"*46
How does Spurgeon explain this prophetic ministry?
"I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, `Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.' And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, `The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door.'"*47
"Speaking once at Essex University, I saw sitting in the front row a strange-looking girl with an odd expression on her face. Remembering an incident the previous night when a radical had tried to disrupt the lecture, I spoke on but also prayed silently that she would create no trouble. She remained quiet the whole evening but came up as soon as it was finished with a very troubled look and asked me what spell I had cast to keep her quiet. She told me she was part of a spiritist circle in the south of England and that the spirits had ordered her to travel to Essex, where she had never been before, to disrupt a series of lectures beginning that week. The curious sequel to this was that when I arrived back in Switzerland someone else in the community, far from a fanciful visionary, asked me what had happened in the Essex lectures. Praying for them one morning, she had seen in a vision, as real as waking reality, the lecture hall and the strange girl about to disrupt the meeting. Having prayed for her, she was convinced that nothing had happened, but she wondered if it was just her imagination. The presence of a Christian praying in the power of the Holy Spirit is always enough to render the occult inoperable."*48
19th and 20th CENTURIES
Contrary to what is generally perceived, modern Pentecostalism finds its roots not at the beginning of the 20th century at Azusa Street, Los Angeles but in the revival towards the end of the previous century. Men such as Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody and R.A. Torrey stirred the hearts of many towards God. There are reports particularly during the ministry of Moody of people speaking in tongues.*49For example the American evangelist in 1873 conducted a campaign in Sunderland, England. Robert Boyd was a journalist who visited the services and reported:
"When I got to the rooms of the YMCA I found the meeting on fire. The young men were speaking in tongues and prophesying. What on earth did it mean? Only that Moody had been addressing them that afternoon."
F B MYER comments on his visit to the Baltic provinces of Russia: "It is very remarkable at a time when the Lutheran Church of this land has lost its evangelistic fervour
. The gift of tongues is heard quite often in the meetings
In addition to these facts one has to take into account the impact of the Welsh revival of 1904 upon Pentecostalism. Jesse Penn Lewis classic WAR ON THE SAINTS points to excesses and the counterfeits, which seem to always accompany true revivals. But the thing about the early Pentecostals is that they quickly discerned the false. My late father told me how he stood against a man in Cardiff who sought platform position at their new Pentecostal church and how God showed him up as a spiritualist medium. One night God led Dad through the streets of Cardiff to a hall where the man in question was performing a séance. The early Pentecostals were people with discernment who quickly purged out the excesses and the counterfeit. Sadly this no longer applies in respect of many of their modern counterparts.
Classic Pentecostals agree with moderate Cessationists that some of the events associated with
Methodist minister Charles Parham and holiness preacher W J Seymour surrounding the Topeka bible college and Azusa stable revival in Los Angeles were not biblical. Where they differ is regarding the perceived impact of Parham and Seymour, who in reality had limited effect upon what happened in the eventual spread of the revival. In UK, Pentecostalism developed out of the Welsh revival not from Azusa Street. What occurred in Wales and later in England, Scotland and Ireland impacted upon Scandinavia, Europe and far away India and Australia with a feedback into the USA helping to bring a balance with a strong emphasis on biblical doctrine.
Corrie ten Boom (Born 1892 Amsterdam, Hollanddied on her 91st birthday in 1983 in the USA.*50
The Nazis sent this godly Dutch woman to a concentration camp for protecting Jews. She tells of an incredible supernatural happening in the prison:
"The Davitamon bottle was continuing to produce drops. It scarcely seemed possible, so small a bottle, so many doses a day. Now, in addition to Betsie, a dozen others on our pier were taking it. My instinct was always to hoard itBetsie was growing so very weak! But others were ill as well. It was hard to say no to eyes that burned with fever, hands that shook with chill. I tried to save it for the very weakestbut even these soon numbered fifteen, twenty, twenty-five...
"And still every time I tilted the little bottle, a drop appeared at the tip of the glass stopper. It just couldn't be! I held it up to the light, trying to see how much was left, but the dark brown glass was too thick to see through.
"`There was a woman in the bible,' Betsie said, `whose oil jar was never empty.' She turned to it in the book of Kings, the story of the poor widow of Zarephath who gave Elijah a room in her home: `The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah which he spoke by Elijah.'
"Well but wonderful things happened all through the bible. It was one thing to believe that such things were possible thousands of years ago, another to have it happen now, to us, this very day. And yet it happened, this day, and the next, and the next, until an awed little group of spectators stood around watching the drops fall onto the daily rations of bread."*51
However, as soon as more vitamins became available from the hospital, this supernatural source ceased. Corrie explains:
"That night, no matter how long I held it upside down, or how hard I shook it, not another drop appeared."*52
I feel that I have laboured the topic somewhat and yet at the same time sense that there are areas that have not been fully covered. Many on both sidesCessationists and Classic Pentecostalshave opposed the bizarre and strange displays and doctrines of what has been variously called The Toronto-Pensacola, Revival Now and River Revival movements. Some of us have stood shoulder to shoulder in our opposing the frightening ecumenical drift towards Rome. My purpose in writing this article is to try to build a bridge across which some will walk to join forces in our mutual efforts to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. You may not agree with me on all points, but what I have presented is honestly believed and I think it is biblically based. Further I think church history supports the view that I have presented.
Sola Scripturaand let us all recognise and remember, "It's not by might nor by power but by MY Spirit says the Lord".
God bless you.
Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3
*2929 John Wesley, "A Letter to the Reverend Doctor Conyers Middleton Occasioned by his late `Free Inquiry,'" in The Works of John Wesley (3rd. Edition, Complete and Unabridged), Vol. X, "Letters, Essays, Dialogs, Addresses. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1872 edition, reprinted 1978, p56.
*30 John Wesley, Sermon LXXXIX, "The More Excellent Way, " in The Works of John Wesley (3rd. Edition, Complete and Unabridged), Vol. VII, "2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th Series of Sermons." Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1872 edition, reprinted 1978, pp26-27.
*31 The Pilgrim Church _ page 26
*32 ibid _ page 27
*33 ibid _ page 32
*34 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Article, Montanus.
*35 The Pilgrim Church - page 35
*36 Dr Barry Chant of Tabor Bible College wrote to Philip Powell, "What Broadbent says of the Montanists is substantially correct. See FF Bruce, The Spreading Flame for some good evangelical stuff on them."
*37 The Pilgrim Church _ pages 35, 36 *38 Against Heresies, V:6:1
*39 Dialogue with Trypho, 82, 88
*40 Against Marcion _see also On The Soul, 9
*41 I have misplaced the exact reference to Pachomius and the following one to Martin Luther. Would one of our readers be able to assist me with the exact bibliography and quotes?
*42 Alexander Peden: The Prophet of the Covenant by John C. Johnston Mourne Missionary Trust, 1988
*43 Samuel Rutherford, A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist, Opening the Secrets of Familisme and Antinomianisme in the Antichristian Doctrine of John Saltmarsh... London: no pub., 1648, p42, in Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, p85.
*44 Susannah Spurgeon and Joseph Harrald (compiled by, rev. ed.), C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography: Vol. 2, The Full Harvest. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973, p60. I was alerted to this incident by Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, p89.
*45 F.Y. Fullerton, Charles H. Spurgeon. Chicago: Moody, 1966, p206, in Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, p89.
*46 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Autobiography of Charles Spurgeon (Vol 2). Curtin & Jenkins, 1899, pp226-227, in Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, pp89-90.
*47 Ibid, in Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, pp90-91.
*48 Os Guinness, The Dust of Death. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, p299.
*49 I have misplaced the exact reference to the ministry of Moody and tongues, but I think it was in Michael Harper's As At The Beginning. Would one of our readers be able to assist me with the exact bibliography and quotes? I have also misplaced references to the quotes below by Robert Boyd and F B Myer.
*50 "Heroes of History," at http://www.heroesofhistory. com/page59.html, spotted 26 October 2000.
*51 Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Hiding Place. Minneapolis, Minnesota: A Chosen Book (Special Crusade Edition), Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 1971, p202.
*52 Ibid., p203. I was alerted to this example of God's supernatural power available today by Jack Deere, Surprised by the Voice of God, pp87-88.
[ TOP ]
Appeared in Issue CETF 6.2 December 2000