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The manifestation of spiritual gifts in Church history
The pronouncements of some anti-Pentecostal evangelicals on the subject of Divine healing and the gifts of the Holy Spirit has been totally dishonest. They dogmatically assert that the gifts of the Spirit were confined to apostolic times, in spite of massive historical evidence to the contrary. Both the Scriptures and Church history totally deny this dogma. Peter declared, and many Scriptures teach, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be in operation right up to the day when Christ comes to set up His kingdom. Acts.2v16-39. There is not one hint in the Scriptures that the “charismata” were only the temporary equipment of the early Church. This settles the matter for the Christian who believes in the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures. God’s promise to give His “charismata” to every thirsty Christian has been fulfilled throughout Church history.
J. Sidlow Baxter, on pages 56 to 59, of his fine book, “Divine Healing Of The Body,” proves, on all counts, that Warfield's statement that miracles ceased with the apostles is completely wrong. Baxter, quite rightly, gives credit to B.B. Warfield's scholarship in other areas of theology, but notes that in both the text and notes of his book, “Counterfeit Miracles,” Warfield does not once use any Scriptures to support his contention that Divine healing, and the other Christian miracles ceased with the death of the Apostles. Baxter writes: “We cannot but ask Why? - and the answer is patent, namely, that there is NO Scripture which can be cited either stating it or implying it.” End of quote. Warfield's departure from his normal practice of extensive Scripture proof, speaks volumes, and proves the totally untenable and invalid nature of his position.
Baxter then proves that the statement that the miraculous gifts were confined to the apostolic age, actually denies the facts and evidence of Church history, and makes liars of many of God's “mighty men of valour.” Any attempt to reject and discredit the testimonies to miracles by godly Church fathers, who suffered great persecution and even martyrdom for Christ, must automatically be discredited and rejected. Christians, who died for the truth, would certainly not lie about their experience of miracles. Warfield himself admits that these witnesses to miracles, were the outstanding Christian scholars, leaders, and theologians of their day. Warfield extols the greatness of Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine; and then rejects their testimony to miracles in the name of Jesus, as utterly mistaken. This shows a mind, which on this issue, is holding down the truth, and is closed to the facts; and is dominated by bigotry and prejudice. Great Christians like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and many more of the later ages of the Church, give an eyewitness account of miracles, and their testimonies cannot be dismissed. We have a right to challenge the integrity and historical honesty of the unbelieving critics, who challenge the miraculous facts that these godly Church fathers relate.
Bengel gives the reason why spiritual gifts were absent in his day in the following short note. “The reason why many miracles are not now wrought is not so much because faith is established, as that unbelief reigns.” One fears that it is the reign of unbelief in the hearts of theologians that causes them to state, against all the evidence to the contrary, that spiritual gifts were confined to the apostolic age. It is a striking fact of Church History, that when faith, holiness and prayer have been renewed, God has restored His gifts to His Church.
In a 79 page treatise, John Wesley totally refutes Dr. Middleton's statement that the supernatural powers of the Church had ceased with the apostolic age, it is one of the best defences of spiritual gifts that has been written. I shall now quote some witnesses from Church history that show spiritual gifts have been manifested through Church History in periods of revival.
JUSTIN MARTYR. A.D. 100 to 165.
In his first apology to Emperor Antonius Pius, Justin stated: “That the empire of spirits has been destroyed by Jesus you may even now convince yourselves by what is passing before your own eyes; for many of our people, of us Christians, have healed and still continue to heal in every part of the world, and even in your city (Rome) numbers possessed by evil spirits (are healed) such as could not be healed by other exorcists, simply by adjuring them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. There are prophetic gifts among us even until now. You may see with us both women and men having gifts from the Spirit of God.”
EUSEBIUS. The famous Church historian of Caesarea. A.D. 260 to 340.
IRENAEUS, The overseer of the Church at Lyons in France. A.D. 115? 125? to 202.
Eusebius puts the date of the martyrdom of Polycarp at A.D. 166, others at A.D. 156. We know that when Polycarp was asked to revile Christ by proconsul Quadratus, Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any wrong: how then can I revile my King and my Saviour?” Polycarp's presence was so infused with God that it awed his persecutors, but they were determined to kill him. This remarkable Christian was then burnt at the stake, and finally dispatched with a sword, because the fire had not killed him. This would, taking the date of Eusebius of Polycarp's death as A.D. 166, put the conversion of Polycarp at about A.D. 80; the earlier date would put it at about A.D. 70. Polycarp was obviously converted as a child, and had about 20 to 30 years contact with the apostle John.
Polycarp was instructed by apostles, including the apostle John, so Irenaeus could hardly have had a better tutor and example than Polycarp in his formative years; and that Polycarp trained him well in the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is proved by his writings. After his early years in Asia, Irenaeus then went to Lyons in France, first becoming a presbyter, and then the leading elder and overseer, when he succeeded Pothinus, who was martyred in the later persecutions under Marcus Aurelius in about A.D. 177. More peaceful times followed, and in about A.D. 180, Irenaeus wrote his five books “Against Heresies,” or as Eusebius calls them, “A Refutation and Overthrow of False Doctrine.” In his writings Irenaeus defends the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He writes in book 2: “Even among the brethren frequently in a case of necessity, when the whole church united in much fasting and prayer, the spirit has returned to the ex-animated body, and the man was granted to the prayers of the saints.”
And after some other observations he writes: “But if they say that our Lord also did these things only in appearance, we shall refer them back to the prophetic declarations, and shall show from them that all these things were strictly foretold, and were done by Him and that He alone is the Son of God. Wherefore, also, those who were truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, in His name performed these things for the benefit of the rest of men, as everyone received the free gift from Him. Some, indeed, most certainly and truly cast out demons, so that frequently those persons themselves were cleansed from wicked spirits, believed and were received into the Church. Others have the knowledge of things to come, as also visions and prophetic communications; others heal the sick by the imposition of hands, and restore them to health. And, moreover, as we said above, even the dead have been raised, and continued with us for many years. And why should we say more? It is impossible to tell the number of gifts which the Church throughout the world received from God, and the deeds performed in the name of Jesus Christ that was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and this to every day for the benefit of the heathen, without deceiving any, or exacting their money. For as she has received freely from God, she also ministers. Nor does she perform anything by means of angelic invocations or by incantations, or by any other wicked, curious art; but directing her prayers to the Lord who made all things, in a pure, sincere and straightforward spirit, and calling upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has been accustomed to work miracles for the advantage of mankind, and not to lead them into error. ---- The name of our Lord Jesus Christ EVEN NOW confers benefits, and cures thoroughly and effectually ALL who ANYWHERE believe on Him.”
In book 5 Irenaeus writes:” In like manner do we also hear many brethren in the Church who possess prophetic gifts, who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostles term spiritual.” End of quote.
TERTULLIAN. Of Carthage in North Africa. About A.D. 160 to 220.
Tertullian said that in the name of Jesus miracles had occurred throughout the Roman Empire, and had produced many converts in spite of the persecutions. He said in his time, about 200 A.D., that the Christians in a single province were more numerous than the Roman army. Some estimate that this means there were at least nine million Christians in the Roman Empire. Some historians say this estimate by Tertullian is conservative, they calculate that Christians comprised as many as one in six, or even one in five, of the population.
ORIGEN. A.D. 185 to 254.
ANTHONY. Of the Thebaid in Egypt. A.D. 251 to 356.
Anthony was born in A.D. 251 and died at the age of 105 in A.D. 356. He was a comparatively illiterate man, who rose to a great heights of spiritual wisdom and power, which was sustained by long periods of solitary communion with God. Anthony's spirituality made him of far more use to God than the highly educated churchmen of his day. In his earlier years, Anthony led such a rigorous ascetic life that his health was badly impaired and he almost died. He later realised that God requires a relationship of love more than anything else, however, he still kept up a disciplined life. Anthony was frequently used by God to heal the sick, but he always pointed people from himself to God, and said it was the work of God alone. Anthony inspired the rise of other monastic settlements; the largest being formed by Pachomius at Tabennae, an island on the Nile; when Athanasius visited it, 3,000 monks singing hymns and litanies greeted him.
The monasteries were centres of learning and scholarship, and some valuable work was done in them. Jerome spent many years in a cell at Bethlehem preparing for the translation of the Latin Vulgate; and Athanasius wrote his works against the Arians while hiding with Anthony and his monks in their monastery in the Thebaid desert. Many Christian leaders received their training in the monasteries. Unfortunately the monks often suffered mental breakdowns, partly through the heat, but mostly through loneliness; for though they lived in community, their ascetic lives and the solitude of their cells brought about morbid fears, hallucinations, and in some cases mental derangement and lunacy. The concentration upon their own spiritual improvement tended to produce the evils of spiritual pride and self-righteousness. Concern and care for other people's spiritual welfare is the way to true humility and spiritual growth.
The Historian Neander, wrote of Anthony: “He could easily have acquired the fame of being a worker of miracles, since many, particularly of those who were thought to be possessed of evil spirits, were indebted to his prayers and to the impression of tranquillity and peace which went forth from him.... But he pointed those who applied to him for help, or had been indebted to him for it, away from himself to God and Christ.... They were to know that the power of healing belonged neither to him nor to any other man, but was the work of God alone, who wrought it when and for whom He pleased.”
CHRYSOSTOM, THE GOLDEN MOUTHED. A.D. 345 to 407.
The Empress Eudoxia and worldly-minded clergy violently opposed Chrysostom. The charged him with being a follower of Origen, and he was banished from office; but was quickly recalled as an earthquake made Eudoxia fear. John soon offended the Empress again and he was banished to Cucusus, a village in the Tauros, on the borders of Cilicia and Armenia. John's great work continued, though isolated his fame spread far and wide, by letters and the planning of missions. Gibbon says, “Every tongue repeated the praises of his genius and virtue, and the respectful attention of the Christian world was fixed on a desert spot in the mountains of Tauros.” John's opponents were again moved with jealousy and anger, they got John banished to the wild and desolate region of Pityrus in Pontus. The journey killed John; he died at Comana, some distance short of his goal, on Sept. 14th. A.D. 407. Thirty years later Chrysostom's bones were brought to Constantinople in honour. Emperor Theodosius the younger, publicly asked God to forgive the sin of his parents, Theodosius and Eudoxia.
In his “Libra Contra Gentiles” Chrysostom states that the greater works promised by Jesus in Jn.14v12., were fulfilled in the Acts of the Apostles, and then goes on to record that even the opponents of the Church recognised the miracles happening in his time. Chrysostom writes: “But if anyone should assert that those were mere smoke and a fictitious wonder unworthy of credit, let us view those of the present day, which are calculated both to stop and to put to shame the blaspheming mouth, and to check the unbridled tongue. For throughout our whole inhabitable world there is not a country or nation or a city where these wonders are not commonly spoken of, which, if figments, would never have occasioned so much admiration. And you yourselves indeed could testify to this. For we have no need to receive confirmations from others of what we assert, seeing that you yourselves, our opponents, supply us therewith.” End of quote.
It is sad that some Christian scholars have less historical integrity and faith than these heathen opponents of the Church.
LACTANTIUS. Of Nicomedia. Approx. A.D. 307 Apologies.
AUGUSTINE. A.D. 354 to 430.
The simple structure and close fellowship based on homes, that had caused the Church to survive almost three hundred years of persecution, was replaced by financially demanding buildings and organisational structures; which carried little of the fire and love, which had been the norm in the home fellowships, during the centuries of persecution. The minds of Christians became diverted from Christ, the Head of the Church, to the institutional structure of the Church, and the constraint to conform became part of the civil law. Augustine started the Church down the road that ended with the horrors of the inquisition, he taught that Christians could be beaten and whipped to force them to stay in the religious organisation. The emphasis had passed from looking for a kingdom in heaven, to making a structure and kingdom in the style of men, which had influence on earth. There was a gradual replacement of New Testament power and truth and evangelical doctrines, with ecclesiastical structures and kingdom building. Scriptural conformity began more and more to be replaced by man-made traditions, and lacking the guidance of both a spiritual glow and the Scriptures, Christians became gullible and superstitious. Once a religious system and kingdom have been built, it becomes self-propagating, even when God has little to do with it.
In about A.D. 390, Augustine wrote the following in his treatise, “On The True Religion,” “For when the Catholic Church had been diffused and established through the whole world, those miracles were no longer permitted to continue in our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should be chilled by the customariness of the very things whose novelty had inflamed them.”
This was written about four or five years after Augustine's conversion, and it could be that the young convert accepted and quoted the views of some of the spiritual leaders around him. However, shortly before his death in A.D. 430, Augustine admitted that he had not told the truth, and in His work, “Retractions;” 1.13.7.; he retracted what he had written in, “On The True Religion,” and stated that even when he wrote it, he had known of a blind man being healed in Milan, and other miracles. What integrity! It was a good thing that he repented and decided to tell the truth. Some 37 years after writing, “On The True Religion,” Augustine wrote at length, in about A.D. 427, about miracles taking place in his day; he states in, “The City of God,” Book 22, chapter 8: “Even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ ... but they are not so brilliant and conspicuous as to cause them to be published with such glory as accompanied the former miracles.”
In other words miracles were still happening, but not in the abundance, or in the power of the early Church. Augustine goes on to tell of a miracle at Carthage; he relates how Innocentius, an ex-advocate of the deputy prefect was healed, in answer to fervent prayer, of an inflamed fistula; Augustine states it completely disappeared, “in my presence and under my own eyes.” Augustine then tells how a woman, who had an inoperable cancer of the breast, was told in a dream by the Lord to ask the first woman who came out of the baptistry at Easter to make the sign of Christ upon the cancer; the woman did as the Lord instructed her and was immediately healed. Augustine gives two cases of healing at baptism. He tells of a Doctor who was instantly and permanently healed of gout at baptism; and that “an old comedian of Curubis was cured at baptism, not only of paralysis but also of hernia.” Augustine continues recounting miracles and then states: “What am I to do? I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work that I cannot record all the miracles I know; and doubtless several of our adherents, when they read what I have narrated, will regret that I have omitted so many which they, as well as I, certainly know.”
This shows that even at the start of the spiritual decline in Augustine's day, miracles were still taking place. Healings by means of relics that Augustine and others relate, do have a question mark over them. However, the healing of two blind people through the bones of the martyrs, was witnessed by too many people to be rejected as false, and we should remember that Elisha’s bones raised a man from the dead; showing us that this kind of miracle, can and does take place. 2Kings.13v20,21. It is also difficult to rule out people being healed through water, when John's Gospel records that the first person who stepped into the pool of Bethesda, after an angel troubled the water, was healed of whatever disease they had. Jn.5v1-7. N.B. v4. Let us not limit the Holy One of Israel. Ps.78v41. However, healing by such means as Elisha's bones and the pool of Bethesda are the rare exception and not the rule, and are certainly not God's ideal method of working, but rather an indication of a state of unbelief. A person full of the Holy Spirit is God's best means of manifesting healing and the other gifts of the Spirit. Backsliding from God replaces personal faith, truth and Scripture patterns with superstition.
We will not consider here how Augustine corrupted Paul's theology, and the disastrous effects of his new theology on the doctrine and faith of the Church. We will just state, that Satan found it easy to corrupt Augustine's theology because of the bias to evil produced by his former licentious life, and his involvement and fascination with various false doctrines before he became a Christian; and also by his desire to obtain and retain influence and power for his church structure and himself.
A. J. GORDON.
THE ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA.
PHILIP SCHAFF. Historian
SOUER. The German Historian.
DR. HORACE BUSHNELL. In his "Nature and the Supernatural," writes on page 324:
THE REV. R. BOYD, D.D..
“When I (a Y.M.C.A. member) got to the rooms of the “Young Men's Christian Association” (Victoria Hall, London), I found the meetings 'on fire.' The young men were speaking with tongues, prophesying. What on earth did it mean? Only that Moody had been addressing them that afternoon! What manner of man is this? thought I, but still I did not give him my hand....Many of the clergy were so opposed to the movement that they turned their backs upon our poor, innocent “Young Men's Christian Association” for the part we took in the work; but afterwards when the flood-gates of Divine grace were opened, Sunderland, (near London), was taken by storm. I cannot describe Moody's great meeting: I can only say that the people of Sunderland warmly supported the movement, in spite of their local spiritual advisers.”
GENERAL WILLIAM BOOTH. Said of the miraculous gifts of the early Church:
MRS BAXTER. Of "Christian Herald" fame.
We thank God for the inspiration of God's saints in Church History who have manifested God's power and love through His mighty gifts. We could go on and give many other instances of the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Church History. Church History records that Pachomius, Thomas Walsh, John Welch, Charles Finney, Evan Roberts, and multitudes of others have known the blessing and inspiration of the gift of tongues, and other manifestations of the wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit.
THE MULTITUDES OF MODERN DAY MIRACLES.
2. Spiritual gifts and the baptism in the Spirit were communicated to others by Christians who were not apostles, as in Acts.9v10-19., when Ananias laid hands on Paul.
3. Those who have honestly examined Church History have found incontrovertible evidence to show that spiritual gifts and healings have continued throughout Church History, and have been manifested very powerfully in times of revival, when the Church has prayed diligently and expected God to fulfil His Word. Time would fail us to tell of the miracles that took place in answer to prayer in the experiences of Luther, the Waldenses, Moravians, Huguenots, Covenanters, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, and many others. People who would die, and did die, rather than lie; the shed blood of the martyrs, witnesses to the truth of their testimonies. There is an abundance of proof for those who have ears to hear, those who fail to hear have closed their ears to God. Mt.13v10-17. N.B. v15.
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