Saturday, October 26, 2013

Is this charismatic?

Cessationists frequently begin with definitions. They then stretch or shrink the data to fit their a priori definitions. Now I don't necessarily object to starting with definitions–although in my experience, cessationists don't really begin with Scripture or get their definitions from Scripture.

That said, it can also be good to start at the other end of the process. Begin with credible reports, then decide the best way to classify the phenomena. I'm going to quote some examples of what I consider some credible reports. I think they have prima facie credulity because the sources are credible. By that I mean, they come from credible witnesses, scholarly sources, or sometimes both.

The reader can decide how he thinks they should be classified. Are they miraculous? Prophetic? Charismatic? If you think they're consistent with cessationism, that's fine. If cessationism can accommodate this kind of phenomena, then cessationism and continuationism bleed into each other.

You can also reject all these reports. If so, you need to explain how your criteria ultimately differ from godless debunkers.

Only once do I remember hearing him [William Nobes] speak and that was truly an occasion to be remembered. It was at the Fellowship Meeting...[when] he told us the story of his conversion.

He said little about his early days...And then, with his youth behind him, when he was well on to middle age, he had a dream. The horror of that dream was real to him yet, and he managed, in the hush of that meeting, to involve us, too, in the horror of it. In his dream he was hanging over a flaming inferno, helpless and frantic. Above him and almost obstructing the opening of the pit was an enormous ball, like a great globe, and he found himself trying to climb up the roundness of this ball to get away from the heat of the flames below, and out into the clean, cool air above. Sometimes he would make two or three feet, sometimes more, at times only two or three inches.

Once he thought he had really got over the widest part of the ball, but in spite of all his efforts and his mounting fear and agony, the result was always the same–he would fail to keep his hold, fail to make another inch, fail to keep what ground he had gained, and in helpless weakness slide and slither back along that fearsome slope, to find himself back where he had started.

This seemed to go on for an eternity, and then at last, all hope gone, and hanging over the open jaws of hell, he looked up once more at the light above him and uttered one great despairing cry and there was a face in that light looking down at him, full of love and pity, and a hand reached down and grasped his, and drew him up out of all the horror below him and stood him on the firm sweet earth and in the pure clear air...From then on he walked before the Lord in love and thankfulness.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones, Memories of Sandfields (Banner of Trust 1983), 61-63.

A gentlewoman [i.e. Cotton Mather's late wife] whom I may do very well to keep alive in my memory, fell into grievous languishments wherein a pain of her breast and an excessive salivation were two circumstances that were become as insupportable unto her as they were incurable. She apprehended (in her sleep, no doubt) that a grave person appearing to her directed her, for the former symptom, to cut the warm wool from a living sheep and apply it warm unto the grieved part; for the latter symptom, to take a tankard of spring water, and therein over the fire dissolve an agreeable quantity of mastic and of gum-isinglass and now and then drink a little of this liquor to strengthen the glands. The experiment was made, and she found much advantage in it.

Selected Letters of Cotton Mather (Louisiana State University 1971), 116.

Even within a fortnight of my writing this, there was a physician who sojourned within a furlong of my own house. This physician, for three nights together, was miserably distressed with dreams of his being drowned. On the third of these nights his dreams were so troublesome, that he was cast into extreme sweats, by struggling under the imaginary water. With the sweats yet upon him, he came down from his chamber, telling the people of the family what it was that so discomposed him. Immediately there came in two friends that asked him to go a little way with them in a boat upon the water. He was at first afraid of gratifying the desire of his friends, because of his late presages. But it being a very calm time, he recollected himself. "Why should I mind my dreams or distrust the Divine Providence?" He went with them, and before night, by a thunderstorm suddenly coming up, they were all three of them drowned. I have just now inquired into the truth of what I have thus related; and I can assert it.

Magnalia Christi Americana (Banner of Truth 1979), 2:468.

John Sanford wrote of a dream his father experienced a week before his death. Sanford's father was dying of kidney failure:

In the dream he awakened in his living room. But then the room changed and he was back in his room in the old house in Vermont as a child. Again the room changed: to Connecticut (where he had his first job), to China (where he worked as a missionary), to Pennsylvania (where he often visited), to New Jersey, and then back to the living room. In each scene after China, his wife was present, in each instance being a different age in accordance with the time represented. Finally he sees himself lying on the couch back in the living room. His wife is descending the stairs and the doctor is in the room. The doctor says, "Oh, he's gone." Then, as the others fade in the dream, he sees the clock on the mantelpiece; the hands have been moving, but now they stop; as they stop, a window opens behind the mantelpiece clock and a bright light shines through. The opening widens into a door and the light becomes a brilliant path. He walks on the path of light and disappears.

K. Bulkeley & P. Bulkley, Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions (Beacon Press 2005), 64.

The present writer has a personal interest in the subject of religious visions, since he became a Christian as a result of a vision of Jesus. This occurred one winter afternoon when he was sixteen years old, during term time in a residential school. Sitting alone in my study, I saw a figure in white approach me, and I heard in my mind's ear the words, "Follow me." I knew that this was Jesus. How did I know? I have not the slightest idea. I had no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever–it had intentionally been kept from me. My parents were both Jewish–my father was president of his synagogue. I had never been to a church service. I had never read the New Testament. I had never discussed Christianity with my friends. The only manifestation of Christianity that I had witnessed was that a few boys knelt beside their bed to say their prayers at night in the dormitory. (Jews do not kneel to pray.) Apart from at school, all my friends and acquaintances were Jewish. I had been barmitzvahed at my synagogue, and at school I did not attend chapel or religious education lessons. Far from attending them, someone from outside the school came to give me lessons in Judaism. I had not been searching for a faith: indeed, I had even thought of becoming a rabbi. Yet I immediately recognized the figure I saw as Jesus. How I knew this, I have no idea. He was not a person who had crossed my conscious mind. (Naturally I do not know what happens in my unconscious, or it would not be unconscious.) In my vision, Jesus was clothed in white, although I cannot remember the nature of his clothes, nor yet his face, and I doubt if I ever knew them. I feel sure that if anyone had been present with a tape recorder or a camcorder, nothing would have registered.

It was certainly not caused by stress: I was in good health, a happy schoolboy with good friends, leading an enthusiastic life and keen on sport as well as work...Again, I am sure it was not wish fulfillment. I was (and still am) proud to be Jewish.

I cannot account for my vision of Jesus by any of the psychological or neurological explanations on offer. That does not prove that it was of divine origin, but my experience over the last sixty plus years of Christian life confirms my belief that it was.

H. Montefiore, The Paranormal: A Bishop Investigates (Upfront Publishing 2002), 234-35.

Close friends recently told me about Hilda (not her real name), a woman of their acquaintance who recently died of cancer at forty years of age. Hilda's parents have been involved in Christian ministry all of their lives, and her maternal grandparents were, too, while they were alive. Hilda's parents received three unusual telephone calls on the day after her death. One was from a city close to my own, where someone reported a dream in which Hilda's grandparents were seen in heaven with their arms outstretched welcoming someone whose identity they were not given. A second telephone call came from a family friend from Wales, where someone had a dream that was identical to that reported in the first call. Finally, a chaplain who occasionally visited Hilda phoned her parents, saying that he had dreamed that he met her in heaven and began to converse with her about her sufferings. He did not know that Hilda had just died. In the conversation, she dismissed her pain as insignificant in comparison with the joy she was experiencing. Hilda's parents do not think these three individuals had any contact with each other.

P. Wiebe, God and Other Spirits: Intimations of Transcendence in Christian Experience (Oxford 2004), 66-67.

I have had firsthand, incontrovertible experience of extrasensory perception, and a little precognition. But the experience I want to mention here is relevant to the matter of the resurrection.

Many of us who believe in what is technically known as the Communion of Saints, must have experienced the sense of nearness, for a fairly short time, of those whom we love soon after they have died. This has certainly, happened to me several times. But the late C. S. Lewis, whom I did not know very well, and had only seen in the flesh once, but with whom I had corresponded a fair amount, gave me an unusual experience. A few days after his death, while I was watching television, he "appeared" sitting in a chair a within a few feet of me, and spoke a few words which were particularly relevant to the difficult circumstances through which I was passing He was ruddier in complexion than ever, grinning all over his face and, as the old-fashioned saying has it, positively glowing with health. The interesting thing to me was that I had not been thinking about him at all. I was neither alarmed nor surprised nor to satisfy the Bishop of Woolwich, did I look up to see the hole in the ceiling that he might have have made on arrival. He was just there–"large as life and twice as natural"! A week later, this time when I was in bed reading before going to sleep, he appeared again, even more rosily radiant than before, and repeated to me the same message, which was very important to me at the time. I was a little puzzled by this, and I mentioned it to a certain saintly Bishop who was then living in retirement here in Dorset. His reply was, "My dear J..., this sort of thing is happening all the time."

J.B. Phillips, Ring of Truth (Harold Shaw Publishers 1989), 116-17.

Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, "Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut." In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, "Oh, I was praying you might come today." And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber's prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident. I have stood by the bedside of a woman [his wife] whose thighbone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriving colonies of the disease in many other bones, as well. It took three people to move her in bed. The doctors predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often know better), a few weeks. A good man: laid his hands on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking (uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man who took the last X-ray photos was saying, "These bones are as solid as rock. It's miraculous."

C.S. Lewis, The World's Last Night (Mariner Books 2002), 3-4.

He [Spurgeon] also mentioned the 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'."

The H.J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (American Baptist Publication Society 1878), 3:88-89.

While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I [Spurgeon] 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."

I [Spurgeon] 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.

The H.J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (Flemming H. Revell Co., 1899), 2:226-27.

Cessationists are correspondingly susceptible to the sins of the debunker. I am much less likely to get a cessationist to believe in a remarkable response to prayer than I would be able to get a charismatic to believe it.

Ferinstance. A number of years ago a good friend of ours was dying. When she finally passed away, Nancy and I were on the road (in Philadelphia). It was the middle of the night and we both woke up. Are you awake? Yeah, are you awake? How come? Beats me. A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was the news that our friend had gone to be with the Lord. Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, "She died. She is in Heaven." They found out later that she had in fact died that night.

Before her illness took its fatal form, before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself – my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone's interpretation; – that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having had no care after her mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might go to them.

John Ruskin, Praeterita: And, Dilecta (Borzoi Book, 2005), 63.

When I first came to America, thirty-one years ago. I crossed the Atlantic with the captain of a steamer who was one of the most devoted men I ever knew, and when we were off the banks of Newfoundland be said to me:

"Mr. Inglis, the last time I crossed here, five weeks ago, one of the most extraordinary things happened which, has completely revolutionized the whole of my Christian life. Up to that time I was one of your ordinary Christians. We had a man of God on board, George Muller, of Bristol. I had been on that bridge for twenty-two hours and never left it. I was startled by some one tapping me on the shoulder. It was George Muller: "'Captain, he said, 'I have come to tell you that I must be In Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' This was Wednesday.

"'It is impossible,' I said.

"'Very well, if your ship can't take me, God will find some other means of locomotion to take me. I have never broken an engagement in fifty seven years.'

"'I would willingly help you. How can I? I am helpless.'

"'Let us go down to the chart-room and pray.'

"I looked at that man of God, and I thought to myself, what lunatic asylum could that man have come from? I never heard of such a thing.

"'Mr. Muller,' I said, 'do you know how dense the fog is?'

"'No,' he replied, 'my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.'

"He got down on his knees and prayed one of the most simple prayers. I muttered to myself: 'That would suit a children's class where the children were not more than eight or nine years old.' The burden of his prayer was something like this: 'O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement you made for me in Quebec Saturday. I believe it is your will.'

"When he finished. I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. "First, you do not believe He will; and second. I believe He has. And there is no need whatever for you to pray about it.' I looked at him, and George Muller said.

"'Captain. I have known my Lord for forty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, captain, and open the door, and you will find the fog is gone.' I got up, and the fog was gone!

"You tell that to some people of a scientific turn of mind, and they will say, 'That is not according to natural laws.' No, it is according to spiritual laws. The God with whom we have to do is omnipotent. Hold on to God's omnipotence. Ask believingly. On Saturday afternoon, I may add, George Muller was there on time."

The Herald of Gospel Liberty (August 25, 1910), 1060.


  1. Great, Steve! Maybe I'll get those conversations with CS Lewis I've wanted, some day, after all.

    1. His social secretary (Angel Second Class) informs me that Lewis is all booked up, but I'll call in a few favors (the archangel Michael owes me) to get you bumped up to the head of the line.

  2. Here's a link to A.J. Gordon's recollection of a life changing dream he had. Here's the LINK. The blog also contains a link to a profoundly affecting dream John Newton had as well.