Thursday, July 05, 2012

Dreams and visions

But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:
"Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:

"'And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.'"
(Acts 2:14-17)

I. Exegesis

  1. What should contemporary Christians expect from this passage? Before attempting to answer that question, we have to do some exegesis. i) For general background on dreams in the ancient world, and some modern counterparts, cf. F. Bovon, "These Christians Who Dream: The Authority of Dreams in the First Centuries of Christianity," Studies in Early Christianity (Baker 2005), chap. 11; C. Keener, Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, vol. 2 (Baker 2011), Appendix E; "Excursus: Dreams and Visions (2:17)," Acts: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker 2012), 1:911-19; S. Noegel, "Dreams and Dream Interpreters in Mesopotamia and in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)," K. Bulkeley, ed. Dreams: A Reader on the Religious, Cultural, and Psychological Dimensions of Dreaming (Palgrave 2001), chap. 3; S. Noegel, Nocturnal Ciphers: The Allusive Language of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (AOS 2007).
    ii) In this passage, dreams and visions are minimally a subset of prophecy. So it’s referring to prophetic dreams and visions. Revelatory dreams and visions.
    This raises the question of whether dreams and visions are epexegetical of prophecy. Are dreams and visions a special case of prophecy? Is prophecy a general category that includes dreams and visions, but covers additional phenomena? Or is "prophecy" employed here as a synonym for dreams and visions? Is prophecy identical with dreams and visions? We probably can’t answer that question from this passage alone.
    iii) The distinction between dreams and visions is somewhat rhetorical–a feature of Hebrew parallelism. So these aren’t necessarily distinct phenomena.
    At the same time, parallelism doesn’t mean the parallel terms are strictly synonymous. They may be analogous rather than synonymous. They have enough in common to plug into the rhetorical framework.
    iv) There’s a potential distinction between dreams and visions–where dreams take place at night, when the seer is asleep, while visions take place during the day, when the recipient is awake or in a trance. That’s a conceptual rather than a semantic distinction.
    v) Whether or not visionary revelation involves an altered state of consciousness depends on whether we’re dealing with objective or subjective visions.
    vi) The distribution of "visions" to young men and "dreams" to old men is a rhetorical device (iii).
    vii) The passage contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant. Under the old covenant, visionary revelation was generally confined to a special class of seers or prophets, in distinction to ordinary Jews. But according to this passage, the scope of prophecy or visionary revelation will be extended to God’s people generally.
    viii) "All flesh" isn’t necessarily universal. It may be idiomatic or hyperbolic. Indeed, in context, it’s obviously confined to God’s people, and not to pagans or unbelievers (Cf. Num 11:29). Rather, the universal quantifier is a way of saying this applies without respect to race, ethnicity, gender, or social class.
    At the same time, oracular dreams can come to pagans as well as believers (e.g. Abimelech, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Pilate’s wife).
    xi) Pentecost is not an isolated incident. Examples of prophecy, dreams, and visions cycle through the rest of Acts (7:55-56; 9:3-12; 10:3,9-19; 11:5-10; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 27:23-24).
    x) Not every Christian in Acts is a seer or prophet. So that implicitly delimits the scope of the prophecy.
    xi) This raises other theoretical distinctions. According to one theoretical distinction there’d be a subset of Christians who are seers or prophets. According to another theoretical distinction, all Christians are potential recipients of prophecy, and/or oracular dreams and visions, but that potential is only realized for some Christians some of the time–on a need to know basis.
    In other words, some or many Christians might go their whole life without experiencing anything out of the ordinary in this regard. Other Christians might experience something like this rarely, occasionally, or once in lifetime.
    On this view, no Christian would be a seer or prophet in the sense of receiving prophecies, and/or oracular dreams and visions on a regular basis. Rather, it would range along a continuum. Be person-variable. Depending on exigent circumstances.
    Right now I’m not saying which model is correct (although I incline to the latter). I’m just blocking out different theoretical possibilities. The rest of Acts might clarify the necessary distinctions.
    xii) I also think it’s unnecessary to nail it down. This is not a command. This is not something we do. Rather, this is something done to us. It depends entirely on God’s initiative.
    We don’t have to predict the frequency. That’s out of our hands.
  2. Richard Gaffin defends a cessationist interpretation:
    Peter’s apostolic gloss on Joel’s universal apocalyptic vision, "and they will prophecy" (Acts 2:18), cannot find its fulfillment in the restrictively distributed gift of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Rather...It is best understood in terms of the anointing of 1 Jn 2:20,27. This anointing with the Spirit, John says, is true of all believers, and such that "you do not need anyone to teach you" (cf. Heb 5:12). These words, in turn, echo the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy... (Jer 31:34).
    W. Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (Zondervan 1996), 291.
    i) I agree with Gaffin that the wording of Acts 2:17-18 doesn’t map directly onto 1 Cor 12-14. But then, why should it? The phraseology is suited Joel’s situation and genre, then recontextualized by Peter. We must make allowances for different modes of communication, audience adaptation, literary genre, &c.
    ii) In addition, 1 Cor 12-14 isn’t my immediate concern. How that meshes with 1 Cor 12-14 isn’t my immediate concern. I’m just considering the passage on its own terms.
    iii) It’s a hermeneutical misstep to use 1 John to interpret Acts. Why assume they’re talking about the same thing? You have to exegete Acts 2:17-18 in light of Acts. In light of Luke’s narrative strategy, literary allusions, &c.
    iv) Apropos (iii), Luke illustrates what is meant by subsequent examples (7:55-56; 9:3-12; 10:3,9-19; 11:5-10; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 27:23-24). These are not equivalent to the Johannine anointing. Gaffin is conflating different categories.
    v) Gaffin stresses the definitive character of Pentecost. And that’s no doubt a turning point in redemptive history. However, a turning point is not the end-point, but a new direction towards our destination. It brings us closer to the destination.
    The uniqueness of Pentecost doesn’t foreclose the occurrence of other signs and wonders, dreams and visions in the remainder of the narrative.
    In fairness to Gaffin, he’s responding to a second-blessing theology, and there I agree with him.

II. Experience
i) Responsible Christians normally frown on using experience to interpret Scripture. Rather, we should use Scripture to interpret experience.
And that’s generally sound. However, depending on the passage of Scripture, certain interpretations predict for certain experiences. If a particular passage is taken to be prophetic or promissory, then one way of testing the interpretation is to see if the predicted experience transpires.
If, say, you interpret Acts 2:17-18 to mean many, most, or all Christians will be seers or prophets, and if that doesn’t pan out, then experience counters your interpretation. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to experience in that case, for the nature of your interpretation carries observable consequences.
Of course, that cuts both ways. If experience can disconfirm your interpretation, it can also confirm your interpretation. At least tentatively.
To take a comparison, a classic test of prophecy is whether or not the prophecy comes true (Deut 18:22). To some extent, fulfillment or nonfulfillment is interpretive. (At the same time, interpreting ancient oracles is not without uncertainties.)
ii) Many passages of Scripture aren’t prophetic or promissory, so experience is hermeneutically irrelevant in those instances.
III. Types of dreams
There are different types of dreams:
i) Ordinary dreams
Ordinary dreams are the immediate product of the dreamer’s imagination. They incorporate elements from his experience, along with fictitious elements.
There’s a sense in which even ordinary dreams are revelatory. Revelatory in the way that natural or general revelation is revelatory. Ordinary dreams are a subdivision of general revelation. All dreams have their ultimate origin in divine agency. In that respect, all dreams, like nature and history, reflect the nature of God. But ordinary dreams have no directional value. They provide no guidance.
ii) Lucid dreams
Lucid dreams occupy a borderland between consciousness and unconsciousness. The lucid dreamer is consciously dreaming while he’s still asleep.
iii) Oracular dreams
We find many paradigmatic examples in Scripture. These are revelatory in the higher sense of special revelation. They are not the product of the dreamer’s imagination. Rather, they are divinely inspired.
They provide guidance. That may be precautionary (Mt 2:13,19-20; 27:19) or–more often–predictive.
Precautionary dreams are counterfactual. By forewarning the dreamer, the dreamer can avoid the danger.
IV. Interpreting dreams
i) Scripture cautions us against delusive dreams (e.g. Deut 13:1-5; Jer 23:25-28). This parallels the stock distinction between true and false prophecy.
ii) If you had a premonition, like a prescient dream, would you be in a position to know if it was prescient? You could know in retrospect if the dream was prescient. If it "came true," then it was prescient. But could you know ahead of time?
If you had a vision of the future, you wouldn’t necessarily know it was about the future. It would just be a scene of some place.
iii) In principle, a character within the dream could tell the dreamer if his dream was a presentiment of things to come (or something to avoid). But that raises another question. How do you know whether or not the character is just a figment of your imagination? You might know after the fact, if the dream comes true, but that’s the same conundrum.
iv) This, in turn, raises the question of whether we should ever act on our dreams. And that’s a risk assessment. What’s the cost/benefit analysis?
For instance, it would be very imprudent to sell your house or quit your job. If, on the other hand, it meant waiting for a different bus, taking a different route to work, catching a different plane, the inconvenience might be fairly trivial.
v) Dreams don’t have to be oracular to be edifying. Suppose you have a comforting dream about a loved one who died. After you awaken you can thank God for the dream and pray to God that the dream is a harbinger of the world to come. You’re not assuming that the dream is significant. Rather, you’re praying about the dream.
Indeed, it’s possible to turn this into a devotional cycle, where you dream about what you pray about, then pray about what you dream about. A supplementary source of hope and encouragement, resting on prayerful dreams.
Prayer is a source of hope. We can pray for what we hope for, and hope for what we pray for. Prayer bolsters hope.
vi) Some Christians construe Acts 2:17-18 in cessationist terms to forestall abuses or excesses. But that defensive strategy is like a pebble holding back a boulder. If the pebble gives way, the boulder will come tumbling down the hillside and crush the cottage at the foot of the hill. That’s a very precarious defensive strategy. Only a pebble stands between you and the boulder. Remove the pebble and the bolder is unstoppable.
That, of itself, is not a reason to question a cessationist interpretation of Acts 2:17-18–which is primarily a question of sound exegesis
My point is that if the chief recommendation for that interpretation is apologetic, is a first strike to preempt abuse, then one good counterexample leaves you defenseless against the very thing you fear.
If we vacate the field, then by process of self-elimination, we leave the field to some of the least responsible spokesmen, viz. pop Pentecostals, psychics, New Agers. Fraud and abuse becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (pardon the pun).
It’s better to have criteria in place to anticipate contingencies. Criteria to evaluate dreams, rather than hoping the boulder won’t be dislodged and come rolling down the hill. Have a backup plan.
V. Examples

(1) 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.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(4) 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.

(5) 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.

(6) 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.

(7) Preachers and Christians in general had often come to me and I used to resist them and persecute them. When I was out in any town I got people to throw stones at Christian preachers. I would tear up the Bible and burn it when I got a chance.
I was faithful to my own religion, but I could not get any satisfaction or peace, though I performed all the ceremonies and rites of that religion. So I thought of leaving it all and committing suicide. Three days after I had burnt the Bible, I woke up about three o-clock in the morning, had my usual bath, and prayed, "O God, if there is a God, wilt thou show me the right way or I will kill myself." My intention was that, if I got no satisfaction, I would place my head upon the railway line when the 5 o’clock train passed by and kill myself.
I was praying and praying but got to answer; and I prayed for half an hour longer hoping to get peace. At 4:30 AM, I saw something of which I had no idea at all previously. In the room where I was praying I saw a great light. I thought the place was on fire. I looked round, but could find nothing. Then the thought came to me that this might be an answer that God had sent me. Then as I prayed and looked into the light, I saw the form of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I felt that a vision like this could not come out of my own imagination. I heard a voice saying in Hindustani, "How long will you persecute me? I have come to save you; you were praying to know the right way. Why do you not take it?" The thought then came to me, "Jesus Christ is not dead but living and it must be He Himself." So I fell at His feet and got this wonderful peace which I could not get anywhere else.

B. H. Streeter & A. J. Appasamy, The Message Of Sadhu Sundar Singh (MacMillan 1921), 6-7.

(8) 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.

(9) 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 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.

(10) 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'."
H. J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (American Baptist Publication Society 1878), 3:88-89.

(11) 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.'
H. J. Harrald, ed. Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon (Flemming H. Revell Co., 1899), 2:226-27.

(12) 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.

(13) 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.

(14) Even more important is what happened when, a few years after my own accident, another drunk driver plowed into the car of one of my dearest friends. Unlike me, she didn't survive. After a few weeks in a coma, she, along with her unborn child, went away. Less than a week after the funeral, however, she came back. I was awakened in the night to behold Barbara standing at the foot of my bed. She said nothing. She just stood there–beautiful, brightly luminous, intensely real. Her transfigured, triumphant presence, which lasted only a few moments, cheered me greatly. 
Then, one afternoon, several weeks after that, I was typing in my study, wholly focused on my work. Suddenly I sensed someone else in the room. The presence seemed to be located up, behind, and to my left. I understood immediately, I know not how, that it was Barbara. Unlike the first time, when I saw her and heard nothing, this time I heard her and saw nothing. She insisted that I visit her distraught husband as soon as possible. Overwhelmed by this urgent communication, I immediately picked up the phone. 

D. Allison, Night Comes (Erdmans, 2016), 14.


  1. "The distribution of “visions” to young men and “dreams” to old men is a rhetorical device (iii)."

    Steve's just making this up because he's stopped having visions and started dreaming a lot in his sleep. ;)

    Good post. It's definitely worth pondering!