Dr. Vic Reasoner
John Fletcher wrote, “The power of God is frequently talked of, but rarely felt, and too often cried down under the despicable name of frames and feelings.” Today we would probably substitute the synonyms “moods and emotions” for “frames and feelings.” Edward Mote wrote,
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name
But early Methodists preached to the intellect, the will, and the emotions.
George Whitefield said, “If I had a mind to hinder the progress of the Gospel, and to establish the kingdom of darkness, I would go about telling people they might have the Spirit of God, and yet not feel it.”
A century later Daniel Steele opposed the Plymouth Brethren teaching on faith which he labeled as “antinomian.” Over the last hundred years this emphasis has become standard orthodoxy among dispensational and fundamental Baptist groups. Steele’s description sounds very modern although it was written in 1887.
They are exhorted to beware of looking for any changed feeling, that feeling is inconsistent with true faith….
This is the process of inculcating this kind of faith. The religious teacher sits down in the inquiry room, by the side of the seeker, opens his Bible at Romans 10:9, and reads: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” Do you confess that Jesus is your Lord? Yes. Do you believe that He arose from the dead? Yes. Well, praise the Lord, you are born again! You have found eternal life. But I do not experience any inward change. Never mind that; you are to believe without any feeling. If you look for feeling as the ground of your faith that you are now a child of God, you dishonor the Word. The Word says that you are saved, and you ought to believe the Bible. It is weak and childish to be looking for any change in your feelings. I strongly advise you to be baptized and join the Church. You have fulfilled the conditions of salvation. You are henceforth to count yourself a Christian, and by a resolved will to crush out all doubts respecting your conversion, whenever they arise. For they will arise. All true Christians have doubts of this kind. It is an evidence that they have a good hope in Christ. But, dear pastor, is this all there is in the new birth? I expected I should have unspeakable joy, arising from a sense of burning love. I thought I should be sure that I was saved by some inward impression by the Holy Ghost. Oh, says the pastor, you are not to expect a miraculous conversion. That kind is limited to the Apostolic age.
Steele concluded, “This is the kind of faith which multitudes of souls in utter spiritual barrenness are resting in for eternal life.” Is it any wonder that pentecostalism arose to offer subsequent experiences which would attempt to satisfy this rationalism? But while rationalistic evangelicalism suppressed the emotions and emotional pentecostalism suppressed the intellect, historic Methodism never divided heart and mind.
However, those who would attempt to link Mr. Wesley’s emphasis upon the conscience presence of God with the laughing phenomenon advocated by Rodney Howard-Browne and associated with the “Toronto Blessing” should consider these incidents in Wesley’s Journal:
Wesley recorded on January 28, 1739 that several of his friends went with him to a house where they met a woman who was connected with a movement of French Prophets. She went into convulsive motions and spoke a prophetic message. Wesley wrote that “Two or three of our company were much affected and believed she spoke by the Spirit of God. But this was in no wise clear to me. The motion might be either hysterical or artificial. And the same words any person of a good understanding and well versed in the Scriptures might have spoken. But I let the matter alone, knowing this, that ‘if it be not of God, it will come to nought.'”
However, Mr. Wesley did not have to wait long to observe the fruit of this movement. On June 22, 1739 he called on one who “did run well,” until he was hindered by “some of those called French Prophets.” Wesley concluded that these prophets were not sent by God and “earnestly exhorted all that followed after holiness to avoid as fire all who do not speak according ‘to the law and the testimony.'” That same day Mr. Wesley came to the Methodist society with the text from 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.”
He told them not to judge the Spirit on the basis on appearances, common report, or by their own inward feelings. “No, nor by any dreams, visions, or revelations supposed to be made to their souls, anymore than by their tears or any involuntary effects wrought upon their bodies.” Wesley declared the only certain test was “the law and the testimony,” a reference to Isaiah 8:20, which is a description of God’s Word.
On May 9, 1740 Mr. Wesley wrote, “I was a little surprised at some who were buffeted of Satan in an unusual manner, by such a spirit of laughter as they could in no wise resist, though it was pain and grief unto them.” In fact, John Wesley remembered an earlier incident when he and Charles could not stop laughing. But he did not attribute this phenomenon to the Holy Spirit.
In his Journal for May 21, 1740 Wesley recorded
In the evening such a spirit of laughter was among us that many were much offended…. One so violently and variously torn of the evil one did I never see before. Sometimes she laughed till almost strangled; then broke out into cursing and blaspheming; then stamped and struggled with incredible strength, so that four or five could scarce hold her…. At last she faintly called on Christ to help her. And the violence of her pangs ceased.
Most within the Methodist society believed “those under this strange temptation could not help it.” Two women, however, felt it could be controlled until they themselves were seized with this same spirit and laughed for two days. Again, Wesley did not promote this phenomenon as revival, but recorded that prayer was made for them and that they were “delivered in a moment.”
Wesley received a report of some congregations in Wales.
It is common in the congregations attended by Mr. William Williams and one or two other clergymen, after the preaching is over, for anyone that has a mind to give out a verse of an hymn. This they sing over and over with all their might, perhaps above thirty, yea, forty times. Meanwhile the bodies of two or three, sometimes ten or twelve, are violently agitated, and they leap up and down, in all manner of postures, frequently for hours together.
Mr. Wesley commented, “I think there needs no great penetration to understand this. They are honest, upright men, who really felt the love of God in their hearts. But they have little experience, either of the ways of God or the devices of Satan. So he serves himself of their simplicity, in order to wear them out and to bring a discredit on the work of God” (Journal, August 27, 1763).
Finally, Wesley recorded his dislike of fanaticism he had witnessed in his Journal on April 3, 1786.
Satan strive to push many of them to extravagance. This appears in several instances. (1) Frequently three of four, yea, ten or twelve, pray aloud all together. (2) Some of them, perhaps many, scream all together as loud as they possibly can. (3) some of them use improper, yea, indecent expressions in prayer. (4) Several drop down as dead and are as stiff as a corpse, but in awhile they start up and cry, Glory! Glory! perhaps twenty times together. Just so did the French Prophets, and very lately the Jumpers in Wales, bring the real work into contempt. Yet whenever we reprove them, it should be in the most mild and gentle manner possible.
In 1763 Dr. Thomas Rutherforth attacked the doctrine of the Methodists concerning inward feelings and assurances. Wesley responded to the charges in a letter to Dr. Rutherforth in 1768. Wesley declared in this letter that “a consciousness of being in the favour of God is the common privilege of Christians fearing God and working righteousness.” Yet Wesley did not reject human learning. He declared, “It is a fundamental principle with us, that to renounce reason is to renounce religion; that religion and reason go hand in hand, and that all irrational religion is false religion.” But Wesley contended for inward feelings, as well. On the basis of Scripture, Mr. Wesley argued that the fruit of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, are inwardly felt. Thus, early Methodism taught a faith grounded in the Word of God, but maintained a valid place for both reason and emotion.