The Early Years of the Tongues Movement
The Case of T. B. Barratt
I n Mr Donald Gees painstaking history "The
Pentecostal Movement" it is said on page 19, paragraph (d), that Truth must
honestly admit that there were scenes in the first rush of new spiritual
enthusiasm and experience that no reputable Christian worker would now seek to
defend or excuse...There were, let it be quite frankly admitted, some scenes of
indisputable fanaticism. At the beginning there were few leaders with
sufficient experience of just this type of movement who could lay their hand on
extremists without fear of quenching the Spirit. That phase, however, has long
since passed. Most of the early fanaticism in the Pentecostal Movement arose
from the utmost sincerity, and in the midst of many mistakes, hearts were
right, and therefore God was able steadily to bring things into a healthier
Upon this I can but remark that the clear impression made at the time on me, as a sympathetic observer, and endorsed by this present inquiry, is that the acknowledged fanaticism and regrettable excesses were the dominant and characteristic features of those days. Mr. Gee sets forth the experience of T. B. Barratt, of Christiania, Norway, as "typical of the experience of multitudes" (15), and as "a true and faithful account of similar emotions and manifestations that, in varying measure, have been enjoyed by many, many thousands all over thc world"; and he adds that "it is these facts of quite definite and vivid experience that constitute the solid core of the unique testimony of the Pentecostal Movement" (16). This is helpful, and I am sure it is true to fact, it enables us, on the authority of the, I think, most gifted teacher in the Movement, and its laborious historian, to learn at once what is "unique" and characteristic of the whole Movement.
From the point of view of the Movement, Mr. Barratts case at least was not one of the experiences "that no reputable Christian worker would seek to defend"; it was not an instance of "early fanaticism," but was a typical genuine example of the Movement. It occurred in its first year (1906) and was cited with approval as late as 1940, when Mr. Gees history ends. Mr. Barratt, while in New York, "received a wonderful baptism of the Holy Spirit on October 7th, 1906." Of this he gave his own vivid account as follows: In a letter in "Confidence" (Nov. 1912, p.260) Mr. Barratt said "Cleansing on the 30th September, mighty baptism eight days after, on 15th November the full Pentecost with tongues. Glory!"
The events now described were therefore on Nov. 15th, 1906. "I was filled with light and such a power that I began to shout as loud as I could in a foreign language. I must have spoken seven or eight languages to judge from the various sounds and forms of speech used. I stood erect at times, preaching in one foreign tongue after another, and I know from the strength of my voice that 10,000 might easily have heard all I said That night will never be forgotten by any who were there. Now and then, after a short pause, the words would rush forth like a cataract."
That this was accepted by the Movement as of God is shown by the facts that Mr. A. A. Boddy, of Sunderland, cited it in a tract, and that this was quoted freely in India, the organ of the Movement in that land. This account informs us that only fifteen persons were present, and adds, in Mr. Barratts words, these striking particulars "The power came so suddenly and powerfully that I lay on the floor speaking in tongues incessantly for some time. In fact, I kept on, mostly speaking in tongues, singing and praying with very little intermission until 4 oclock in the morning. [the power had fallen at 12.30 midnight.] It seemed as if an iron hand laid over my jaws. Both jaws and tongue were worked by this unseen power."
It is quite just that this be set forth as a typical experience of multitudes of other persons. Its essential features were common and characteristic, of which there is abundant testimony in "Confidence." Let us consider some of these features. The visitation, as described by its own subject. was marked by:
1. Terrific and wholly unedifying noise. This is the first feature that Mr. Barratt mentions. It has been one of the most marked and frequent facts in these experiences, individual and collective. Is it produced by the Spirit of God, or how is it caused? A quite small company of persons are together in a room. Suddenly a man starts to shout at the top of his voice. The stentorian tones could have been heard by ten thousand people. To what purpose was this in so small a group? Who was built up in soul by this excessive noise? But what is not unto spiritual building up is not allowable in a Christian gathering "Let all things be done unto edifying" (1 Cor. 14:26). In a meeting in Europe (not in this circle) one prayed in this alarming manner. I asked him if his heavenly Father were deaf that he roared thus in prayer. If Paul had given way like this he could not have written the chapter just quoted and concluded his exhortation with the command "Let all things be done decently and in order"(v. 40) Our Lord often preached to thousands, but it were irreverent to suppose that He roared at the top of His voice. On the contrary, He fulfilled the prophecy. "He will not cry, nor lift up His voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street." In that clear atmosphere there is no need to shout, and we may be sure He did not do so.
2. Falling to the ground and talking there, is another common feature of these experiences. But the New Testament does not show it as a feature of apostolic gatherings, but rather as exceptional. (I Cor. 14:24, 25).
3. Mr. Barratt said that he spoke in several foreign languages . No proof is offered that the sounds were languages. It was assumed to be so, as shown by his words, "to judge from the various sounds and forms of speech used." No one present seems to have understood these "languages" or to have testified on the point. This also is a most common feature of the Movement. It is not at all denied that at times languages have been spoken under inspiration; but in the vast majority of meetings and cases there seems to be no proof.
4. Yet if Mr. Barratt did speak actual languages, there was no interpretation, therefore no one was edified, and the exhibition was plainly contrary to the unequivocal prohibition "if there be no interpreter let him keep silence in the church" (1 Cor. 14:28). This too was constantly repeated in the meetings of the Movement.
5. A further feature specified by Mr. Barratt was extreme velocity of speech: "the words would rush forth like a cataract." Naturally they were not interpreted: one cannot well interpret a cataract. This is a most dangerous and well-marked feature of demon inspiration. I have myself heard it (apart from this Movement) when there was no doubt that its origin was evil. It also has been frequent in gatherings of the Movement.
6. This involves a further significant matter. The whole scene does indeed testify that Mr. Barratt was seized and moved by some extraneous power. The suddenness of the first outburst, the unreasonable deafening noise, the irresistible control of the jaws, the furious rapidity of speech, all testify that this good man was carried beyond himself. This again has been very frequent. We shall notice it further. It is contrary to apostolic direction. What a spectacle is here presented as being of God. A minister of the gospel lying on the floor hour after hour, talking incessantly, sometimes springing to his feet to shout abnormally. In ordinary life, should a usually normal person thus behave he would be thought demented.
7. The apostolic direction quoted was that one speaking by the Holy Spirit in a tongue, or prophesying, was to keep silence if there were no interpreter or should a revelation be made to another sitting by (1 Cor. 14:2830). This shows that the "gifted" person retained full control of the organs of speech and could speak or be silent at will. The Spirit of God does not suppress or supersede the natural faculties, though He employs and empowers them. In Mr. Barratts case this was entirely reversed. An iron hand seemed to seize his jaws and he could not but speak nor could he refrain from speaking. Self-control was suspended.
The first manifestations in England occurred in September, 1907, at the church of All Saints, Monkwearmouth, Sunderland, of which Mr. A. A. Boddy was vicar. He had been to Los Angeles, to Mukti, India, and had also seen the manifestations at Mr. Barratts, Christiania, and was seeking the like visitation at Sunderland. One of the first to receive there this so longed-for power described to me his experience. It corresponded closely to that of Mr. Barratt in New York. He specified these particulars of his own case and that of others. His jaws were suddenly gripped. He was compelled to speak and could neither resist nor restrain the utterance. For hours at a time the sounds would rush forth like a torrent. His voice became stentorian, though by nature he is quiet and gentle; and this was a marked feature even in but a small room with few present. It was taken for granted that he spoke in a language, though there was no interpretation, and no one understood, so that no one was edified. Persons frequently fell to the floor. This dear friend was moved to bring many into the like experience. Power passed from him to others. A Christian woman told me that, kneeling in a waiting meeting, someone passed by and put a hand upon her shoulder; immediately her whole body thrilled with powerful emotions. It was the brother in question who had touched her. Speaking in tongues followed, and she too told of the seizure of the jaws and the forced and uncontrollable utterance that rushed forth.
This abundantly confirms that T. B. Barratts experience was typical. It shows that the Movement in general needed to be tested as regards the source of the power that operated. That cannot be of God which is contrary to His instructions. Speaking with tongues, ravishing singing, exalted emotions are no final test of what spirit is acting, for demons confer these upon their votaries. Nor is it sufficient that, when out of these special hours, a person may be a zealous Christian. It is natural that when the ecstasy ceases a sincere lover of Christ should resume his usual testimony to Him. This last does not guarantee that the special visitations are from Him or endorsed by Him. With all soberness it may be said that the features specified by the subject of these experiences are unsupported by the New Testament, and that the features demanded by Scripture, such as decency, order, sobriety, self-control, with edification of others present, were absent.
The following excellent remarks are from a book enthusiastically supporting the Movement, Carl Brumbacks "What Meaneth This?" It is a recent work, dated 1946. On p.317 there is a section headed "Let all things be done decently and in order," and it is said The Holy Spirit never renders anyone incapable of self-control. "The spirits of the prophets arc subject to the prophets" (1 Cor. 14:32). He does not cause a believer to act in any way contrary to the Word which He has inspired. This means that all those who possess the gifts of the Spirit should acquaint themselves thoroughly with the Scriptural regulations for their manifestation, and seek to conform every manifestation of the gifts to them. There is no real bondage in obedience to these regulations, and no real liberty in casting them aside. If these sound principles had ruled as early as 1906, such experiences as those of T. B. Barratt would not have occurred, or occurring would have been recognized as not being of God.
Mr. Gee tells us that "Mr. Barratt sailed from New York on December 8th, 1906, and a great movement on Pentecostal lines began immediately he resumed his ministry in Norway." An interesting sidelight on this is given by one who had no aversion to stirring meetings, William Booth of the Salvation Army. Writing from Christiania only a month later (January 1907) he said Soldiers and ex-Soldiers Meeting Hall packed talked with some power Great expectations for a proper smash but alas! an old man broke out with a wild incoherent prayer and others in shouts of Hallelujah, and strange sounds which are supposed to be a visitation of the Holy Spirit...These things took attention away from what I was saying, and spoiled the result. Nevertheless, we had 74 out, many backsliders among them. It appears that two or three Corps are divided on this question of "tongues", and it will be a good thing if abiding evil does not ensue. (William Booth, Founder o/ the Salvation Army, ii. 374.)
Arthur Clibborn married the eldest daughter of William Booth of the Salvation Army, and took the name Booth-Clibborn. They had ten children, of whom William was the fifth. He believed that his grandfathers mantle fell on him. His father was the means of his conversion, which blessed circumstance ought to be far more frequent than it is. He was then twelve years of age, and for a time was a vigorous witness for his Saviour. Presently this zeal cooled, as is often the case with youthful converts. William has told his story in The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (Edition 1929; ed. 3, 1944). Stripped of its rhetoric and rhapsody the salient features are as follows.
At the close of November 1908, and therefore early in the Movement, the father took his son one Saturday evening from Westcliff-on-Sea, where they lived, to London. In the train he dealt solemnly with the lad about his "backsliding," the waning of his testimony as a Christian. The words took effect, and the boy reached the hall to which they were going much occupied with his own state. During a hymn a lady in front of him sat down weeping. A moment later she was speaking in a strange language. As his father knew eight languages and himself five, he thought they might understand her, but it was not so. Shortly she sank to her knees seemingly overwhelmed with grief, groaning and praying in that strange language. It occurred to William that this woman might possibly be praying for him, that God had placed his condition upon her heart, and she was bearing his burden in the Spirit (22, 23).
This was of course a purely subjective idea of his own, for she did not know him, nor did they know what she was saying. Then a man behind, who had been rejoicing and laughing in the Spirit, suddenly began to talk loudly in an unknown tongue. Interpretation followed, every word of which searched this boys heart and left him filled with dismay and shame. He says of the address that every word pierced his heart, and conviction tormented him (26). He arose and pushed his way to the aisle. Of his own accord he found a chair near the platform, knelt there oblivious of his surroundings, and wept and wept and still wept. He must have wept by that chair from ten oclock p.m. to one in the morning. His father had his hand on his shoulder and was praying with him. Finally the father definitely asked God to give the lad the comfort of Divine forgiveness, and quoted I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (27, 30).
The consciousness of pardon was granted. Deep conviction is good, but was it necessary that a mere boy should be tormented so long? Might not the blessed Spirit have gladly spoken peace sooner had those words of peace been spoken earlier? The account adds that it must have been past one oclock in the morning before he rose from his knees, and he says, "In the hollow of that chair I can still see the big pool of my tears" (30). Here evidently was one of those keenly emotional natures peculiarly susceptible to the powerful excitements incident to such a Movement. This is seen in an earlier picture of that night of distress. His father sat down beside him and endeavoured to appease his cries for forgiveness. He had completely forgotten his whereabouts, complained aloud of his condition and lamented his backsliding. He would not be comforted: "I put my arms around him and wept in his bosom. I said, Let me weep" (28) After this midnight of nervous tension he could hardly speak.
Of the hotel breakfast he scarcely partook, yet was feasting, as he says. They went early to a private house near London. It was Sunday. There was a morning service, the Lords Supper, a long talk with another lad who had received his "baptism," and an evening service followed: a pretty full day after a tiring night. The moment prayer was called he dropped to his knees and forgot himself and his whereabouts (36). Again a lady was prostrated upon her face before God, weeping and groaning, and again he could feel that her struggling intercession was for him. Presently he clapped his hands; from his inner being there poured forth a growing, rushing torrent of prayer-praise like a swollen mountain stream; there were fresh tears of bittersweet regret, followed by a flood of joy and he began to laugh and laugh and laugh until he cried for very joy (40, 41). He tells us that the noise he had been making pre-dominated in the meeting (43).
The leader of the gathering was an accredited missionary of the Movement and was on his way to Egypt to spread the fire. He laid his hands on the boys head and throat and prayed, and shortly he was singing in a beautiful language entirely foreign to him. His shouts and praises mingled with the most intoxicating laughter, and his tongue raced like "the pen of a ready writer" (Psa. 45:1). Heavenly angelic choirs gave the roar of a glorious diapason. He listened enthralled by those rhapsodies, whilst new rivers of burning tears flooded down his cheeks. Again and again he burst in renewed vigour to take up the angelic theme. His body tossed back and forth, sympathetically swinging to the peals of melodious thunder that coursed in rending, tearing crashes through him. He sung till it seemed his physical heart would stop. His uplifted arms kept beating time to the majestic tempo of that celestial song (47, 48).
Be it remembered that this is the ecstatic, exciting experience of a schoolboy of fifteen years, and this is his own description of it. In addition to the severe emotional tension of the preceding night and day, this occasion had lasted four and a half hours. Let the reader consider whether there is in the New Testament anything remotely resembling this as accompanying the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Movement has ever used Pentecost, Samaria and Ephesus (Acts 2; 8 10; 19) as the Scripture basis for their "baptism;" but those scriptures show an immediate bestowal of tongues with no previous prolonged and strenuous exercises of the above character, and no such extravagancies as shouting, weeping, singing, and uncontrollable, intoxicating laughter. It seems clear from his book that, neither at the time nor later, did the writer give thought to the fact of there being no New Testament parallel.
It is now well after midnight, nearly two in the morning, and someone told William that before retiring refreshments would be served in the next room. The dear friends solicitously helped him to his feet, still speaking in tongues. He says that he was drenched, wet from head to foot with perspiration and endless weeping, dishevelled, and reeling like one intoxicated, and thus he staggered to his place at table. Finally every one rose to retire, but he was so drunk with the Spirit that when he tried to ascend the stairs he could not succeed until he was assisted up. And he just lay in bed laughing irrepressibly. It is this poor bedraggled, dishevelled, exhausted boy who presents himself as a brilliant example of being baptized in the third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity! And his reeling, staggering, laughing, crying, singing, and shouting are declared to be results of the presence of Him who develops in us the high virtue of self-control (Gal. 5:22). And so profound and indelible was the impression that thirty-six years later it still dominated him and he issued the third edition of his book commending his early experience.
The next morning father and son went into the City (London). Picture the scene as the son gives it. The boy could not refrain from singing in the unknown tongue. His father begged him to tone down; but it was impossible: it seemed positively wrong to quench the Spirit! So his father told him to shut his eyes. like a blind man, and he would lead him and tell him when the pavement dropped or rose, so that he should not stumble. So he shut himself in with God (!) singing and talking in the new tongue to his hearts content. He tells us that many stood staring, wondering what on earth was affecting him, or possibly, he thinks, sad to see another victim of the liquor evil. But when two "bobbies" began to move towards them the father acted promptly. He hailed a taxi, dumped the boy in, and to the drivers inquiry, "Where?" he shouted: "Anywhere! never mind! go on! " The driver drove furiously, and they praised the Lord all the way to the next meeting, to which presently the father directed the driver. Would the inspired prophet add the comment, "This also cometh forth from Jehovah of hosts? " (Isa. 28:29).
Presently they went home, and the youth set himself to lead into the same experience every member of the household, brothers, sisters, governess, and others. In this he shortly succeeded. Meetings were held in the house nightly, with the heavenly singing, deliriums of tears, tongues, and prophesyings, which declared the approaching end of the age and described phases of the coming of our Lord in glory. Presently Mrs Booth-Clibborn came home was captured by the meetings kneeled in front of her own boy begged him to pray for her also lifted his hand on to her head and said "Lord give me this blessing too." Whether she was "baptized" the narrative does not say but it seems singular that Mr Booth-Clibborn did not share the baptism at that time nor for at least three years after, for it is stated in "Confidence" for June, 1911 that he declared that he would not be satisfied till he had done so. The meetings in the house would go on till the small hours of the morning, and the noise caused such consternation among the neighbours that a petition, signed by many, asked that the clamour should cease or be controlled. Even this did not raise in their minds the inquiry whether disturbing the neighbours by night could be pleasing to God, but quilts and blankets were fastened over the windows and doors and the "heavenly music" went on unabated.
The literature of the Movement mentions that the first person in England to receive the "baptism" was a Mrs. Price. This lady visited the family and confirmed that the work was of the Holy Spirit, and later she wrote a commendatory foreword to the book in question. But this only raises doubts as to her own spiritual discernment and wisdom Later father and son toured in Europe and saw such scenes repeated on a large scale. In view of the adverse judgment one has been obliged to form as to William Booth-Clibborns own experience, as given by himself, one cannot but extend the same estimate to the similar experience into which he led others. Moreover, inasmuch as this is a fair sample of much that marked those early years, the same doubts must arise as to the Movement as a whole.
Arthur Booth-Clibborn was an acknowledged figure in the Movement: "Confidence" contained numerous articles by him and Bartleman quoted him. At the Sunderland conferences he sometimes interpreted speakers from the Continent. It seems singular that among people who claimed to be in succession from Pentecost there should be need of uninspired interpretation, or that their missionaries should need to learn languages, as was the case. By the vivid narrative here employed the reader has been enabled to attend a public meeting of the Movement and a midnight house party, as described by a principal figure in both. He has seen a mere youth weep and lament by the hour, until the chair was a pool of tears. He has watched him lying on the drawing room floor sweating, weeping, singing, shouting, laughing till the noise dominated the gathering. He has seen a lad of fifteen so enfeebled as to be unable to struggle to his feet or to walk to the table, or to get up the stairs without aid; and so overwrought as to be unable to sleep all night: and so out of control that he could not restrain himself in the public street. All this is part of the picture of the early days of the Movement.
It may be that my reader will grieve with me that a company of respectable and Christian men and women could be so deluded as to regard such doings as wrought by the Spirit who gives rest and self-restraint and who directs that gatherings of saints should be marked by decency and order. My reader may wonder that such a mature public worker as Arthur Booth-Clibborn should find satisfaction in his own son passing through such a degrading experience, reducing him to helplessness of body and nerves. Yet, when the matter of imminent school examinations came up the next morning after the night described, he declared that the lad had been too hopelessly blessed to be any good as a student, and that this was not a time for school, for "once we have tasted of this wine we are as incurable as drunkards! We always want more" (53, 54).
So, then, this "baptism " disinclines from concentrated study. Is this part of the explanation of the feature, mentioned elsewhere, that the Movement has produced so very few competent teachers? For naturally there would be disinclination to such strenuous subjects as Biblical languages, customs, history, and doctrine. One who is too intoxicated to study will avoid philology and archaeology. Considering bow deeply infatuated the father was, it was remarkable that he had to seek long without receiving the "baptism." Of a well-known leader in America it is told that he, too, had to wait and seek for two years. Is the Head of the church sometimes unwilling to give the Spirit to them that ask Him? Neither Pentecost, Caesarea, nor Ephesus were marked by "tarrying" meetings, where strenuous and sustained effort was required. It is true that for ten days the 120 continued in steadfast prayer: but this could not have involved agonizing strain of spirit to secure the anointing, for the Lord had promised definitely that they should receive the Spirit before many days, so that they would have waited in assured, if eager, expectation. At Caesarea and Ephesus there was no waiting at all. Prolonged tension of mind is not needful to the securing of the promise of the Father, but is a frequent preparation for the reception of a false spirit. is an avowed demonism.
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