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A Pentecostal Season: The Methodists in England and America, Part 2

In this excerpt from his book, The Supernatural Thread in Methodism: Signs and Wonders Among Methodists Then and Now, Methodist historian and renewalist Frank Billman reveals how miracles and supernatural interventions were widespread in the ministries of John Wesley and the early Methodists.

Author’s Introduction to this Excerpt A Pentecostal Season, Part 1


George Whitefield

Whitefield first took to preaching in the open air in Hanham Mount, southeast of Bristol, in one of the worst neighborhoods of the day. Approximately 20,000 poor workers came to hear him, their tears cutting white streaks down their dirty faces and “strong men being moved to hysterical convulsions by God’s wondrous power.”[1]

By the time Whitefield came to America, his preaching was ordinarily accompanied by people toppling over: Dr. John White writes in his book When the Spirit Comes With Power, “Under Mr. Whitefield’s sermon, many of the immense crowd that filled every part of the burial ground, were overcome with fainting. Some sobbed deeply, others wept silently… When the sermon was ended people seemed chained to the ground.”[2]

At Nottingham, Delaware, on May 14, 1740, 12,000 people gathered. Thousands cried out under conviction, almost drowning Whitefield’s voice. Men and women dropped to the ground as though dead, then revived, then dropped again, as Whitefield continued preaching.[3]

His meetings were wild, though not all his listeners were fans. “I was honored with having stones, dirt, rotten eggs, and pieces of dead cats thrown at me,” writes Whitefield.[4]

In October 1741 Rev. Samuel Johnson, acting dean of Yale College, wrote an anxious letter to a friend in England regarding a revival sweeping New England led by George Whitefield. In the letter he stated: “But this new enthusiasm, in consequence of Whitefield’s preaching through the country and his disciple’, has got great footing in the College [Yale]…Many of the scholars have been possessed of it, and two of this year’s candidates were denied their degrees for their disorderly and restless endeavors to propagate it…Not only the minds of many people are at once struck with prodigious distresses upon their hearing the hideous outcries of our itinerant preachers, but even their bodies are frequently in a moment affected with the strangest convulsions and involuntary agitations and cramps, which also have sometimes happened to those who came as mere spectators. …”[5]

In the Cambuslang revival outside Glasgow, Scotland in 1742, a large communion celebration was held. It was here that people began falling out in the Spirit by the droves. Whitefield was there and commented: ‘Such a commotion surely was never heard of, especially at eleven at night. It far outdid all that I ever saw in America. For about an hour and a half there was such weeping, so many falling into deep distress, and expressing it in various ways…their cries and agonies were exceedingly affecting.”[6]

Whitefield, who was serving some of the tables, was “so filled with the love of God as to be in a kind of ecstasy.” At the next revival service, hundreds fell out in the Spirit, along with manifestations of laughter, prophecy, and groaning.[7]

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Category: Church History, Fall 2018

About the Author: Frank H. Billman, B.A. (Houghton College), M.Div. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), Th.M. (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School), D.Min. (Eastern Baptist [now Palmer] Theological Seminary), is an educator, pastor, author, and international speaker. He is currently leading the doctor of ministry program in supernatural ministry at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. While on the staff of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries for 12 years, he led workshops, local and regional renewal events, was supervisor for International Ministries, Methodist School of Supernatural Ministries, and Supernatural Ministry Intensives, and was a general session speaker at the national conferences. In addition to numerous articles, he is the author of Shepherding Renewal (Aldersgate Renewal Ministries, 2011), and The Supernatural Thread in Methodism: Signs and Wonders Among Methodists Then and Now (Creation House, 2013).

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