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Tongues and Other Miraculous Gifts in the Second Through Nineteenth Centuries, Part 5: The 18th and 19th Centuries


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Richard M. Riss presents evidence for the operation of the gifts of the Spirit throughout the Church Age.


The Moravians

The gift of tongues is sometimes associated with the Moravian Brethren, a remnant of the Bohemian brethren (followers of John Huss) who became newly organized after finding refuge on the estate of Count von Zinzendorf (AD 1700-1760) in Saxony in 1722, in a Christian community which they called Herrnhut. In 1727, Zinzendorf retired from government service to devote himself to leadership of this community. In August of that year, there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Herrnhut. A Moravian historian wrote as follows:

Church history also abounds in records of special outpourings of the Holy Ghost, and verily the thirteenth of August, 1727 was a day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We saw the hand of God and His wonders, and we were all under the cloud of our fathers baptized with their Spirit. The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst. From that time scarcely a day passed but what we beheld His almighty workings amongst us.113

Herrnhut, 1765, in what is today eastern Saxony, Germany.

This account of the Moravian revival is not specific with respect to the signs and wonders that took place in their midst. Although the gift of tongues was not endorsed by the leaders of the Moravians, their opponents believed that they spoke in tongues.114


John Wesley

The Moravians were a direct influence upon John Wesley (AD 1703-1791), the father of Methodism, whose conversion in 1738 took place shortly after long talks with Peter Boehler, one of the Moravian brethren. Wesley’s response to a book published in 1748 clearly indicates his position with respect to operation of the gifts of the Spirit in his own day. Dr. Conyers Middleton, fellow of Trinity College, had written a book entitled A Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers, which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church. Wesley spent twenty days, from January 4 until January 24 of 1749, writing a letter to Conyers Middleton refuting his thesis that there had been no miracles in the history of the church after the Bible had been written. With respect to the gift of tongues, Wesley wrote as follows:

Section VI.1. The eighth and last of the miraculous gift you enumerated was the gift of tongues. And this, it is sure, was claimed by the primitive Christians; for Irenaeus says expressly, ‘We hear many in the church speaking with all kinds of tongues.’ ‘And yet,’ you say, ‘this was granted only on certain special occasions, and then withdrawn again from the Apostles themselves; so that in the ordinary course of their ministry they were generally destitute of it. This,’ you say, ‘I have shown elsewhere’ (page 119). I presume in some treatise which I have not seen. 2. But Irenaeus, who declares that ‘many had this gift in his days, yet owns he had it not himself.’ This is only a proof that the case was then the same as when St. Paul observed long before, ‘Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues?’ (I Cor. xii.29-30). No, not even when those gifts were shed abroad in the most abundant manner. 3. ‘But no other Father has made the least claim to it.’ (page 120). Perhaps none of those whose writings are now extant—at least, not in those writings which are extant. But, what are these in comparison of those which are lost? And how many were burning and shining lights within three hundred years after Christ who wrote no account of themselves at all—at least, none which has come to our hands?115

Wesley’s defense of the existence of tongues in history continues at considerable length, ending with the observation that the gift of tongues had been heard of within fifty years of their time, among the French Prophets. He wrote:

Since the Reformation, you say, ‘this gift has never once been heard of or pretended to by the Romanists themselves’ (page 122). But has it been pretended to (whether justly or not) by no others, though not by the Romanists? Has it ‘never once been heard of’ since that time? Sir, your memory fails you again: it has undoubtedly been pretended to, and that at no great distance from our time or country. It has been heard of more than once no further off than the valleys of Dauphiny. Nor is it yet fifty years ago since the Protestant inhabitants of those valleys so loudly pretended to this and other miraculous powers to give much disturbance to Paris itself. And how did the King of France confute that pretence can prevent its being heard anymore? Not by the pen of his scholars, but by (a truly heathen way), the swords and bayonets of his dragoons.116

Wesley was undoubtedly aware of the presence and validity of the gift of tongues in his day, for Thomas Walsh, one of Wesley’s foremost preachers, wrote in his diary on March 8, 1750, “This morning the Lord gave me language that I knew not of, raising my soul to Him in a wonderful manner.”117


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Category: Church History, Fall 1999

About the Author: Richard M. Riss (as of Fall 1998) is Assistant Professor of Church History at Zarephath Bible Institute in Zarephath, New Jersey. He holds a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (1979) and a Master of Arts in Church History from Trinity Divinity School (1988). He is currently finishing a Ph.D. degree in Church History at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. Richard M. Riss has authored several books including The Evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1977), The Latter Rain Movement of 1948 and the Mid-Twentieth Century Evangelical Awakening (1987), A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America and with Kathryn J. Riss, Images of Revival (1997).

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