“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
…. These attesting miracles will accompany those who have believed…. they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” -Mk. 16.15, 17a, 18b
“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that…. I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” -Rom. 15.18-19
There are many deficiencies in present-day Christendom, and we may give quite a lengthy list of Biblical realities that seem to be lacking in modern preaching. One would do well to make grievous note of how little we hear of the Cross these days. One might also rightly wince over the scarcity of preaching on prayer, holiness, the issue of Israel, the Church as community, a true missionary burden for the nations, and the list could continue to unravel like a proverbial ancient scroll.
Yet making note of deficiencies is not an end at all. If rightly approached, it can only be the disillusioning beginning to the pursuit of the reality of the gospel. Any soul with a pinch of discernment can recognize the inadequacies of religion. It takes a true child of God to push past the superfluities and complaints and to ascend the holy hill of God.
One issue that was normative to the early church was the understanding that signs and attesting miracles were a necessary part of true gospel proclamation. Jesus declared that “those who have believed” would “lay hands on the sick,” and that the sick would be made well. Paul states in no uncertain terms that if “the power of signs and wonders” did not accompany his preaching, he had not “fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Have we given clear and prayerful focus to these kinds of Biblical statements, or have we allowed them to fall into the realm of the unconsidered, failing to expect that they should have any application to our lives?
Contrary to some very popular teaching, there is not one shred of Scriptural evidence for the idea that this power has sovereignly lessened with the death of the first apostles, or that these signs have ceased with closing of the canon of Scripture. Oh, how 1 Corinthians 13 has been misemployed in vain attempts to prove that fallacious point!
Yet even among non-cessasionists there is often a radical diluting of these waters, and believers can frequently be found making statements like this:
Forget signs and wonders. We need to preach holiness. The cross has been neglected, and the Church is carnal and in need of a great and true revival.
I am in harmony with the need for a recovery of true preaching. The message of holiness has been neglected, and the cross has been avoided. But we need also to remember that Jesus never intended the preaching of the gospel to be carried out without power from on high, and that by and large, His own preaching and the preaching of the early apostles was accompanied by demonstrative works of holy power as well.
I wonder about those of us who are jealous for truth, who despise hype and all the showy excesses of so much in modern Charismatica. I wonder if we realize how crucial the reality of the Spirit’s power being demonstrated was in the mind of Jesus and in the minds of the early apostles. We may have been burned or let down by certain movements or personalities, but we need to remember that Jesus was the One who called the Church to heal the sick. It wasn’t a televangelist or a charlatan, it wasn’t a boastful conference speaker with bad doctrine and faddish emphases. It was the Lord Himself, and the apostles followed in His train. Have we a better mode of ministry than they?
John G. Lake tells the story of a dying child named Agnes Young, and a persistent, faith-filled man by the name of C.W. Westwood. Consider this:
A number of years ago, there was born at one of the great hospitals of the city a little child (a girl) from healthy parents, Mr. and Mrs. Young. Mr. Young, for many years had a stall in the Westlake Market. Mrs. Young has been a nurse for many years and also is well-known. When this baby was born it weighed six and a half pounds. Because of some strange difficulty, the child could not assimilate its food.
When she was nine months old she only weighed four-and-a-half pounds. The child looked more like a little dried up alligator than it did like a human being [perhaps an extreme case of “Ichthyosis”]. She finally fell into a state of death and remained in a dying condition. In the meantime, we were called to minister to the child.
Mr. Westwood was assigned to the case. One day when he went to the hospital as usual to minister to the child, they explained that the child was not there. It had died that morning and was in the dead room. He asked if he might see the child, and went into the dead room and took the child down. He sat down on a chair with the baby on his knees. He opened his heart to God, and turned the spirit of faith in his heart loose in behalf of the little one. In a little while (and I am saying this with all reverence for God, because I expect to meet this matter when I stand before the great judgment throne) the child revived. He sent for the parents, they took the child from the hospital and put her in the hands of an elderly lady by the name of Mrs. Mason, who nursed her for six weeks. At the end of that period she was as well as any other child. Her name was Agnes Young.
About a year ago I received a telephone call from Agnes Young, asking me if I would perform a marriage ceremony for her and her fiance. This young couple lives at Eugene, OR now.
And so I want to leave this testimony, that God is as good as His Word. That faith in Almighty God brings to pass the very same things today that it always did.
(John G. Lake: The Complete Collection of His Life Teachings; Whitaker House, pp. 542-543)
This is remarkable to me, not simply because it is a miraculous event, but because I think of its historicity, and of the fact that in one fell swoop, after much prayer, a desperate family’s life was radically altered by the healing power of the gospel. This was one among thousands of stories that came through the healing rooms in Spokane, WA in the early 20th century. Lake was an eye-witness to countless remarkable works of God’s power, from South Africa to Europe, and in various locations in North America. He often talked about the “note of faith,” that inward condition of seeing the Lord high and lifted up, above every principality and disease, and his gospel bore the fruit of that note.
What staggers me is that it is quite possible to be pursuing the Lord with abandonment, jealous for truth, loving the Scriptures, growing in humility, and raising a family in Godliness, and still to lack that “note of faith” for the deliverance of captives. Perhaps this is why Paul stated that the gifts of the Spirit must be “earnestly desired,” rather than casually considered.
I want to share a personal story that is very dear to me.
From 2001-2007 I developed a relationship with a man named Art Katz. He was a great prophetic voice in the 20th century, and the Lord used him to issue real challenges to the Church, in an age of convenient Christianity and sub-apostolic ministry.
On my last visit with him, just 3 weeks before he passed away, he spoke with me regarding the very subject matter we are dealing with here. He spoke openly and candidly. I’ll paraphrase as best as my memory serves me, and I do have a vivid remembrance of this occasion. He said something along these lines:
One of the chief regrets of my life in these days is that I did not give more room in my life and ministry to the demonstration of the Spirit’s power, in terms of the working of miracles.
A few months back, a brother mailed me a copy of Smith Wigglesworth’s sermons. I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this book?’ Little did I know the wellspring of life that was contained in that barely literate soul [speaking of Wigglesworth]. I’ve been drinking up his sermons as a baby imbibes milk.
In May, I was supposed to speak at Columbia University to a group of unbelieving Jewish men. I had hoped that I would be able stand before them as a whole man, declaring, ‘It is in the name of the Messiah that you’ve rejected that I’ve been raised up.’ But I was unable to go due to my illness.
I have recently become convinced that my own kinsmen will not be moved to jealousy until we as the Church have come into the manner of faith and power that was Wigglesworth’s experience.
He had also recently read F.F. Bosworth’s “Christ the Healer,” and the book of John G. Lake’s sermons was on his desk in his home as well.
A few months before this, a few of my teachers and friends asked him why we see so little of God’s power demonstrated along these lines in America. They may have anticipated a quite lofty answer coming from such an eloquent man as Art, but his simple reply was, “We don’t have enough faith.”
He passed into eternity on June 28th, 2007, of a very rare blood condition.
Isn’t it remarkable that such a foundational voice to the Church, with such a devotional relationship to the Lord, could minister for decades with such grace, and yet declare in the end that he had neglected this crucial aspect of the faith? Most truly, “we see in part and we prophesy in part.”
Art’s passing was quite a blow to my own life, for he had become a father to me in many ways, speaking into my life in a manner that I had never before experienced. I don’t have the answer to all mysteries, but I do know that the Lord is still calling us to “lay hands on the sick,” and He has still promised that “they will recover.”
We need to ask the Lord to rebuild the broken areas of our hearts, where the “note of faith” has been diminished and our anticipation of His Spirit has been quenched. It would do us well to pour over the Scriptures along these lines, and even to take up books by Smith Wigglesworth and John G. Lake, who I am convinced were the greatest pioneers of faith for healing in the 20th century.
We need to recapture their vision for the deliverance of captives, and to receive from the Lord the kind of power and faith that rested on their lives. Ultimately, it is the vision of Jesus Himself, who “Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.”
Do not be overcome or cast down by excesses in certain movements. Do not be turned away from simple faith by exaggerations on the platform or the moral failures of big personalities. Though they have fallen, the Lord Himself has not. And it is He who has brought us out of darkness and into His glorious light, that we may enjoin our lives to His great mission:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
The power of God and the “note of faith” are not reserved only for special personalities in Church history. Jesus declared, “These attesting miracles will accompany those who believe….”
I have known the “note of faith” on some occasions, and have even seen the Lord break through with remarkable miracles. But frankly, the majority of my life is devoid of that reality. I am a firefighter by occupation, and it is all too common for me to see the painful and even devastating effects of disease, injury, and death. Too many times- it seems- I have witnessed tragedy and death, trauma and suicide, ailments and diseases, and though I am sometimes sharp enough inwardly to offer at least a quiet prayer for healing, I am often numb in terms of any faith-filled expectation. My faith runs dimly maybe most of the time, but even in the midst of the cloudiness of my own life, I hear the voice of the Lord speaking faintly, yet clearly:
As you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out devils. Freely you have received, now, freely give. (Mt. 10.7-8)
Broken and fragmented vessels that we are, He still issues the call to us. We need only to step out of the boat of familiarity and comfort, and onto the waters where Jesus Himself is walking. The “note of faith” has been diminished in much of the Church, but the Lord of glory is sounding it again. Are our ears tuned in to His voice?