By Benjamin B. Warfield
Kindle edition, 2014, 336 pp.
Originally published in 1918
I’m a “cessationist” in regards to the apostolic “sign gifts” of the Holy Spirit (prophecies, foreign languages, healings and raising from the dead, etc.). The cessationist view holds that those sign gifts were granted to the apostles to signify their authority and were gradually removed as the early church was established. There are Christians who are “continuationists” who believe the gifts of prophecy, languages, and healing are granted today. This Pentecostal/charismatic movement traces its roots back to Charles Parham and William J. Seymour and such events as the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles in the early-1900s. I realize many genuine believers are part of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, so I generally try to avoid debates on the topic, but I’ve been meaning to read this book for a couple of years and finally got around to it.
B.B. Warfield (1851-1921) was a notable theologian, a principal of Princeton Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) back when it was still orthodox, and also a cessationist. In this volume, Warfield examines some of the popular “miracle movements” that followed the apostolic era.
Warfield notes that by the time of Augustine (bishop of Hippo from 396 to 430), there were already claims throughout the church for extravagantly fanciful miracles that mimicked/adapted the outlandishness of pagan mythologies. The author labels these as “romantic” (i.e., quixotic, wild eyed – not sensible about practical matters; idealistic and unrealistic). The miracles recorded in the New Testament, which validated the authority of Jesus Christ and His apostles, were vastly different in nature than the fanciful tales being embraced by some of the early “church fathers.” Over the centuries, the Roman Catholic church would perpetuate and add to these miracle myths, which would be duly accepted by the credulous peasant faithful. Warfield focuses on the alleged miraculous cures at the Marian shrine at Lourdes, France as an example of this Roman credulity for the miraculous that was perpetuated despite the overall lack of verifiable evidence. Each year, five million pilgrims (pre-COVID-19) continue to make the trip to Lourdes, many hoping for a cure for their particular illness, only to return to their homes disappointed.
The author examines several other healing/miracle movements of his era that presaged or were contemporaneous with nascent Pentecostalism, including the Irvingites (see here), faith healing as propagated by Baptist minister, A.J. Gordon, who strongly influenced the founders of Pentecostalism (see here), the Emmanuel Movement (see here), and Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science movement (see here). What was common to all of these healing movements was that imperceivable illnesses were readily “cured,” while perceivable illnesses/diseases/deformities generally were not, which was always attributed to the supplicant’s “lack of faith.”
This book was very difficult to read (A) because of Warfield’s flowery, early-20th-Century prose, and (B) especially because the transcription of the printed text to ebook was extremely poor. I chose this Kindle version because of its cheap, 99-cent price tag, but I got what I paid for. I had to constantly guess at words because of the terribly bad mistranscription. But I’m glad I persevered. Warfield’s examination of Roman Catholicism’s adaptation of paganism’s “romantic” miraculous mythology is eye-opening. I would add that manifestations of miraculous phenomenon, e.g., healing, prophecy, speaking in ecstatic utterances, are also common among various non-Christian religions throughout the world today.
I appreciated this book for its examination of “miracle movements” prior to 20th century Pentecostalism, several of which I was unfamiliar with.