The Manifestations Throughout History
St. Louis CATCH THE FIRE Conference, May 3-6, 1995

by Richard M. Riss.

  Although Whitefield influenced John Wesley with respect to open-air preaching, it was Wesley who had originally influenced Whitefield to take another look at the manifestations. He wrote of Whitefield as follows in his Journal on July 7, 1739:

I had an opportunity to talk with him of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second trembled exceeding; the third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him.

Nevertheless, when Wesley was exposed to the more cacophonous manifestations at the meetings of the Moravians a few months later, he was shocked. On October 18, 1739, Philip Henry Molther of Germany stopped off in England on his way to America. J. E. Hutton, in A HISTORY OF THE MORAVIAN CHURCH, 2d ed. (London, Moravian Publication Office, 1909), p. 296, describes what happened:

[Molther] set forth his views in extravagant language, whichsoon filled Wesley with horror. . . . Four times a week, in broken English, he preached to growing crowds. At first he [Wesley] was utterly shocked by what he saw. "The first time I entered the meeting," he says, "I was alarmed and almost terror-stricken at hearing their sighing and groaning, their whining and howling, which strange proceeding they call the demonstration of the Spirit and of power."

Wesley speaks of the manifestations on many occasions throughout his journals, and although at times he attributes some of them to causes other than God, he still speaks favorably of them in most cases. It was at the outset of some of these things that Wesley wasn't always so sure, as we've already seen with respect to the Moravian meetings. Less than a year later, one of the manifestations that worried him was the spirit of laughter:

In the evening such a spirit of laughter was among us that many were much offended. But the attention of all was fixed on poor L[ucretia] S[mith], whom we all know to be no dissembler. . . . Most of our brethren and sisters were now fully convinced that those who were under this strange temptation could not help it. Only E[lizabeth] B[rown] and Anne H[olto]n were of another mind, being still sure any one might help laughing if she would. This they declared to many on Thursday; but on Friday the 23rd God suffered Satan to teach them better. Both of them were suddenly seized in the same manner as the rest, and laughed whether they would or no, almost without ceasing. Thus they continued for two< days, a spectacle to all; and were then, upon prayer made for them, delivered in a moment (John Wesley's JOURNAL, June 21, 1740).

In this case, Wesley attributed the laughter to satan, but not all of his contemporaries agreed with this conclusion. In 1749, George Lavington (p. 72) wrote:

Though I am not convinced that these fits of laughing are to be ascribed to satan, I entirely agree with Mr. Wesley, that they are involuntary and unavoidable, and don't in the least question the facts. Physical writers tell us, that laughing-fits are one species of a delirium, attending on some distempers and particularly on the hypochondria, or spleen (the principal ingredient of enthusiasm) called by some the organ of laughter, whence laughing people are said to vent their spleen.

In any case, as far as John Wesley was concerned, most of the other manifestations were of God, and he refers to them as such on many occasions in his Journal. Here are some examples:

In the evening, I was at St. Ewe. One or two felt the edge of God's sword, and sunk to the ground; and indeed it seemed as if God would suffer none to escape Him; as if He both heard and answered our prayer (August 28, 1755).
I preached in a ground adjoining to the house. Toward the conclusion of my sermon, the person with whom I lodged was much offended at one who sunk down and cried aloud for mercy. Herself drooped down next, and cried as loud as her; so did several others quickly after. When prayer was made for them, one was presently filled with peace and joy in believing (July 19, 1757).
After a busy and comfortable day, I preached once more in the Castle. The word seemed to sink deep into the hearers, though many of them were of the genteeler sort. In the Society we were much refreshed. Many followed me to Thomas Gl--'s house, where two or three were cut to the heart, particularly both his daughters, and cried to God with strong cries and tears (September 1, 1758).
In the evening, while I was enforcing those awful words of the Prophet, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved," a young woman, who had contained herself as long as she could, sunk down and cried aloud. I found this was a new thing in Norwich. The women about her got water and hartshorn in abundance. But all would not do. When the service was ended, I asked her, "What do you want?" She immediately replied, "Nothing but Christ" (January 3, 1760).

Of particular importance to Wesley was the outpouring of the Spirit in Everton during the summer of 1759. The vicar of Everton, John Berridge (1716-1793), had undergone a fresh understanding of justification by faith alone in 1757, and from that moment onward had resolved to preach Jesus Christ and salvation by faith. He had burned all of his old sermons, shedding tears of joy over their destruction. This attracted the attention of the entire neighborhood, and his church soon became crowded whenever he preached. He wrote, "as soon as I preached Jesus Christ, and faith in his blood, then believers were added to the Church continually."

Within a year and a half, John Wesley was on the scene, and what he found made a profound impression on him, to the extent that he made occasional references to it in his Journal throughout the rest of his life. In one of his first references to it (July 29, 1759), he quotes a very long account of the work of God in Everton, probably by John Walsh, who wrote:

On Monday, July 9, I set out, and on Wednesday noon reached Potton, where I rejoiced at the account given by John Keeling of himself and others. He was justified, it seems, on that memorable Sabbath, but had not a clear witness of it till ten days after; about which time his sister (who was, on that day, in great distress) was also set at liberty. I discoursed also with Ann Thorn, who told me of much heaviness following the visions with which she had been favored; but said she was at intervals visited still with such overpowering love and joy, especially at the Lord's Supper, that she often lay in a trance for many hours. She is twenty-one years old. We were soon after called into the garden, where Patty Jenkins (one of the same age) was so overwhelmed with the love of God that she sunk down, and appeared as one in a pleasant sleep, only with her eyes open; yet she had often just strength to utter, with a low voice, ejaculations of joy and praise; but, no words coming up to what she felt, she frequently laughed while she saw His glory. . . .
June 6, 1759--I spoke this morning, at Orwell, on Isa. 55:1. One who had been before convinced of sin fell down in a kind of fit, and broke out, in great anguish of soul, calling on the Lord Jesus for salvation. He wrought as in the agonies of death, and was quite bathed in sweat. He beat the chair against which he kneeled, as one whose soul drew nigh unto hell. His countenance then cleared up at once . . .
Fri. 13.--Mr. R[omaine], as well as Mr. M[adan], was in doubt concerning the work of God here. But this morning they were both fully convinced. . . . We walked this forenoon to Tadlow, in Cambridgeshire, to hear Mr. B[erridge], but came too late for the sermon. However, the account we received of the wonderful works of God in this and the neighboring places was matter of great rejoicing to me, as are all manifestations of the world to come.
Sat. 14--Mr. B[erridge], being ill, desired me to exhort a few people in his house, which the Lord enabled me to do with such ease and power that I was quite amazed. The next morning, at seven, his servant, Caleb Price, spoke to about two hundred people. The Lord was wonderfully present, more than twenty persons feeling the arrows of conviction. Several fell to the ground, some of whom seemed dead, others in the agonies of death, the violence of their bodily convulsions exceeding all description. There was also great crying and agonizing in prayer, mixed with deep and deadly groans on every side. . . . A child, seven years old, sees many visions and astonishes the neighbors with her innocent, awful manner of declaring them. While Mr. B[erridge] preached in the church, I stood with many in the churchyard, to make room for those who came from far; therefore I saw little, but heard the agonizing of many, panting and gasping after eternal life. In the afternoon Mr. B[erridge] was constrained, by the multitude of people, to come out of the church and preach in his own close. Some of those who were here pricked to the heart were affected in an astonishing manner. The first man I saw wounded would have dropped, but others, catching him in their arms, did, indeed, prop him up, but were so far from keeping him still that he caused all of them to totter and tremble. His own shaking exceeded that of a cloth in the wind. It seemed as if the Lord came upon him like a giant, taking him by the neck and shaking all his bones in pieces.. . . Another roared and screamed in a more dreadful agonythan ever I heard before. . . . Some continued long as ifthey were dead, but with a calm sweetness in their looks. I saw one who lay two or three hours in the open air, and, being then carried into the house, continued insensible another hour, as if actually dead. The first sign of life she showed was a rapture of praise intermixed with a small, joyous laughter. . . .
Tues. 17--We walked toward Harlston, near which Mr. B[erridge] overtook us. He was greatly fatigued and dejected, and said, 'I am now so weak, I must leave off field-preaching.' Nevertheless, he cast himself on the Lord, and stood up to preach, having near three thousand hearers. He was very weak at first, and scarce able to speak; but God soon performed His promise, imparting new strength to him, and causing him to speak with mighty power. A great shaking was among the dry bones. Incessant were the cries, groans, wringing of hands, and prayers of sinners, now first convinced of their deplorable state. . . .
Wed. 18--We called at the house where Mr. B[erridge] had been preaching in the morning and found several there rejoicing in God and several mourning after Him. While I prayed with them many crowded into the house, some of whom burst into a strange, involuntary laughter, so that my voice could scarce be heard, and when I strove to speak louder a sudden hoarseness seized me. Then the laughter increased. . . .
Thur. 19-- . . . I had left Mr. J[ennin]gs but a little while when I heard John Dennis loudly praising God. I no sooner kneeled by him than the consolations of God came upon me, so that I trembled and wept much. Nor was the Spirit poured out upon us alone; all in the house were partakers of it. J[ohn] D[ennis] was kneeling when his fit came. We laid him on the ground, where he soon became stiff as last night, and prayed in like manner. Afterwards his body grew flexible by degrees, but was convulsed from head to foot.
When he was quite recovered he said he was quite resigned to the will of God, who gave him such strength in the inner man that he did not find any of these things grievous, neither could ask to be delivered from them.
I looked after service at every ring which the people made about those that fell under the word. Here and there was a place with only one, but there were generally two or three together, and on one spot no less than seven who lay on the ground as if slain in battle. . . .
Fri. 20--. . . I was glad to see a woman, supposed the chief sinner in the town, now rolling on the earth, screaming and roaring in strong convictions. . . . From Triplow I walked to Orwell, and thence to Everton, in weakness of body and heaviness of spirit. Mr. B[erridge] was preaching when I came in. Here God again refreshed my soul. I shook from head to foot, while tears of joy ran down my face, and my distress was at an end. . . .
Sun. 22--The church was quite filled, and hundreds were without. And now the arrows of God flew abroad. The inexpressible groans, the lamenting, praying, roaring, were so loud, almost without intermission, that we who stood without could scarce help thinking all in the church were cut to the heart. But, upon inquiry, we found about two hundred persons, chiefly, men, cried aloud for mercy; but many more were affected, perhaps as deeply, though in a calmer way.

Probably because of these reports from John Walsh, Wesley decided to go to Everton himself. He arrived there on August 5, 1759, and he wrote of it as follows:

Between eight and nine I reached Everton, faint and weary enough. During the prayers, as also during the sermon and the administration of the sacrament, a few persons cried aloud; but it was not from sorrow or fear, but love and joy. The same I observed in several parts of the afternoon service. In the evening I preached in Mr. Hicks's church. Two or three persons fell to the ground, and were extremely convulsed; but none cried out. . . .
Mon. 6--. . . I talked largely with Ann Thorn and two others, who had been several times in trances. What they all agreed in was: (1) that when they went away, as they termed it, it was always at the time they were fullest of the love of God; (2) that it came upon them in a moment, without any previous notice, and took away all their sense and strength; (3) that there were some exceptions, but in general, from that moment they were in another world, knowing nothing of what was done or said by all that were round about them. . . .
I have generally observed more or less of these outward symptoms to attend the beginning of a general work of God. So it was in New England, Scotland, Holland, Ireland, and many parts of England; but, after a time, they gradually decrease, and the work goes on more quietly and silently. . . .
Tues. 28--I rode on to Mr. Berridge's at Everton, and in the evening went to the church; but unusually heavy, and hardly expecting to do any good there. I preached on those words in the Second Lesson, 'We know that we are of God.' One sunk down, and another, and another. Some cried aloud in agony of prayer. I would willingly have spent some time in prayer with them; but my voice failed, so that I was obliged to conclude the service, leaving many in the church crying and praying, but unable either to walk or stand. One young man and one young woman were brought with difficulty to Mr. B[erridge]'s house, and continued there in violent agonies, both of body and soul. When I came into the room the woman lay quiet, wrestling with God in silent prayer. But even the bodily convulsions of the young man were amazing: the heavings of his breast were beyond description--I suppose equal to the throes of a woman in travail. We called upon God to relieve his soul and body, and both were perfectly healed. He rejoiced in God with joy unspeakable, and felt no pain, or weakness, or weariness. Presently after the woman also was delivered, and rose rejoicing in God her Saviour.

During this outpouring of the Spirit in Everton, Lady Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), sent two envoys to investigate what was happening. She was the patroness of Methodism in her era. After her conversion in 1739, she attended some of John Wesley's meetings and soon began to function as a bishop by virtue of her right as a peeress to appoint Anglican clergymen as household chaplains and assign their duties, and to purchase presentation rights to chapels, enabling her to decide who would conduct services and preach. Among the many chaplains whom she appointed and continued to finance for many decades was George Whitefield. Much later, in 1779, after sixty chapels were already functioning under her auspices, this practice was disallowed by a consistory court of London. But Under the Toleration Act, she was able to register her chapels as dissenting places of worship, which became known as "The Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion."

In 1759, she sent two people, including William Romaine (1714-1795), the well-known Calvinist preacher, to investigate what was happening at Everton. Her biographer wrote as follows:

It was now [28 Feb. 1759] that John Berridge, the vicar of Everton, in Bedfordshire, and Mr. Hicks, vicar of Wrestlingworth, by their preaching, produced the same convulsions in their hearers as had formerly prevailed at Bristol. Lady Huntingdon wrote to Mr. Romain from Bath, requesting him and Mr. Madan to repair immediately to Everton, and examine minutely into the circumstances. They were warmly received by Mr. Berridge and Mr. Hicks. At first they were astonished, and for a time doubted whether the work was genuine; but after they had conversed with several of those who had fallen into violent convulsive fits, and had accompanied Mr. Berridge and Mr. Hicks in some of their itinerant excursions, and witnessed the effects of their preaching, they were filled with a solemn awe, and felt fully convinced the work was of God, though occasionally mingled with the wild-fire of enthusiasm ([Seymour, Aaron Crossley Hobart,] THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SELINA COUNTESS OF HUNTINGDON, vol. I (London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co., stationiers' court: and Painter Strand, 1839), pp. 387-398).


Some of John Wesley's biographers have mistakenly asserted that he was only open to the manifestations in the earliest period of the awakening in England, but then became more and more convinced that they were not of God as the decades went on and the revival matured, deepened and broadened...

Used with the permission of Richard M. Riss