Particularly in the early days of The Salvation Army, many accounts of feeling
God’s presence in physical or supernatural ways were reported by believers.
BRAMWELL BOOTH (1856-1929), the second General of The Salvation Army, recorded some of these in his book, Echoes and Memories. He wrote:
The first instances of manifestation to which I was introduced were seen in the extraordinary breaking down of ungodly persons in the presence of the Spirit of God. I have seen men in our meetings, who were raving and blaspheming when the service began, suddenly broken down as though some physical power had laid them prostrate on the floor, and after a time of silence, weeping, and penitence, they were confessing their sins and imploring the mercy of God. In many such cases the whole of their subsequent lives was changed, and no question could arise in the minds of any of those who knew them as to the reality of the experience.
BOOTH DETAILS one of these experiences that took place at a mission in Cardiff, Wales:
In the course of this mission some opposition and ridicule developed in the town, and Mr. Aitken [a missionary] was specially attacked for certain remarks he had made in a sermon on retribution, and it was indeed a tremendous sermon. I was walking up the street one day when I saw Mr. Aitken approaching. A number of men, on seeing him, flocked to the door of a public-house and jeered at him as he passed, one of them offering a pot of liquor. Mr. Aitken turned sharply round on this poor fellow, and said to him in his deep voice, but with extreme tenderness, “Oh, my Laramie! How will you bear the fires of hell?” At those words the man instantly dropped on the pavement. He fell like a piece of wood, apparently losing all consciousness for the moment. One or two people assisted him, Mr. Aitken looking on, and presently there on the sidewalk he came to himself and sought the mercy of God, afterwards, as I learned, becoming an earnest Christian man.
VISIONS WERE also written about. One happened with an officer from Nottingham. During an All-Night of Prayer, she became unconscious for nearly five hours, but her face was “evidently brightened.” She had a vision of how joyous those in God’s Kingdom are. On this experience, Booth wrote:
It made a profound impression upon my own heart, and I believe it afterwards helped her to win hundreds of souls for God, for she constantly referred to it in her work as an officer. She died some years later with a glorious record of soul-winning behind her.
LESS JOYFUL visions were also referenced by Booth, including one from this future-officer:
For instance, [the man] spoke on one occasion…on a [vision] he had seen of himself at the Final Judgment, and how in this tremendous ordeal he had only barely escaped the censure of the Judge because of the negligence of his life and character. I shall never forget how it affected a town-hall audience, three parts of whom were men who did not believe in this sort of thing, and at first regarded the speaker with a certain pitying amusement. Yet he took hold even of these scoffers in a way which gave them to think. He made them feel that at least his eyes had seen the thing described. He was a lovable fellow, became an officer afterwards, and [dedicated his life to serving others].
While Bramwell Booth mentioned he had always been interested in these supernatural experiences, he noted that we must be very cautious with such things. Even the devil can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), so we must always be discerning as to where these things come from, who is doing them, and what is the ultimate result of them. These and other supernatural manifestations are not the basis for Christian faith, but the saving resurrection of Christ is. Christian faith is based on no other miracles, except that singular one.
Even though the Army does not rule out the possibility of people having these experiences or being healed miraculously, caution and discernment are always necessary.
The same rule should apply to our own lives. We must be careful with our thoughts, words and actions. We must discern whether we are acting according to God’s law, or siding with the evil one (see p. 16). If we claim to be Christians, we must act like Christ and love one another at all times, even when it’s difficult. How we show up in the world is how we represent Him. As Christians, we are the signs that point the world to God’s saving work in Christ.
Mariam Aburdeineh, Editorial Assistant