Jonathan Edwards, whose preaching ignited Colonial America's Great Awakening, was well-acquainted with the experience of people falling under the power of the Holy Spirit. He wrote, "If there be a very powerful influence of the Spirit of God in a mixed multitude it will cause in some way or other a great visible commotion." During his 1740 ministry, his wife, Sarah, fell under the power of the Spirit. According to her diary, she "swooned" and remained "without bodily strength" for seventeen days. Later, she wrote of that remarkable experience:
"I was aware of the delightful sense of the presence of the Lord and conscious of His nearness to me-and my dearness to Him."
At one point Sarah determined that she had to resume her household duties, and, rising from bed, passed the room where her husband and another man were talking. When she heard the name "Jesus," she was immediately slammed to the floor. The two men carried her up the stairs and placed her in bed. Only when the Spirit's presence lifted could she return to work. Why did it happen? What was God's purpose for Sarah's seventeen-day communion with the Holy Spirit? Obviously, we cannot know heaven's reason, but ponder this thought: All great moves of the Spirit are initiated and maintained through prayer. It may be that Sarah's seventeen-day seclusion was God's method of providing needed intercession to carry the Great Awakening to its climax. One thing we know: God had an urgent purpose which was best accomplished by Sarah's complete isolation with Him. Before the Great Awakening began, her husband Jonathan prayed for twelve hours in an empty baptistery. That intercession opened the gates of Heaven for the Holy Spirit to fall upon New England.
All men and women who have been greatly used of God and through whom "signs and wonders" appeared were men and women of travailing prayer. George Whitefield and John Wesley are examples of such men. In the beginning, Whitefield did not understand the "sign" of people falling in Wesley's ministry and rebuked him for it. Not long afterward it happened in George's preaching. By the time he came to Boston in the mid-1700's, he was wise enough to command people in the trees to come down. He knew that once the power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the congregation, many of them would drop to the ground like stones.
The first time this happened to me was at a Primitive Baptist Bible Conference in South Georgia. We were meeting on a college campus when a pastor asked me to pray for him and three of us stepped into an empty dormitory room. I started to pray, touched him lightly, and he crashed to the floor. The other pastor exclaimed, “He’s ‘slain in the spirit!’” I did not know what that meant and stared in amazement. Little did I realize that in the years following I would lay-hands on thousands and see the same thing happen to them. Many, including strong men, would slam downward with no one catching them. More importantly, they would rise from the floor knowing they had experienced a sovereign-encounter with the Lord. In this strange way I would see people be healed, minds cleared, filled with the Holy Spirit, and their lives redirected. Others could identify no special purpose. At Westminster Chapel in London when I called two ladies to come forward, they were suddenly lifted and slammed to the floor with no one touching them.
At the famous 1801 Cane Ridge, Kentucky, camp meeting, over five hundred were felled at one time. Many were knocked from their horses. Pastor James Glindening, a Puritan of sixteenth-century England, had the deacons remove the fallen from his congregation and lay them under the trees. Peter Cartwright, Charles Finney, and hosts of other historic preachers witnessed it in their meetings. It even happened in Baptist meetings in early America–as it has throughout Christian history.
When it happens, don't let it scare you. It is God.
Theologically, Observe This: Natural vs. Spiritual Falling
The Scripture provides important insight between falling in the natural and spiritual aspects. Variations in the Greek spelling are slight but important. Observe this:
1. "Peter went up on the housetop to pray, about the sixth hour. Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance" (Acts 10:9-10, italics added). Peter's falling experience was spiritual. "Fell" is the Greek word epipipto.
2. "As Peter was coming in, Cornelius fell down at his feet and worshiped him." (Acts. 10:25). Here, referring to a purely physical experience, "fell" is translated from pipto.
3. "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" (Acts. 10:44). As in the first reference, the Holy Spirit's falling was spiritual. Here, Scripture returns to epipipto.
The same word, eipipipto, is used when the father of the prodigal son falls on the boy’s neck and hugs him. Luke 15:20. It is used again of Eutychus, the young man who was killed in his fall from the "third loft." This fall is purely physical. But, when the apostle Paul "fell upon" on him affectionately, he was restored to life (Acts 20:10). In every instance in the New Testament epipipto carries an emotional or spiritual implication. When godly fear "fell" upon Zacharias, that intense emotion was present (Luke 1:12). When "falling" is used in the spiritual sense and holy passion is expressed, it means “to be embraced with affection."
Key Point: Those who fall under the power of the Holy Spirit are being embraced with God's affection.
What happened to Sarah Edwards and others like her was very real and very wonderful. Sarah did not fake this intimacy with the Holy Spirit any more than the numerous Old Testament saints who fell before the Lord (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:23; Daniel 8:17). The Roman soldiers who approached Jesus in Gethsemane, "drew back and fell to the ground" (John 18:6). Many whom I have observed in this state are healed, delivered from unclean spirits, filled with the Holy Spirit, and "embraced" in other wonderful ways. Understandably, the sight of hundreds of people dropping to the church floor is alarming to those unprepared for it. To avoid fear in the congregation, it is important to have catchers behind each person undergoing ministry. This will remove anxiety in the audience and encourage less-courageous souls to step forward for prayer. It is also possible that some misguided person may purposely fall. This is unwise and unsafe. Avoid that danger.
The gentleman who wrote the following letter, a Southern Baptist and unaccustomed to the falling experience, had this to say after a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit.
“Dear Brother Carrin, I was using a table saw and almost amputated my four fingers. The doctor performed surgery to reattach the nerves and tendons. I have been in pain with my fingers and wrist ever since. When my wife and I went to your meeting the Holy Spirit touched me in a way I had never known before. When you laid hands on me, I fell under the power of the Spirit. The next evening, while doing my therapy, the bones in my wrist began to pop and the pain immediately went away. God heals and answers prayer!
On another occasion, an atheist college professor and Ph.D. attended a meeting where I spoke. He brgged about studying the teachings of Carl Marx, the co-author of the Communist Manifesto During the time I was praying and laying-on hands, I went to him. "As a philosopher," I said, "you are one who loves wisdom and want to know the truth.""Yes," he answered. "That is true." "If God is real," I went on, "you want to know that."
His answer came jokingly, "Yes-If God is real, I want to know it." "Are you willing to say, 'God, if You are real, show me?'" I asked. "Yes," he answered self-confidently. "I can say that." With my encouragement, he repeated the prayer. I left him briefly, prayed with a few others, and came back. When I returned, I never spoke, but lightly touched him on his cheek. The brush of my finger knocked him to the floor. Nor did he fall gently; he went down with a jolt, grabbing at the air. For some twenty minutes he lay immobile, weeping. When he finally came up, he was still weeping, half-shouting, "I found God! I found God!"
The pastor of a large liturgical church in the city where I served became concerned because his members were attending our services, getting delivered, filled with the Holy Spirit, and discovering the power of God. When he learned about their "falling under the power," he announced that he too would attend and prove the experience to be fake. The night he came, he wore no clerical collar; I did not know who he was. At the end of the message when I began praying for the people, he sprang to his feet and strode down the aisle. The back of the building was filled with his members anxiously watching. As he hurried toward me, I reached out my hand, but before I touched him, he was slammed to the floor. God has His own way of dealing with Christianized unbelievers. Later, I said to his members: "My warning to skeptics is ‘Don't dare God!'"
In my early ministry in Delray Beach, Florida, a young professional basketball player from Norway was saved, and we immediately took him to the ocean for baptism. The water was calm, clear as glass, and every sandy ripple visible on the bottom. After my assistant and I immersed and raised him up, I explained that I would lay hands on him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. His response was, "I want everything God has for me!" He was totally yielded. The instant I touched his forehead, he hit the water with a splash, body vibrating electrically, and chattering in tongues. He was semi-conscious, embraced with God’s affection in a spectacular way. I quickly placed my shoulder under his head and supported him. I had never seen anyone more suspended in the glory of God, quaking in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
For a few minutes I held him up, then backed away and let him sink. As the other pastor and I watched, he went straight to the bottom. A moment later, he floated to the top, and as his face broke through the surface, continued praying ecstatically in tongues. This happened a number of times. Half an hour later, we carried him across the beach and put him in the car. Even in the ocean, that young man discovered what it was like to be "embraced by the Holy Spirit." Hear this:
A powerless, inefficient ministry is an insult to the Holy Spirit.
A dysfunctional church is a humiliation to the Holy Spirit.
A dying denomination is denial of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit still anoints the Scripture that He inspired to be written. Whoever preaches the truth of the Word can expect the Holy Spirit's anointing to accompany the Word. Churches who argue as to which has correct doctrine can answer their question by this simple test: Who is getting authentic New Testament results? It is impossible to preach New Testament truth in the anointing of the Holy Spirit and not get New Testament results. The apostle Paul settled this argument for the Corinthians by saying, "When I come, I will know not the speech of those who are puffed up, but the power" (I Corinthians 4:19,20). He forewarned his opponents that they would have to prove the validity of their teaching by presenting the Holy Spirit's action. The test still works.
If the Holy Spirit is not moving in power and demonstration of His presence, then something is wrong with that specific ministry. The most common causes of failure are pride, unbelief, and condemnation. The first two are more easily detected than the last; they are more obvious. Condemnation, however, can easily come upon a man or woman who is not affected by pride or unbelief. Self-disapproval, the sense of personal failure, warps a ministry by smothering it in unworthiness and guilt. Its end result is as deadly to successful ministry. Hopefully, every Christian speaker is motivated by true godliness and purity of heart. Even so, none of us are ever sufficiently worthy to merit the anointing. God's motivation in giving the anointing is His grace. But hear me carefully: humility of heart and reverence for God are companions with which the anointing feels compatible. If you are in a powerless ministry, repent of having rejected the Scripture, seek the “filling of the Holy Spirit,” and expect God’s results. Jesus said, “Everyone who asks receives.”
BAPTISM AND HOLY COMMUNION:
DUAL EXPRESSIONS OF ONE COMPLETE EXPERIENCE
We normally think of Baptism and Communion as being separate Christian events. In reality, they are dual-expressions of one consummate experience of the believers’ identification with Christ. We should not receive one sacrament and neglect the other. Hear me carefully: In Baptism we are put into the Body of Christ; in Communion, the Body of Christ is put into us. This dual-identification with Christ acknowledges us as being “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ.” Romans 8:17.
We have a parallel of this in salvation when the Holy Spirit puts Christ in us–and in spiritual-baptism when Jesus baptizes us into the Holy Spirit. Some may object to this language but carefully Bible study will show it to be true. Romans 6:3-4. Galatians 3:26-29. Acts 1:5. In an identical way, Israel was baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. In the first, the water of the cloud descended upon them; in the second, they descended into the water of the sea. I Corinthians 10:2. This dual-baptism is the ideal portrayal of Baptism in the Spirit and baptism in water. One is visible, the other invisible, but both are available to us. Peter is careful to explain that water-baptism does result in the “removal of the filth of the flesh,” or being born-again, but is the “answer of a good conscience towards God,” 1 Peter 3:21.
One of the medieval Christian fathers described the duality of our God-relationship in this way: “Thou art in Christ and Christ in thee, knit together inseparably, so that one cannot be parted from the other ...” There is a unification of Old and New Testament truths in this Baptism/Communion example which we have never fathomed. The revelation is clearly laid before us in illustrations both of Moses and Christ.
David Rhea, the young man from Tennessee who has traveled with me since 2000, was baptized during the revival at Brownsville Assembly, Pensacola, Florida. Two pastors accompanied him into the pool but in the moment he was immersed, the power of God hit the water like a lightening-bolt, knocked the pastors to the sides of the tank, left David electrified, comatose, floating on the surface of the pool. Men watching from the sideline raced into the baptistry and carried him out. What happened? God attested the validity of the Baptism to the congregation and filled David afresh with the Holy Spirit. Such events should be commonplace when believers are “buried with Christ”. If it isn’t happening it is because the modern Church is giving converts less than Jesus provided. At Christ The Rock church where Laurie and I worship, baptism are frequently attested by the miraculous presence of God.
Regarding our identification with Christ in baptism, Paul explained in Romans 6:1-15, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” The Apostle enlarges this concept when he wrote the Galatians, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” 3:26.
Of Communion, Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:26. In “proclaiming the Lord’s death ,” we formally declare that we now share in the death He died for us. That is, we have been “crucified with Christ”, have expired to this life, been buried with Him in the grave of baptism, and raised again to “walk in newness of life”. What He did in actuality, we receive in surrogate-adoption. In this understanding it is impossible to separate the unity of Baptism and Communion Paul’s writings regarding Communion fortify the statement of Jesus who said of the bread and wine, “Take, eat, this is My body.” Matthew 26:26. That is, in the analogy of His being the “Bread of Life”, He is entering us. In Baptism we are entering Him. Baptism and Communion are both outward expressions of one inward experience. When combined, they provide a complete identification of the believer in his relationship of “Christ in him and he in Christ”. Chas