The Miraculous Gift of Tongues
About seventy-eighty years ago a good deal of stir was excited when tidings went forth of “spiritual manifestations” occurring among certain Christians in the West of Scotland. These tidings moved many to seek like manifestations.
Among the most eminent of these seekers was the Rev. Edward Irving, if not the founder, the most picturesque and brilliant personality connected with the Catholic Apostolic Church.
What occurred in that movement was calculated to arouse grave suspicion that it originated with Satan. Indeed, it may safely be affirmed that with intelligent Christians, who have carefully inquired into the history of the movement, grave suspicion ripened into settled conviction as to its Satanic origin.
Whenever Satan is at work, a sure sign of his activity is unsound teaching as to the person of Christ. This ominous sign was not wanting, for Mr. Irving’s teaching on this subject was horrible and heretical. He was estranged from the majority of his congregation in the principal Scottish church in London by his taking up with “tongues” and “manifestations of gifts.” He was excommunicated by the Presbytery of London in 1830.
Further, one of his best-known associates, Mr. Robert Baxter, described by Sir Robert Anderson, who knew him, as “a typical English parliamentary lawyer, reserved, slow of speech and noted for soundness of judgment,” has put upon record his painful discovery that these tongues were inspired by Satan, and not divine in their origin at all. Mr. Baxter was prominent in connection with this new movement, but discovering it was Satanic, promptly severed himself from it.
There are gullible Christians, who readily believe pretensions are facts, and hence are readily deceived. There are others, again, who are so prejudiced that they are not open to honest inquiry.
If we consult Scripture we shall find enough there to make us careful. For Scripture distinctly enjoins us:—
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Read the following plain Scripture:—
“Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
It is not sufficient for teachers to have pious pretensions. They may appear as an apostle of Christ, and this may prove to be the very height of their subtilty. Suppose you saw what purported to be an angel of light, and you received him thus. How astounded you would be if you were informed that you were parleying with Satan himself. And yet this is what the passage morally indicates.
And, further, we read a warning, given with tremendous emphasis:
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter time some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2).
Finally, we read in connection with the fast approaching manifestation of Antichrist, the signs of which are as abundant as the falling leaf in autumn:
“Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:9).
“Tongues” in connection with this present day movement, originating in California, and spreading to Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia, India, etc., are certainly a wonder.
Are they of God, or do they bear the character of “lying wonders?” This is our inquiry.
First of all we propose to examine what Scripture says on the subject, and then measure the present movement by what we find as to it in the Word of God. I desire my readers to understand that I believe in the miraculous gift of tongues as taught in the Holy Scriptures, but I would remind them that this gift was evidently given in connection with the establishment of Christianity, and evidently ceased when its special need was over. In this examination we desire to have it clearly understood that we do not confound the modern “tongues” with the gift as given at the start of Christianity, then it was a gift of the Spirit, we do not believe that the present movement bears any feature of this.
Observe also that this gift was only given in places where people of different nationalities were dwelling; and further, those who received the gifts spoke real languages (see Acts 2:1-11, etc.). Often, those who prefer to speak in tongues today speak to none but their own countrymen. Hence the folly and uselessness of their performance. Moreover, in apostolic days and by apostolic instruction the speakers were men, not women.
God’s purpose in giving the gift was, I doubt not, that all the nations should hear the gospel at that particular time.
With all this in mind let us examine then the Scriptures bearing on the subject.
The Old Testament is quite silent on this subject, save in Isaiah 28:11, quoted by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21.
The Gospels contain but one reference to tongues. Mark 16:17, says, speaking of signs that should accompany the preaching of the gospel, they shall “speak with new tongues.”
The Acts of the Apostles has three references to the subject:
(1) “They... began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts. 2:4; also vv. 8, 11).
(2) “For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God” (Acts 10:46).
(3) “They spake with tongues, and prophesied “(Acts 19:6).
Let it be noted that the first scripture has to do with the inauguration of Christianity on the Day of Pentecost. The second with the introduction of the Gentile into the church of God. The gift of the Spirit with its then accompanying manifestation of tongues was confirmatory as to the middle wall of partition being broken down, and that the Gentile had an equal place with the Jew in the body of Christ. The third is a special case which fits in as a sort of addendum to the other two.
It is significant that in all three cases it is that of companies and not individuals. Further, the Spirit is given without the believer seeking for His indwelling. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal, following and consequent on the reception of what the Apostle Paul described to the Ephesian believers (among them doubtless this third class) as “the gospel of your salvation.” Evidently there is no thought whatever in Scripture of Christians beseeching God for days and weeks for a baptism of the Spirit, and the gift of tongues. The Spirit continues to be given to believers, for He is an absolute necessity to their spiritual life, but the gift of tongues seems to have been confined to the inauguration of Christianity.
In the Epistles the subject is only mentioned three times in one book, i.e. 1 Corinthians. It is well to enlarge on this. It is not once mentioned in—
- 2 Corinthians
- 1 Thessalonians
- 2 Thessalonians
- 1 Timothy
- 2 Timothy
- 1 Peter
- 2 Peter
- 1 John
- 2 John
- 3 John
It is well to give the list to impress the inquirer with the way Scripture presents the subject. What does this teach us? That important as the subject is, it is not so overwhelmingly important as the leaders of The Tongues Movement make it. It is the one thing they put to the forefront of everything.
Let me recapitulate. Once mentioned in the Old Testament, once in the Gospels, thrice in the Acts of the Apostles.
We now come to the consideration of the teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14. It is twice mentioned in chapter 12 in verses 20 and 28.
Note in the enumeration of the gifts in both instances the gift of tongues is put last. This is significant. For if we examine these gifts we find that they are given in a descending scale. In each case, whether enumerating the gifts or speaking of the persons who are thus gifted, the spiritual gifts come first, and the gift of tongues comes LAST.
In chapter 13 we are shown a more excellent way, even love, better than gift. Tongues are twice alluded to, in verses 1 and 8. We are told that though we may speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not love, we are as sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. We do not know whether tongues in this verse refers simply to the organs of speech of men and angels [This is a hypothetical statement "If I...", not a statement of fact. Eds.] , or include the gift of tongues in connection with men, but we give those who press this matter the benefit of the doubt. In the second allusion, in chapter 13, we are told that tongues shall cease.
Now we are left to the consideration of chapter 14. Read it down, and you will find it is a stern rebuke by the Apostle addressed to the Corinthians who were exaggerating the importance of tongues, and using it to make much of themselves.
We are far from asserting that the place the miraculous gift of tongues has in Scripture is unimportant. It played a most striking and useful part on the day of Pentecost, etc. But we do wish to insist strongly that Scripture presents the truth in such a way as to check the absurd lengths and prominence the early Christians appear to have given it at Corinth.
For the Apostle told the Corinthians he would rather they prophesied than spoke with tongues. As to himself, he thanked God that he spoke with tongues more than them all, yet he would rather speak five words with his understanding than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue. Edification is the leading thought in the chapter. If an unbeliever came into their assembly and all spoke with tongues he would say they were mad. Hence we get the direct instruction that:
“If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God... For God is not the author of confusion.”
In a Tongue movement meeting on the Continent, which we attended, and at which a very prominent leader was present, a man spoke in an unknown tongue, but there was no attempt at interpretation.
And further, these people press Scripture upon you, and urge its literal meaning with great energy. This we do not object to, but would ask them to bow to Scripture, and take it in its literal meaning and act upon it. For in this same chapter we read:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to speak” (v. 34).
Yet in the meeting we attended seven men and five women took part. Not more than three men, if subject to the Lord, should have spoken, and the women should have kept silence. And this is proved in the very chapter where instruction as to tongues speaking is given. And remember the chapter is one strong rebuke against the prominence these believers were giving to tongues.
By the test of Scripture this movement is condemned as disorderly. “God is not the author of confusion.” From whence, then, does it come?
Confusion may arise from ignorance and can be borne with if this is so, but one cannot believe the leaders of The Tongues Movement are ignorant. Instructions on this subject are plain in the Scripture. No woman is to speak. Then if the Spirit of God gives this instruction, He will not lead women to be prominent in a movement. Nor will more than three men speak at one meeting, for the Scripture is emphatic when it says, “At the most by three and that by course,” that is, one following the other. And if there be no interpreter silence is enjoined.
If the Holy Spirit is so active in the midst of these “Tongues” gatherings one would expect deep, rich unfoldings of Scripture, the things of Christ taken and shown to us (see John 16). We can testify that all we heard were shallow, inaccurate and unscriptural ravings.
The women uttered wild, incoherent speeches, rising higher and higher in shrillness, till they sunk exhausted on their seats: the men were little better.
We felt sure that neither speaker nor hearers understood a single word of what was said. Scripture teaches that if any man speaks it must be in “words easy to be understood.” If the speaking in a tongue had been divine, there would accompany it interpretation, and the result would have answered to 1 Corinthians 14:9.
The whole scene was one of painful confusion, and the plain instructions of Scriptures were defied.
A contemporary published in America recently contains an article on this subject, and gives in extenso a statement of their doctrines extracted from the “Apostolic Faith,” published in Portland, Oregon. It contains seventeen sections. It is significant in the face of 1 Corinthians 12:1-3, that never once in the whole confession of faith is Jesus called Lord, or God called Father.
The writer of this article, a thoroughly reliable witness, well-known to us by good repute, says:
“Desiring of looking into it [The Tongues Movement] first hand, I attended in all about a dozen meetings, in four different cities... In company with a sober brother, I went for the first time to San Francisco. The place was crowded. A large, stout woman was leading, amid great excitement. Strangely enough, we were hardly seated when she cried out, ‘We need to pray. Two enemies of the truth have come in. The Spirit tells me they are here to fight the truth’... One thing soon struck us forcibly. No one said Lord Jesus. No one cried ‘Abba Father.’ Now, inasmuch as these are the two Scriptural evidences that the Holy Ghost is in control, we felt the incongruity of it all very soon. . .
“Presently we were electrified by hearing, for the first time, the weird, piercing notes of a woman under ‘the power’ speaking in tongues. I took careful note of every syllable, and jotted them down. ‘Ku-ri-ah; Ku-ri-ah; Ku-ri-ah; Ku-ri-ah-ke.’ This she repeated over and over again, till almost out of breath, whilst the rest shouted with delight at this evidence of the Spirit’s control.
“She finished in an exhausted state, and from a corner came what sounded like the wail of a lost soul. Another woman, on her knees, began to intone in most melancholy tones, ‘La-a-a-a-la-a-a-a-ah-la-la-la-la-ah-ah-oh-oh.’ This was all; but it was accepted as the great power of God.
“At the close the leader came straight to us, and we withstood her to the face by meeting her declaration that she was living without sin with the counter-declaration that we could give her chapter and verse for a direct command of Scripture she had been disobeying all through the meeting. She challenged its production, and we referred her to 1 Corinthians 14:34. As we read it she raved in anger, till I felt justified in asking the ironical question, ‘Are you not afraid you will lose your sanctification altogether if you get much angrier?’ She cried out You are possessed with a devil!’ and left us.
“But five men followed us as we went out and plied us with questions, thanking us for opening their eyes as they had listened to our conversation.”
Workers in Norway and Sweden have testified to the writer that they have witnessed similar scenes of violence and confusion. Women are the chief speakers on such occasions. Though very many connected with this movement are ignorant of Satan’s devices, we are convinced from the history and marks of this movement that it is Satanic in origin. Many most earnest in desiring God’s glory have been caught in this snare. In a short article it is impossible to go largely into details, but enough has been given—samples of all we know about it—to prove that this movement is not of God. We firmly believe it is of Satan. May the Lord preserve the simple Christian from these latter-day delusions.