Glory Fits and Hallelujah Wind-ups! The Salvation Army

The Happy Warrior, Humphrey Wallis’s biography of Elijah Cadman

The Secret History of the Salvation Army (part three)
It is well known that John Wesley and George Whitefield attended an all-night prayer meeting during which the Holy Spirit was poured out in such power that several men fell to the ground. They were overwhelmed by the power of God. They were filled with the Spirit. And then 1739 happened.

It’s not as well known that the early Salvation Army experienced very similar outpourings of the Spirit.

Sanctifying Power
The Salvationists were taken with the theology of the Wesleyans, that a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit after conversion imparts a degree of spiritual holiness. Different views exist on that point. Nevertheless, what is undeniable is that they were indeed receiving power to witness, and that their witness for Christ spread rapidly throughout Great Britain, and before long, the world.

One all-night prayer meeting is described in The Happy Warrior, Humphrey Wallis’s biography of Elijah Cadman:

At one o’clock in the morning the Holy Sprit came upon us, and suddenly thirty fell down and cried out to God for the Blessing of a Clean Heart. Some lay as though they were dead for a time. Oh, may God give us more and more of His Sanctifying Power, the complete armour for the people of The Salvation Army.’[i]

Glory Fits
Obviously during the Victorian period, as in all others, people had distressing seizures which were popularly referred to as ‘fits’. Medical professionals were called upon to diagnose and treat the patients. These were, of course, distressing. When the primarily working class Salvationists began to be overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit in their meetings, they, rather endearingly and humorously, referred to these spiritual experiences as ‘glory fits’.

A gathering characterised by such experiences was also sometimes referred to as a ‘Hallelujah Wind-up’ because the atmosphere became so intense until release came through shouting, loud praying, singing, or by people running or jumping up and down (If you’re not sure about the phrase ‘wind-up’, which is still in use today, it refers to the tension created by winding up a watch or clock until almost at breaking point. Nowadays, it tends to refer to something that is increasingly irritating).

Wallis writes,

This was the hour when the phenomena characterizing the…first years of The Salvation Army – phenomena that has never wholly vanished – reappeared in a more extensive manner.

The course of the regular Meetings bean to be interrupted by Salvationists falling into ‘Glory Fits.’ In one of Elijah’s Meetings at Bradford ‘about a hundred persons were in ‘Glory Fits.’ Soldiers came up to Officers to say, “I don’t believe in this,” and while speaking fell under the strange manifestation of the Divine Presence.’

The ‘Glory Fits’ were ecstasies during which the individuals affected were insensible, usually silent, and remained thus for one, or many hours. All ages and both sexes were included in the cases. The prostrations were commoner in Holiness services and nights of prayer. Medical and other means devised to control or restrict the symptoms were useless. The condition was not contagious or always recurrent. Those beside or near a Salvationist experiencing the ecstasy were not similarly moved or sympathetic, and those who had been once in the state were often immune from a repetition.

People fell suddenly where they stood or sat, many crying out, as with a last breath, ‘Glory to God!’ On returning to consciousness, no coherent account was given of what had taken place. A few described their withdrawal from material sense as ‘bliss’, ‘great happiness’, ‘like Paradise’, ‘walking into Heaven in a rainbow’, ‘joy the body was unable to bear’, and a ‘sense of the love and glory of Christ’.

Said Elijah: ‘I have seen them lying about all over the platform and Hall, but never once in an unseemly posture. Their bodies were, as a rule, quite stiff. We had our own people carry them out of the Meeting – that was the strict regulation – and take every precaution for them. Men carried men and women carried women. They were placed in different ante-rooms adjoining the Halls, and several elderly, trusted Soldiers of the same sex left in charge till they recovered. Frequently doctors attended them. None ever became indisposed, ill, or died. It was often the most peaceful and composed of our people who were affected. There were never, in my experience of the “Glory Fits” any warning signs. A Meeting might be ‘hard’, that is, very difficult to pray in and to get others to pray; a lot of sinners making trouble, perhaps, and then, in an instant, the Power of God would descend on us, sinners be hushed into awe, and be overcome by the sense of His Majesty and His Love, through His Son, to us all, and all the world.

Sometimes we leaders would beseech Him to withhold His gift, that the people might not be alarmed, and that those in ignorance of Him might be prevented from sinning by spreading false reports.

I have led Meetings where the Holy Spirit was manifest in such power that half the soldiers present were in “Glory Fits” and I had to cling, nearly helpless, to the platform rail, lifting my heart and crying inwardly all the time to God to shepherd my people. Conversions always took place in such Meetings.’[ii]

Knowing history can help us evaluate contemporary experience
I recently heard a pastor ridiculing similar experiences of the Holy Spirit because he observed it merely left believers feeling loved and not empowered for fruitful mission. Love is important, of course, but let’s not rubbish outpourings of the Spirit because some (and even some leaders) fail to emphasise the missional purpose of such outpourings. The evidence of the early Methodists and the early Salvationists suggests such outpourings were the dynamic cause of their missional work.

More next time…

For the first post in the Salvation Army Series click here
To see part one of the ‘secret history’ click here

©2017 Lex Loizides / Church History Review

[i] Humphrey Wallis, The Happy Warrior (London: Salvationist Publishing, 1928), p.83

[ii] ibid p.108-109

The Missional Impact of an Outpouring of the Spirit

What results should we expect to see from a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian leader, preaches the gospel
Count Zinzendorf, the Moravian leader, preaches the gospel

In Scripture we see a definite link between believers receiving the power of the Spirit and an increased boldness and desire to communicate the faith with others.

This is evident in many places. In Acts 1:8, just prior to His ascension, Jesus tells his followers, ‘you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ First the experience of God’s power, Second, an evangelistic community.

We see this again in Acts 4:30-31. Note what they prayed:

‘Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ (v.30)

And see the response of God to their prayer, and their subsequent behaviour:

‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.’ (v.31)

It is therefore, not surprising that we see this Scriptural pattern repeated in church history.

The Moravian community had experienced a ‘Pentecost’, ‘an overwhelming flood of divine grace’, as Zinzendorf had described it. Let’s see what happened next!

Their zeal for unreached peoples
As a result of the grace of God on this amazing group of believers they began sending out church planters long before William Carey (often called ‘the father of modern missions’) went to India in 1793.

Their first conference on world missions was held in 1728.  They were already involved in several countries because they had either been driven out of them or had fled into them for safety.  Nevertheless on January 4th 1728 (not even five months after their ‘Pentecost’) they began to intentionally plan to reach un-evangelised nations.

Moravian Historian Bost writes,
‘This first missionary meeting was celebrated by meditations on different portions of scripture, and fervent prayers; in the midst of which the church experienced a remarkable enjoyment of the presence of the Spirit.

The Brethren felt themselves urged to attempt something that might redound to the glory of the Lord; several distant countries were mentioned, and particularly Turkey, Northern Africa, Greenland and Lapland…They were thus inspired with great courage and disposed to hold themselves in readiness to engage in the sacred enterprise whenever the Lord should give the signal.’ (A Bost – History of the Moravians, London 1862, Religious Tract Society p.246)

The Moravians then went on to plant churches in the Virgin Islands (1732), Greenland (1733) – they saw a revival there in 1738 when hundreds of Eskimos were converted, North America (1734), Lapland and South America (1735), South Africa (1736), Jamaica (1754) and Labrador (1771).

Challenged yet? Inspired? Next time we’ll look at how they achieved this…

© 2009 Lex Loizides