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William Seymour | Pt 1

“The tragedy of this late hour is that we have too many dead men in the pulpits giving out too many dead sermons to too many dead people. Oh! The horror of it.”   Leonard Ravenhill

“If the church would only awaken to her responsibility of intercession, we could evangelize the world in a short time. It is not God’s plan that the world be merely evangelized ultimately. It should be evangelized in every generation.” T.A. Hegre

“This generation needs to see the glory of God on the earth in the church.”  Pastor Danny Waddell

“There are whole generations burning in Hell fire because the Church has lost its Holy Ghost fire.”  Leonard Ravenhill

Holy Ghost fire is what the world needs now! Holy Ghost unction from God; the enduement of power, a fire that purifies the heart, empowers the Church, and attracts the lost. Where is the promise of the Father today? Could it be the Church that started out centuries ago in the Spirit is trying to finish in the flesh? Could it be instead of preaching the fiery baptism in the Spirit we are more interested in getting the people to sign a card, attend church regularly and pay their tithes. I once heard a preacher say,"most people don't go to church because they have already been." What a sad commentary on the Church of our Lord. The German Philosopher, Fredrick Nietzche, who coined the phrase, "God is dead", also said in relation to the dullness of the religious of his day, "You will have to look more redeemed if I am to believe in your Redeemer."

Jesus said:

" shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me..."

Some Christians deny the power of the Holy Spirit saying that this gift was for a different time; that it ended with the apostles. Dismissing the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit is unscriptural, "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable"(Romans 11:29), among other verses. The Word of God is true,"...Indeed let God be true but every man a liar."(Romans 3:4) So let us, as the first century Church did, stir up the gift of God that is in us (2 Timothy 1:6) so we can preach the Gospel not with words but with power and signs and wonders.

Just as the Holy Ghost fell on Peter, a tired broken man, and 119 other humble souls in a small upper room 2000 years ago, sparking the first great revival, so began the Azusa Street Revival an April 14, 1906 with the Holy Ghost falling on a half-blind African American preacher in a dilapidated building, once used as a horse stable, in downtown Los Angeles. This renewal of Pentecost proved to be the most significant Spiritual event of the past century. Over the centuries the world religious system had basically stymied the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. God, in His mercy to a sick and impotent Church, was about to change all that. Matthew Henry once said," When God intends great mercy for His people, the first thing He does is set them a-praying." And a-praying they did.

The spiritual atmosphere of Los Angeles, in 1906, was supercharged. It was like a powder-keg just waiting for someone to strike a match. Turn of the century evangelists had traveled from one end of Southern California to the other spreading the fire of God and many groups of people were praying for a mighty move of the Spirit. Word of the Welsh Revival was spreading throughout the world and congregations were earnestly seeking God. F. P. Meyer, an English preacher, had ministered in Los Angeles in 1905. He spoke to large crowds about revival, planting a white-hot seed. Meyer had just visited the revival in Wales and spoke of the awesome outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Frank Bartleman, a Holiness evangelist, was distributing a book called "The Great Revival in Wales" by S.B. Shaw and had written Evan Roberts about information on the Welsh Revival. He wanted instructions on how to experience a move of God in Los Angeles. Roberts wrote back:

"Congregate the people who are willing to make a total surrender. Pray and wait. Believe God's promises. Hold daily meetings. May God bless you is my earnest prayer."

Joseph Smale, pastor of the First Baptist Church, was not content with just reading the literature that Bartleman was passing out. He wanted to experience, first-hand, the Welsh Revival so he traveled to Wales and met Evan Roberts. The power of the Holy Ghost fell upon him and his life was never the same. On his return, he set a fire with-in his congregation and held daily prayer meetings at the First Baptist Church. As he told his congregation about the revival, he wrote, "Fully two hundred of them came out of their seats and wept in penitence before the Lord." Pastor Smale began holding two services daily, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, hammering away at the need for revival in Los Angeles and America. Church members earnestly cried out for and received the power of the Holy Spirit and all His gifts. This outpouring went non-stop for fifteen weeks when the State Baptist Board heard about it and contacted the local board who, in turn, shut down the movement by removing Smale as pastor and voting to remove all those who were baptized in the Holy Spirit from the church membership. It did not put an end to the hunger. Smale founded the First New Testament Church of Los Angeles with the expelled members from his old church.

Elsewhere, others were crying out for revival, including Julie Hutchins, a black preacher and member of Los Angeles' Second Baptist Church. Sister Hutchins embraced sanctification as a second work of grace. This teaching was not in agreement with the Baptist doctrine. Consequently, she was expelled from the ministry along with the dismissal of eight families who accepted her teaching. Over the next few weeks this little group met in various locations including a tent. Despite the hardships they endured, this little group of people did not lose their hunger for revival. They then started to meet regularly for prayer and worship at the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry at 214 Bonnie Brae Street. They grew so large that they were forced to rent a small mission hall on Santa Fe Street. As they continued to grow, this group prayed to God to send them an evangelist/pastor who would spark a flame in the city. One of the members, Neely Terry, remembered a minister she sat under when visiting Houston, Texas. She told the congregation that this was the "Man of God" they needed. The invitation went out and the plan of God was being put in motion. William J. Seymour made the long trip westward by train and arrived in Los Angeles in February 1906, two months before the revival broke out. Seymour recalls:

It was a divine call that brought me from Houston, Texas, to Los Angeles. The Lord put it in the heart of one of the saints in Los Angeles to write to me that she felt that the Lord would have me come over here and do a work, and I came, for I felt it was the leading of the Lord. The Lord sent the means, and I came to take charge of a mission on Santa Fe Street...

God was planning a special outpouring for Los Angeles and he needed a special man. Just like Elijah, it would have to be a man of prayer. "such a hunger to have more of God was in my heart," Seymour once said, "that I prayed for five hours a day for two and a half years."

William Joseph Seymour was born May 2, 1870 in Centerville, St Mary's Parish, Louisiana. His parents were freed slaves but still living on a plantation. As an infant he was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church but later became a Methodist. He spent his early years in abject poverty. Tax records of 1896 show his families possessions as "one old bedspread, one old chair and one old mattress." All of his mother's personal property was valued at fifty-five cents.

At the age of twenty-five Seymour left Louisiana and traveled to Indianapolis and then to Cincinnati, Ohio where he joined a Methodist Church. About this time he noticed that, not only world-wide but in his local Church as well, the Methodist doctrine was hardening against its foundational beliefs and moving away from their original roots. He was an avid follower of John Wesley. Seymour, like Wesley, believed in strong prayer, holiness, divine healing and total sanctification. Looking for a church, Seymour found the "Evening Light Saints" later becoming the Church of God Reformation Movement. While with this conservative Holiness group, Seymour was sanctified and called to preach. It was at this time that he had a near fatal attack of smallpox. The illness left him blind in one eye and scarred his face. For the rest of his life he wore a beard to hide his scars.

In 1905, Seymour was in Houston, Texas where he heard the Pentecostal message for the first time. Charles F. Parham, a Holiness preacher came to Houston and conducted a city-wide crusade. Parham had begun preaching a controversial third blessing after sanctification, which he called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. At Parham's Bible school in Topeka, Kansas, he and his students had received a baptism in the Holy Spirit with the biblical evidence of speaking in tongues. Parham was the founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement. Seymour quickly embraced this belief. Parham was planning to open a Bible school in Houston and Seymour, driven by a deep desire for more of God, applied for admission. Because of the Jim Crow laws of the day and customs that mandated racial segregation, there was a problem with his application. Parham, who did not charge any of his students a fee for the school, skirted these segregation rules by allowing Seymour to sit in an adjoining room and listen to classes through an open door. While attending these classes and continuing to pastor his congregation in Houston, Seymour received the letter to come to Los Angeles.

Seymour knew his beliefs were now contrary to those of the old religious system and even though he had not himself received the baptism in the Holy Spirit he was prepared to preach it without compromise. His first night preaching to his new congregation he spoke on the subject of the third blessing, but his audience believed that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was their experience of sanctification and rejected the idea that tongues were necessary. After the service he went out to eat with some members, when he returned to the mission to sleep, he found the door padlocked. The elders had decided he was preaching false doctrine. With his belongings locked inside the mission, Seymour was now in this large city without a place to stay and without a church. Seymour tells us about what happened:

"...on that night they locked the door against me, and afterwards got Bro. Roberts, the president of the Holiness Association, to come down and settle the doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, that it was simple sanctification. He came down and a good many Holiness preachers with him, and they stated that sanctification was the baptism in the Holy Ghost. But yet they did not have the evidence at the second chapter of Acts, for when the disciples were all filled with the Holy Ghost, they spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. After the president heard me speak of what the true baptism in the Holy Ghost was, he said he wanted it too, and told me that when I had received it to let him know. So I received it and let him know..."

One of those Holiness ministers would later say:

"The contention was all on our part. I have never met a man who had such control over his spirit. No amount of confusion and accusation seemed to disturb him. He would sit behind that packing case and smile at us until we were all condemned by our own activities."

Edward Lee, a member of the congregation, took compassion on Seymour and invited him to stay in his home. Seymour was so desperate for a touch of God he would spend nearly all his time in prayer.

"I got to Los Angeles, and there the hunger to have more of God was not less but more. I prayed, 'God what can I do?' The Spirit said, ‘Pray more.' But Lord I am praying five hours a day now. I increased my hours of prayer to seven, and prayed on...I prayed to God to give what Parham preached, the real Holy Ghost and fire with tongues with love and power of God like the apostles had."

Richard and Ruth Asberry asked Seymour to move in with them and use their home for nightly prayer meetings. Although no one at the time knew what was happening, the Lord was going to do a mighty work out of these meetings. Within the next five weeks these prayer meetings grew continuously night after night. Seymour would stand on the porch of the Asberry house and pray and preach to hundreds. At one point the crowds were so large that the porch collapsed under the strain. Fortunately no one was hurt and the meeting continued.

About this time Seymour told the group about a woman, Lucy Farrow, he had met in Houston that traveled around with Charles Parham. Lucy was born in slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, and distinguished herself as a teacher, preacher, and missionary in early Pentecostalism. Seymour went on to say how many had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit through the laying on of her hands. The group was so anxious to meet her that they took up an offering for her train fare and invited her to come. They prepared a place for her to stay at the Edward Lee house, where Seymour had stayed earlier. With anticipation of a great move of God they counted the days until she would arrive.

Edward Lee returned home a few days later to find that Farrow had just arrived from Houston. Later while eating dinner he was so hungry for the baptism in the Holy Spirit he asked Farrow, "Sister, if you will lay your hands on me, I believe I will get my baptism right now." Farrow rose from her seat, walked over and laid her hands on Lee, who immediately fell out of his chair and, while lying on the floor, began speaking in tongues. Excitement filled the house and when the Lees and Farrow entered the door at the Asberry home for the nightly prayer meeting, he lifted up his hands and broke out in tongues. That was all it took...the wait was over! Every room in the home was packed with people. Many were already praying. Seymour then took charge of the meeting exalting the Lord and exhorting the people. Suddenly the power of God flooded the house, and virtually everyone present began speaking in tongues. It was pandemonium. People were shouting, laughing, crying, dancing, and jumping. Many dropped to their knees and cried out to God. Some people rushed outside to the front porch, prophesying and preaching, while others ran from the porch to the inside to do the same. Many ran into the streets for the entire neighborhood to hear. The Ashberry's young daughter, who was just then coming home from work, rushed into the house to see what was happening, only to meet her frightened younger brother running the other way! How clear that day in scripture becomes when Peter had to stand before the multitude and say," Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let it be known to you, and heed my words, for these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day."(Acts 2:14, 15) Jennie Moore, who later became Seymour's wife, not only spoke in tongues but also went to the piano and played beautifully though she had never had a lesson. One eyewitness to the event left us with this:

"They shouted for three days and three nights...the people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As the people came in they would fall under God's power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted there until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt. During those three days there were so many people who received their baptism. The sick were healed and sinners were saved just as they walked in."

Acts 2:2-4..."And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting...And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

To be continued...

J.J.(Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church