Trembling, Speechlessness, Holy Laughter, and
Drunkenness in the Spirit at Azusa Street
by Richard M. Riss.
The focal point of the early Pentecostal revival which began in 1906 was the Apostolic Faith Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. Continuous meetings were held there every day for a period of three years beginning in mid-April, 1906. This mission on Azusa Street published the well-known newspaper, The Apostolic Faith, which was one of the primary means by which news of the revival was spread, beginning with the first issue, published in September of 1906. The editor was William J. Seymour. The Apostolic Faith contains many accounts of shaking, falling, speechlessness, drunkenness in the Spirit, and Holy Laughter which took place during the early Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street and elsewhere during the first few years of the revival. It would be impossible to do an exhaustive study of this topic in the space of a short article, but here are some representative quotations:
SHAKING AND TREMBLING
The lead article of the third issue of The Apostolic Faith, published in November of 1906, is entitled "Bible Pentecost." Here are a few excerpts:
The news has spread far and wide that Los Angeles is being visited with a "rushing mighty wind from heaven." . . . One brother stated that even before his train entered the city, he felt the power of the revival. . . . There is such power in the preaching of the Word in the Spirit that people are shaken on the benches. Coming to the altar, many fall prostrate under the power of God, and often come out speaking in tongues. Sometimes the power falls on people and they are wrought upon by the Spirit during testimony or preaching and receive Bible experiences. . . . The demonstrations are not the shouting, clapping or jumping so often seen in camp meetings. There is a shaking such as the early Quakers had and which the old Methodists called the "jerks."
On the second page of the same issue, Glen A. Cook provided his testimony, in which he wrote:
I could feel the power going through me like electric needles. The Spirit taught me that I must not resist the power but give way and become limp as a piece of cloth. When I did this, I fell under the power, and God began to mold me and teach me what it meant to be really surrendered to Him. I was laid out under the power five times before Pentecost really came. Each time I would come out from under the power, I would feel so sweet and clean, as though I had been run through a washing machine. . . . May arms began to tremble, and soon I was shaken violently by a great power, and it seemed as though a large pipe was fitted over my neck, my head apparently being off.
. . . About thirty hours afterwards, while sitting in the meeting on Azusa Street, I felt my throat and tongue begin to move, without any effort on my part. Soon I began to stutter and then out came a distinct language which I could hardly restrain. I talked and laughed with joy far into the night.
In the fourth issue (p. 4), G. W. Batman wrote, "I received the baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire and now I feel the presence of the Holy Ghost, not only in my heart but in my lungs, my hands, my arms and all through my body and at times I am shaken like a locomotive steamed up and prepared for a long journey."
William H. Durham recorded his testimony in the sixth issue of The Apostolic Faith
(February-March, 1907), p. 4, where he wrote:
On Friday evening, March 1, His mighty power came over me, until I jerked and quaked under it for about three hours. It was strange and wonderful and yet glorious. He worked my whole body, one section at a time, first my arms, then my limbs, then my body, then my head, them my face, then my chin, and finally at 1 a.m. Saturday, Mar. 2, after being under the power for three hours, He finished the work on my vocal organs, and spoke through me in unknown tongues.
R. J. Scott, the superintendent of Home and Foreign Missions in Winnipeg, Manitoba, wrote as follows in The Apostolic Faith (February-March, 1907), p. 7:
After a trip of nearly 3500 miles, we arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday morning, Nov. 29. I left my family at a hotel and proceeded with my son on a search for Azusa Mission. After I was there a short time, a lady got up and testified, and the power of God fell on her and she began to tremble. . . . Well, glory to God, after this sister trembled for a few minutes, she started to speak in an unknown tongue to me, and to my surprise, after she had uttered a few sentences, she spoke in English, giving the interpretation of what she said.
In the same issue (p. 8), Clara E. Lum of the Azusa Street Mission wrote:
When I came to Azusa Mission, I went in for the baptism with the Holy Ghost immediately. Hade some digging to do, but the Lord met me. I was filled with the Holy Ghost many times and was shaken many times by the power of God.
In a report from San Francisco that appeared in issue no. 7 (April, 1907), p. 4, we read:
The power of God shook her so mightily that an elderly lady friend, who had accompanied her to the meetings, was greatly agitated and excited about it; she declared that sister was having a fit, and said something ought to be done to relieve her. When told that it was the power of God, and that the sister would come out all right, she looked incredulous, and flew around in great excitement. Evidently she had not seen it on this wise before. The sister did not return to the meetings until Saturday night. . . . The sister was again shaken by the mighty power of God. Her husband was sitting by her side, and was evidently amazed; yet he recognized it as the power of God, though not saved himself, he did not resist the power of God, nor try to hinder his wife. When his wife went to the altar, still shaking under the mighty power of God, he sat quietly in his seat, deeply moved by what was going on.
On the same page of that issue, there was a report from Spokane, Washington, according to which "little children received their baptism and spoke in different languages. One Methodist minister and one Advent minister received the baptism, and before they spoke in tongues shook for some hours under the power of God."
In vol. 1, no. 5 (January 1907), p. 1, we read: "One who received the Holy Ghost baptism in Clearwater, testified, 'It was in morning worship. We read a chapter and I wanted to pray but the Lord tied my mouth. The power began to come in waves. The Lord took full possession. I fell over like a dead man. I was dead to the world. I tried to pray while lying on the floor, but when my tongue was loosened, it was in a different language."
In issue no. 7 (April, 1907), p. 4, the following was reported from San Francisco:
On another night a Hawaiian brother was gloriously converted. . . . The Hawaiian could not speak for some minutes after he arose to his feet, the power of God was upon him to such an extent.
PREACHING BECOMES IMPOSSIBLE
One of the problems that people had to face during the early Pentecostal revival was that, very often, they were affected so strongly by the power of the Holy Spirit that preaching became impossible. For example, in the December, 1906 issue of The Apostolic Faith (vol. 1, no. 4), p. 3, the following announcement appeared:
Sister M. E. Judy writes from Columbus, Ohio, that they have a tarrying meeting there and others in different towns are tarrying with them in Spirit. She says, "Last Sunday a burden of prayer came upon the people in our humble little church in such power that our minister had no opportunity to preach, just said a few word on "This is that" and closed.
Writing from Norway, A. A. Body wrote concerning T. B. Barrat's meetings that "the meetings are liable at any moment to be swept by a wave of spiritual power sweeping through all human arrangements. At time the noise is strangely awesome, almost appalling to an 'outsider'" (The Apostolic Faith, vol. 1, No. 6 [February-March, 1907], p. 1).
UNABLE TO MOVE
Levi R. Lupton wrote as follows from Alliance, Ohio, in the sixth issue of The Apostolic Faith (February-March, 1907), p. 5:
I then became perfectly helpless and for a season my entire body became cold, and I was unable to move even to the extent that I could not wink an eye for a short time. Yet, I was perfectly conscious and restful in my soul and mind. After some three hours the power of God left my body except in my shoulders and arms, which remained stiff during the entire time I was upon the floor.
DRUNKENNESS IN THE SPIRIT
Myrtle K. Shideler wrote as follows in the January, 1907 issue of THE The Apostolic Faith (p. 3):
By the time the chorus ended, the power of God was so heavy upon me. I could scarcely open my mouth, and every fibre of my being was trembling. Yet my feet felt glued to the floor and my knees stiff, so I could not sit down. I only got out a few broken sentences that I remember. (I never fainted in my life and was never unconscious, but God certainly took me out of myself.) He showed me things which there are not words enough in the English language to express. . . . I was under the power the remainder of the meeting, and for three days was as one drunken. . . . Since then, such waves of power roll over me from time to time. I can scarcely keep my feet, and I am sure if my old friends in California could see me, they would think I was indeed insane.
Here's a report that appeared in The Apostolic Faith, vol. 1, no. 10 (September, 1907):
Missionaries in China have been seeking the baptism with the Holy Ghost ever since they received the first Apostolic Faith papers from Los Angeles. One dear missionary, Brother B. Berntsen from South Chih-li, Tai-Ming-Fu, North China came all the way to Los Angeles to receive his Pentecost. And, bless God, he went to the altar at Azusa Mission, and soon fell under the power, and arose drunk on the new wine of the kingdom, magnifying God in a new tongue.
THROWN TO THE FLOOR
On January 29, 1907, T. B. Barratt wrote from Chistiania, Norway that "One man was thrown on his back, a preacher, last Sunday morning in the Students' Hall, and when he rose, he spoke in four languages, one of these was English. He could speak none of them before" (The Apostolic Faith, vol. 1, No. 6 [February-March, 1907], p. 1).
John Barclay, a policeman from Carlton, Melbourne, Australia, wrote in the May, 1908 issue (vol. II, no. 12): "Presently some mighty, marvelous unseen power took hold of me, and I was thrown downward on the floor. Everything around me disappeared. The other friends were as if they never existed. I saw the heavens opened and my previous Jesus sitting on the throne. . . . [At another meeting,] about 1 o'clock a.m., a brother laid hands on me, and I received my baptism. My hands, arms, and whole body trembled greatly and I was thrown on the floor. All the others were praising the Lord."
A. S. Copley of Cambridge, Ohio, was quoted by The Apostolic Faith (January 1907), p. 4, as follows about a meeting that had taken place on December 8, 1906 at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hebden in Toronto: "One young woman . . . laughed incessantly for hours and hours. Sometimes she speaks in a tongue while at her work."
Henry Prentiss reported as follows in the May, 1907 issue (vol. 1, no. 8, p. 4):
We went to the meeting where Bro. Blassco is. The Lord wonderfully blest in the service, and one precious sinner was saved, sanctified and baptized with the Holy Ghost. The Lord filled her mouth with holy laugher and she spoke in new tongues and has been under His power ever since, filled with joy and gladness.
The following month, A. A. Body wrote from England as follows (vol. 1, no. 9, p. 1):
The next morning the Holy Ghost came in mighty power, causing me to laugh as I had never done in my life.
A. A. Body's wife wrote something very similar in a later issue (vol. 1, no. 11 [October 1907 to January 1908], p. 1):
After a long time of silent waiting upon Him, God gave me a wonderful vision of Christ in the glory at the right hand of the Father, and from Him came a wonderful light on to me, causing me to laugh as I had never done before.
Here's another example, from vol II, NO. 13 (May, 1908), p. 4:
Then the power fell. There were times when we were all shouting, screaming and laughing together under the power of the Spirit.
A WARNING ABOUT INTERFERING WITH THESE MANIFESTATIONS
The ninth issue of The Apostolic Faith (September, 1907), p. 4, published a warning from Kedgaon, India, about attempts to suppress manifestations of this kind:
We do not need to worry over these manifestations, nor seek to suppress them. it is fruit in the life and service that we want to see [Emphasis in the original]. These manifestations do not hinder fruit-bearing but we have seen over and over again during the past fifteen months, that where Christian workers have suppressed these manifestations, the Holy Spirit has been grieved, the work has stopped, and no fruit of holy lives has resulted. Who are we to dictate to an all-wise God as to how He shall work in anyone? When the Spirit is poured out upon anyone in strong conviction, why should be well them that it is wrong to cry?
Because among idolaters the devil imitates the trembling caused by the Holy Spirit when He comes in so as to overpower the physical, why should we say that the person has worked it up or is possessed by an evil spirit? The writer testifies that she has in the silence of the midnight hour, alone in her room without a sound in the house, been shaken from her innermost being, until her whole body was convulsed, and filled with joy and consciousness that the Holy Spirit had taken possession of every part of her being. No one had greater prejudice against religious excitement that she, but every time she put her hands upon the work at Mukti to suppress joy or strong conviction, or reproved persons being strongly wrought upon in prayer, the work of revival stopped, and she had to confess her fault before it went on again.