Filled with Holy Spirit?
Sometimes God raises up trail blazers, people that go before us, who pay the price so that we can enjoy the benefits that come from their sacrifice. William J Seymour, an African American pastor, was one of those people. He was one of the most influential men in the revival that birthed the modern Pentecostal movement. A movement that includes 600 million people. I want to do more than just tell you about Him. I want to look at his life, because he modeled some attributes that we need to possess as believers.
He was born in Centerville, Louisiana on May 2, 1870. His parents were freed slaves. He was raised in dire poverty. He had very little education. As a young man he moved North where he worked at upscale restaurants and hotels as a waiter. In 1900 he moved to Cincinnati where he became part of the growing Holiness movement. There he caught the highly contagious and sometimes deadly smallpox virus that caused him to lose his left eye. But, it also propelled him to become a minister. He was ordained by the Church of God in 1902 and became an evangelist and finally a pastor of an African American church in Texas.
John G. Lake recorded that in 1903-1905 Bro. Seymour prayed 5 hours a day. (William J. Seymour: Pioneer of the Azusa Street Revival By Vinson Synan and Charles R. Fox)
In late 1905 his friend, Lucy Farrow, became the nanny for Charles Parham. She encouraged Bro. Seymour to attend Bro. Parham’s Bible School. Because of segregation laws, Bro. Seymour could not sit in the classroom with white students, but with permission from Parham and a determination fueled by spiritual hunger he sat just outside the doorway. There he became convinced that speaking in tongues was the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
I just love how God took Bro. Seymour to California. While visiting her family, Neely Terry attended Bro. Seymour’s church. Ms. Terry was impressed with Bro. Seymour’s message and godly character. When she returned to her home in Los Angeles, she told her pastor Julia Hutchins that she should invite him to speak. Mrs. Hutchins was making plans to become a missionary in Liberia. So, she invited Bro. Seymour to be the pastor of her small mission church there in Los Angeles.
On February 22, 1906 he arrived to preach in Julia Hutchins church. In his very first sermon there, he preached that speaking in tongues was the first Biblical evidence of being filled with Holy Spirit, even though he had never experienced it himself. You have to have a lot of faith to preach something you’ve never experienced.
The Elders of the church rejected Bro. Seymour’s message because he hadn’t been filled with the Holy Spirit. When Bro. Seymour returned the following Sunday, Mrs. Hutchins had padlocked the doors and refused to allow him to preach in her church.
One of the members of the church, Edward Lee, invited him to stay at his house, where he began to hold Bible studies and prayer meetings. The meetings were moved to the home of Richard and Ruth Asbury on Bonnie Brae Street . White families from the Holiness Church begin to join the meetings as they prayed to be filled with Holy Spirit.
After 5 weeks of preaching and 3 days into a strict fast, Edward Lee was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for the first time. At the next meeting Bro. Seymour shared Lee’s testimony and, you guessed it, preached on the Holy Spirit outpouring from Acts 2:4. Soon 6 more people were filled with the Holy Spirit. A few days later, Seymour himself spoke in tongues after praying all night long.
Word spread quickly throughout the city. While some were genuine seekers, other were just curious. At first they were mostly African American and a few whites that came to see what was happening there, for themselves. For several nights different speakers preached to the growing crowds from the front porch of 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. The diverse crowd grew very large as people were touched by the power of God and filled with Precious Holy Spirit.
Someone from the neighborhood said, “They shouted three days and three nights. It was Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near the house. As people came in they would fall under God’s power; and the whole city was stirred. They shouted until the foundation of the house gave way, but no one was hurt.”[Synan, Vinson (2001), The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001, Thomas Nelson Publishers, pp. 42–45, ISBN 0-7852-4550-2 ]
They quickly rented an old dilapidated building at 312 Azusa Street. It was a mess, but they cleaned it up and came together to encounter God. The spiritually hungry came from far and wide to receive their Pentecost. One person was quoted “the very atmosphere of heaven” had descended.” People were drawn by their desire to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit from around the world…and they came by the hundreds and thousands. People were saved, healed and set free…people were slain in the Spirit, filled with the Spirit and they spoke in tongues.
A visiting Baptist pastor said, “The Holy Spirit fell upon me and filled me literally, as it seemed to lift me up, for indeed, I was in the air in an instant, shouting, ’Praise God,’ and instantly I began to speak in another language. I could not have been more surprised if at the same moment someone had handed me a million dollars.”[“Azusa History“. International Center for Spiritual Renewal. Retrieved on 2007-05-17]
Frank Bartleman, his co-laborer and fellow leader at the Azusa Street Mission, described him by saying “(he was) very plain, spiritual, and humble… Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoeboxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there.” [Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street (South Plainfield, N.J.: Bridge Publishing, 1980), xviii.]
William H. Durham was a pastor from Chicago who traveled to Azusa Street. His description of Seymour was this: “He walks and talks with God. His power is in his weakness. He seems to maintain a helpless dependence on God and is as simple-hearted as a little child, and at the same time is so filled with God that you feel the love and power every time you get near him.” [Robeck, Azusa Street Mission and Revival, 91]
“William Seymour was a man fully surrendered to God, and the Lord used him mightily to bring about a major reawakening to early 20th century America and eventually the whole world.” [https://www.ihopkc.org/malachiproject/biography/william-j-Seymour]
As I think about these comments, I realize how desperately we need to experience that same kind of hunger that will fuel our persistence, cause us to pray and believe for a great awakening in people’s hearts today. A revival, awakening or outpouring, whatever you want to call it, that will help us to sense our helpless dependence on God like it marked Bro. Seymour’s ministry.
His example should challenge us to have faith in God’s Word that produces a boldness to declare to our generation that Precious Holy Spirit still wants to fill believers.
I pray that our desperation for this generation to know, really know God, would drain us of pride and selfishness and ignite the love of God in us.
Oh, that we may be so filled with the love and power of God that He would be felt when people get near us.
I read in Romans 5:5 NIV “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.
Frank Bartleman said “the color line was washed away in the blood.”
Charles R. Fox, Jr., co-author of William J. Seymour: Pioneer of the Azusa Street Revival, says “He could have easily said the color line was washed away in love, cause even though people came because of tongues it was love that kept them there.”
I pray that God will help us have that same love for each other that He gave them at Azusa Street.
Father, help us value each other. Help us to operate as a body and care tenderly for every member of the body. Give us the God kind of love that heals the wounds of segregation and pulls down walls that separate us.
Will you join me in praying that once again God will pour out His Spirit in ways that will draw lost people to Jesus?