The early Pentecostal writer V. P. Simmons on the Church history of tongues–an important and early contribution to the Pentecostal doctrine of tongues.
V. P. Simmons is an unknown name in the annals of Pentecostal history and even more so in the general historical records. However, the impact of his historical thesis which connects the speaking in tongues of the 1900s with the first-century rite still echoes in Pentecostal establishments everywhere. His name may be forgotten but his framework is relatively intact.
The Pentecostal theology of speaking in tongues has a distinct historical framework and interpretative system. This unique framework can be traced to his article in a Pentecostal influenced newspaper called the Bridegroom’s Messenger back in 1907. Not much is known of Mr. Simmons outside of his contributions to this newspaper.
The Bridegroom’s Messenger held him in the highest honor: “Brother Simmons is known among Pentecostal people as a writer and thinker and an observer of religious movements for years. He has known something of “Pentecost” for about fifty-two years. His observations and research has made his judgment valuable and reliable.”1
His History of Tongues work was published and republished on a number of occasions in the Bridegroom’s Messenger — an important and influential early Pentecostal newspaper that was published out of Atlanta. It arguably supplanted the Azusa Street newspaper, Apostolic Faith in reach and influence by 1908. The Church History of Tongues was converted into a tract and sold by the Bridegroom’s Messenger which gave it a wide reading through North America and the world.
Other writers and editors greatly expanded on the same historical framework penned by him later on. He was somewhat a patriarch of the tongues movement. He had been actively following the subject since the late 1850s.
Enclosed are entire articles by Simmons, a number of quotes, some background texts from the Bridegroom’s Messenger and a few additional notes.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with his framework, it is an important piece of the historical record.
Articles, Quotes, and Notes
Dec. 1, 1907. Vol. 1. No. 3
“A History of Tongues” V. P. Simmons (Frostproof, Fla.)
With the passing of the apostolic age, only one reference in the writings of the early fathers concerning praying, speaking, or singing in tongues, has come down to us. It is more than probable that records of martyrdom on the one hand, and the theological controversies on the other, has crowded out much pertaining to spiritual devotion and spiritual exercises in the church.
We will briefly note what facts have cropped out in church history upon the subject of “tongues.”
1. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, born probably, in Asia Minor, A. D. 115, died at Lyons, France, A. D. 202, for twenty-five years Bishop of Lyons, was a scholar of Polycarp, who, in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John. Drifting westward as far as France in A. D. _77, he became the leader of the Christians and their most learned defender of the faith. In his Adv. Haer. VI page 6, he writes, “We have many brethren in the churches, having prophetical gifts, and by the Spirit speaking in all kinds of languages.” From this statement of Irenaeus the inference is quite conclusive, that, for at least one hundred years after the apostles, “tongues” continued in the church; thus confuting the oft repeated statement that it was confined to the apostle’s day only.
2. After the reformation under Luther a century and a half passed before anything definite is recorded concerning “tongues.” The Protestant French Huguenots were a godly people, who for long generations furnished many thousands for martyrdom, and still more for banishment—a full million banished from their native land, and many ten thousands sealing their faith by their blood, during that long Catholic persecution. It naturally speaks for itself that the Holy Spirit put His sealing grace upon so steadfast and devoted a people. Upon this true people for generation, the spiritual supernatural gifts seemed to rest. From the repeal of toleration, A. D. 1685, the Catholics, like wild beasts, hunted this devoted class of their countrymen, wiping out 166 of their towns, devastating their country, sparing neither men, women, nor children, as they fled to the mountains, to dens and caves of the earth. God was with them, and the Holy Ghost fell on them in mighty power, and supernatural manifestations. Among the Huguenots were some well uneducated; speaking the purest French; others back in the mountain seclusions, like the Camisards, the Cevennes, and others, speaking a very illiterate dialect. On both classes, the learned and the illiterate, came the supernatural manifestations. I quote from the Library of Universal Knowledge, Vol. III, page 352. (From A. D. 1685-1705, again A. D. 1715-1729, also A. D. 1775-1789): “There was a singular psychologic or spiritual phase in the history of the C. that must be noticed. It was a sort of inspiration or ecstasy. The subject who had endured long fasting, became pale, and fell insensible to the ground. Then cam violent agitations of the limbs and head; and finally the patient, who might be a little child, a woman, or half-witted person, began to speak in good French of the Huguenot Bible, warning the people to repentance, prophesying the immediate coming of the Lord in judgment, and claiming that these exhortations came directly from the Holy Ghost; after a long discourse the patient returns to his native patois (that is, to his illiterate dialect) with no recollection of what he had been doing or saying. All kinds of miracles, so they believed, attended upon the Camisards, strange lights guided them to places of safety (from their prosecutors), unknown voices spoke encouragement, and wounds were often harmless. Those who were in ecstasy of trance fell from trees without sustaining hurt.” “The supernatural was part of their life.” Such is the statement of Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of the fifteenth volume Library of Universal Knowledge, 1880 edition.
Dr. Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, also in Religious Encyclopedia, speaks of the Camisards, prophets of the Cevennes, as speaking in unknown tongues, as well as talking in pure French, when in natural conversation theirs was an illiterate dialect.
Before leaving this devout people, it might be added that, from the restoration of the Bourbons to the throne of France, A. D. 1814 and 1815, another bitter persecution, even to martyrdom, broke upon the Protestants of France, and with it these supernatural manifestations seemed to be again revived.
3. Dr. Shaff also mentions the early Quakers and early Methodists as “speaking in tongues,” but not having the data for either will pass them until such time as we can present facts in this case.
4. “Lasure” movement in Sweden, A. D. 1841-1843, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues is also recorded in history.
5. In connection with the Irish revival (Protestant), A. D. 1859, was the “speaking in tongues.” See Shaff’s History of Christian Church for particulars.
6. Under the ministry of Edward Irving, born in Scotland, A. D. 1792, died A. D. 1834, much of the supernatural was manifested. Irving taught school A. D. 1812 at Huddington, where Jane Welsh, afterwards wife of the historian Carlyle, was among his scholars. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, in A. D. 1815 began preaching __ became assistant pastor under Dr. _____ at Glasgow, A. D. 1822, called to the Caledonian church of the Covenanters at London. So rapid was this church under his ministry that in two years it grew from a small people to a congregation of 6,000. In his ministry Irving made the second personal coming of Christ very prominent, also an entire abandonment of self to God, of which he was an example. Thomas Carlyle, himself a cold and critical writer, said of Edward Irving (A. D. 1835): “His was the freest, brotherlinest, bravest human soul mine ever came in contact with. I call him on the whole the best man I have ever found in this world or hope to find.” Such was the man that became leader of the “Catholic Apostolic Church,” sometimes called “Irvingites,” after the Presbyterian body threw him overboard. He lived and walked too near God for any ecclesiastical organization to manage. In the spring of A. D. 1830, on the shores of the Clyde, Scotland, among some pious Presbyterian men and women, the Holy Spirit fell in wonderful manner. The speaking in tongues quickly spread into widely separated parts of Scotland.
“Mr. Cardale, a Scotch lawyer, brought the news to London, and in 1831 his wife and Mr. Taplin began to ‘prophesy’ and to speak in an unknown tongue in Irving’s church. Irving fell in with the movement, heartily convinced of its scriptural basis and divine authority. Forsaken by a large part of his congregation, he began to hold services on May 6, 1832, with 800 communicants in a new place of worship.” — Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. II, page 1119. “The order of this movement was: The ‘prophesyings’ were addressed to the audience in intelligible English, and like the Quaker utterances; but the ‘tongues’ were monologues or dialogues between the speaker and God which non one could understand.” Encyclopedia as above, Vol. 1, page 422. This marvelous, supernatural work continued with this people for years, even after the death of the saintly Irving.
7. Among the Second Adventists of America the talking tongues was manifest. In A. D. 1854, Elder S. G. Mathewson spoke in tongues and Elder Edwin Burnham interpreted the same. The writer knew both of these men of God well, has often sat under their preaching. They were large men physically, mentally an spiritually. By some, Edwin Burnahm was regarded as the most gifted in eloquence and used the most glowing rhetoric of all the preachers connected with the Second Advent movement since the days of Edward Irving.
In the early Seventies, A. D. 1873, and onward again among a portion of the Second Adventist believers, the talking in tongues, accompanied largely with gift of healing, was manifested in New England. They were called the “Gift Adventists.” Their most noted leader was Elder Doughty, a man, all things considered, the writer regards as having the strongest faith and power in prayer of any person with whom he ever became acquainted. On Elder Doughty abode the gift of healing in a wonderful degree.
In this recital but one other case will be noted.
8. Charles G. Finney was born A. D. 1792, in Western Connecticut, born again A. D. 1821. Quickly after his conversion he received the baptism of the Holy Ghost and began speaking in tongues. A subject to which in his early experience his attention had never been called. He did not know what to make of it. An indescribable sweetness took control of his whole being. From that hour he abandoned the law business for gospel work. For fifty-four years an active evangelist, much of which time also president of Oberlin, Ohio, College. It is claimed that more than one hundred and fifty thousand were converted under his labors. On him abode such Holy Ghost power that people were powerfully convicted by just his looking at them without speaking. Probably his equal as an evangelist of divine power has not been known to the church since the days of the Apostle Paul. The case of Finney speaking in tongues and concealed by his friends and biographers, as a weakness in the great man, has had a parallel in the experience of many another consecrated laborer. Let not those who have received the Comforter—with tongues, doubt the anointing of a harrowed labourer in the Master’s vineyard whose experience is unknown.”
Republished in February 1, 1908. It is announced in the March 1, 1908 that it is published in a tract form. A version very similar to his but the initials of someone else, Feb. 1, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 79. Reprinted in the White Wing Messenger, March 31, 1928. Vol. V. No. 7 Pg. 3 and continued in April, 14, 1928, Vol. V. No. 8.
April 15, 1908. Vol 1. No. 12
“History of Tongues: Additional Testimony” by V. P. Simmons.
“In writing up testimony concerning prominent persons in the Church in earlier times of Christianity, following the death of the apostles, it behooves one to be very careful whom he indorses or condemns; for prominent writers of those times were either bitter in condemnation, or worshipful in praises of leaders among them. Taking Arius, for example, some writers denounce him as a bitter, obnoxious heretic, while others hold him up as the most saintly church leader of his time.
1. The Montanists, the followers of Montanus, who, A. D. 156, appeared as a new prophet of Ardaban, in Phrygia, on the frontier of Mysia. Both Montanus and his disciples were subjects of severe criticism of ecclesiastics, and by others praised for their fervent piety, their self-denial, their courage in facing martyrdom, their long continuance in prayer, their ardent belief in the supernatural. Like the Pentecostal people of today, they had bitter assailants and zealous defenders; and also like the Pentecostal believers of our times they talked in tongues.
Montanus called “the prophet” and two very active Christian women, named Priscilla and Maximilla, called “the prophetesses,” saintly in their lives, ardent in the gospel labor, laying great stress upon the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and inward illumination, prophesying, speaking in tongues, in all things led of the Spirit, given to fasting, prayer and self-denial, they were very separate from the world, and insisting that an ecclesiastical organization was not the Church, but “an inward illumination of the Holy Spirit upon believers did constitute them the true Church.” See History of Universal Knowledge, Vol. 10, page 160-1. Also Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, page 1561-2, third edition. For full four hundred years the Montanists contained a separate existence, suffering persecution, even to martyrdom, from the heathen, and bitter exclusion from the Catholic party. Rigid in morals, laying great stress on divine leading, they ever affirmed that the very substance of the Church was the Holy Spirit.
Dr. Philip Schaff, former professor in the Union Theological Seminary, New York, says, “Montanism was simply a reaction of the old, the primitive Church, against the obvious tendency of the Church today to strike a bargain with the world, and arrange herself comfortably in it.”
2. Tertullian, born A. D., 145 (some affirm A. D., 150 as date of his birth), was perhaps the finest scholar, the most extensive writer, the most brilliant leader of the Church of his generation. Born and educated at Carthage, at that time a seat of learning, he was a man of radical temperament, strong convictions, born leader. He early espoused the teaching of Montanus, prophesying, talking in tongues, spiritual visions, practicing self-denial, ardent in labors, opposing the growing ecclesiasticism of the Church. On all social questions he ever drew a distinct line between the Church and the world, he filled out a long life, being an active disputant to the last, and is ever mentioned by Christian writers as a father of the Church.
3. Cyprian, also born at Carthage, about the beginning of the third century, was but a young man when Tertullian died. He early became a disciple of his illustrious townsman, adopting all of Tertullian’s views. He too, was a finished scholar, even in early manhood venerated for his piety. In him, so-called Montanism had an able defendant. The inner life of the Holy Spirit’s leadings, prophesying, tongues, visions, the actual necessity of a positive Holy Spirit given experience. He was wont to call Tertullian his master. Probably more biographies have been written of Cyprian than of any other of the early fathers of the Church. He went to martyrdom A. D., 258.
Thus we have in a period of one hundred years, not less than four great leaders of the early Church championing the Pentecostal teaching of our own times; all of them men of no mean ability, learning, or piety, to wit: Irenaeus, of Lyons, Montanus, of Phrygia; Tertullian and Cyprian, of Carthage; together with two illustrations Christian women mentioned in this article. Each and all of these had a large following, while all of them battled the then growing spirit of Roman Catholicism.”
June 1, 1909. Vol. 2. No. 39
Historians Dodging Tongues
The many bits of history down through the ages, showing the cropping out of speaking in tongues, are but an indication that hidden under the surface is far more that might have been written had not biographers and writers of church history concealed facts about this subject.
If clear headed Christian scholars like Irenaeus, Tertullian and Cyprian of the earlier centuries endorsed the Montanists, defending them in their speaking in tongues, it is probable those eminent men were not alone in their approval of tongues and prophesying.
In fact, Irenaeus, in his Adv. Heur, page 6, writes: “We have many brethren in the churches having prophetical gifts, and by the Spirit, speaking in all kinds of languages.”
The English language abounds with many elaborate encyclopedias; most of them scarcely mention the subject of “Tongues,” leaving for Andrew Findlater, LL. D., acting editor of encyclopedia of universal knowledge, and Philip Schaff, D. D., LL. editor of History . . . [a portion of the copy is illegible]
Lutheran writers . . .[a portion of the copy is illegible] silent about the tongue movement in Sweden about A. D. 1841-1843, leaving it to Dr. Schaff, of another denomination, to bring out. Methodist literature abounds in Christian biography and history of Methodist religious awakenings, but how silent are they all upon any tongue talking in their membership, leaving Dr. Schaff and Dr. Bushnall (in his work, “Supernaturalism”), to mention tongue talking among Methodists. Most Presbyterian and Congregational writers give us facts of Methodist history concealed by Methodists themselves.
Elder I. C. Welcome wrote a large, excellent work, “History of the Second Advent Message,” showing great research in compiling; but not a word about Adventists speaking in tongues; and yet from A. D. 1845 to the present time, both in the ministry and laity, this spiritual exercise has almost continually been manifest among some of the most devout and saintly of Second Advent believers. (The writer is collecting quite a goodly number of facts for future publication on this line.)
I do not say that biographers and historians are dishonest in concealing these matters from the readers. They evidently consider tongue talking a fanaticism, a weakness, to be kept out of sight; but in some way it will out, and readers will know that their biographers and compilers are not impartial.
June 1, 1910. Vol. 3. No. 63
“The Exercise of Tongues.” By V. P. Simmons.
The writer having had no personal experience concerning “tongues,” can only judge by observation, and the general effect of “the tongue” movement.
The variety of exercises of “tongues” seems to be: (1) Talking in tongues, (2) exhorting in tongues, (3) singing in tongues, (4) praying in tongues, (5) writing in tongues, (6) interpreting in tongues, (7) playing in tongues upon musical instruments.
Having witnessed nearly of these various exercises, not excepting even a counterfeit of tongues, and having made the tongue movement a study for more than fifty-years, both from church history and the many recitals concerning it in these last of the last days, the following are our conclusions:
1. It has positive, and repeated Bible authority.
2. Not a hint can be found in the Bible that it has been done away, or will be done away, so long as this gospel dispensation lasts.
3. The class who are exercised with “tongues,” are as a rule the most consecrated, the most crucified, the most given to Bible study, the most self-denying, the most humble, loving, prayerful and saintly; far in advance of the ordinary conscientious church members. Their simple child-like faith with which they take the Bible as it reads, is really marvelous in this sceptical age, when even ministers study the Bible to explain it away.
4. To be even remotely associated with them, to attend their services, their camp meeting, to watch them from the outside, is to feel their quiet power. In short one comes to the conclusion that God is with them. Invalids have repeatedly expressed the soothing influence they experienced when under the quiet nursing of this class of believers.
5. The positively supernatural manifestations and exercises, connected with the tongue movement have convinced many thoughtful mean and women, who even came to criticise; but went away acknowledging that God was with them of a truth.
6. The world wide, rapid spread of this so-called Pentecostal work bears the very mark of divinity upon it.
Some without any natural musical gift, who could not even sing, have, while exercised with tongues, sung sweetly, have played upon musical instruments, and even sung in “tongues,” all with a harmony, and melody equal to a trained musician.
To give anything like an analysis would be careful work for one living in the experience of tongues; but for only an observer, it seems somewhat doubtful business.
F. Bartleman in the Way of Faith, concerning “tongues,” says: “Much of it is evidently no particular language. But Paul suggests the possibility of our speaking even in the ‘tongue of angels.’ I Cor. 13:1. We must keep humble, sober, however. Children must not get foolish. And may we not be given also an ‘ecstatic utterance,’ a ‘new tongue’ spoken neither by men nor angels?” Again he says: “This ‘tongue’ may be for private exercise, devotion, prayer, etc., mainly. Some languages, spoken in prayer and otherwise, have been understood. Possibly some never will, nor can be, except by spiritual interpretation. Let us keep a sound mind at all hazards for God.” We infer from I Cor. 14:18, 19, that much of Paul’s speaking in tongues was in private, for his own comfort, and the spiritual rest it imparted. I Cor. 14:28 seems to confirm this thought, while verse 22d brings out another phase of tongues. “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” At such times the tongue spoken may be in a language that some unbeliever present understands; or a new tongues that another gives the interpretation of, “And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest.” Benjamin Wilson in his Emphatic Diaglott thus render I Cor. 14:10: “It may be there are so many kinds of languages in the world, and no one is unmeaning.” His rendering of I Cor. 12:10 is in harmony with this thought. “To another different languages.” It is not possible that all believers living up to their highest privileges may have for their comfort a heavenly “tongue?” to exercise either alone, or with the saints, while those who have the “gift of tongues” (plural) may speak in languages, which either themselves or another may interpret, or an unbeliever present may understand, and so become a recipient of the grace of Christ?
Occasionally one might be permitted of the Spirit to speak in another language for the benefit of a hearer, or hearers. Some three years ago a Christian woman from Los Angeles went as a missionary to Africa. She was permitted to give two discourses in the native language, after which she had to learn their language, to any further instruct them. Some of her converts in speaking in tongues were permitted to speak English, without having learned the same.
August 15, 1911. Vol. 4. No. 92
A Faithful Worker Called Home
On Tuesday morning, August the first, Mrs. Gertrude E. B. Simmons of Frostproof, Fla., died at her childhood’s home in Plainfield, Con.,
. . .Married in 1873 to V. P. Simmons, an ardent temperance worker and preacher of the Second coming, she found full scope for all her rare mental and social gifts.
. . .In October, 1907, at Durant camp meeting Mrs. Simmons received her Pentecost, speaking in another tongue.”
Nov. 1918. Volume 12. No. 207.
With Long Life Will I Satisfy Him.—Ps. 91:16
Dear Sister: I am glad that you have again started the Bridegroom’s Messenger. No other Pentecostal periodical quite fills the place of The Bridegroom’s Messenger to me.
. . .On November 3rd I will be 83 years of age. I have several times been sick, but I pleaded Bible promises for length of days, and the Lord raised me up.
For more information:
- Charles Parham on Speaking in Tongues. Charles Parham is considered one of the fathers of Pentecostalism.
- The Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California:
- The Apostolic Faith Newspaper on the Azusa Street Revival.
- The Apostolic Faith Newspaper. A digitized copy of the first volume published in 1906.
- The complete publications of The Apostolic Faith Newspaper can be found at the Pentecostal Archives.
- Early Pentecostal Tongues: Notes and Quotes A digest of quotes from early Pentecostal and holiness periodicals from 1880 to 1930 on speaking in tongues.
- Modern Pentecostal Books on Speaking in Tongues.
- Early Pentecostal Books on Speaking in Tongues.
- A New Kind of Tongues. How the definition of tongues changed somewhere between 1906 and 1907. A summary and link to Gary B. McGee’s excellent article on the Pentecostal movement in the late 1800s and beyond.