The House that Jeffreys Built

by John Caldwell

NEW RELEASE: Pentecostal Rays

George Jeffreys (28 February 1889–26 January 1962) was a healing evangelist and leader of the early British Pentecostal movement who pioneered the Elim Pentecostal Churches whose legacy continues to be felt within the Pentecostal movement today. Despite this, we may be in danger of overlooking some of the most important aspects of his legacy: his writings.

Before we consider Jeffreys’ legacy, let’s briefly consider the man.

Pentecostal scholar and historian William K. Kay notes that George Jeffreys “grew from being an evangelistic preacher, and then an evangelistic preacher with a healing ministry, until he became a truly apostolic figure who left behind living and self-sustaining Spirit-filled congregations different from any of the other congregations that had previously existed in Ireland.”

Jeffreys’ evangelistic work has been considered to be of a spiritual fervour and quality “not seen since Moody and Sankey.” It’s also been said that Jeffreys’ impact was “without doubt, the most effective evangelistic ministry this country has known since the days of Wesley and Whitefield.” Kay, in his more cool-headed scholarly fashion admits “comparisons with John Wesley are not out of place.”

“Without doubt, one of the most effective evangelistic ministries this country has known since the days of Wesley and Whitefield.”

One of the most outstanding periods of Jeffreys’ ministry was in Birmingham where 10,000 commitments to Christ were recorded, 1,000 of whom were baptised, and over 1,000 people were healed.”

Yet, despite the mighty manifestations of the Holy Spirit, most biographers say that Jeffreys’ greatest legacy is the churches that he planted: “The most remarkable thing about the campaigns was not just the crowds or healings but the new churches which grew from them,” remarks one biographer. Another reflects: “The strength of George’s work was not just the crowds or healings but the new churches which grew from it. The results of Jeffreys’ work proved to be lasting.”

Most biographers say that Jeffreys’ greatest legacy is the churches he planted.

It’s obvious that Jeffreys was a unique figure. Very few combine the gifts of evangelist, pastor, teacher and apostolic church planter the way these gifts were seen in the life of Jeffreys. And whilst there is no doubt that the churches that exist today are a testimony to his skills as a master builder, there is more of Jeffreys’ legacy to be discovered than that which can be seen in his churches.

Jeffreys has left us his writings.

Those who know me, know I’m a bit of a church history geek. A few years ago, I inherited some old books from the library of a deceased pastor whose widow kindly allowed me to take any books I wanted. In amongst those books were some old Pentecostal classics, one of them being Healing Rays by George Jeffreys. I’d been on the look out for books by Jeffreys for a few years. A second book by Jeffreys that I couldn’t get a hold of was Pentecostal Rays. In Healing Rays, Jeffreys lays out his theology of healing and, in Pentecostal Rays, he presents his theology of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and gifts of the Spirit.

There are a few old hardback copies of Pentecostal Rays online via second hand bookshops, but you are likely to pay over £40.00. The only people I know who spend that kind of dosh on books are book collectors. There are also a couple of independent publishers who were reprinting copies, but none of these were to be found on Amazon. In effect, I couldn’t get a copy of Jeffreys’ book on Amazon.

As providence would have it, I’ve managed to source a PDF copy of Jeffreys’ book, and I’ve managed to confirm that the work was, in effect, public domain. During the Easter holidays I spent some time reformatting the document for print, the outcome being that Jeffreys’ Pentecostal Rays is now available on Amazon for £7.99.

As I spent the time over Easter 2021 immersed in Pentecostal Rays, I became deeply aware that Jeffreys, and other Pentecostal pioneers, have left us treasures that are buried away in second hand bookstores, or deceased pastors’ bookshelves. These books need to see fresh light. Pentecostal rays need to break through the clouds of historical and cultural apathy.

Pentecostal rays need to break through the clouds of historical and cultural apathy.

Here are three initial observations I have taken away from my time in Jeffreys’ book.

  1. Strong Biblical Exegesis

When I was a new Christian, I was surrounded by a number of good Christians who were ‘anti-charismatic.’ Pentecostals were the butt of many jokes – you know the one that compares the various denominations to a swimming pool, with all the Presbyterians up the deep end, and all the Charismatics splashing about the shallow end? – yeah, that was the perception I was given about charismatics.

In recent years, we have had a number of contemporary Charismatic and ‘Third Wave’ theologians lend their credibility to the Charismatic movement and offer us a more robust form of ‘continuationism.’ Consequently, many younger Christians today like to see themselves as reformed continuationists. However, as good as these new books are, the trends reinforce a stereotype and Pentecostal theology is seen an enthusiastic kid with lots of potential who needs some help to grow up. Thankfully, we can combine Pentecostal zeal with mature theological thinking and – Boom! – we can claim to be Pentecostal whilst maintaining our reputations in the process.

A mere dip into Jeffreys’ book should be enough to deliver us from such misguided notions.

Jeffreys may not have been an academic, but his book is grounded in careful biblical exegesis. He doesn’t handle scripture like a child wielding a loaded shot gun; he carefully unpacks the scriptures in context and seeks to present an honest exegesis.

This is not to say his exegesis is infallible – in fact, I think he errs at points. But the point is this: Jeffreys, and the type of Pentecostalism that emerged in Britain in the early 20th century, was biblically robust.

Not only was it robust – it presented a challenge to the liberalism of the 20th century – a liberalism that was killing the established churches. Regarding the liberal trend of denying the miracles of the Bible, and doctrines like the virgin birth, Jeffreys writes:

“These are days when the virgin birth is discredited by some religious teachers who carry indisputable marks of latter-day apostasy. That the real Man, Jesus, was born of a human mother and begotten of the Holy Ghost, is a fact that cannot be acknowledged by them because of their carnal and darkened minds. Little, if at all, do they understand the things pertaining to the Spirit.”

Stephen Jeffreys

So, whilst the established denominations were watering down the miracles of the Bible, Jeffreys and other Pentecostals were defending the doctrine of scripture, and the authenticity of the Bible’s miracles. And whilst the evangelicals were arguing that miracles had ceased, Jeffreys and the Pentecostals were busy healing the sick and casting out demons!

Whilst the evangelicals were arguing that miracles had ceased, Jeffreys and the Pentecostals were busy healing the sick and casting out demons!

2. Use of Historical Evidence

There is a steady stream of evangelicals leaving their churches in search of a more historic faith. Many are turning to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The main reason is the fact that evangelicalism is considered to be a newcomer with no roots in the historic Christian faith. Charismatic Christianity is written off as a contemporary fad, with its only historical counterparts being the fringe heretical sects who appear here and there in church history.

Jeffreys demonstrates, with a skilful hand, that miraculous phenomena, including tongues, have continued throughout the history of the church. Whilst he acknowledges that the Pentecostal movement was a restoration – a latter rain outpouring – he maintains that the gifts were never completely withdrawn. Jeffreys, drawing from other theological works, shows the gifts to be in operation “from testimonies ranging from the fathers of the Early Church to the late revered Dr. F. B. Meyer of our time.”

His section on a testimony about John Welch, taken from the classic book Scots Worthies, is worth quoting at length:

“Among the worthy sons of Scotland whose record is included in Scots Worthies was one named John Welch. Endued with outstanding abilities, this saintly minister of the gospel was a man of prayer. It is recorded that he would spend hours during the night in secret intercession on behalf of his beloved Scotland. He had endeared himself by his godly life and service to the hearts of the people amongst whom he ministered. This man’s life and character has been held forth practically in every pulpit in Scotland as an example of saintliness, and of devoted abandonment to the cause of Christ. Yet in these references we understand that a strange silence is allowed to be drawn over that part of his life and ministry which was wrapped up in the supernatural. In our companion book, Healing Rays, we have devoted some space to show that in the name of his God even the dead were raised. We are now drawing your attention to a remarkable experience of his, in which if he did not speak in tongues, he manifested something very much like it, and also how he, by the gift of discernment, saved one whole town from a plague.

“As the duty wherein John Welch abounded and excelled most was prayer, so his greatest attainments fell that way. He used to say that he wondered how a Christian could lie in bed all night, and not rise to pray; and many times he rose, and many times he watched. One night he rose and went into the next room, where he stayed so long at secret prayer, that his wife, fearing he might catch cold, was constrained to rise and follow him, and, as she hearkened, she heard him speak as by interrupted sentences, ‘Lord, wilt Thou not grant me Scotland?’ and, after a pause, ‘Enough, Lord, enough.’ She asked him afterwards what he meant by saying, ‘Enough, Lord, enough.’ He showed himself dissatisfied with her curiosity; but told her that he had been wrestling with the Lord for Scotland, and found there was a sad time at hand, but that the Lord would be gracious to a remnant. This was about the time when bishops first overspread the land, and corrupted the Church. This is more wonderful still: An honest minister, who was a parishioner of his for many a day, said that one night as Welch watched in his garden very late, and some friends were waiting upon him in his house, and wearying because of his long stay, one of them chanced to open a window toward the place where he walked, and saw clearly a strange light surround him, and heard him speak strange words about his spiritual joy.”

3. Pastoral Application for the Local Church and Evangelism

There is a maturity in Jeffreys’ work that could really help the church today. Very often we think of the gifts of the Spirit in a one-size-fits-all way. Jeffreys thought differently. One of the ways he showed care was the distinction between the church meeting and evangelistic campaigns. In our day, we have tried to turn the church meeting into an evangelistic campaign. I’m not saying that’s wrong, I am saying that maybe Jeffreys has something to help us understand.

“The first thing that needs mentioning is the difference between conducting the worship of the church and an evangelistic meeting. By the church service we mean the one outstanding service of the week, when believers gather around the table of their Lord. Here the saints are in communion, and the worship of the heart can be better expressed in deep worshipful hymns, rather than in the lighter and more lilting songs of the gospel service. This feature was borne in upon us in the early stages of our ministry, and we have never found it necessary to change our views. Of course, we do not cut out lively tunes altogether, but they are the exception and not the rule. Then again there is not so much need for physical energy in the church meeting as there is in the gospel service. In the church meeting one can afford to relax somewhat, and find more time for tuning in to the Spirit. One need never be anxious about rushing a worshipping service. Our experience is that it is more profitable and more important for the heart to go out in deep adoration, than for the meeting to go with speed and energy.

“We are not depreciating the abandonment of body and soul to the energetic service of Christ, but rather emphasising the ideal feature in a church meeting, that of deep spiritual worship. If the ideal church meeting for the worship of Christ as Head of the church were borne in mind, the same few would not rush in with their prayers Sunday after Sunday to the exclusion of others. … The prayers of the worshippers, too, would direct the mind of the assembly to Christ. Better have short prayers of one or two sentences, in order to lead to the adoration of Him, than long prayers that lead nowhere.”

There is a lot to unpack here, and Jeffreys develops the contrast further in the book. I’m not suggesting we slavishly follow Jeffreys’ methods, but it’s impossible to escape his point that the gathering of the church should be a deeply spiritual time. The focus is not the lost, the focus is Christ. Perhaps where the Pentecostal movement went wrong is that it maintained this model, but failed to continue to evangelise the local community. A charge which could never be made against George Jeffreys.

Perhaps where the Pentecostal movement went wrong is that it maintained the model of deeply spiritual church gatherings, but failed to continue to evangelise the local community.

In a nutshell, Elim churches today are glorious testimony to the legacy of Jeffreys’ skills as a church planter and apostle. His churches remain a testimony to the quality of his building, but his books are the blueprint that show us how to build.

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