David Wesley Myland’s Vision of Spiritual Fullness
By Douglas Jacobsen
David Wesley Myland (1858–1943)
David Wesley Myland was one of early Pentecostalism’s most creative thinkers. He believed that words could never truly define or describe spiritual realities, and that one particular formulation of theology could never apply to everyone. God acted in whatever way God wanted to, and good theology had to acknowledge divine freedom. Thus, his approach to theology was more poetic and pragmatic than systematic. He was ready and willing to be surprised by God. Because of this, his writings still have freshness and appeal.
Myland’s Pentecostal beliefs were deeply rooted in his own life story. We know little of his early religious experience, except that his mother laid hands on him as she was dying and dedicated him to the ministry.
Myland himself was not convinced about pastoral work. He preferred running the family retail business. Eventually, however, God called him into ministry in a way he could not ignore: His business was going bankrupt. Myland later told others that it is better to heed God’s call quickly because “it will cost you more the more you put it off.”
While Myland entered the ministry with some reluctance, he was soon persuaded that this was his calling. Raised as a Methodist, he had a series of physical crises and subsequent healings that led him to embrace a dynamic form of faith. This placed him at odds with some of his more staid ministerial colleagues. By 1890, he decided to sever his ties with the Methodist Church and joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Yet, he tried hard to remain on good terms with his Methodist friends. Myland was not a bridge burner. Even when he disagreed with someone, he tried to maintain cordial relations.
Shortly before leaving the Methodist Church, Myland had a deep and overwhelming experience of the Holy Spirit that changed his life and caused him “to see things in a way I didn’t understand.” Myland would later refer to this experience as the beginning of his baptism in the Spirit. He did not receive the completion of that experience — Myland called it the residue — until 1906, shortly before the revival at the Azusa Street Mission began to make news.
That timing is symbolic. Myland always thought of his own Pentecostal faith as separate from, but compatible with, the vision of Pentecost that flourished at the Azusa Street Mission. Thus, he never felt compelled to adopt the language of Azusa verbatim. In particular, Myland used the phrase “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” only rarely. His own preferred way of talking about the Pentecostal experience was to refer to it as the “fullness of God” or the “fullness of Pentecost.”
Like many early Pentecostal theologians, Myland was influenced by the dispensational movement. But like many dispensational thinkers, he had his own views of what the end of history and return of Christ would look like. The image of the early rain and the latter rain drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy had significance for Myland. In fact, people sometimes called the early Pentecostal movement the Latter Rain movement, and Myland is largely responsible for that designation.
Key to Myland’s theology was the importance of love — especially love that transcended the boundaries of race and ethnicity. For Myland, love was an action, not an attitude. To underscore love’s active character he sometimes used the term heart service as a synonym for love.
Myland was significantly older than many other early Pentecostal leaders. In pictures, he looks like a kindly grandfather, and in some sense, that is how he saw his place in the larger Movement. He was a thoughtful moderate who encouraged others and cautioned those who might be pushing things too hard or too far. Myland combined genuine fervor with sincere moderation in his own winsome and unique way. That mix of attitudes is evident in the following excerpt from his book The Latter Rain Covenant (1910).
Literal and Spiritual Latter Rain
“Spiritually the latter rain is coming to the church of God at the same time it is coming literally upon the land, and it will never be taken away from her, but it will be upon her to unite and empower her, to cause her to aid in God’s last work for this dispensation, to bring about the unity of the Body, the consummation of the age, and the catching away of spiritual Israel, the bride of Christ. God said He would bring back this latter rain ‘as at the first’ and He is doing it. The earlyrain was for the sowing and the latterfor the harvest; one for the beginning and the other for the end; one for the introduction and the other for the consummation of the dispensation.
“Now we begin to understand this great prophecy: ‘I will pour out My Spirit’ — literally on Israel, spiritually on God’s church, dispensationally to bring in the consummation of the ages and open the millennium, the age of righteousness. To this great point we are converging, and we see enough now that ought to make anybody willing to go through life a continual sacrifice to help hasten that day. I am surprised at men and women who say they believe these things and then hold back their time, their talent, and their money. If the Lord should burst through the air today with the sound of the trump and the voice of the archangel, many who profess to believe these truths could not go up to meet Him because they are bound down by bank stocks, bonds, and real estate — these are weights upon them. Oh, you must be light; you must have laid aside the weights and the sin that doth so easily beset you — the sin that is so common among us, the sin of unbelief, of not being sharp and quick in our faith. Our questions, doubts, fears, and misgivings — let us lay them aside.
“ ‘Oh for a faith that will not shrink
Though pressed by every foe,
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe.’
“ ‘God is able to make all grace abound toward us, that we always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.’ Glory to His Name! If God has His way, men and women who have come up to these meetings will find new places in God’s earth to serve Him and bring forth fruit. Beloved, will you take time to get a vision of the Almighty? Will you take time to let God project in you, through you and upon you the vision of His purpose for you? If you do, some will soon find themselves in the uttermost parts of the earth. Then there will be people living in Chicago united so closely with those God has sent to foreign lands that they will be living one life, one laboring here and one laboring there; one working here that the other might prosper there. This is the intentof Pentecost, that my heart might be bound with men and women in Africa; in Japan, in the fastnesses of Tibet; that my spirit might be bound with men and women in India and we are madeone in working out the purposes of God. When we come up to meet Him it will be like one man, developed into the fullness of the stature of Christ, because we have come by the love of the Spirit, into the unity of the Spirit, through the wisdom of the Spirit, into the unity of the faith that works as one, believes as one, labors, and toils, and suffers as one.”
Fullness of the Godhead
“Pentecost then is this,and ‘this is that.’Jesus is at the right hand of the Father ‘shedding forth that which ye see and hear’; for He said, ‘I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter,’ and I will pour Him out upon you. It was well-pleasing to the Godhead that in Him should all the fullness dwell (Colossians 1:19). He is made Head over all things, to the church which is His body, ‘the fullness of Him that filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:23). He is Head over all principalities and powers. He can take care of the things that hinder. He is the Head; let Him have the Body and He will take care that it shall be full of Him. Fullness!
“That is how I always like to see Pentecost. His fullness! Pentecostal fullness! If it is a tongue let it be the fullness of the tongue; if it is discernment let it be the fullness of discernment; if it is interpretation let it be in its fullness; if healing or faith, let them all be in fullness; whatever the display, let it be in its fullness.We must never stop short of that. But first, Pentecost was the promise of the Father, foretold by Joel, and reiterated by Christ. In Luke 24:49, Jesus said, ‘Behold!’ that is, look for the promise of the Father, I am going to send Him upon you; ‘but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.’ He didn’t say, ‘Behold, I send the promise of the Father on you, but tarry ye at Jerusalem until you speak in tongues!’ Now I am no modifier of tongues, please remember that, nor am I a stickler about tongues, you never had any too much tongues for me, but I will not, I cannot, and I shallnot magnify tongues out of its legitimate place, its scriptural setting, and its value compared with other gifts of the Spirit. Tongues is the least of all the gifts, and subordinate to other gifts, and when it is not kept so, there is some trouble.
“Now that is the strongest statement I have ever made on this phase of the subject, but I say again, it is the least of all the gifts and subordinate to the others. And when it is not, there is sure to be trouble. It is least because it is last, and because it is physical, and because it is dependent upon other gifts. Three of the gifts are spiritual, three in the psychical realm, and three in the physical. Satan can manifest all the three physical gifts. They are all gifts of God, but I am talking about the region in which they operate: miracles, healings, and tongues are physical, that is, they operate in the natural realm. Satan can imitate each of these three, but he cannot give you wisdom, nor can he give you intuitive knowledge. Satan cannot give you discernings of spirits nor true interpretation of tongues; nor can he give you true prophecy. Satan works from the physical, from the lower up. God works from the spiritual down. The spiritual must dominate the psychical and the psychical the physical; in other words, the spirit must control the soul and the soul the body.
“Keep in consonance with all the Godhead and His revealed will and you will never have any trouble. Tongues is a great gift; I will never minimize it, never modify it, but I will give all the gifts their proper setting.
“Do not think that all these displays are of the Spirit alone; the Father is there, the Son is there, and the Holy Spirit is there. Whenever God has come to anyone, the whole Godhead is manifested therein; it is the dynamics of the Godhead; the things of the Spirit are displayed in His sovereign working. This Movement must be saved from saying that there is never any Spirit until there is Pentecostal fullness, and also after we get Pentecost, from saying it is the Spirit only. It is God! the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Read Christ’s own words in the 14th chapter of St. John, 20th verse: ‘Ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you.’ Twenty-third verse: ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.’ It is God now in the house, moving around as He pleases, through your eyes, your lips, your tongue, your hands, your feet; it is God dwelling in mortal flesh; ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them,’ and speak through them. It is God — Spirit, Son, Father, the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”
Preparation for Pentecost
“ ‘But tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high.’ Tarry! Wait! That is for preparation; that is not so much that God has a time and that He cannot give it before, but you must tarry for your own preparation.Historically, there had to be a completion of the Scriptures. The work had to be completed by Christ; He had to go to the Father and get the Godhead power put into Him. Peter comprehended it aright when he said, ‘being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost,’ (this great fullness of the Godhead) ‘He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.’ So we have the promise coupled with the demonstration in its realization. Seeing then that Pentecost results from the absolute oneness of the Godhead what oneness and unity ought it to produce in us who have received! It ought to make us as one Body, and it will do it. I am one with everybody that is at all one with God. I simply cannot help it. The only thing that can keep me from being one with others is some work either of the flesh or of the devil. Will you throw away your little scruples and colorings and shades of opinion? When Christ pours out the Godhead fullness upon us, who are we, as Peter said, that we should withstand God? This preparation moves us on into one accordness; and when it is complete through yieldedness, prayer, trust, obedience, and praise, He will flood you; yes, He will. The floods from above will meet the floods from beneath and there will be a blessed shower. Oh, it is wonderful! You will know it is real.”
Myland’s Original Wisdom for Today’s Minister
Myland emphasizes the theme of fullness along with the importance of Christian unity or one accordness.
- How does the concept of fullness enrich your understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today?
- Was Myland being unrealistic or prophetic (or both) when he expected the absolute oneness of the Godhead to be reflected in the oneness and unity of all Christians? If you were having a conversation with him, how would you have responded?
- How do you encourage Christian one accordness in your congregation and with others?
Douglas Jacobsen is distinguished professor of Church History and Theology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Thinking in the Spirit: Theologies of the Early Pentecostal Movement (Indiana University Press, 2003), which won the 2004 Pneuma Award from the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and of A Reader in Pentecostal Theology: Voices from the First Generation (Indiana University Press, 2006) from which this series of articles is adapted. He is also the co-author of an introduction to theology entitled Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess (Baker, 2006).
1. Portions of this article are adapted from Douglas Jacobsen, A Reader in Pentecostal Theology (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2006),