W. Curtis Porter
The religious world today is rapidly embracing the doctrine of miraculous signs. Not so long ago very few religious bodies claimed power to work miracles, but it proved a “drawing power” for multitudes who attended their services for the sake of the “show” and denominations that staged no such demonstrations found themselves handicapped in their efforts to compete with those who did. Consequently the doctrine of present day miracles has been adopted by others, and in some cases new denominations have been established with this doctrine as the foundation of their existence. So a study of “the signs that followed” believers in the days of the apostles is not at all out of order at this time.
In Mark 16:17-18, after recording the language of the Son of God in giving the great commission, Mark gives the words of Jesus regarding a promise of certain signs. The Lord’s words are these:
And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Not only was this promise made, it was also fulfilled, for we read in verse 20 that “they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following.”
It will be unnecessary in this article to engage in a long discussion of the pronouns “they” and “them” as used in this Scripture. I have been fully convinced that they cannot be limited to the apostles, or that “they” and “them” do not have “apostles” simply as their antecedent. The language is a direct quotation of the Lord’s words as He spoke to the apostles, and had he intended to limit the promise to them He would have said: “These signs, shall follow you that believe ; in my name shall you cast out devils; you shall speak with new tongues; you shall take up serpents; and if you drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt you; you shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Certainly this would have been the case since he was speaking to them; the second person would have been used. But we find these pronouns used in the third person. After all there is nothing to be gained by insisting that only the apostles are included in this promise, for we well know that signs followed many who were not apostles. However, they followed them only during the time required for the proclamation and confirmation of the gospel to all the world. That is the time specified in the promise, and as they preached everywhere the signs followed them; the promise did not reach beyond that time. And the cessation of signs at the time the gospel reached every creature under heaven would not mean the cessation of the conditions of faith and baptism as revealed in the preceding verses. Faith and baptism are conditions of the gospel—they are a part of the word—but signs were no part of the word, for the word was confirmed by the signs that followed. So let us make a distinction between the word and the signs that confirmed the word.
But now for a study of those signs. Five distinct signs are mentioned. Let us then note these in the order given:
They Shall Cast Out Devils
In the days of the Lord on the earth and in the days of the apostles men were possessed with demons, or evil spirits. Demon possession revealed itself in various ways, but always as a physical affliction. We certainly could not say that disease was an evil spirit, for things are ascribed to the spirits that took charge of men which cannot be ascribed to a disease. However, the affliction of some nature always followed demon possession. Usually the person so possessed became a raving maniac. Of such we read in Luke 17: 14-21. A child who had an evil spirit had become a “lunatic, and sore vexed.” Often he would fall into the fire, or into water. The man who dwelt among the tombs is a notable example. He was often bound with chains to keep him under control, but the power of evil possession would break the chains. But when the devils were cast out, the people who saw him were astonished because the former victim was found at the feet of Jesus “clothed, and in his right mind.” And so it was with demon possession. But Jesus promised His apostles and other believers that they would cast out devils. It had been done by Jesus during His personal ministry; it had been done by the apostles also under their first commission (Matt. 10:8); it was to be done during their work of preaching the gospel into all the world. And this sign surely followed them. “There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they healed every one” (Acts 5 :16). And handkerchiefs from the body of Paul caused evil spirits to go out of men (Acts 19 :12). The maid possessed with the spirit of divination who brought her masters much gain by soothsaying might be taken as a special example of the exercise of this power (Acts 16).
Whether this same demon possession exists in the world today has long been a question among Bible students. We know that men have much of the devil in them; that their spirits are evil because of the wicked lives they live; but it may be that “evil spirits” do not possess men now as they did in the days of Christ and his apostles. But if they do, we would certainly find them among the raving maniacs of today. And as so many religious people are claiming that this sign follows them why not demonstrate that power by healing the maniacs in our insane asylums? That is the place to allow this sign to follow. There were no failures made while men were working under this promise; Luke says “they healed every one.” (Acts 5 :16). But it is an evident fact that no such sign is following any one today. Modern pretenders to miraculous powers cannot cast out devils. The nearest they can approach it would be to cast some of their preachers out of the pulpit.
They Shall Speak with New Tongues
This promise began to be fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit “and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4). Other examples we have in Acts 10:46 and 19:6. The word tongues simply means languages. On the day of Pentecost men said: “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8), Verse 6 declares they were confounded “because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” So the gift of speaking in “new tongues” meant they could speak in other languages that they had not learned. And men marveled because they could understand them. The jabbering that people do today, and claim as this sign, is as far from the real thing as is possible for a thing to be. They think that they have a gift of an “unknown tongue”; hence they can’t tell you what it is they say. And you, of course, cannot understand it because it is an unknown tongue. Thus they are able to deceive honest people into accepting their outlandish claims. If it is an unknown tongue, God doesn’t expect us to understand it, men reason, and so will just accept it as a reality and let it go at that. But use your judgment just a little here. Can there be such thing as an unknown tongue? Remember, now, that a tongue is a language. Can there be an unknown language? It might be “unknown” to me; it might be so to you, or to all living in the world at this time; but if it is a language, it must have been known by someone. So, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an unknown tongue. And when the expression occurs in our King James Version the word unknown is in italic letters. Read the fourteenth chapter of first Corinthians and see for yourself. But likely modern pretenders think this word was placed in italic letters in order to emphasize it. At least that is the part about it that they try to emphasize. Yet it was used by the translators to show that no word is found in the original text for it; it is a supplied word. A statement made by Paul shows there to be no such thing, strictly speaking, as an unknown tongue. He said: “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification” (1 Cor. 14:10).
The gift of tongues enabled the possessor to speak in the language of people he had never learned. The apostles and others could go to foreign countries and preach the gospel to them without having to spend years in learning a new language. But no such sign follows anyone today. Springfield, Missouri, where I formerly lived, is world headquarters for the Pentecostal people who aye among so-called “miracle workers” ; yet they have their Bible School there to train their missionaries in the use of foreign languages. What is wrong with their sign ?
They Shall Take up Serpents
When Paul was shipwrecked at the Island of Melita he did this very thing. While making a fire “there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand” (Acts 28:3). Although it was a very poisonous serpent, and the people of the island expected him to fall dead suddenly, Paul “felt no harm.” (vv. 4-6) What a contrast that is with the efforts that people make in handling snakes today!
At Tuscumbia, Alabama, a few years ago a modern sign-worker allowed a rattlesnake to bite him in proof of his faith and power, but he was soon a corpse. At Leachville, Arkansas, a few years ago I knew a woman who did the same thing. She did not die, but she came so near it that I am convinced she will not try it again. And then you you read of Albert Teester of North Carolina who, years ago, endeavored to prove his faith by allowing a snake to sink its fangs into his arm. He claimed it wouldn’t bite him, but it did. Then he said it wouldn’t hurt him, but his arm became swollen till it burst, and he was at the point of death for several days. Did any of these have this sign following? Does the fact that some of them survived the bite of the serpent prove they had the power promised by the Lord ? Absolutely not! Jesus indicated that serpents would not harm those who had the power promised. And when Paul was bitten his hand did not even swell; but Teester’s did. Any man today who has allowed his faith to overcome his judgment and allow a poisonous serpent to bite him is satisfied with one trial. I have never heard of the man who makes a second effort to prove his faith.
They May Drink Deadly Poison
Jesus said if they did so, “it would not hurt them.” Carbolic acid, for instance, would not harm the man who drank it. I’ll furnish the poison, if some one will furnish the man to drink it. That will be in harmony with the Bible for Jesus said to the church at Ephesus : “Thou hast tried them that say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Rev. 2:2). Here is my authority to try men today who make such claims. The way to try them is to have them deliver the goods. I am ready for the trial as authorized by our Lord in this text. Oh, no, it did not say “if they drink any deadly thing by accident, it shall not harm them.” Men can’t hide behind that position. I knew a man in Sacramento, California, a Latter Day Saint, who disbelieved in using doctors, who took some Black Leaf 40 by accident. It had the same effect as if he had taken it intentionally; he called, not the elders of the church, but the doctor.
They Shall Heal the Sick
This one point would furnish enough material for a whole series of articles, and I can but touch it briefly here. The blind, the deaf, the dumb, the lame, the diseased of every nature were healed as this sign followed believers. But healing was never done on the weekly, or the monthly, installment plan. It required no long drawn-out services continued over a long period of time to accomplish healing. All cases, like the lame man at the beautiful gate of the temple, were healed instantly and perfectly (Read Acts 3:1-16). They were totally unlike the cases of modern times. No healing by miracle is being done today. Years ago, Aimee Semple-McPherson-Hutton engaged the atheist C.C. Smith in a discussion in Cincinnati, Ohio. As proof that healing is being done today she cited the case of Joe, the handy man at Angelus Temple, in Los Angeles, California. He had been miraculously cured—she claimed—of a drug habit. But I made a tour through Angelus Temple and discovered that Joe, the handy man, goes about the temple on a cork leg! I wonder why that wasn’t healed along with the drug habit. These signs were all given to “confirm the word” (Mark 16:20). That work has been accomplished (Heb. 2:1-4). They were given in part and were to cease at the perfect, or complete, revelation of the will of God (1 Cor. 13:8-10).