John G. Lake was an early twentieth-century revivalist primarily known for his gift of healing. Lake and his family were missionaries in South Africa from 1908 to 1913, where Lake describes many healings, baptisms of the Holy Spirit, and work God did in transforming the people under his ministry. The Collected Works of John G. Lake consists of a two short books (Adventures with God and Adventures in Religion) and many of Lake’s sermons. It gives a good foundation in Pentecostal thought and gives a practical perspective to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and to how God heals.
Lake’s messages can be divided into several major themes, the most obvious theme being that of divine healing. Many of Lake’s family died of illness while he was growing up, but when Lake himself was close to death, he went to visit Alexander Dowie and was completely healed. As yet, however, he had no healing ministry. It was when his wife was close to dying, that God gave him the verse Acts 10:38, with the key perspective that sickness is not caused by God, but rather, sickness is from the devil. At this his spirit rose up in anger and he commanded sickness out of his wife and she promptly recovered. Over time his healing ministry increased as he prayed according to this principle and as he was baptized in the Spirit.
Lake considered healing to be part of salvation. We are triune: body, soul (mind, will, and emotions), and spirit. Jesus’ death paid for cleansing in all three areas, in our spirit (forgiveness), in our soul (freedom from guilt and shame), and in our body (freedom from sickness); see 1 Thess 5:23. He cites Isaiah prophesying that Jesus would “take our infirmities and carry our diseases” as justification for this, as well as Ps. 103:2-3, Matt 8:17, 1 Peter 2:24. We know that Jesus saves everyone who comes to him (even non-Christians in the West know that, even if they see no need for it), but Jesus also healed everyone who came to him (Matt 4:23, Luke 9:6, Luke 9:11).. He never turned anyone away. So we can be confident that God’s will is that all be healed.
Lake claimed that healing is “scientific.” I am a little unclear what he meant by that, exactly, but if he meant that healing is testable, Lake did exactly that. He had scientists measure what happened when he prayed for someone and they found that the cells in the person’s body were suddenly very active. He also claimed that the Holy Spirit rests on physical objects, for example the handkerchiefs of Paul the Apostle brought healing, and Lake saw many similar instances. Lake also established the healing rooms at Spokane, Washington, where thousands of people were healed. People would stay as long as they needed to get their healing, and each day they were given scripture readings and teachings so that their faith gradually built up and they were healed, although there were also many cases where people were simply healed on the spot. Lake observed that if we do an altar call and do not follow up, about 10% of the people will be faithful Christians, and another 30% or so struggle along. He noted similar percentages with healing. If you just pray for someone, about 10% will be healed. But if you “disciple” them in healing, as his healing rooms did, you see a near 100% success rate, just as when you disciple new Christians, you see a similar rate of them becoming faithful.
Another theme is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (or of the Holy Ghost, as Lake says). He says that the Baptism of the Spirit is about being completely surrendered to God. “Baptism [of the Holy Ghost] means a degree of the Spirit upon the life sufficient to give the Spirit of God such absolute control of the person that He will be able to speak through him in tongues.” This Baptism produces noticeable changes in the person, generally with the effects that healings and sermons are more powerful and the person is more “on fire” for God. Lake states that “the consciousness of sinlessness seems to be God’s requirement for those who would seek the baptism of the Spirit.” He does not go into more details, and his view seems to stand at odds with what I have heard which is essentially “the Baptism is God’s gift, all we can do is seek it diligently.” I wonder if it has something to do with that when we feel we have sin, we have a certain amount of shame that comes between us and God, causing us to hide from Him, thus preventing us from being completely surrendered to God. So when we fully accept that our sins are gone, that we are sinless, then we have no shame, and we can be completely surrendered to God.
A related theme is that Christianity is all about Christ in us. After hearing from many religious leaders in cosmopolitan South Africa, Lake observed that the thing that is unique about Christianity is that Jesus lives in us. We are the habitation of God. Lake even makes the bold statement that we are an incarnation, which while it sounds heretical, if God is truly in us, inhabiting us, that is pretty much the definition of incarnation. If so, that puts a new light on what it means to be a Christian. We are really little Christs, so we should have a similar life.
Lake’s writings are full of other themes that I was unable to distinguish enough to categorize. He is adamant that He who is in us is more powerful than the devil, so Christians can confidently cast out demons, although in the stories he tells, sometimes it took a gift of faith to rise up in him first). He taught that God has given us responsibility in the world, observing that when Moses arrives at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army at his back, God basically says “stop praying and asking me to do something and use that rod I gave you.” Essentially, parting the Red Sea was Moses job to act in faith to get the miracle. There are also a number of stories about Lake being transported in the Spirit; he was taken to places in Africa while he was still in America, for instance. He talks about the importance of holiness and notes that “if unholiness exists in [a person’s] nature, it is not there by the consent of the Spirit of God. If unholiness exists in your life it is because your soul is giving consent to it, and you are retaining it.” Finally, I like this quote: “If hell has a characteristic, it is that of distraction. If heaven has a particular characteristic, it is the presence of God, the calm of God, the power of God, the love of God.”
Lake often stated that going to doctors was acting out of a lack of faith. He noted that doctors at the time had themselves confided in him that they were not able to cure people. Modern medicine often can cure people, and many Charismatic Christians today consider a medical healing to be equally a healing as a faith healing; “a medical healing is not a second class healing,” says Paul Manwaring. From my perspective, if you are hungry, you go to the grocery store, you don’t pray for someone to bring you groceries, even though there are plenty of stories about God miraculously providing food for the hungry. Similarly, if you are sick, going to the doctor is reasonable, although there are many illnesses that modern medicine still cannot cure.
The two books by Lake are easy and exciting reading, as they are filled with stories about amazing things that God did in his life, particularly in Africa. The sermons are bit of a slog, even though each sermon is really good. I recommend reading this book by reading one or two sermons per day. This has the advantage that you do not get bogged down, plus each day you are challenged with some very outrageous claims. The thing is, John G. Lake lived all the claims; furthermore, he did the same things as Jesus did. Since Jesus says we will do greater things than him (implying first doing the same things), reading that John G. Lake succeeded in doing what Jesus did (absent the Cross) is both exhilarating because it gives hope that I can also be like Jesus, and really scary, because now I have no reason to not be like Jesus. This book will transform your thinking.