John Alexander Dowie – The Father of Healing Revivalism in America.

JonathanAlexanderDowie-300-webby Derek Vreeland

The Pentecostal movement and Pentecostal theology has been known for a ministry of divine healing. Donald Dayton lists four cornerstones doctrines in Pentecostal theology. Among them is the doctrine of divine healing.1 (Notes, see below) The practice of divine healing did not enter into the ministry of Pentecostals by some emotional meeting under a canvas tent. Historically, it did not arrive suddenly from heaven as a “new revelation.” Rather, healing by divine agency came from a biblically based theological system. John Alexander Dowie (25 May 1847 – 9 March 1907) and others spread the doctrine of divine healing throughout the late 19th century and the beginning of the early 20th century. Although he was often known for his flamboyant style and bold presence, his message of divine healing was rooted in such a theological system. Dowie’s theology of divine healing can be expressed in a two-fold scheme: one, the continual ministry of Christ, and two, the evil of sickness.

Historically, Dowie is an important figure in the divine healing movement of the last two centuries. David Harrell, who chronicled the healing revivals in America, calls Dowie “the father of healing revivalism in America.”2 This title does not imply that Dowie was the sole originator of the modern healing revival, but rather that his influence was so widespread that he is deserving of the title “father.” Dayton acknowledges that Dowie was a major source of Pentecostal doctrines of healing and that these doctrines grew out of the already existent Holiness teaching yet “being restated in a more distinctly Pentecostal vein.”3 While the Holiness teachings on healing from Charles Cullis, Boardman, A. B. Simpson, Gordon, and Andrew Murray played a role in the Pentecostal ministry of healing, none had quite the same effect as Dowie. Those who were influenced by Dowie include: F. F. Bosworth, John G. Lake, Charles Parham, and Lilian B. Yeomans, as well as various missionaries who went around the world with Dowie’s theological perspective on healing. Bosworth, Lake, and others later joined the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Walter Hollenweger estimates that Dowie “exercised a considerable influence to the early Pentecostal movement.”4

For Dowie, there is no cessation of the ministry of healing, because there is no cessation of Christ.

Dowie’s influence was not based on smooth oratory or polished rhetoric. Neither was it in an elaborate show of miracles. Rather, it was a well-stated theological system. Hollenweger notes that Dowie was not at odds with theology, but instead he embraced it. At his college in Zion, Illinois, such subjects as Hebrew, systematic theology, Greek, and the natural sciences were taught.5 Often Dowie includes Greek words in his publications, and at times cites scholars and theologians.6 In Dowie’s earlier ministry, he often gave lectures on the subject of divine healing. Through the establishment of his International Divine Healing Association, Dowie was able to spread his teachings throughout America and around the world. In a 1892 publication titled, Talks with Ministers being Two Addresses on Divine Healing, Dowie introduces his theology of healing based on two “cardinal” doctrines.

First – That ‘Jesus, the Christ, is the same yesterday, to-day [sic] and forever,’ and being so, He is unchanged in power and in will. … Second – That Disease, like Sin, is God’s enemy, and the devil’s work, and can never be God’s will. Peter said in the household of the Centurion Cornelius, Acts 10:38: ‘God anointed Jesus Christ with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good and HEALING ALL THAT WERE OPPRESSED OF THE DEVIL, for God was with Him.’7 These two doctrines are the foundation of Dowie’s theology of divine healing.

This first doctrine is based on Hebrews 13:8, which states that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This focuses on the continued ministry of Christ. Dowie never claimed that healing was done by his own power. He was arrested in 1895 under the allegation of illegally practicing medicine. In Chicago, he had founded a Healing Home, a converted hotel where sick came for counseling and prayer. During his trial, he was asked if he lays hands on the sick for the purpose of curing people of disease. Dowie responded, “No sir. I do not heal anyone. I do it for the purpose of obeying God, Who uses me in the healings.”8 When asked if Dowie is effecting a cure, he responded that it is God that effects the cure. “I have never healed anyone, nor claimed that I did.”9 In a sermon Dowie said, “The Hand that cleansed the foulness of the leper’s flesh and made it sweet and clean; the Hand that made the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the lame to leap, the dumb to speak; the Hand which raised the dead to life is here. No vanquished Christ have we.”10

For Dowie, there is no cessation of the ministry of healing, because there is no cessation of Christ. This theology ran contrary to the growing dispensationalism of his time. While Dowie understood the “gift of healing” in the life of the Church, he did not emphasize the use of the sign-gift. As revealed in the above transcript from his trial, Dowie saw healing as the work of the eternal Christ, and not in a gift given to the church. While the church has been gifted with various gifts, Dowie taught that healing was best sought in the Savior. In practice therefore, Dowie spent time with the sick in counsel and prayer. He would teach them the Scripture behind the doctrine of divine healing that reveal God’s desire to heal. Once faith in God is generated in the sick person, Dowie would often lay hands on the sick one and pray for God to heal that person. The focus was upon Jesus and His power to heal.

For Dowie, sickness was never the work, nor the will, of God. He rejected redemptive suffering from sickness or disease.

The element of faith was important for Dowie, for he would not pray for one who did not believe in divine healing.11 However, the focus was never on faith, but on God. Dowie writes, “While faith is a very precious grace, yet it is only the medium of the communication of God’s infinite love and power, and we must never put it in the place of God, Himself.”12 Dowie was so adamant about this that he shunned the term “faith healing,” in preference of “divine healing,” because it is healing by God, and not faith. Theologically, he expresses it as, “Divine Healing, or ‘Healing through Faith in Jesus;’ not healing BY faith, but THROUGH faith; through faith in Jesus, by the power of God.”13 Faith, prayers, laying on of hands all have Christ as their focus, because in Dowie’s theological scheme, Christ is the healer.

The second aspect of Dowie’s theology of healing is found in Acts 10:38, “…Jesus…went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil….” That is, sickness and disease is the enemy of God, a work of Satan, and a result of sin. This is the antithesis of the first tenant. This element of Dowie’s theology grew out of his pastoral ministry. Dowie was serving as a pastor of a Congregational Church in Newtown, outside of Sydney, Australia. A plague had swept throughout the land, and he had buried nearly forty members of his church in just a few weeks. Despairingly, he had visited nearly thirty more members from his church that were sick and dying. During this time, he questioned, “Where, oh where was He who used to heal His suffering children?”14 This was the prayer of a pastor who was crushed by the suffering of those in his flock. “There I sat (after visiting the sick) with sorrow-bowed head for my afflicted people, until the bitter tears came to relieve my burning heart.”15 This caused Dowie to seek God for some degree of comfort. Then Acts 10:38 came to his mind by the Holy Spirit. There he saw “Satan as the defiler and Christ as the healer.”16

leavesofhealing1899-350-webIn Dowie’s understanding of human sickness, all disease has but two sources, the Devil and sin. These two are closely linked for Dowie. He often described disease as “corruptions born of father Satan and mother Sin.” Disease is the direct effect of sin. In a sermon at the First Baptist Church of Oakland California, Dowie comments, “We teach that disease is a part of ‘the law of sin and death.’ We teach that the law of sin is the Devil’s law, that disease is an effect of sin, working out death, and that death belongs to the Devil; it does not belong to God.”17 Sickness was introduced into the world by sin. Dowie argues that if sin had not entered into the world, sickness would not have entered. Disease therefore is a work of Satan. Not that every sickness and disease is the manifestation of a demon, but that Satan is the author of sickness. In John 10:10, Jesus stated that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but that He came to bring life. John echoes the same in 1 John 3:8. He writes, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” With this verse in light of Acts 10:38, Dowie passionately concluded that sickness was a work of the Devil.

For Dowie, this necessarily implied that sickness was never the work, nor the will, of God. In this, he rejected redemptive suffering from sickness or disease. “Disease does not bring people nearer to God, it drives them further away from Him. It is the Holy Spirit that brings people to God whether sick or well.”18 Thus, God never purposes to use sickness as a chastisement. Furthermore, the hand of God is never the efficacious force behind sickness or disease; it is always the Devil. Dowie concludes that Job was wrong when he stated that “the hand of God has touched me” (Job 19:21). As revealed in the opening drama of Job, it was Satan, and not God that had afflicted Job’s body (Job 2:7). God did not cause Job’s sickness, but permitted it. Dowie applied this hermeneutic to every passage that states God caused sickness or disease.19 Dowie concludes that any translation that reads that God caused or sent sickness is incorrect. God never causes evil of any kind, but he may chose to permit it, as in the case of Job. Dowie stated, “Disease is evil, the product of Satan and sin, hence it can never come from God.”20

Dowie organizes these two points into a diagram entitled “The Two Chains.” Each chain is linked with those of like kind, but the two chains are separate. Dowie does not imply the one link has a direct effect on the next link in chronological fashion. Rather, each chain is so linked by its quality.

Dowie’s Two Chains

GOOD

Jesus     to     Salvation     to     Healing     to     Life     to     Heaven

EVIL

Satan     to     Sin     to     Disease     to     Death     to     Hell

Each link is correspondingly opposed to the other. In Dowie’s scheme, the division of these two chains is not intended to imply that the Christian may not experience elements of the Evil Chain. Nor does this seem to imply that if a person has found salvation in Christ that he or she will not ever experience sin, sickness, or death. Rather, this diagram isolates what is evil and what is good. Dowie uses this to illustrate that Jesus came to bring salvation, life, heaven, and healing. It is the Devil that wants people to remain in sin, and eventually through death, desires to take them to hell.

Dowie taught on other aspects of divine healing, but these two were central to his healing doctrine. He adamantly defended healing as a part of the atonement as taught in the Holiness movement. He emphasized that salvation extended to the body, that is, Christ came to redeem our bodies as well as our souls. This he relates to his first cardinal doctrine as expressed in the “Two Chains.” That is, Jesus was in the process of bearing our sickness during his earthly ministry, and that continues today. All points of doctrine in Dowie’s theology can be related to these two cardinal principles.

John Alexander Dowie’s influence on the divine healing movement is immeasurable. Understandably, Dowie did not spearhead the healing movement in America. The doctrine of divine healing was present in Holiness circles sometime before Dowie even set foot on American soil. However, his direct influence on the Pentecostal movement is paramount. Many of those involved in the Azusa Street Revival came from Zion, Illinois after the death of Dowie. His theology and doctrine on healing made a lasting mark on the Pentecostal movement.

Dowie’s theology and doctrine on healing made a lasting mark on the Pentecostal movement.

The early Pentecostals are often criticized for forming their doctrines based on experience to the near exclusion of sound biblical theology.21 However, this is not the case with Dowie. The publications from his International Divine Healing Association, and his writings in the Leaves of Healing reveal that while Dowie’s theology was reflected by his experience, it was theologically based upon Scripture. Dowie’s initial interest in healing did spring out of his experience, but it was an experience of compassion. Outside of an occasional sermon or article in his journal, Dowie’s writings reflect both biblical and theological reflection. The Leaves of Healing did include articles that related the testimonies of those who had been healed, but this does not mean that Dowie’s understanding of healing was based only on his experience. When he was called to give a defense of his doctrine in either a court, or before a group of ministers, Dowie made constant appeal to the Scriptures as the basis for this theology of healing.

His two cardinal doctrines are valid, but they are not without criticism. The first doctrine, that Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever is not refutable. This is the stronger of his two doctrines. Some Pentecostals and Charismatics want to claim the gift of healing as the reason for their healing ministry. While this can be true, it can often cause some theologically confusion. If a minister has the gift of healing, then would not the minister be able to heal all people at all times? Practical ministry attests that no minister can claim that all are healed. Even in Jesus’ ministry, not all were healed. If the gift of healing is to be claimed, it is much more clear to state that this gift is often manifested by the Spirit, but it is as He wills. Dowie’s theology is better yet. It places the focus on the Lord as the one who heals. This also keeps the sick person’s attention on the Healer and not the instrument.

Dowie’s second doctrine, that sickness is evil, an effect of sin and a work of the Devil, is plausible, but Dowie goes far to the extreme. I concede that sickness is a result of sin, and that it is a work of the Devil. However, Dowie states that it is impossible for God to cause sickness to come on anyone. To say that God cannot do anything is to take away from his sovereignty. Dowie comes to this conclusion based on his “Two Chain” diagram. He links sickness under the evil chain on the same level as sin. Sickness and sin are not completely comparable. Sin hinders relationship with God, while sickness does not. Granted, sickness is a result of sin, but the two are not the same. Thus, it is still plausible that God could allow some one to remain sick for a higher purpose.

Furthermore, the distinction between what God causes and what God permits is not completely clear. Is there a difference between the two? Assume a father is beating his child. This would be a travesty. Is it any worse if he stands by and permits his child to be beaten? Theologically, what God causes and what he permits still would communicate the same about his character. However, the distinction is clear in the context of our human response to our circumstances. If we believe God caused a situation, it is futile to resist. Yet, if we know that God is allowing a situation, but not causing it, then we are right in fighting it. Perhaps we should understand sickness as part of the rebellion against the will of God, and not His determined will. We would then be correct in fighting sickness. If God is permitting it, this does not imply that it is His will. This does no harm to God’s sovereignty.

Overall, Dowie’s second tenet is valid. The ministry of Jesus reveals God’s attitude toward sickness and disease; he is against it. This is not to say that all people will be healed at all times, but it does give the church a mandate to pray for the sick and believe for their healing. We may not see everyone healed, but if we seek to be Christ-like then we will love people enough that we want them to be whole and healed. Like Dowie, we too should be moved “with just such a feeling as a shepherd has who hears that his sheep are being torn from the fold by a cruel wolf….”22

Notes

1 Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), 115.
2 David Harrell, All Things are Possible (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1975), 13.
3 Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 137.
4 Walter J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, reprint (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 115.
5 Ibid, 117.
6 See the use of pneuma, yuch, and swma in Dowie’s “Talks with Ministers Being two Addresses on Divine Healing” (Chicago: International Divine Healing Association, 1892), 2. Also Alexander Dowie, “Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh and Other Difficulties,” reprint, Gordon Lindsay, ed. The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie: Champion of the Faith (Dallas, TX: Christ for the Nations, 1996), 50.
7 Dowie, “Talks with Ministers,” 2.
8 Gordon Lindsay, The Life of John Alexander Dowie (Dallas, TX: Christ for the Nations, 1996), 115.
9 Ibid.
10 Gordon Lindsay, The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie, 23.
11 Lindsay, The Life of John Alexander Dowie, 115.
12 Dowie, Talks with Ministers, 1.
13 Ibid.
14 Lindsay, The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie, 23.
15 Lindsay, 24.
16 Ibid.
17 John Alexander Dowie, Divine Healing…Vindicated, (Chicago: International Divine Healing Association, 1893), 6.
18 Lindsay, The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie, 20.
19 See Exodus 15:26, Isaiah 45:7, and Micah 1:12 for examples.
20 Dowie, Talks with Ministers, 7.
21 See John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
22 Lindsay, The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie, 24-5.
23 Image(s) marked “Clendening” provided courtesy of the Clendening History of Medicine Library, Kansas University Medical Center.

Bibliography

Burgess, Stanley M. and Gary B. McGee. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988).
Chappell, Paul. Great Things He Hath Done: Origins of the Modern Divine Healing Movement in America.
Dayton, Donald. The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987).
Dowie, John Alexander. Leaves of Healing II Mar 20 1896, p 342.
Leaves of Healing II Oct 18, 1895 23-27.
Leaves of Healing II March 20, 1896 343.
Talks with Ministers Being Two Addresses on Divine Healing. (Evanston, IL: International Divine Healing Association, 1892).
Harrell, David Edwin, Jr. All Things are Possible (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1975).
Hollenweger, Walter J. The Pentecostals (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988).
Lindsay, Gordon. John Alexander Dowie: A Life Story of Trials, Tragedies, and Triumphs (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, Inc., 1980).
The Sermons of John Alexander Dowie: Champion of the Faith (Dallas: Christ for the Nations, Inc., 1966).

For more books on John Alexander Dowie go to our Online Books page and scroll down to his section.

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