God’s Onward March Through the Centuries, by Frank Bartleman

Doubtless best known for his book Azusa Street, in which he chronicles his experiences at the Pentecostal revival, Frank Bartleman wrote much that is yet of interest to many today.

We have compiled seven books into a single volume, and many have been blessed by it. Of course we recommend it.

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Following is an article by Bartleman first published in the Latter Rain Evangel in 1910.


God’s Onward March Through the Centuries: The Pentecostal Experience Opens to Us a New Realm

The present work of God is different from the past in many respects; different from the old order. We frequently come to a meeting without any particular message; sometimes we come with a message and we do not get to deliver it. I do not believe in being careless or indifferent regarding such things, but I certainly do believe in being led of God, and the Lord is doing His best to get His people to let Him really have His way.

We are getting much light on the Word these days; every fresh issue brings new truth to the front. There are general developments in the body of Christ in God’s dispensational dealings with His people, just as there are experiences in individual life. God moves His people both individually and in bodies. We are now in a realm that is new to the most of us. Joel said, “Your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.” The operations of the Spirit today are very different from what they were a few years ago. For instance, some time ago we had to spend a week getting a sermon ready for the Sabbath. We would have to read a number of books and work our brains, and be on a strain from Monday morning until Saturday night, and then repeat the operation the next week and so on. But we don’t have to work that way these days. Pentecostal methods look foolish to many but the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit; just to the extent he is in the natural does he fall short of the full conception of the operation of the Spirit of God. So people who have not experienced the operations of the Spirit naturally cannot understand this fresh manifestation of God. But it is a good thing to hide these things in your heart if you do not understand them. There were many things that Mary did not understand about her Son but she hid these things in her heart. I find the Lord can teach us a great deal if we come to Him but we naturally run to human help and human props? We can help each other a little but after all it is better to get our help from God direct, as much as possible.

“Your young men shall see visions.” The truth used to come to us from reasoning, but I am experiencing a little of what Joel meant when he said that. I am not visionary. I am naturally hard-headed. I was going to say, “You have to show me.” I am not given to dreams and revelations; I get things, as a rule, by slow operations. I am slow to move out from conservative lines, consequently my experience with God has not been in sudden leaps. If somebody else has a ministry that comes that way, let him exercise it, and I will mind mine.

But there is in every new experience and in every fresh realm of the Spirit a whole realm of “new thought” of the right kind, the higher thought of God. Truth, these days, very largely opens up to me by revelation. Perhaps I will be standing before the people, and God will flash a truth into my mind, and the Spirit will unfold and develop it, and I will find myself in a whole new realm of thought regarding that subject. That is more directly the way that God proposes to reveal spiritual truth to His people. That is what it ought to be. Jesus said, “Take no thought in that hour what ye shall say.” That doesn’t mean we are infallible, but it means that if we are yielded to God, He will guide us and teach us in a way such as we never dreamed of. And yet there is always the human weakness that requires carefulness and humility. But it is blessed to come to the place where the Lord can reveal things to you in a new way, for this is an age of advancement, and God is not behind the times. So I praise Him for the present, clear, definite manifestation of His Spirit in various operations. There is no question about it, beloved, we are living in a fresh realm of the Spirit. God undertook to show me that in this present connection; for some time the Lord was opening up truth to me, and the Bible was being opened up. For awhile I could not understand what the Lord was trying to do, but by and by He managed to get the idea into my head that He was trying to put a key in my hand to unlock the situation. I was not seeking for it; I was slow, and then I got only a little idea of it and it is still coming to me. I have not rushed into it. It has been pressed upon me by the Spirit of God, and little by little it has unfolded. When I got the key in my hands everything became plain and developed into one beautiful harmonious whole, and I saw God was ushering His church out into a fresh dispensation, so to speak. but in the same Holy Ghost dispensation, of course. I saw that just as in Luther’s time God brought to the church a fresh revelation, and just as in Wesley’s time, God brought a fresh revelation so today the Lord was bringing a greater revelation than anything in the past. I saw quite early in this work, after the Lord had dealt with me, that we were making history, that this was a fresh issue and the greatest of all issues. I was led to believe, because of the times in which we are living. That plan took form in my mind, burned there by the Spirit of God, and that gave me a clue to all the rest. I was able to begin to take in and understand the situation, and realize what these things meant. Unless we really get that idea, unless we are able to move out from the shroud of the past, unless the past vision becomes our winding sheet, so to speak, then God cannot give the larger vision to us, and we shall be left in darkness regarding the present situation, and be all at sea.

We are realizing strange things in the very atmosphere. That feeling is not altogether confined to the church of the living God. The world is realizing those things just as back in Joseph’s time down in Egypt, Pharaoh dreamed dreams and was troubled. They realize there is a movement in the spiritual world, and they want to know what it means. They are looking for some Joseph to interpret the dream. The church doesn’t always want Joseph; the world is sometimes calling for Joseph when the church is rejecting him. “Men’s hearts failing them for fear for the things that are coming upon the earth.” Business men, political men are in a state of unrest today; they realize there is some particular development, something out of the ordinary, something never known before, and matters are moving faster and faster, but they do not realize what makes the peculiar conditions of unrest.

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It is the time in which we are living; we are living in an age of nervous haste. What means it all? It means that heaven and hell are marshaling their hosts, and we are getting ready for the last great battle of the earth. That is what it means. No thinking person can live today without realizing that there is something startling at hand. The world is looking for a great leader and they are to get him too. The Antichrist will manifest himself before a great while. They are looking for a savior just as the church ought to be looking for the Savior, for the manifestation of Him who is to save them, Jesus Christ. Things are hastening on rapidly to the end. In the face of all these political and social disturbances, physical nature also is disturbed. You will remember how when Jesus was crucified, when that scene was enacted on Calvary, how nature veiled her face in darkness, how the rocks were rent, how the physical disturbances accompanied unprecedented operations of divine grace. We mark in the Word of God and from history that at times when God has been peculiarly manifested in power among His people in the earth, there have been times of physical disturbances also. Nature is in sympathy with her God, whether man is or not. Nature obeys her God whether man does or not. Physical disturbances of every kind and character are increasing; wars, and rumors of wars, earthquakes and pestilences. Beloved, you have only to look back three or four years and you will see that these conditions that exist today began in a fresh way about that time. Read over in the book of Revelation of the time when the cities of the nations fall. They are beginning to fall. We have had some very marked examples during the last few years of the breaking up of old systems politically, the Turkish Empire, for instance.

There is no adequate comparison between the little handful of simple folk in this Pentecostal movement and the disturbance and commotion we find it making in the religious world as a whole. Didn’t we try for years to move something? Haven’t we been laboring and striving for years to bring something to pass for God, and bring about a new order of things? We could not do a thing, but when we realized our helplessness and sank into God’s ability and gave up to Him, He came and moved things. He is moving things today, and that is the secret of the disturbances and unrest. It is not what a little handful of folks are doing, but God!!

Do not understand that we accept everything that is going on as from God. We need wise, godly leaders in order that broken humanity may be kept in the Spirit. It seems as though humanity is more broken than ever, and that the mass of people cannot stand very much religion even, when God pours out His Spirit upon them. Like bats that have been kept in a dark room and suddenly had the windows opened and broad daylight shines in, they get frightened and begin to beat the wall. So humanity under the mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God, unless they are properly taught and held by wise leadership, will destroy themselves and go wild, so to speak, take the bit in their teeth and smash up the vehicle. Beloved, we are very weak. Many dear people cannot stand very much of a revelation of God. They lose their minds in contact with the supernatural, they cannot stand it; they get frightened at a little bit of manifestation of God. God cannot draw very near to His people because they are so weak. They lose their heads; cannot stand to go into the supernatural. So the Lord is doing His best for us but I want to say to you that we need a great deal, not of ecclesiastical abuse, but of wise leadership and teachers in the Holy Ghost, and we are not going to make any more headway than what we make as a body. The multitude that came out of Egypt could not travel any faster than their weakest could go, so if we are to get all God’s people out, we must be patient and long-suffering, but at the same time we must keep out the enemy; we must lead the people safely if we are going to get them out at all. God is undertaking today in a special way to lead His people out of bondage. Jesus is going again to set at liberty those who are being oppressed. the Lord showed me clearly that we were entering on the very threshold of a definite, distinct work of God in a new way; of course, it is the same Spirit but in other operations of a higher nature, the same process all the way through, but of a higher order, because the time is due for a greater development of God toward the final consummation and the time is come in the church when more light is due.

The Lord took me back over church history and showed me the fall of the early church, then showed me the process of restoration. God marches dispensationally through the ages. I never studied these things out to any extent, but the Spirit has been teaching me. He showed me that the time comes when light is due dispensationally, and it catches the people naturally, just where it finds them. Those who have trifled with past light and opportunities the light catches them that way, dilatory and careless and indifferent, and then there are others who have never had opportunity. That is why God brings some out so rapidly. They are honest, sincere souls and God is going to cut the work short in righteousness. Some are sweeping ahead of others in experience, and while it takes time to get experience, at the same time some are far more teachable than others, and God can lead them more quickly. We have the benefit in a measure of the light of the past the Holy Spirit today is rising like the sun larger and larger toward the zenith, and as the light becomes brighter things are becoming more clear. The early church fell away from God, and like a man who has been in a dark mine for a time, it cannot come out in the bright daylight, especially at noon-day, but it has to come back by degrees. So the dear people today, when the light shines upon them cannot bear it all at once, and they have to bear it by degrees. There are others who have been rebellious and resentful, and they are blinded by the light. They have trifled with the past light, and have not walked in it; they are blinded, and some of them simply resist it and destroy themselves. But however these things may be, the fact remains that the light is due. God cannot halt in His dispensational march through the centuries. When I got hold of the fact of the sovereignty of God and His operations, when I got hold of the eternal purpose of God, it strengthened my faith.

There was a time I didn’t see that side; I used to see the side largely that man occupies toward God, but the Lord has been showing me in the last two or three years His side, and I find He also has an interest and purpose in us as well as we an interest in Him. As we go on and develop in the Lord we will naturally get hold of these truths, but especially today is the Lord showing us many things that are solidifying us and making us the men and women we need to be in order to stand in the present battle. God is taking a dispensational march through the centuries. The Lord has been showing me these things in the present connection; He never halts His operations; He cannot. He takes His march through the centuries and finishes His work as He goes. Mark that. His work is a complete work as He goes. He will always find a body of people who will yield themselves to His operations. “Thy people yield themselves willingly in the day of Thy power.” God will always find a people. I used to feel I had to stir Him up to the necessity and remind Him of the situation, but I am seeing these days He has to stir me up. I am getting the other side of the situation, and it is the biggest side by far. I am seeing that God has an eternal purpose through the centuries, and the question with me these days is whether I am going to work with Him. It is not a question whether the Lord is going to keep up His march, but the all-absorbing question is whether I am going to keep step with Him. “A body hast thou prepared me.” He will find a body that His purpose may be worked out, but it is a question who is going to be the people that will work with Him. The Lord is coming out on time; just with the ticking of the clock. His purpose will be worked out. There is nothing contradictory in that. God foresees; He doesn’t determine, as far as man is concerned, but He foresees what man will do and knows how it is going to work out. That doesn’t eliminate the individual responsibility of man. The Lord will find a people who will work with Him to this end, but the question is whether you and I will be amongst them. We may forfeit our individual opportunity and privilege, and finally fall out and be lost. This is a time when the Lord is calling in a big way for workers.

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I read today about Elisha’s call; how the prophet Elijah dropped his mantle on Elisha. The time had come for the passing away of Elijah, and for a new order of things. Elijah had come to feel he was the only one left and that the whole thing depended on him. It was time he went home and left the situation for someone else. God cannot use that kind of a man, so God is calling out the old men and calling in the Eiishas; not necessarily young men in years. Elijah represents the old liners, but Elijah was too old for the Lord to use in the work He wanted done. Thank God there are some old “liners” that will fall into line; there were two out of the twelve back there among the spies. Caleb and Joshua, who went into Canaan, but the old liners, the ten other spies, failed, and the whole generation practically failed and their carcasses fell in the wilderness. The Lord had to bring in a new line; the young men saw the vision. I suppose the old men dreamed about the glory they had in the past, down in Egypt, but the young men got the forward vision, and they went forth to the march and entered in and possessed the land.

The dear Lord showed me clearly this was the situation today; took the scriptures and showed me by experience of the past just how the principle of the thing worked out, and He showed me that while many of the old line workers had worked faithfully in their time, been true to the call of God and accomplished their work for the time and day, He could not get them in now. I hung firm quite a while in a number of things in this present issue, because I wanted to bring the holiness people into it. I had been a holiness preacher, and I wanted to bring my brethren into the movement, but they never did come as a whole, and finally the Lord said, “If you are not careful you are going to lose step with Me; you had better let Me deal with this people,” so I died to them, gave them up. They have not come in as a body, but individuals have, and I found I had to let Him take care of the holiness people, my relatives, and all the rest. I am moving on with a new crowd, with a new order of priests, hallelujah!

I had quite a struggle, as many others had, when God began to let the light shine and things began to break and tear loose from the old order of things; there was a great deal to be given up; like poor young Elisha. I thought about the folks I was going to leave behind, but God in His great wisdom and courage enabled me to slay the oxen, break the plow up, make the sacrifice, and go on with the mantle of the Lord. I am so glad, beloved. I did not lose step with God, and while I found my old theology tumbling down around me, there was an earthquake and I had to climb out, which took me months. I got out in time to keep in touch with Him, and then I took a look behind and behold the Lord showed me Pharaoh and his hosts and I was glad to look toward the Red Sea. I tell you these are serious times. God showed me in the Spirit, as it were, the attitude the people were going to take towards His movement in the present day those who were going to take a stand against it and fail to go in, and one look was enough. I said, “That won’t do; there is no hope there.” I saw nothing but Pharaoh and his hosts behind and the Red Sea ahead. It looked terrible, and I saw many things to make me afraid. I was afraid to stay behind, and I had to go ahead. I am glad I did. God is able to take us through, bless His Name. I know today we are in step with God and with His dispensational purpose, but beloved, we want to go carefully and prayerfully. We do not want to get careless.

When I said a little while ago the Lord is doing a new thing on the earth, truths coming in a new way to us by the Spirit, I hadn’t reference to fanaticism or carelessness or indifference. I never have been charged with that. God gives us a spirit of a sound mind, but there is a higher order of revelation to be realized. In Joel 2:7-11 we have a picture of God’s army, a very beautiful one: “They shall run like mighty men; they shall climb the wall like men of war; and they shall march every one on his ways, and they shall not break their ranks neither shall one thrust another;” they do not bite and devour one another. When I was a boy I was raised on a farm and we had one or two cattle that had to be goring the rest of them, and they were always making trouble. It was hardly safe to go into the barnyard because one of these cattle would make a rush and hook some of them, and if you got in the way of them it was dangerous. How often God’s people gore and hook one another, bite and devour one another. My heart is made to bleed as I travel over the country and see the conditions. “They shall walk every one in his path.” Look at that united army moving in unison:

“And when they fall upon the sword, they shall not be wounded. They shall run to and fro in the city; they shall run upon the wall, they shall climb up upon the houses; they shall enter in at the windows like a thief. The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining; and the Lord shall utter His voice before His army: for His camp is very great: for He is strong that executeth His word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it.”

There is an awful and yet that is the very thing that Jesus Christ prayed for and gave his life for, “that they might be one even as we are one.” the Father and He and the Holy Spirit, “that the world might believe.” Mr. Moody used to say if God’s children were united and in harmony they would shake this old earth with their conquering tread, and it is true. United we stand, divided we fall. We are wasting our energy in fighting each other, and the devil sits on the fence and watches the fight. Evan Roberts said in Wales, “The devil kindles the fire, and he sets the Christians to fighting, and the way they do it is with their tongues.” Sometimes I feel like shutting my mouth and keeping it shut. You cannot open your mouth until it is carried to the ends of the earth, and you know what it looks like when it gets to the end of its journey; you would not recognize it when it came back to you. These are peculiar days; these are trying days; these are days when it seems you cannot put confidence in a friend, but on the other hand they are most wonderful days; days of darkness. the most trying, but days of wonderful opportunity. The call of God comes today.

Years ago when I was a young Christian I used to wish I had been born in some more favored generation; back in the time of Elijah, for instance. I always admired those prophets of old, and when I read about the revivals in Wesley’s time, and in the days of Benjamin Abbott and Finney, I used to wish I had been born then. Israel Putnam would never have been anything but a plain plowman if the call to arms hadn’t come in his time. While I have no use for carnal conflict, yet in the spirit I always lamented the fact I had been born in the time of peace; that there wasn’t any great revival on, and I had just about settled down to the fact and thought everything was going to be very quiet, when the Lord began to open my eyes and lay the burden of prayer upon us and began to work mightily on the earth, and it wasn’t very long until the Lord was able to show me that He was just merging the greatest battle of the ages; that the greatest opportunity was ahead of us, the most wonderful privilege any generation had ever realized or seen was at the door, and I entered into that quickly and instantly. I had troubles and testings as the rest of you have had, yet all the time the Lord was showing me more and more the situation, and I was thanking God I had been born and was living in these days. And as the glory came upon me and I heard of the glory of God, my heart began to grow, and I began to realize the wonderful opportunities that were open to us, and again I thanked God I had been born in this present generation, the most favored. When the situation began to dawn upon me, I said. “I’d rather live six months in the-present time than fifty years of ordinary time.” That is the way it appeared to me. And more and more I am convinced we are living in the last days. From observation and facts I realize we are entering into the most wonderful time that the world has ever seen, and yet there are multitudes that do not see it; multitudes yet back in the old darkness living in the backward vision, worshipping their ancestors. Ancestral worship! You don’t have to go to China to find that.

I thank God I wasn’t so old or so settled in my ways that He couldn’t teach me something new. He had a hard enough job with me; as hard as He had with anybody, but there seem to be a multitude of good people that cannot see it at all. I thank God He ever was able to give me the vision. Think of what I would have missed, and it might have hinged on the decision of a moment! There comes a critical moment in a life when a battle must be won or lost. There is a critical moment in a great battle that means either victory or defeat. When I realized that like multitudes I could have turned my back and lost the blessing of the present unfolding, it almost makes me shudder, but it makes me thank God with my whole heart that I was able to let the Lord take me and lead me. I have tried to walk on solid ground, safe and sure as I went along. I have tried to be careful and prayerful.

As I started to say a little while ago regarding the manifestation of God’s truth: I do not believe in recklessness and carelessness, but oh, to spend our time in the study of the Word, and when God desires to give us a message or manifest Himself through us, there is some material to work on. He says He will bring to our remembrance all things He has said to us. If we have not studied the Word, haven’t meditated and prayed and given our time to God that He might teach us, there will not be anything He can bring to our remembrance. It is not a matter of foolishness and wild fire-ism, but it is a matter of being prepared for God. The call of God has come today for soldiers. The Lord put it on my heart to send out a little announcement of my around-the-world tour and a dear sister wrote me and said, “When I read that, I went to my knees in prayer, as I always do about such matters, and when I went to the Lord about it, He wonderfully blessed me and I broke out in holy laughter.” Some other people have written me the Lord had nothing to do with my taking this trip. It is good for us to have balances. He gives us enough to keep us humble and then He gives us enough encouragement to keep us from going down. I have had the most precious letters stating how God had witnessed with them that I was in His order in taking this trip around the world; then I have had others prophesying that all sorts of things would happen. These things get us to the place where we look to the Lord and do not take everybody’s revelation and everybody’s advice.

I have a little boy six months old, another four years, and a little girl six years old. I never came nearer dying in my life than when I had to leave them. I thought I would faint before I reached the car-line, but I had to go on. I love the will of God better than wife and babies, while they are dearer than life itself. There are very few men that hate separation from their families more than I do, but I love the will of God. This trip is not an idea of a moment, but it has been laid upon me for fifteen years, and especially for the last four years, and I have been gradually approaching it. It is working out in the will of God. My heart was over in the foreign field for months before I started, living over there and praying, but when it came near the time to say good-bye to wife and babies I looked behind to see if I should not go I saw myself dwindling down and shrinking up until there wasn’t anything left of me, and I didn’t see my work or anything else. I saw nothing. God didn’t leave me a single thing if I stayed there. In fact the burden left me for the country. There was nothing for me to do but go out on a ranch and backslide and be a nuisance and curse to my family and everybody else. The Lord shut the door behind me and put me out of business; He opened the door ahead and said, “Go.” Every step I made I said. “Lord, you know how to stop me if after all I am deceived, as some good people seem to think.” I said. “Lord, you are welcome to break a leg if it takes that to keep me in Los Angeles,” and when I got to Oakland I said, “Lord, before I go any further if I am mistaken, let one of my children get sick, not unto death, but let one of them get sick and I will go back on the next train;” but they are in the best of health, better than when I was with them. I believe they are better off without me than if I was there and not in the will of the Lord. So there is nothing to do but go on. The way opens up and the Lord keeps saying, “Go on,” and I am going on until He calls a halt.

This sister I referred to, while in prayer, inquired of the Lord, “How is it Brother Bartleman has to go and leave a family and there are so many young people who have no families dependent upon them?” and He called her attention to the fact that in times of war sometimes there are not enough volunteers and men have to be drafted, and oftentimes men with families have to be drafted. He showed her there are multitudes of people who are free and could go will not hear the call. There are many people that have no encumbrances, no responsibilities, who will not hear the call, so the Lord has to draft even men with families and send them out. I do not know what the Lord will have me do, but I am convinced that my simple obedience to God will be an example, and the Lord can use it to the shaming of some, and to encourage and inspire them, and they will say ”yes” to God because Brother Bartleman has said yes to God. Not only that, but people know generally that physically I am not a giant. Sometimes they think I haven’t my Pentecost on that account. I am not pleading for ill-health, but I was born in ill-health. I wasn’t worth raising, but God had a purpose in my life. I have been expected to die years ago; have been at the point of death a number of times, but God spared my life. I remember once in south Georgia I was dying, and God said, “If you will obey Me and keep going for Me I will give you more time.” He didn’t tell me how many years, but those are the conditions, and I know the Lord is my strength. He enables me to do as much work as a dozen ordinary people that haven’t the disposition to obey God.

This is the call. God is merging a great spiritual battle, the greatest of all battles, and He is calling for volunteers, and this is the opportunity not only of a lifetime, but of generations. Oh, how the young people today ought to respond to such an opportunity.

A friend met me on the street in Los Angeles and said, “Brother Bartleman, don’t you want to go up with your family?” I looked him in the eyes and said, “Dear brother. I would just as soon meet my family in the air as in Los Angeles.”

I expect to go from this country about July; visit Wales and Scotland, perhaps through Germany and France, and then to Egypt and from there to Palestine, India, China, Japan, possibly Honolulu, and back to the Pacific Coast. I want you to honor me and follow me with your prayers. God has a purpose in every life. He has a purpose in your life. It may not be to take a trip around the world. It may be to stand true and faithful to the work here in Chicago, but God has a purpose and call for each one of us.

In my own individual experience. I had an unsaved aunt that prophesied when I was four years old that I would be a preacher. God has a purpose in our lives. Oh, how much it means to follow Him in that purpose! I was converted when I was twenty-two years old; had no religious training. Two years after I was converted. this unsaved aunt became converted. I had been preaching five years before I ever heard of that prophecy. I do not pretend to explain it. You could not. In our family there never was known such a thing as a preacher or priest before. All my people on my father’s side were Roman Catholics, but I had not a single testimony to Christianity on my mother’s or father’s side. There was no light to shine on my pathway. My father is an infidel, left the Roman Catholic church when I was converted. That poor old father said I was insane when God called me to preach. He said I ought to be in the asylum, but God has been my encouragement. I was saved out of a family of which none of the rest have been saved, worldly, hard-headed, and ambitious; a precious, good mother, but never had religious training; so far has not seemingly come into the light clearly, though I am praying for her. I have not lived at home since I was converted. God has led me up to the present hour. I know I am in His will tonight. He has given me this place in the present work. I have made many mistakes no doubt, but in my heart I know He has a purpose in my life. As I go on I am giving the best I know; the best light I get, and I ask your prayers that God will keep me in step with Him, and pray that you will keep in touch with God, for Jesus’ sake.

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