One might think that the experiences of being slain in the Spirit (or “falling under the power of God”) or trembling in the presence of God have only happened in the last hundred years during the contemporary pentecostal-charismatic movement. However, there is a long history of such experiences and they are no stranger to the evangelical movement at large.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was one of America’s greatest theologians and a key leader in the “Great Awakening” revival (1720s-1770s) at the dawn of what we now know as evangelicalism.
Regarding this time, Edwards writes, “It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy.” Edwards believed that at least some of these “fainting” experiences and “convulsions” resulted from authentic encounters with God.
John Wesley (1703-1791) hailed from across the Atlantic Ocean in England. Wesley describes people falling as one of the “outward signs that so often accompanied the inward work of God.”
Some critics suggested that people fell on the ground only from “natural effects” in the sense that people may have “fainted away only because of the heat and closeness of the rooms.” Others suggested that when people fell it was fake because the falling only happened in private meetings.
In response to such claims, Wesley wrote in his journal that on May 21, 1739, God “began to make bare his arm, not in a close room, neither in private, but in the open air, and before more than two thousand witnesses. One, and another, and another was struck to the earth; exceedingly trembling at the presence of His power.”
The testimonies of Edwards, Wesley, and other early evangelicals make it clear that contemporary experiences of trembling in the presence of God or being “slain” in the Spirit are not new to the evangelical movement.
This does not prove that such experiences are legitimate. Nevertheless, these historical observations have caused me to pause and reassess these experiences in light of Scripture.
This blog post is an excerpt from a (non-academic) book I am writing, tentatively titled Touched by God.
 Jonathan Edwards, “The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God,” Jonathan Edwards on Revival (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 64.
 John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, 3rd ed., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 210 and 196.