PROPHECIES IN PRINT?
In 1911, a small group of believers in Chicago, Illinois, launched a series of volumes which came to be known as the ‘Yellow Books’. Purporting to contain messages from Jesus himself, these books attracted many sincere and godly readers who longed to hear from their Lord but who were ultimately and inevitably disappointed.
In or about 1923, some of the early Pentecostals in Adelaide, South Australia, began to promote a series of publications known as the Yellow Books.
These paperback volumes were published in Chicago, Illinois, from 1911 onwards, and distributed free to any who were interested. On the back cover was the text, `Tho [sic] ye have lien among the pots, YET SHALL YE BE AS the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers as YELLOW GOLD' – Psalm 68:13. On the basis of this text, and because of what was claimed as a direct word from God, the books were bound in yellow –
There came a time to decide what color [sic] the books were to be, and the Spirit said `Golden let them be.' So we have God's color [sic] for His books, too.1
There are even a few verses in one volume, extolling the virtues of the books –
GOLDEN BOOKSBeautiful Yellow Books!
Go forth to the ends of the earth.
Ring out the glad message of Calvary,
The earth must come out of its dearth...
Beautiful Yellow Books!Beautiful Golden Books!
Who would have thought thee, `Golden'?
Who has gone into the depth with Jesus?
Our eyes have been so holden.
My, what a wealth of mercy,
Hidden away in the Saviour's wound,
For hearts that are really thirsty... 2
Each volume bears the main title, In School with the Holy Ghost – The Angel Message. They are all written in the first person, sometimes in the plural form (`We') as if given by the Trinity, and other times in the singular as spoken by Jesus. The introduction, which appears in most volumes, reads in part –
You who would learn, hearken to the good word of your God in this book.
In these messages that I have written Myself, you will find food for your souls ...
Harden not your hearts against the teachings that are therein written, because they come from the hand of a Great Writer.
Search the Scriptures, and compare these words carefully with the words of the Book that has stood the storms of all ages, and if it compare not with what is written in the Bible, then be careful to receive none of its teachings...
Receive these things gladly, your hearts being knit together in Me, Who Am Jesus Christ.
This is spoken by the God of all Grace and comfort.3
In spite of the invitation for readers to judge for themselves, an admonition on the inside back cover reads – `WARNING! No one must ever change these Books. They are divinely arranged and they must never be disturbed. Jesus.'
And a later edition includes a solemn warning —
Look well to this, people, or you who throw away the `Yellow Books', and even burn them, may be found to be among the greatest Blasphemers of the age.
You love not the name of Jesus! You love not to hear it, and how can you be My child and despise the name of Jesus, even though some little weak one should mention it to you?4
In spite of this, the books were not accepted by all. Testimonies in an accompanying magazine of the same title, make frequent reference to the varying attitudes in Chicago, in particular, to the Yellow Books and those who produced them. `I wish every critic would believe in them as the Word of God,' wrote one correspondent. Another said, `The leaders of other missions spoke against this one and its leader, saying it had departed from the faith and gone off into fanaticism. Glory to Jesus. The book In School with the Holy Ghost was denounced as false and everything was done to keep saints away from this mission.' Another recalled that people `were reported to have been led into fanaticism and false prophecy thru [sic] reading them'.5
And the couple responsible for publishing the books wrote –
Do not think, dear ones, that there has been no opposition to these messages. From the time they were spoken till now, the Devil was never so stirred up as he is at present for in these books he learns that his time is very short.6
There were two major problems. The first and obvious one, centred around the format. Were the books adding to the Word of God? Certainly, the language was authoritative. Equally troublesome was the way in which the messages were given. In simple terms, they were set down by two women, one of whom spoke them while the other recorded them. They were then published by a married couple who had decided, after a period of investigation, to join the women and undertake the printing and distribution.7
The identity of the women was shrouded in secrecy. Originally, it seems they attended William Durham's meetings in Chicago. Durham (1873-1912) was a Baptist minister who ‘received the Holy Spirit’ at Azusa Street in March, 1907 and began to preach and teach the Pentecostal message.8 Prophecies given at Durham's church over a period of eight months from 1 June, 1908, were recorded and published as Heavenly Messages.9 There was clearly a sense of wonder about their delivery–
The two persons through whom God spoke were at these times completely under the power of the Spirit, in body as well as mind. (See Ezek 3:26; 4:8.) They could neither do a thing nor say a word, except as directed by the Spirit.10
Moreover, no credit was to be given to any human source for these messages–
The names of these two persons are not to be published, because they do not desire to take any credit or authorship to themselves for what God has thus spoken, but that He alone may have the glory; and because God says in Chapter XV., Vol I.: ‘See to it that your names be not known in connection with what I am doing.’
The use of the word ‘persons’ in an era when ministry by men was the norm probably indicates that the two speakers were women. There seems little doubt they were the same two women who later produced the Yellow Books. Certainly, an identical stance was taken by them. They had been clearly instructed that no name other than that of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit should ever appear in the printed publications. However, the name `Bethany' was to be used `in the business part of the work.'11
This may actually have been the Christian name of the speaker of the messages. An undated greeting card written by her around 1924 and sent to Jean Alexander, who had evidently been a member of the Apostolic Mission, one of the early Pentecostal churches in Adelaide, South Australia, is signed `Bethany.' This same card shows a picture of the Sunken Gardens, Humboldt Park, Chicago, and Bethany notes –
This scene is very familiar to us. In real life it looks just this way. Many of the Lords [sic] first messages were written in this park, and some of them right in this `Garden'. The `scribe' and I used to live just a block from the Park and could easily run over, and so often did. We are farther from it now, but still in quite easy walking distance ...12
Normally, Bethany spoke the messages and they were taken down in writing by her companion. `The mouth speaks and the hands write according to My dictation, and not according to their own thinking,' claimed one message. `Even as yet very few if any of these writings (yea, all of the writings) has passed [sic] through the mind of the vessel.' 13
Some time around 1909, one of the women offered a prophecy for publication in Heavenly Messages, but it was rejected, as the editor `did not believe it was of God'.14 It was then she began to publish her communications independently – including one in 1912 accusing Durham of blaspheming the Holy Spirit!15
At times, there seems to be some confusion between the identity of the speaker and the `vessel' as in the sentence, `A dear brother came to Me one day... and this is the story he told Me...'16 On some occasions, the messages were written down in `Heavenly Characters' and `the Spirit then gave the interpretation out of the other vessel', which was published as a message in English.17 On another occasion, a message was received in `Heavenly Shorthand'.18 At least once, `The Spirit, with the scribes [sic] hands' drew pictures which were then interpreted.19 Sometimes there were dreams and visions.20
The women also produced `Letters from Jesus', small leaflets containing messages purporting to be from the Lord. Twelve of these were published.21 When the Titanic was wrecked, a warning message was given which the Lord promised would appear in the newspaper. People searched diligently in the daily press for some time, but the piece did not appear. Then the Lord revealed that He wanted them to publish God's Newspaper, which they duly did in July 1913. The message about the Titanic was published here – and so they believed the word was fulfilled. There is no evidence the women felt this action was in any sense contrived. To them the integrity of the ‘message’ was what mattered. The prospect that it might not come to pass at all was beyond comprehension. Any fulfilment, no matter how unlikely, was better than none. God’s Newspaper continued into the 1930s.
For those of more sceptical bent, such blatant human intervention smacked more of Birnham wood than of the city of God.
Not only were there external questionings. Bethany herself sometimes mistrusted the authenticity of the messages. For years she had endured painful headaches and heart trouble. While she was healed of these, she was often afflicted with huge self-doubt after speaking and would `roll in an agony of fear and unbelief regarding the same'.22 On one occasion, she `was so tramped upon by the Devil, and so tormented by his lies, and doubted... God's holy messages, was in such darkness and despair' she even burnt some of the records, herself persuaded that they did not come from God. 23
The books were not published in the order in which they were written, but according to prophetic instruction.24 So Number Two was actually spoken in 1908 and 1909, while Numbers One and Three were given two years later. Numbers Four and Five were spoken and published in 1911 and 1912. Number Six, Parts One and Five were printed in 1914, while Part Three was published in 1913 and Parts Four and Six in 1912. Part Seven was printed in 1914.
There are times when the use of the first person becomes banal, to say the least, and the expression seems barely appropriate for the Lord and Saviour of the World. For example –
Great bunches of luscious grapes now hang
From Jehovah's beautiful branches.
He can make the wilderness `Blossom as the Rose'
Make fertile the wildest ranches...
You've been good little overseers —
Taken care of My `Golden Books.'
They have brought the Blood so near,
They will bring out upon you My looks.
These lines are followed by a note which reads -
These... Poems, I, Jesus, gave the four vessels after a busy shopping day. In one of the busy stores they found a little birdie and it sang so sweetly as they took a minute to sit and listen to it... Satan tried to condemn them for spending the time and money, but now We have fixed him, and written it down that We were pleased. Amen.25
To them, the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, was interested in everyday things. `He tells us what to cook, how to fix our house. In measurement of curtains, in colorings [sic] for this and that, in dress, in all, our comings and goings, He is our Director.'26
It is also interesting to note that the prophecies were frequently used as self-justification, as in the examples above, and that Jesus Himself was apparently uncertain about some things at times – for instance, the number of messages that had been influenced by the messengers' own thoughts. This overall approach clearly laid the four people concerned open to charges of fabrication, deception, delusion, and adding to Scripture.
The `vessels' themselves were aware of these possibilities. They felt very humbled by their calling, often referring to themselves as `little ones' and acutely conscious of their own failings. They were afraid of being labelled false prophets – and even more fearful of actually being so.27 But there were many confirmations of their veracity – the words spoken by Jesus were, of course, self-authenticating and there were also obvious demonstrations of His power. The scribe, for instance, had needed to wear glasses for forty years, even to dress herself properly, and certainly for reading. But now she could write messages clearly without the aid of spectacles. Bethany, too, was able to read unaided, after Jehovah came and `with His two fingers (using the fingers of the vessel) touched, first one eye and then the other.'28
The second ground for opposition was the nature of the teaching itself. Generally, the doctrine presented is consistent with the New Testament. Its primary focus is justification. Time and again, this theme is addressed through the Yellow Books. This is accompanied by a strong emphasis on the blood of Christ and its cleansing power—
One of the keynotes of these five books is `THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION!' Have you found it? Look again, and you will find it from the beginning to the end. You will find it. You are really free. If I should send you any other message than this, I would not be true to Calvary. Your souls are free...
The real people of the Lord are clean and free. The old nature within you, that won't behave, and won't be free and good, is nothing that you need to be condemned for. Your nature is the CHRIST-NATURE. That is the one you are to count for yourself, Then, count Me in you: so you will have it all in you... There is no condemnation for you, and you must not receive any.29
One single look, from your heart, at the crucified Saviour, makes you an heir, and a joint-heir with Him, to all things!
It's the Blood that saves you, children, and restores to you, the things that are right...
CLING TO THE BLOOD; Let nothing snatch it away! It sweeps away the condemnation! It says, – `YOU ARE FORGIVEN!' It satisfies the Father! PLEAD THE BLOOD! It's your only hope! YOU CANNOT PLEAD IT TOO OFTEN! The very mention of it, if it comes from a heart that loves it, brings the Heavens to your help.30
This theme is repeated over and again in the books. It is one that would have resonated with the hearts of most fundamentalist Christians of the time. Evangelical Christianity has always had a strong focus on the redemptive power of Christ’s blood. Those who rejected the Yellow Books would have done so on other grounds.
There are additional connotations which were seen as questionable. For instance, the idea that there is a direct correlation between sin and sickness and death. Hence, when the sin-nature is eradicated, there will be no further sickness – and possibly no death either. Germs are revealed as being demon spirits, the seed of the enemy. When the Holy Spirit washes filth away, he also destroys the germs.31
If you believe what I am telling you, you may laugh at Death and he can't hurt you.
What shall I do with this building that's possessed by two – life and death? Death has no right there! It's a thief!
I want to put it out. I must cleanse the blood, and that's what I will do for those who are not afraid of all this truth.
Cry unto the Great Physician until He takes off this body of sin and death.32
It might still please the Lord to allow some to pass through both sickness and death, but the ideal was to be free from both.
The Yellow Books were sent free of charge all over the world. There were readers in India, China, Japan, Australia, Africa, Palestine, England, Canada and several European countries.33 When the Yellow Books were introduced to the first Pentecostal church in Adelaide, South Australia, by Silas Stephens, they were accepted enthusiastically by some people, but rejected equally keenly by others. Feelings were so strong that a division was caused in the fledgling church. A small group led by E.Chenoweth began to meet as his Norwood home. Sisters Jean and Florrie Alexander also attended, as did May Hamlyn, J.Stevenson, W.J.Reeves and several members of the Wheaton family.34
The others saw the writings as heretical. `I know what happened to the set that was sent to us,' recalled one woman, `it went under the copper!... It was all tommy rot. Mum knew it wasn't right.'35 According to one man who rejected the books, the problem was excessive teaching about demons. It was alleged the Yellow Books took phrases out of context like, `Babylon... is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird' (Rev 18:2) and taught that spirits and sins could be coughed and vomited out. The breakaway group, he said, were actually taking paper bags to the meetings so they could vomit up the demons.36
There is no record of such behaviour in the books themselves although there are frequent references to demons and to the need to evict them. And there does seem to be a correlation between the words `sin' and `demon'. This is explained by the thesis that Satan deceived Eve into thinking he was her husband, and the resultant union meant that `since then, sin is in the seed, and everybody has the sinner in him.'37 One man testified how he had to pray against the demons of criticism, judging, hypocrisy, pride and unbelief.38
Given that the books themselves do not offer any instructions about the appropriate methodology of exorcism, it is likely that people drew their own conclusions and contrived one of their own. If demons were the cause of so many problems then there was clearly a need to be rid of them. In the absence of any divine mandate as to how achieve this, it was plainly necessary to do the best one could. If people coughed and spluttered when the demons in them were addressed, then why should not this be taken as a sign of deliverance?
In the Yellow Books, the emphasis is on bringing Christ into the life so that the demons are forced out.
You have been in the devil, and the devil has been in you...
The Cross of Christ brought you over into the New Creation, and there you are...
The body now is next. You live and yet Christ lives in you. The enemy is within too, and he wants so stay there. As long as he is there, he feels his own wretchedness, his own despair, his own wilfulness, his own ugliness... His hope is clean gone, and he is made to feel it.
Ye are not in the flesh nor the devil, but in the Spirit...39
So when the power of the Holy Spirit comes upon a person –
it begins to deal, at once, with these evil spirits, and when they are gone, your strength is gone, as your only strength was in them – in the flesh, as the Bible plainly says... When the demons are gone, you are left almost dead, for they had eaten up nearly your whole being.
When the Spirit comes He wants to acquaint you with your really awful condition, so He waits to strengthen you...
Therefore I say, this weakness you are feeling, is simply the little foundation We have upon which to begin the new work – a new creature – a beautiful structure...
Self, that you all know so well, is a terrible demon...
I broke Satan's power and plan on Calvary, and I am come into your being to push off death and reveal Eternal Life. If you want Me to, I will begin to live for you, and then you will grow strong and away from Satan, and farther and farther from the Pit and Death. Will you have it? Who will you have do your living, Satan or Jesus?40
As far as the believer is concerned, repentance is the key to victory. `Real repentance brings the result! The result proves the repentance!'41 It has ever been a human tendency to try to add something to the gospel of grace. No doubt the readers of these injunctions fell into the same snare. Surely it could not be enough just to believe? Some further action must be necessary.
The dilemma may also have been exacerbated by the issue of whether demon spirits have any place at all in the life of the believer, a matter which is still widely debated today,42 or perhaps the idea that sins and demons could be so closely interrelated. Whatever the precise cause, the Yellow Books were not well received by most of the early Pentecostals and those who believed them were regarded as both heretics and schismatics.
In addition to the Yellow Books and the Newspapers, there was also a series of typed letters sent from Bethany Publishing House from May 1919 to July 1934. These also are said to have been written by Jesus.
The major emphasis in the first five years is on deliverance from demons. As in the books, there is still no reference to the mode of release, but there is a strong emphasis on the need for it. It may be that these typed letters reflect the controversial side of the deliverance question more than the books themselves.
One letter points out that it is not yet time to cast demons `into the pit', but that `they must follow Our directions and do exactly as We say.' On the other hand, the Bride is `sick of his (Satan's) terrors and his awful reign' and currently surrounded by `doleful sounds – sad, sad, sad and mournful...' yet deliverance will come, but at best it will only be a partial deliverance, like all other blessings, `till the final touch.'
There are other frequent themes in the Yellow Books. The Second Coming is one – the reader is frequently told that the Great Tribulation is about to begin and that the coming of the Lord is near.
The Tribulation, even now, is breaking loose. Men's hearts failing them for fear. It's terrible already! Who shall escape it? Shall not those who have fled for refuge to Me, who am Jesus Christ, the Son of God?44
Another area of emphasis is that although many people were now being baptised in the Holy Spirit, they were not going any further. It was exciting to be part of the new Pentecostal outpouring, but once some people spoke in tongues, they sought for nothing more –
They got that, and mistook it for the whole of the Pentecostal experience, and sought no further for the rest of the things that go with it... stopping short of what you know is for you, and getting `puffed up' over the little that you have, kept the other generations out of the full Baptism of the Spirit! Shall it be so with you? I hope not!45
In common with most Pentecostals of the day, the writers were cautious about theological learning. So readers are counselled to burn their books – not histories, dictionaries or biographies of people such as Finney or Madam Guyon, but `books on theology' and those written by men `who undertake to try to explain the Bible.' Happily, the Lord did not reject everything. All of Bunyan's books `have sound teaching in them,' and Pilgrim's Progress ‘I prize very highly indeed.'46
From 1925, the typed letters became more personal. Obviously, Bethany and her `scribe' were in failing health. There are continual references to the two women having problems with hearing and eating, their ears and teeth both being in urgent need of attention,47 as were other parts of the body.
There is a sad pathos about the rest of the letters. They focus more and more on Bethany and her companion's health. Jesus goes on urging people to pray for the sisters, and for the dwindling little flock, and keeps on trying to explain why `the Gift of Healing' was not yet given. They need to pray more, to be more patient, to be more holy, for `I am determined to make these awful things start their perfect journey away from these bodies, and do so by the Word. The bodies then, are just to listen to Me now, and as they listen, I will heal'.48
But the healing did not come, and in 1930, it was still being promised. For it had taken `the bodies' so long to learn even one lesson, it was no wonder they were not yet healed.49
Of course, because it was Jesus speaking, the exhortations could not be wrong. Yet years went by and the women were not set free. One cannot help but feel pity for these tender-hearted souls who persisted in believing in the veracity of their own messages. Because their prayers for relief were not answered, there must have been some good reason. So over and over again, ‘Jesus’ offered them an explanation for the delay. Without realizing it, they were, like Milton, in their own way trying earnestly `to justify the ways of God to men'.50
The Yellow Books affected only a small number of people in South Australia. By and large they were either rejected or ignored by the early Pentecostals and were soon forgotten. Apart from one collection kept secretly and faithfully over decades by Florrie Alexander until her death in 1993, they all seem to have perished.
Today, they provide a fascinating study of the way in which some people demonstrated a passionate and indefatigable – albeit misguided – concern to be true to what they perceived as the voice of the Lord to them.
The devotion of the ‘messengers’ who wrote the Yellow Books was above question. Their unflagging passion to please their Lord was exceptional although not a zeal tempered by knowledge. In this respect they stand as yet another warning to the charismatic movement of the dangers of placing the subjective above the objective, the Spirit above the Word.
Yet on the other hand, might they not also provide a reminder that even misguided zeal may have qualities of unfeigned and unalloyed love for Christ that in some respects could shame us all?
Dr Barry Chant was founder and president of Tabor College in Australia from 1979-2003. He is currently senior pastor at the Wesley International Congregation in Sydney. He is a teacher, author and public speaker. He has written many books and a PhD thesis entitled Spirit of Pentecost: the origins and development of the Pentecostal Movement in Australia, 1870-1939. He is married to Vanessa and they have three adult children and a growing number of grand children. He is an ordained minister in the CRC Churches International.
Yellow books consulted
Bethany Series No 3, 1 June 1911.
Bethany Series No 4, 224 July 1911.
Bethany Series No 5, Part I, 30 March 1912.
Bethany Series No 5, Part II, 7 May 1912.
Bethany Series No 5, Section I, Part III, 3 August 1912.
Bethany Series No 5, Section II, Part III, 12 August 1912.
Bethany Series No 5, Section III, Part III, 30 March 1912.
Bethany Series No 6, Part I, 8 January 1914.
Bethany Series No 6, Part II, 22 September, 1913.
Bethany Series No 6, Part III, 24 November, 1913.
Bethany Series No 6, Part IV, 30 March 1912.
Bethany Series No 6, Part V, 2 January 1914.
Bethany Series No 6, Part VI, 30 March 1912.
Bethany Series No 7, 8 January 1914.
Endnotes:1. In School with the Holy Ghost — The Angel Message Chicago: Bethany Publishing House, No 5, Section III, Part III:190. 2. No 6, Part II:39f. 3. No 5, Part I, 8 January, 1914:4. 4. No 6, Part V, 2 January 1914:30. 5. In School with the Holy Ghost — God’s Newspaper No 1, 15July 1913:11,12,15. 6. No 5, Section III, Part III:154. 7. No 5, Section III, Part III:151ff. 8. W.H.Durham, ‘A testimony of the Power of God,’ leaflet, c.1911, reprinted from the Pentecostal Testimony; S Burgess, G.McGee and P.Alexander (eds), Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements Grand Rapids: Regency (Zondervan), 1988:255. 9. Heavenly Messages Vol II, Chicago: W.H.Durham, publisher, no date. 10. Heavenly Messages, II, 2. 11. No 5, Section III, Part III:152, 177f. 12. Card in my possession.
13. No 5, Section III, Part III:167 14. God’s Newspaper July 15, 1913:14.15. No 5, Section III, Part III:107 16. No 5, Section III, Part III:80. 17. No 6, Part II:34,3718. No 6, Part II:87. This message is from ‘Wheat, Tenn.’ Does this mean it was sent to Bethany from someone in Tennessee? 19. No 6, Part V:83.20. No 5, Section III, Part III:128 21. I only have one page of the twelfth letter but it contains sufficient details on which to base these comments. 22. God’s Newspaper, No 1, 15 July 1913:14; No 5 Section III, Part III:198f. 23. No 5, Section III, Part III:184. 24. No 5, Section III, Part III:187f; plus various editions. 25. No 6, Part II:99f.26. No 5, Section III, Part III:196f. Punctuation is original.27. No 5, Section III, Part III:175, 182ff. 28. No 5, Section III, Part III:199f. 29. No 5, Part 1:85.30. No 5, Section II, Part III:40f. 31. No 5, Part II:10.32. No 5, Section III, Part III:48. 33. No 5, Section III, Part III:153. 34. These names all appear in hand writing on the covers of Bethany publications in my possession. Of the Wheaton family, only the name ‘M.Wheaton’ appears. However, Sarah, Jean, Fred, Charlotte and Stella Wheaton were also involved, although Stella soon left again. Her son was later to become General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Australia — A.Evans, personal interview, 13 March 2001. See also B.Chant, ‘Waters to Swim In: Adelaide’s First Three Pentecostal Churches, 1915-1935’ in South Pacific Journal of Mission Studies, #22, North Turramurra: South Pacific Association for Mission Studies, October 1999: 4ff.35. Dorothy Reekie, personal interview, 14 August 1991.. 36. N.Priest quoted in B.Chant, Heart of Fire Unley Park: Tabor, 1984:135. This report was confirmed by Andrew Evans, members of whose mother’s family were involved in the group — A.Evans, personal interview, 13 March 2001. 37. No 6, Part IV:32f.38. God’s Newspaper No 1, 15 July 1913:14.39. No 5, Part II:39. 40. No 7:66.41. No 5, Section II, Part III:81. 42. See L.Harris, Victory over Satan Adelaide: Crusade, 1976:37ff; N.Anderson, The Bondage Breaker Eugene: Harvest, 1990; C.F.Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil Chicago: Moody Press, 1975:188ff. 43. Letter dated 2 March 1920. 44. No 5, Part I:45.45. No 5, Section II, Part III:84. 46. No 6, Part II:26.47. Letter dated 5 January 1926. 48. Letter dated 10 October 1926. 49. Letter dated 23 May 1930. 50. John Milton, Paradise Lost Book I, line 26.
© Southern Cross College, 2004.