January Pentecostal Anniversaries: 3 Pleading the Blood in Kilsyth

So far in our January Pentecostal anniversaries, we've met two women: Agnes Ozman in America and Catherine Price here in the UK. But today let's meet a church. For, in January 1908, something rather interesting happened in a church in the town of Kilsyth in Scotland, which had a big impact on Pentecostals in this country and beyond.

What was by that time known as the Kilsyth Church of God (no relation to American churches of the same name) had been established some time before through the joint efforts of a number of churches as an outreach to the working-class people of the town.

For some time, the people of the church had been praying together in their prayer meetings: 'Lord, come in a new way, and manifest Thyself in our midst.' On Wednesday 29th January they invited Victor Wilson, whom they knew and respected, who had earlier that month been baptised in the Spirit to come and tell them about it. It made a big impression on the congregation, so they decided to have a special meeting on the Friday night (31st January). 

But first, on the Wednesday night after the meeting, Victor Wilson went to stay at the home of Andrew Murdoch, the church secretary. And while praying together at about midnight, Murdoch was baptised in the Spirit. The next night William Oliver Hutchinson (yes, him of AFC infamy) came to visit Murdoch. When he got there, he embraced Murdoch, and as he did, he was immediately baptised and the Spirit and began to speak in tongues.

Friday night (31st January) came, and with it a revival broke out in the church. It started when a man named John Reid raised his hand and cried out 'Blood! Blood! Blood!'. At that cry, immediately 13 young people were baptised in the Holy Spirit. On the Saturday (1st February) 'the Fire fell' and between 30 and 40 people fell on their faces before the Lord and were baptised in the Spirit. From then on, meetings were held every day in the church, continuing for the next 9 months. Crowds flocked to the church, and although it could seat 500 people, they couldn't all fit in. So people gathered round the windows outside. Alexander Boddy came to visit and said the intensity of the power of God in the meetings was greater than anything he'd seen.

Kilsyth became a great centre for Pentecostalism in Scotland. Murdoch started an itinerant ministry around the country and very soon 600 people had been baptised in the Spirit in different parts of Scotland.

Now, as exciting as the revival was, there were quite a lot of those in various places at the beginning of Pentecostalism. What's particularly interesting about the Kilsyth revival is how it led to the practice of pleading the blood.

It all started with John Reid's ‘blood cry’ that first night of the revival. Someone cried out ‘Blood!’ and people were baptised in the Spirit. The practice quickly spread. It had been taken up in Sunderland by the Spring, and from Sunderland and Boddy spread to others associated with him like Smith Wigglesworth. 

But in the early days, it took a while to come to a proper understanding of pleading the blood. Initially many people simply prayed the word ‘Blood!’ (like John Reid in Kilsyth). And the danger there was that for many it descended into a mere mechanical means of invoking the blood of Jesus when seeking the baptism in the Holy Spirit by repeating the mere word 'Blood!' over and over again until the Spirit would fall.

My students are always both incredibly shocked and ridiculously amused when I tell them about the time when 43 people were baptised in the Spirit in Kilsyth over a weekend of continuously crying out ‘Blood!’ 

Some early Pentecostals developed all sorts of strange teachings around pleading the blood. For example, William Oliver Hutchinson came up with a complicated Old Testament theology to ground it and made the blood cry an increasingly central doctrine for his churches, teaching that it was a powerful protection against both human and demonic enemies. (But we’ve talked about him before...)

However, for most British Pentecostals, pleading the blood in Kilsyth led to something much better. When Alexander Boddy encountered the practice in Scotland, it impressed upon him the reality of the power of the blood of Jesus. His wife, Mary, had had a vision of the Blood when she was baptised in the Spirit, and so they soon began to teach pleading the blood as a standard Pentecostal practice. In the very first issue of Confidence (Britain's first Pentecostal magazine) in April 1908, Mary Boddy wrote, ‘We praise our God that He is teaching us in these days the wonderful depths, efficacy, and power of the blood.’

Alexander Boddy wrote a booklet called Pleading the Blood later in 1908, and soon 10,000 copies had been distributed across the country. He reminded Pentecostals that the blood of Jesus is ‘the most powerful plea any human being can present before the Throne of God.’ But he also made clear that this wasn’t simply a blood cry (crying out ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’). Rather it was prayer grounded in the shed blood of Jesus. 

At the Whitsun Convention the next year, how Pentecostals had learnt to plead the blood was summed up like this: ‘we have learned to plead the Blood—not by repetition of the word “Blood”, but by presenting the Atonement to the Father in the power of the Holy Ghost.’

While some Pentecostals (like William Oliver Hutchinson) fell into a sort of magical-fetishisation of the blood cry, Boddy and mainstream British Pentecostals came to a much more theologically orthodox understanding of pleading the blood, seeing in the blood of Jesus the grounds of our access to the throne of grace and basis for our prayers and intercessions. To plead the blood was to rely entirely on Jesus and His finished work on the cross, and keep the crucified Christ at the centre of our lives and worship. And so Pentecostals love the Blood, not because they love a word or some magical power in a specific formula, but because they love Jesus who shed His blood for us on the cross, and entrust themselves entirely to Him.