Having just observed Pentecost Sunday, it is fitting to remember the Pentecostal testimony of Ernest S. Williams (1885-1981), who was the only participant in the Azusa Street revival who later became a general superintendent of the Assemblies of God (1929-1949).
Known for his spiritual depth, he led the Fellowship during a period of significant growth in numbers as well as expanding outreach programs. During his watch, the Assemblies of God opened several new Bible schools and developed programs such as the Sunday School Department, Education Department, U.S. Missions, Chaplaincy, Youth Ministries, and Speed the Light. He wrote several books on theology, taught theology courses at Central Bible Institute, and authored a “Question and Answer” column for the Pentecostal Evangel.
Ernest Williams was born in San Bernardino, California, where his family was active in a Holiness church. He received salvation in 1904 at age 19 and felt that he had been saved and sanctified.
Two years later, in August 1906, Williams was living in Colorado when he received letters from his mother telling him about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles. That September, Williams and a friend traveled to Los Angeles to observe for themselves what was happening.
His first visit to the Azusa Street Mission was on a Sunday morning. What touched him the most was the altar service at the end of the meeting. The front of the mission was packed with seekers and altar workers. Christians and unsaved spectators crowded around to see what was going on. Some at the altar were seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit; others were worshiping God in unknown tongues. Some were prostrate under the power of God. People were worshiping everywhere. In his autobiography, Williams stated this worship was best described in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
Williams looked on, not knowing what to think. His heart was hungry for God. He already had salvation, but he was not satisfied. After much prayer and study of the Word, he returned to the Mission and began to seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit. On Oct. 2, 1906, he received the Pentecostal blessing. Williams recalled, “How rich an experience, and in my private devotions spontaneous speaking in tongues became a large part of the outpouring of my heart in worship of God.”
This was Williams’ introduction into the Pentecostal Movement, and he never regretted his decision. Feeling called into the ministry, Williams was ordained by the Apostolic Faith Mission under the ministry of William J. Seymour in 1907. He went on to lead a Pentecostal mission in San Francisco in August 1907. From there he traveled as an evangelist to Colorado Springs, Portland, and other places in the Northwest. In Portland, he met Laura Jacobsen, and two years later she became his wife in 1911.
Together the Williamses pastored small churches in Kentucky; Conneaut, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington. E. S. Williams read in the Word and Witness, an early Pentecostal newspaper, about the formation of the Assemblies of God, and he decided to join the young fellowship in 1915.
Next the Williamses pastored in Bradford, Pennsylvania, in 1916 and Newark, New Jersey, beginning in 1917, where Bethel Bible Training School had recently opened. In 1920, Williams became the pastor of Highway Mission Tabernacle in Philadelphia, where he served for a little over 10 years. He then was elected general superintendent and served for 20 years in that office (1929-1949) as he guided the Assemblies of God through the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war era.
Throughout his ministry, Williams pointed back to his baptism in the Holy Spirit as being a defining moment in his life. In an article from 60 years ago titled, “Baptized With the Holy Spirit,” E. S. Williams explained the doctrine of being baptized in the Holy Spirit from a scriptural viewpoint.
Williams wrote, “The Baptism with the Holy Spirit is a definite experience.” He further declared, “It was definite in the time of the early Church; it ought to be definite today.” He called the Holy Spirit “the promise of the Father.” To back this up, he quoted from Luke 24:47-49 where the disciples were instructed to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem” until they would be “endued with power from on high.”
The June 9, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel emphasized Pentecost Sunday. Read “Baptized With the Holy Spirit” on page 20.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Pentecostal Patience,” by Donald Gee
• “Endued With Power From on High,” by Myer Pearlman
• “Pentecost,” by Louis H. Hauff
And many more!
The Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.