What is Cessationism? Who Are Famous Cessationists?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What is cessationism? What do cessationists believe? Who are the most famous cessationists in history?


Who Is The Holy Spirit

What is cessationism? What do cessationists believe? Who are the most famous cessationists in history? Cessationism is the belief or doctrine that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing ceased with the Apostolic Age (1 Cor 13:8). Scripture says that tongues were said to be a sign for those that did not believe God was working through them (1 Cor 14:22) and not a sign for believers. Paul’s miracles were the signs of his special apostleship from the Lord and not a man-made work (2 Cor 12:12, Gal 2:7). The spiritual gifts given to the early church were signs to Israel that God was doing a new work through Paul and the Gentiles to build a new thing; the church (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 3:2-5).

What it’s Not

What cessationism is not is an attack on the Person or work of the Holy Spirit. Cessationism is not anti-supernatural, nor does it deny the possibility of miracles. Cessationism does not deny the reality that God can do whatever He wants to do whenever He wants to do it (Psalm 115:3). It does not put God into a box or limit His sovereign prerogative at all.


Charles H. Spurgeon

Continuationism is the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have continued to the present age, specifically those sometimes called “sign gifts”, such as tongues and prophecy. Continuationism is the opposite of cessationism. Cessationists do not discount the possibility that God can and still does miracles. We know He does, but the days of Peter’s shadow passing over someone who is then healed are gone and the days that the apostles could raise the dead have ceased. God can raise the dead or heal someone instantly, but it is not man as the agent. God alone chooses to heal when and where and with whom He pleases. No one today can lay hands on someone and raise the dead or heal the sick. If they do, it was only granted by God. As for the age of prophets, they too have ceased (1 Cor 13:8; Heb 1:1-2; Jude 1:3).  God may still choose to do that today, but it is not the normative and is extremely rare, but it is God alone Who heals and chooses to heal, and not any man or woman!  I have offered to go with these “faith healers” to hospitals and children’s cancer wards, but of course they always refuse.

One of the prisons that I preach in has now become infected by false prophets and apostles and continualists and is much like the Corinthian church was, boasting about their “gifts” to be more spiritual than others and having “a word from God,” and all the while neglecting God’s desire for us to live holy, Christ-like lives and allow the Spirit to produce godly fruit in us for His glory, not “our story!”  It is not by our gifts but by our fruits that we shall be known by the world and by believers (Matt 7:15-20).

Famous Cessationists

Dr. John MacArthur

Think you are alone in believing that the age of the prophets and apostolic miracles have ceased? I don’t think so. Consider this “Hall of Faith – Chapter Two” list of famous saints, theologians and pastors.

Start with John Calvin, then Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John MacArthur, Chip Ingram, Charles Stanley, Jonathan Edwards, Adrian Rogers, William Tindale, George Whitfield, A.W. Tozer, C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, Chrysostom, R. C. Sproul, John Piper, Matthew Henry, John Owen, Irenaeus, Norman Geisler, Charles Hodge, Irenaeus, Origen, Justin Martyr, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Watson, John Gill and…you get the point. As we can see, continualism is fairly new, and we must know from Scripture that if it’s new, it’s not from God and if it’s from God, it’s not new (Eccl 1:9-10, 3:13). All of these great men of faith can’t be wrong.

The Cessation of Signs & Wonders

God miraculously intervened by parting the waters of the sea, allowing the Israelites safe passage, but no one can do this today.

The main reason we had all of the signs and wonders in the early church (disappearing later) was to establish the fact that God was working with these men and that these are things that only God could do. It was only after the New Testament church began to be established and letters (the New Testament) of the Apostles began to be circulated and copied that these signs and wonders were no longer necessary. The church was established. They had the Word of God and now there came the Spirit of God.

The Decline of Miracles

Nearing the middle of the Book of Acts, New Testament (epistles) began to be circulated, therefore, miraculous tongues and prophecies and healings began to cease…eventually ending. Near the end of Paul’s life, he himself had a thorn in the flesh, Timothy had stomach issues and several of Paul’s friends were sick and some nearly died. Epaphroditus had been sick to the point of death, but couldn’t Paul have just sent a prayer cloth to these men? Did Paul show a lack of faith in God? Why couldn’t Paul have just claimed healing on these other men or lay hands on them and heal them? Paul answers this question, saying that God “said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9). By the way, suffering, pain and sickness are things that God can use to humble us and make us seek Him all the more and depend on Him alone.

The Whole Word

Today, we have the entire Bible; the Old Testament and the New Testament, therefore no new prophecies are needed, meaning the age of prophets is over. God is not giving new revelations to men anymore. The Canon is closed. We have all we need in the sufficiency of Scripture, so signs and wonders are no longer needed to establish someone as a genuine work of God. With the Word of God and the Spirit of God He can birth the children of God. Jesus said that an evil, adulterous generation seeks after signs (Matt 12:39) and warned us of many false prophets to come (Matt 7:16, 24:24).

Early Church Fathers Testimony

Augustine (354–430):

Augustine wrote, “In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues [languages] to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away.” [1]

Martin Luther (1483–1546)

Martin Luther – (1483-1546).

Quoting Martin Luther, he wrote, “In the early Church the Holy Spirit was sent forth in visible form. He descended upon Christ in the form of a dove (Matt. 3:16), and in the likeness of fire upon the apostles and other believers (Acts 2:3). This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to the establishment of the early Church, as were also the miracles that accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost. The purpose of these miraculous gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 14:22, and surprisingly he says, “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not.” Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.” [2]

Warn Them

We must warn the church that many are proclaiming to speak for God as prophets, but they are only fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that there would be prophets to come…but false ones (Matt 24:11). It is not possible that all these theologians over the last 2,000 years were totally wrong. God can and still does miracles, yes, but He no longer needs to use signs and wonders to convince unbelievers. He has the Word of God and the Spirit of God to birth the children of God. And today we have the full Word of God, both the Old and New Testaments. That is why we’re warned about adding to or taking away from God’s Word since prophets today portend to speak for God (Deut 4:2, 12:32; Prov 30:5-6; Rev 22:18). Friend, just as the days of the Apostles is over (Acts 1:20-23), so are the miraculous signs and wonders.


In closing, I pray that all who have read this have already put their trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If not happened yet, at the present time, you are in real danger of hell fire. Like all humans, you are one breath, one heartbeat…one accident away from eternity when it will be too late to repent. This is why today is the best day to believe before you harden your heart and while God may still yet be heard (2 Cor 6:2). There is no guarantee that tomorrow will even come. This is the main reason why I plead with you right now, repent today and put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. If not, prepare to face God’s judgment after death (Heb 9:27) or at Jesus Christ’s appearance (Rev 1:7, 20:12-15), either of which could occur in the twinkling of an eye.

1. Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 6.10. Cf. Schaff, NPNF, First Series, 7:497–98.

2. Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians 4, Trans. by Theodore Graebner [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1949], pp. 150-172. This is from Luther’s comment on Gal. 4:6.

Here is some related reading for you: What is Speaking in Tongues? A Biblical Analysis

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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