“ ’Tis no sign that a work that is wrought amongst a people is not from the Spirit of God, That many that seem to be the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct.” (Pg. 115)
Writing about this section gives me some degree of pause, because I do not wish for anyone to misunderstand the point that Edwards is making. I do not want someone to receive the impression that he is making a case that sin within the church should be casually looked at, approved of, or even ignored. I will do my best to adequately represent his thoughts here in a clear and concise way. Keep in mind that as a puritan and a Calvinist, Edwards spent his life loathing his own sin and constantly threw himself at the mercy of the One whose grace would allow for more good works; works that Edwards understood would be genuine and acceptable to God the Father. Edwards starts by reminding us that the ultimate reason why God pours His spirit on us in the first place is to make us holy, not to make us politicians.
He says “‘Tis no wonder at all, that in a mixed multitude of all sorts, wise and unwise, young and old, of weak and strong natural abilities, that are under strong impressions of mind, there are many that behave themselves imprudently. There are but few that know how to conduct them under vehement affections of any kind, whether they be of a temporal or spiritual nature: to do so requires a great deal of discretion, and strength and steadiness of mind. A thousand imprudences won’t prove a work not to be the work of the Spirit of God; yea if there be not only imprudences, but many things prevailing that are irregular, and really contrary to the rules of God’s holy word. That it should be thus may be well accounted for from the exceeding weakness of human nature, together with the remaining darkness and corruption of those that are yet the subjects of the saving influences of God’s spirit, and have a real zeal for God.”
The word “imprudence” is used to describe acts of behavior that appear rash and careless. It seems to me that there have been occasions where I found words used in puritan literature that were used differently than they are currently used, because language is an evolving thing and their usage can change subtly. I went all the way back to the Robert Cawdrey dictionary of 1604 just to make sure that I did not have any misunderstandings about how this word was being used. I definitely don’t always trust my interpretation of old writings and have found old dictionaries to be very helpful at times in reassuring myself that I understand the way certain words are being used.
What Edwards is trying to point out is that within the church you had and will always have a wide variety of people that God has chosen to reveal himself to by the communication of divine saving grace. Absolutely every one of them, although regenerated, are not made perfect. Sin and corruption still lie within the heart of every Christian. Simply put, this is the reason why Christians still sin. There are those that believe when we are justified we are somehow given a righteousness of our own.However, that doesn’t seem biblically accurate to me. In Matthew 6:33, we are promised the righteousness of Jesus, not one that is of ourselves. The act of justification is a legal one, a forensic declaration whereby God declares us just in His sight. I believe that if the righteousness was truly ours, then as genuineChristians we should sin no more. This is obviously not the case. The process of regeneration and justification involves our sins being taken by Christ while His righteousness is given to us as a covering. As a Christian who still bears the marks of corruption, I am able to commune with God the Father because when he sees me he sees the righteousness of Jesus. The old hymn “nothing but the blood” begins to play in my mind as I think of this, because it speaks rightly of the alien nature of my salvation, or if you will, a righteousness that is apart from me that I depend upon in my daily walk with God.
Imprudent or rash- ignorant and sinful behavior is not the hallmark by which we are to judge whether or not God is operating within man in some capacity. We are all undergoing the process of sanctification and quite frankly, we’re not there yet. When I first read this chapter my mind immediately jumped to the example of the Corinthians, and apparently that’s exactly who Edwards also thought of because he proceeds to use what we know about them from scripture to outline the truth of his claims. I’m going to go ahead and provide a rather large chunk of his writings on this because I believe that they are fairly easy for everyone to understand, especially if you already have the basic context which I just laid out.
“There is scarce any church more celebrated in the New Testament for being blessed with large measures of the Spirit of God, both in ordinary influences, in convincing and converting sinners, and also in his extraordinary and miraculous gifts; yet what manifold imprudences, and great sinful irregularities, and strange confusion did they run into, at the Lord’s Supper, and in the exercise of church discipline, and their indecent manner of attending other parts of public worship, and in jarring and contention about their teachers, and in their exercise of their extraordinary gifts of prophecy, speaking with tongues, and the like, wherein they spake and acted by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of god? And if we see great imprudences, and even sinful irregularities in some that are improved as great instruments to carry on the work, it won’t prove it not to be the work of God. The Apostle Peter himself, that was a great and eminently holy and inspired Apostle, and one of the chief instruments of setting up the Christian church in the world, and one of the chief of the Apostles, when he was actually engaged in this work, was guilty of a great sinful error in his conduct; of which the Apostle speaks, Galatians 2: 11-13 “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” If the great pillar of the Christian church, and he who was one of the chief of those that are the very foundations on which, next to Christ, the whole church is said to be built, was guilty of such irregularity; is it any wonder if other lesser instruments, that have not that extraordinary conduct of the divine Spirit that he had, should be guilty of many irregularities? And here in particular, it is no evidence that a work is not the work of God, if many that are the subjects of it, or are improved as instruments to carry it on, are guilty of too great a forwardness to censure others as unconverted, thro’ mistakes they have embraced concerning the marks by which they are to judge of others hypocrisy and carnality; either not dually apprehending the latitude the Spirit of God uses in the methods of His operations, or for want of making due allowance for that infirmity and corruption that may be left in the hearts of the saints; as well as thro’ want of a due sense of their own blindness and weakness, and remaining corruption, whereby spiritual pride may have been a secret vent, this way, under some disguise, and not be discovered.If we allow that truly pious men may have a great deal of blindness and corruption, and may be liable to mistakes about the marks of hypocrisy, as undoubtedly all will allow; then ‘tis not unaccountable that they should sometimes run into such errors as these: ‘Tis as easy, and upon some accounts, more easy to be accounted for, why the remaining corruption of good men should sometimes have an unobserved vent this way, then most other ways, (tho’ it be exceeding unhappy,) and without doubt many holy men have erred this way.” (Pg. 116 – 117)
In just a cursory reading of Edward’s “The Religious Affections”, it was easy for me to see the contempt he had for the abundance of pride that humanity carries and cultivates within our hearts. He often referred to pride as “the secret language of the human heart”. When you really dig into his thoughts on this matter it becomes painfully clear that the scriptures attest to this, and as humans, often, our pride can be masked as outward expressions of humility. Pride is one of the most deceptive and pernicious afflictions that humanity suffers from and nothing is more odious or disgusting to God than when a man thinks too highly of himself. When we think highly of ourselves we ultimately strip honor and glory from the only one who actually deserves it. Many modern Christians attempt to elevate themselves to a place of spiritual maturity above the ignorant and immoral Corinthian, usually because of the verbal beat down of what now seems to be basic biblical common sense. In reality, the Corinthian church displayed one of the first examples of what spiritual pride is capable of doing to our mindsets and within our churches when left unchallenged and uncorrected.
There is no doubt that the Corinthian church was blessed with an abundance of miraculous gifts and outpourings of God’s Spirit, but it cannot go without note that it was also clearly one of the most immature. Edwards uses the term “strange confusion and irregularities” which was a very nice way of saying that they were severely messed up. Church discipline, the sacraments, indecent and chaotic forms of public worship, contentious groups pitted against each other regarding preferred teachers, incorrect application of spiritual gifts, incest, and lawsuits against each other were all prevalent within this church. Many people try to use the supernatural example set by the Corinthians as the norm for what all churches under the influence of the Spirit should look like, but this is ridiculous. The Church in Corinth wasn’t even a normal example in its own time period. In my opinion, the Church in Corinth was so infantile in its spiritual growth that God used the gifts just to hold it together. 1 Corinthians 4 makes it clear that the Corinthians were allowing the blessings thatthey had received both in wealth, status, and spiritual gifting to inflate their own perception of who they were spiritually. They equated their blessings with edification of their maturity. Thankfully Paul shuts it down and leaves us all with a good example of Christian humility and a much more sobering reality of what we should expect from our Christian walks.
We must be careful and discerning that the zeal we develop as a result of God’s graceful outpouring of blessings on us doesn’t turn into something destructive to the church. Edwards talks about this in a lengthy sentence that I’ll paraphrase for you. “Zeal is an excellent grace but left untended, it will merge with our corruption and passion to create unnecessary grievances”. Edwards uses the dietary contentions within the early church as an example of this. The early church exercised a great deal of energy fighting with each other over trivial matters in this respect.
“condemning and censoring one another, as not true Christians; when the Apostle had charity for both, as influenced by a Spirit of real piety: He that eats, says he, to the Lord he eats, and giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. So in the church of Corinth, they had got into a way of extolling some ministers, and censuring others, and were puffed up for one against another: but yet these things were no sign that the work that was then so wonderfully carried on, was not the work of God.” (Pg. 117)
Zeal and passion are important for performing the work of ministry to great affect, but we must be discerning and keep our zeal and passion under control. If we are not careful we can easily get swept away by the flood of our own inability to think rightly about spiritual matters; and in turn become destructive to the very thing we think we are rightly engaged in. We see this in all manner of doctrinal movements since the beginning of the church. The devil loves to take this understanding of how easily we as people are moved by zeal and passion, and often likes to create polar opposites of a single central idea and pit the opposing sides against each other. Historically, movements centered around sound doctrine and Godly zeal for truth can turn into something akin to persecution amongst our own brethren, or even worse lead us into forms of immorality that Paul says isn’t even fit for the pagans. The point of this blog installment is to in some small way bring awareness to the audience that you and I don’t get to be the judge of where God is working in someone, something, or somewhere just because an abundance of sin seems to be present. We are by nature the very worst of hypocrites and must allow for the possibility of sin, even in the midst of a work of God.
This in no way advocates for the acceptance of sin within the church; on the contrary, sin is to be dealt with harshly and swiftly through church discipline. Too many however, often turn their nose up at a church or people who have a certain degree of sin or scandal in their lives when in truth, these are not things by which we are allowed to judge a work of God by.
It’s amazing to me as I read and reread these points by Edwards just how far ahead his mind worked in comparison to my own. If you were to ask me to create a list of 8 marks that would not be evidence for or against the proof of revival; I can assure you this would not have made my list. To be honest I had never even really explored the idea of “example” in revival, that is to say how people could be effected by the examples of those experiencing revival around them. We have all heard from our elders repeatedly throughout our years growing up that we need to be “good examples”, but I had never thought about just how powerful and operational good and Godly examples were in the life of the church both past and present as well as revival. Even more so than that, I had never really thought of the concept of “example” being used by God as a means to achieve results in place of reason. Not until I read this chapter was I even aware of the relationship between example and reason when it came to shaping the minds of men. This is why I believe we still need Edwards. Edwards looked at things much more deeply and thoroughly through the lens of scripture. His spiritual insights, which I believe to be first revealed by the Holy Spirit, illuminate things contained in the bible that I had never previously seen. Now stay with me on this one, what may seem trivial at first is actually quite a bit deeper in substance as we explore Edward’s thought process on point number 5.
“It’s no sign that a work appears, and is wrought on the minds of people, is not from the Spirit of God, that example is made use of as a great means of it. It’s surely no argument that an effect is not from God, that means are made use of in producing it; for we know that it’s God’s manner to make use of means in carrying on His work in the world: and it’s no more an argument against the divinity of an effect, that this means is made use of, than if it was by any other means. It’s agreeable to scripture that persons should be influenced by one another’s good example.” (pg. 111-112)
When I first started reading Edwards I frequently blurbed out loud “ C’mon man who talks like this? What did you just say?” If his quote didn’t make sense to you well then you’re in good company. Simply put, the fact that minds may be greatly effected or hearts greatly affected by the examples set by those around them as opposed to being internally changed on account of reasoning from dialogue or scripture is not an evidence against God being operational in their lives. Edwards then gives us a handful of scriptures to prove how important “examples” are in effecting the lives that surround them. The scriptures direct us to set good examples in Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 3:1, 1 Timothy 4:12 and Titus 2:7. Scripture also directs us to follow the good examples of others in 2 Corinthians 8: 1-7, Hebrews 6:12, Philippians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:7.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so thatthey may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives” – 1 Peter 3:1
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 timothy 4:12
“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” – Titus 2:7
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favorof taking part in the relief of the saints —and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything —in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”
– 2 Corinthians 8:1-7
“so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” – Hebrews 6:12
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” – Philippians 3:17
“I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” – 1 Corinthians 4:16
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 11:1
“It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:9
“so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.” – 1 Thessalonians 1:7
Edwards is showing us that God intends for an aspect of His work to be carried out through the good and righteous example of those who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. This is a very scriptural way of God carrying out His work through us in the lives of those around us. This method of using example to steer men is a reasonable approach for God to use, chiefly I believe, because God perfectly understands how unreasonable men can be; and where we are most unreasonable God still flawlessly works to effect our minds by applying through means of example a way to bring about change where otherwise we would be stubborn, obstinate or otherwise all together incapable of reasoning it. Edwards says on page 112 that “This way of persons holding forth truth to one another, has a tendency to enlighten the mind, and to convince reason.” Edwards Goes on to make the point that nobody argues the value words can have in swaying one another towards various thoughts and ideas but some of the same things we intend to signify with words can also be signified through action; sometimes even more effectually to a greater degree.
Edwards says “Words are of no use any otherwise than as they convey our own ideas to others; but actions, in some cases may do it more fully. There is a language in actions; and in some cases, much more clear and convincing than words.” (pg. 112) Sometimes I really wish we had in depth interviews with Edwards explaining what was on his mind and what objections he specifically encountered that led to these individual points, but for now I can only guess. I am assuming that Edwards was addressing this point to refute those that were making arguments that it is by precise and careful reasoning alone that men’s minds are sufficiently and effectually persuaded. Several times Edwards goes above and beyond to show how example is not only a reasonable way of shaping men’s minds, but it’s clearly demonstrated and advocated for in Holy scripture. It seems to me, both in the bible and experientially, that God does not affect the heart before He affects the mind. It seems to consistently be the change in a person’s mind that then leads to a changed heart full of Godly affection. Remember that Romans 12:2 instructs us to be transformed by a renewing of our minds. I’m no expert in the Puritan mindset or advanced history during that time period, but it is telling about their worldview that Edwards has to go to such great length to open the door of possibility for the divine nature of their unconventional experiences. I imagine Edwards could have grown annoyed easily with those that were closed minded to the truths he was putting forth and the examples he used from scripture. The Puritans placed a heavy emphasis on education and the use of logic. Revival would not violate either of these but it sure did throw them out of their comfort zone. Today I grow weary and annoyed with those that are too open minded and claim everything is revival. Today we are quite happy to throw logic and sound doctrine out the window in favor of any sort of spiritual experience that brings us comfort and peace. Today we will follow entire ministries that win us over by facilitating amazing spiritual experiences all without ever realizing that these experiences are rooted in a false gospel serving a false version of Christ. In reality these people are attracted to the ministry itself and not converted to the real Christ, their conversion is a counterfeit one that will not endure under the stress of future trials.
My personal ramblings aside, the argument from examples is yet another instance of a sign within a work that does not prove or disprove that God is working. The fact that many people could be strongly effected by the example of others instead of reasoning alone is not a valid argument against the source of the examples being God. But when we question the nature of these examples, what was it that Edwards had in mind. Just using the word examples is vague and generic. I usually only associate the idea of an example being set as some sort of voluntary action that someone deliberately engages in to set a precedent of sorts. Edwards actually uses the idea of bodily effects as something God uses as an example to those around someone who is experiencing them. If Edwards was only talking about people who began to feed the hungry and clothe the naked then it would hardly be arguable about the source of the example. It’s precisely the bodily effects and the wide variety of spiritual emotions that people exhibited that caused concern for so many. Here is where I started to really see the heart of the matter Edwards was addressing. Remember that when we talk about the extreme spiritual emotions as well as the extreme bodily effects such as shrieking, quivering, wailing, fainting etc…. that arose as a result, that these, if not counterfeit, would have been a result of conviction of sin and the anguish that came with it or a sense of peace and delight experienced as a result of God sharing some sense of his ineffable glory and the overall excellence of His majesty. Imagine someone very passively and unenthusiastically trying to explain that they are at the very moment experiencing either anguish or ecstasy but doing so with an emotionless demeanor and a monotone voice. Would their emotionless words and sullen approach convince anybody that they were in fact at that moment on one end of an extreme range of emotion? You would be able to more likely, and accurately, guess the state of their well-being in their body language as the spiritual work on their mind and body manifested with real bodily effects.
“If a person should see another under some extreme bodily torment, he might receive much clearer ideas, and more convincing evidence what he suffered by his actions in his misery, than he could do only by the words of an unaffected indifferent relator. In like manner he might receive a greater idea of anything that is excellent and very delightful, from the behavior of one who is in actual enjoyment, or one that is sensible through sight and taste, than by dull narration of one that is unexperienced, and insensible himself.” (pg. 112-113)
Edwards goes on to stress that the effects that are generated in a person’s mind as a result of example are completely rational and that this is evident in the way all men are effected in this way. Edwards makes sure that it’s clear that those considered lowly are not the only ones effected but that all people both wise and unwise, both strong and intellectual are equally moved by example in greater ways than reason alone allows at times. He goes on to stress just how true it was that example played a pivotal role the success of the early Christian church under the authority of the Apostles and even later during the reformation.
“As in these days one person was moved by another, so one city or town was influenced by the example of another.” 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8
Edwards then presents another argument he foresees and refutes swiftly. Edwards seems to anticipate an objection insinuating that to believe that God would make so much use of example would contradict the scripture’s own claim that scripture itself would be the primary instrument used by God to carry out his work. Edwards says, and I paraphrase “Of course scripture is of principle importance in carrying out God’s work, but it’s this same scripture that enables the examples set forth to achieve the intended goal.” He goes on to use the story of Ruth and Naomi to highlight how the church is signified through one following a Godly example. If you remember it was Ruth who pledged to follow Naomi and to live by her example. The decision to follow Naomi ultimately led to Ruth becoming the mother of David and subsequently Christ. Edwards says “This is undoubtedly a great type of the Church.” Edwards finishes his commentary on example by once again looking toward future prophecy of a great outpouring of God’s spirit in the last days. Edwards loved to ponder on future events as depicted in scripture and his heart longed to see God move in an ultimate way whereby He is glorified in the sight of the whole world. This longing was apparent as Edwards would often bring us back full circle toward the chief end for which God created the world; that He would be glorified in and by His creation.
Edwards ends this point by quoting Zechariah.
“The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord.Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” – Zechariah 8:21-23
Now we begin to wade into the more turbulent waters of conversation on the subject of signs within works. Often times I find that areas pertaining to imagination and impressions upon the imagination often result in some of the most confused and undiscerning guess work one could witness. Edward’s fourth point is found on page 109.
“It’s no argument that an operation that appears on the minds of a people, is not the work of the Spirit of God, that many that are the subjects of it, have great impressions on their imaginations.” (pg. 109)
I think that the elaboration that Edwards makes on this is fairly easy to read so I’m going to provide a large chunk of it before we explore it further. There is no way I could write this any better myself and I’m thankful it’s easy enough to understand so I don’t have to. Remember that the goal of this project is to introduce you to Edwards not to bring attention to myself.
“That persons may have many impressions on their imaginations, doesn’t prove that they have nothing else. It is easy to be accounted for, that there should be much of this nature amongst a people, where a great multitude of all kinds of constitutions, have their minds engaged with intense thought and strong affection about those things that are invisible; more than this, it would be strange if there should not. Such is our nature that we can’t think of things invisible, without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man, of the greatest powers of the mind, whether or not he is able to fix his thoughts on God or Christ, or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his meditations? And the more engaged the mind is, and the more intense the contemplation and affection, still the more lively and strong will the imaginary idea ordinarily be: especially when the contemplation and affection of the mind is attended with anything of surprise; as when the view a person has is very new, and takes strong hold of the passions, either fear or joy; and when the change of the state and views of the mind is sudden, from a contrary extreme, as from that which was extremely dreadful, to that which is extremely ravishing and delightful: And it is no wonder that many persons don’t well distinguish between that which is imaginary, and that which is intellectual and spiritual; and that they are apt to lay too much weight on the imaginary part, and are most ready to speak of that in the account they give of their experiences, especially persons of less understanding and capacity of distinction.”(pg. 109-110)
Our imaginative capabilities were gifted to us by God. This ability is always turned on, in fact it’s the one thing that doesn’t even seem to shut off when we sleep. Think about the many who suffer from chronic anxiety, always playing thru hypothetical scenarios of the future where things go wrong and dwelling on things outside of their ability to control. Our imagination is always engaged in the background of our thinking and because it is so deeply rooted and engrained in our humanity very rarely do we analyze the major role it plays in our emotional moods, mental health and decision-making abilities. Please take a second and conscientiously think something, anything, but do it without allowing a single image to appear in your mind. I often love the pink elephant illustration. All you have to do is mention a pink elephant and immediately some sort of pink elephant is impressed on your imagination. Because the imagination is so consistently constant in its operation in our daily lives we barely notice it, this is equally true in our spiritual lives. This is actually a subject that he explores in much more depth in his work “The Religious Affections” but we’re going to keep it simple for now as we warm up to it.
Very few of us have made it a point to attempt to question the relationship our affections can have on our imaginations. Our God given imaginations allow us to think of spiritual things that otherwise remain invisible. Edwards makes the point that the faculty of imagination is important and helpful to all other faculties of the mind when its used properly, but that when the product of someone’s imagination is much stronger than their other faculties it becomes overbearing and disruptive to their ability to draw right conclusions about the nature and importance of the imagining. I’m not sure what Edwards would list as the specific cognitive faculties men share but I assume they would be similar to perception, reason, memory, intuition, and human will, etc… These are all various instruments used by the mind to perform its tasks and it is important that all these things are in proper working order. When they are not in proper working order it leads to wrong conclusions and wrong thinking. Edwards was a man adept in the study and application of logic, something that most today know nothing about and it has inevitably led to an abundance of poor thinkers in the secular world as well as our churches.
Edwards understood that if someone’s imagination was powerfully disproportionate to their other faculties then it could lead to disastrous errors in their thinking. It seems men are prone to believe what they can see rather than what comes by way of higher criticism and more excruciating thought exercises. The media uses this technique as its primary method in crafting the opinions of the masses along a main stream narrative. We’re bombarded with an abundance of images and news blurbs in an endless cycle impressing upon our minds images that cause fear and anxiety. This next example is definitely extreme, but it serves a larger point. I went to high school with a guy who enjoyed recreational use of acid during the school day. One time he had a frightening ordeal in the cafeteria where something came out of his lunch box and attacked him. Despite the fact that his mind had been hijacked by hallucinations and an out of control imagination he was able to apply the power of reason to maintain his sense of calm understanding, logically, that his experiences were being caused by a purely natural source. I don’t discount the abundance of demonic activity in relationship to some drug use but this was not the case here. Not everyone is capable of this type of rational thought under extreme emotional and psychological distress, it was actually quite impressive. The extreme and overbearing impression on his imagination was held in restraint by his other cognitive faculties working properly. Although this is an ridiculous example, think about my larger point in the context of revival and spiritual workings. A work of God resulting in extreme and heightened affections that flood the body can be so intense that it causes bodily effects as we’ve already previously discussed. The type of affection one can experience as a result of the Spirit operating is not easily imagined but once experienced can result in extreme and heightened impressions on the imagination. The imaginings in this case would be a result of God affecting someone but that does not mean that the impression on the imagination is itself a direct work of God. It would be only natural as someone experienced these affections to have corresponding impressions appearing on their imagination as they experience them. But it is also true that God can use the power of one’s imagination to steer and direct them if they are ignorant. When God decides to impart knowledge and understanding of His Holiness and Glory our soul can be so pleasantly and overwhelmingly delighted with a such a high degree of Holy love and adoration that our imaginations may just give way to some of the most glorious and rapturous visions of spiritual things. This does not mean that these corresponding visions are special gifts of God. Human nature, according to Edwards, is quite capable of explaining the nature of these impressions on our imaginations and equally refutes any presumption that the devil is responsible in some way. Edwards does believe however that where a particular person may be subpar in the exercise of their faculties, God can subsequently use this overbearing effect of the imagination to help make up for what is not available to them. Edwards equates this type of work necessary for someone ignorant and in need of a kind of spiritual condescension. It does not seem to be how the Lord primarily prefers to work although He is perfectly justified in doing so if he chooses for a person that requires it. It would be an example of spiritually feeding a baby.
In this case, yet again, the fact that someone experiences sudden and strong impressions on their imagination does not affirm nor does it negate a work being performed by the Spirit of God. I think that this sets a foundation for some important thought and introspection as we analyze the ways in which we sense the Spirit of God working in our own lives. As I said earlier, there is much more to be said on this subject, but I’m just trying to get my feet wet with writing on Edwards while simultaneously getting your feet wet with thinking about some of these basic concepts. We must be discerning when we have impressions suddenly present on our imagination. If we understand how our imaginations are naturally supposed to operate then we are much better equipped to discern whether our affections preceded our imaginings or if our imaginings preceded our affections. This is a reason I have a problem with some modern worship music. I think we can agree that we all know of worship songs that are undoubtedly heretical yet when they are presented to the church congregation for the purpose of worship we see many singing along claiming to be moved by the true Spirit of God. God is not pleased to accept a form of worship that distorts His character and nature. It should be evident to a person who understands scripture that these claims of the Spirit actively raising the affections of those offering up heresy as simply not being a work consistent with the nature of God to perform. Where then do these affections so many feel while worshiping under similar circumstances come from? I believe that the lyrics, no matter how theologically inaccurate, can be beautiful and naturally effect impressions on our imaginations that lead to raised affections. This is an example of something wholly natural creating an experience that some would easily confuse for a work of God in their midst. This is one small example, nowhere near exhaustive to the subject, that must be considered for those that seek to understand the criteria available to us by which we can better distinguish evidence of the Lord working in and around us. Just because someone is suddenly overcome with strong impressions on their imagination is not evidence one way or the other as to whether or not God is working but we should be very careful not to accept any and all impressions without discernment because there is much that can go wrong with that, as we see true in some more modern circles of religion.
The next point in our conversation is the third and shortest point Edwards makes out of the initial eight. Remember that we’re still speaking in terms of negatives, that is to say, we are specifically mentioning examples of signs within works that can’t be used to prove that the effect is not a result of God directly intervening and operating in the lives of men. His third point is listed at the bottom of page 107.
(Quote pg. 107) “ It’s no argument that an operation that appears on the minds of a people, is not the Work of the Spirit of God, that it occasions a great ado (fuss or noise), and a great deal of noise about religion.” He goes on to say
“For tho’ true religion be of a contrary nature to that of the Pharisees, that was ostentatious, and delighted to set itself forth to the view of men, for their applause; yet such is human nature, that it’s morally impossible that there should be a great concern, and strong affection, and engagedness of mind amongst a people, that should be general, and what most of them agree in, yet there be but little said or done that should be publicly observable; or that it should not cause a notable, visible, and open commotion and alteration amongst that people.” (pg. 108)
This point really seems to be addressing a slightly different angle on the previous point regarding bodily effects, mainly the work of God on a collective people group inevitably results in an outpouring of Holy affection that can in no way manifest itself in a quiet and timid way. It would be a violation against the fundamental laws of human nature to assume such a thing to be possible. In respect to his point I believe we’re discussing the larger shift in thinking amongst a group of people who carry the effects of a work into there everyday life. Imagine if 25% – 30% of your city experienced revival. Imagine the level of excitement of those who were converted spilling out into their homes, businesses and places of leisure. This would cause a shift in collective thinking. The nature of casual conversation would change with those around you. Public discourse would be excitedly different and engaging as individuals under the influence of the Holy Spirit desired to share what they now knew with everyone around them. It would be utterly confusing to someone on the outside contemplating the change in the overall atmosphere and disposition of those they’ve known for so long. We must be very careful in our discernment of spiritual works that bring with them much noise and attention though. Pride often masks itself as humble spirituality. Often very open and public displays of humility, like that common amongst the Pharisees, is really a self-righteous display and counterfeit in every sense of the act. The Pharisees displayed prideful and legal humility not a Holy humility born of true saving affection. The root cause of these displays is of paramount importance and if a work is truly of God then the noise and clamor of it will be of a Holy nature and pleasing in His sight. Never the less we cannot discern whether a work is truly born of the Spirit of God or not based on the level of cultural noise and disruption it may cause.
Revival does not happen in an obscure corner. Spiritual and eternal things are superior in every conceivable way compared to fleshly and natural things. No arguments can be made that a work that moves people internally to an extreme degree cannot be an operation of the true Spirit of God. Remember that we should see reactions proportionate to the intensity and importance with which one is inwardly stirred. Edwards rightly asks the question as to how men could encounter something so great only to be moderately moved.
“And when was there ever any such thing, since the world stood, as a people in general being greatly affected, in any affair whatsoever, without noise or stir? The nature of man will not allow it.” (pg. 108)
What Edwards really ends up contemplating is the age old question that began with Jesus’s own ministry, just what exactly is the coming of the Kingdom of God supposed to look like? Jesus was a king yet he wore no crown of gold. His kingdom broke through on Earth and with it he had full authority over everything yet no city was set upon existing ones and no throne was established in any country from which He would rule. To this day when we look at what Jesus has to say about His kingdom men still get confused as to what exactly it entails and what it set in motion for the future. Edwards brings Luke 17: 20-21 and 24 into the picture.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The Kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed,nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘there!’ for behold, the Kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Edwards makes the point that these passages are not referring to the physical establishment of God’s kingdom as described in prophetic events yet to be fulfilled. The Old Testament is full of insight into the specifics of what the coming of the Christ’s Kingdom was supposed to bring with it. The Scriptures told of a coming ruler who would administer justice to the lawless, mercy to whom he chose and salvation to a chronically oppressed and abused people. The establishment of this Kingdom was supposed to set the Israelites free from bondage and oppression at the hands of all God’s enemies. But even as God Himself walked the Earth once more in the person of Jesus with full authority, men were powerless to see the spiritual reality in which God was working. Men are naturally unable to see spiritual implications without the help of God. What men did not and still do not understand is that just because the kingdom of God was not of the Earth that did not mean that it was any less real. God is the God of both the material domain and the spiritual domain. God is sovereign over all. The material Kingdom is in a state of rebellion and it has been cursed because of sin. It is in the midst of this rebellion that the Lord arrived with authority to establish rule setting his future church free from the rule of darkness. He displayed His power and authority by casting out demons and performing miracles verifying His message that through Him and only through Him could men receive salvation. The King was firmly established and although His Kingdom has not yet been consummated, we as Christians are called to bear witness to His rule and reign. We proclaim to the whole world, every ruler down to the last common man, that Jesus is King. We proclaim to the world that all men are subject to the rule of this spiritual kingdom and we specifically point to the events in scripture that detail its arrival.
“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” (Luke 17:24)
Edwards says that “this is to distinguish Christ’s coming to set up his kingdom, from the coming of false Christs, which Christ tells us will be in a private manner, in the deserts, and in the secret chambers, whereas this event of setting up the Kingdom of God, should be open and public, in the sight of the whole world, with clear manifestation, like lightning that can’t be hid, but glares in everyone’s eyes, and shines from one end of heaven to the other. And we find that when Christ’s kingdom came, by that remarkable pouring out of the Spirit in the Apostles days, it occasioned a great stir and ado everywhere.” (pg. 107-108)
Edwards is making a distinction between the prophetic events of a physical Kingdom of God’s own design being firmly established upon the Earth highlighting that the very nature of just such an event would be impossible not to see, it will be undoubtedly visible, changing with it the state of affairs worldwide while everybody looks on in astonishment. This is not the case with false christs and the manner in which they operate. This is all said in order to make certain distinctions, but it is not said to insinuate that when the kingdom of God initially arrived that there should be no outward visibility of it whatsoever.
“when Christ’s Kingdom came, by that remarkable pouring out of the Spirit in the Apostles days, it occasioned a great stir and ado everywhere.” (pg. 109)
The coming of Christ’s Kingdom did not come in ways naturally expected. It did not appear visibly for all to see like prophecy indicates will happen yet, but that does not mean it came silently and without notice. As the Holy Spirit acted upon the hearts of men, the effects He brought to pass were noisy and the evidence of His work spread throughout the entire world and still continues to do so today. Silence will never be a byproduct of the expansion of the Kingdom of God in the world of men. What a glorious day we live in as Christians to carry with us a merciful and loving God who brought His Kingdom that we might be free from the rule of sin upon our hearts and a wicked and corrupt king of darkness. As believers and adopted members of this kingdom we are to attest to the present rule of Christ as we long for the eternal establishment of his kingdom in our material domain. Jesus is alive and sovereign.
Now that we have established why a work of God can’t be discredited on the basis of its nature being something new or unusual let’s move on to the second point. We have eight total specific examples that follow this line of reasoning and we’ll explore each of them in due time. We’ll start with two quotes from Edwards on page 104.
2. “A Work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength”
“The influence the minds of persons are under, is not to be judged of one way or the other, whether it be from the spirit from God or no, by such effects on the body; and the reason is, because the scripture nowhere gives any such rule. We can’t conclude that persons are under the influence of the true Spirit: nor on the other hand, have we any reason to conclude, from any such outward appearances, that persons are not under the influence of the Spirit of God, because there is no rule of scripture given us to judge of spirits by, that does, either expressly or indirectly, exclude such effects on the body: nor does reason exclude them.”
The Scriptures nowhere provide us with a list of specific responses our body, in the natural sense, can have to encountering a truly spiritual experience that is authentic in its origin to God. Therefore, if somebody is experiencing bodily effects as a result of God moving in a particular manner we cannot say that the effect credits or discredits it being a true work.
Without going into more detail on our souls’ relationship to the body and the nature of true spirituality having its’ origin in something completely separate from anything natural including our physical bodies, I’m just going to assume that we can fast track the conversation by asserting that there is assuredly a union between our soul and our physical body. That which influences us is capable of producing proportionate emotions and physical effects on our bodies. How many of us have experienced a fear response that left our stomach twisted in knots? Under the right influence a fear response can escalate from simple knots and butterflies to full blown fainting spells or loss of our strength. Certain influences devoid of anything spiritual can naturally influence and bring about floods of emotion both positive and negative that results in some form of immediate outward expression. Take a man for example whose wife reveals, spontaneously and much to his surprise, that she is pregnant. This can and often does result in a very loud outcry of joy. The heart can start to race as energy and enthusiasm pours out in the mans thoughts and actions. Contrary to this would be the unexpected loss of a loved one. We’ve all witnessed someone immediately overjoyed at hearing amazing and happy news and most of us have seen someone immediately overtaken with sorrow at horribly tragic news. We do not choose to feel these things but when we do we are flooded with their corresponding affections and our bodies respond quite naturally and in proportion to their intensity. Edwards says that those who have a
“true and proper sense of things should have such effects on the body, even those that are of the most extraordinary kind” (pg. 104)
Now because we last spoke within the context of revival and conviction of sin we must ask ourselves what a proper response to conviction of sin should be if indeed it is revealed to us in any way related to how God sees it. The consequence of sin is quite simply the eternal, unending, everlasting torment of a mighty God exerting His wrath upon a dreadful rebellious traitor to His Kingdom of righteousness. If God were to bestow upon an individual a true and proper understanding of what’s at stake in the life of one who’s in danger of such a dreadful existence, what kind of emotional response or bodily effects should we see? Criminals convicted and sentenced to a mere 30 years have been known to faint, sometimes the family present in the courtroom also faints and they’re not even receiving punishment! How much more severe is the punishment that awaits all sinners, like you and me, who have yet to enter His courtroom for judgement?
“there are none of us but what suppose, that the misery of hell is doubtless so dreadful, and eternity so vast, that if a person should have a clear apprehension of that misery as it is, it would be more than his feeble frame could bear; and especially, if at the same time he saw himself in great danger of it, and to be utterly in certain whether he should be delivered from it, yea, and to have no security from it one day or hour.” (pg. 104)
Edwards goes on to describe that when God impresses upon a man His anger towards sin and reveals the severity of his sinful condition to which the man is in immediate danger of receiving due punishment, naturally that man is left feeling utterly exposed with a heart full of fear. Edwards uses warfare or natural calamities as an example without being specific so please allow me to imagine two scenarios of my own to paint a picture. Imagine going to sleep during a time of war only to be awakened by the sound of a vicious enemy completely surrounding you or imagine standing in the woods well away from any city, as you suddenly notice a wildfire’s 60-foot wall of flame rushing towards you from all directions to which you intrinsically understand you cannot escape. Those specific examples are my own, but these are examples that have been demonstrated in my lifetime to cause men to tremble with fear expecting the end to come swiftly and without delay. Edwards wrote a very famous sermon entitled “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” which was used by God to begin a second round of revival in the American North East. Many have criticized the sermon, and the imagery depicted within the sermon, to be guilty of fear mongering. Some claim that messages like the one presented here don’t highlight the aspects of God we should all be focused on, mainly His mercy, love and grace. What most fail to see in these sermons is that the focus of the message was always on the Hand of God being the only thing sustaining mankind and simultaneously restraining such misery from besetting us. Hell is a real threat to all unconverted men and the only reason the Earth doesn’t swallow us up immediately is only because God prevents it from happening. The people in Enfield Connecticut weren’t even able to finish the sermon. Chaos erupted within the church as the Holy Spirit moved bringing with Him conviction of sin. Knowledge of their sorry state and condition led to loud wailing and cries of anguish. The people were so overcome with the effects of knowledge spiritually gifted to them that they reacted in appropriate manner to the intensity in which it was delivered by the Holy Spirit. The enthusiasm most certainly did not come from Edwards. Edwards was known to write and read his sermons verbatim in a very unenthusiastic manner. The sermon that facilitated this event was most certainly not an example of fire and brimstone preaching. There was no fist pounding or overall emotional manipulation used on the church parishioners. The reaction seen didn’t come from any natural or external source but came from something spiritually discerned and subsequently yielded corresponding and proportionate effects on their bodies. Because this event violates nothing given to us in Scripture, we cannot use the effects that were demonstrated as evidence that it was not God working in their midst. I have a lot more to say about the counterfeit forms of events seen in today’s modern world that in some way resemble the events of that day but for time sake we will explore it in more depth later.
If a proper sense of the God’s anger and future punishment could create the effects we just read about, what would a divinely bestowed and proper understanding of the excellency of Jesus Christ also yield to us in the way of affection and bodily effects? Such a thing should be equally able to overcome our bodies if not more so.
“We are all ready to own that no man can see God and live; and that is but a very small part of that apprehension of the glory and love of Christ, and exercise of love to him and joy in him, which the Saints in heaven are the subjects of, that our present frame can bare: therefore it’s not at all strange that God should sometimes give his saints such fore-tastes of heaven, as to diminish their bodily strength. If it was not unaccountable that the Queen of Sheba fainted, and had her bodily strength taken away, when she came to see the glory of Solomon, much less is it unaccountable that she who is the anti-type of the Queen of Sheba, namely, the Church, that is brought as it were from the utmost ends of the earth, from being an alien and stranger, far off, in a state of sin and misery, should faint when she comes to see the glory of Christ, who is the anti-type of Solomon; and especially will be so in that prosperous, peaceful, glorious Kingdom, which he will set up in the world in its ladder age.” (pg. 105)
Edwards mentions that even though we do not see any specific examples cited in the New Testament about persons under the influence of God’s Spirit weeping, groaning, sighing, fearful of hell or even experiencing a sense of God’s anger, he asks who is foolish enough to suppose that these convictions are not from the Spirit of God? He goes on to say,
“nobody supposes that there is any need of express scripture for every external, accidental manifestation of the inward motion of the mind” …. “and there is also reason to think that a great outpouring of the Spirit that then was, was not wholly without those more extraordinary effects on persons bodies. (pg. 105)
Edwards cites the jailer in Acts 16: 29-30 who falls but seems to fall because he was first trembling from his stress and amazement. It seems unclear to me here if the jailer was exhibiting signs of a convicted conscience or simply suffering from natural stress induced reactions, but I do think it’s clear that the effect of trembling would not prove it either way. Many can express interest in the matters of salvation without any real work on their conscience taking place and after such an unusual move of God in freeing Paul it’s unclear as to what the inward reaction of the jailer’s heart was. Edwards also lists Psalm 32: 3-4
“For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” And here we clearly see the effect brought about by God.
Matthew 4:26 says “But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.” Edwards asks why it should be thought strange if someone cries out in fear when God appears to them as an enemy and they see themselves “being swallowed up in the bottomless gulf of eternal misery.”
In Song Of Solomon in 2:5 and 5:8 the spouse expresses being greatly affected by strong outpouring of love. Just a side note from my perspective, many pastors today, in my humble opinion, over sexualize the Song of Solomon. I do believe it is a very sexual book but not in a erotic or licentious way. I’ve heard some truly horrific sermons on this book recently and caution people to be vigilant of using it in its proper context. If this book turns you on sexually then it’s being twisted in your mind. Scripture is never presented in an erotic fashion. My soap box aside these verses depict love to degree that one is tired of experiencing it.
“Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love.”
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love.”
Some of you may already be thinking of the blatantly counterfeit forms of religious fervor that appear in charismatic churches and more spiritually liberal movements. Hopefully in the future we’ll discuss more about the counterfeit nature of these things but for now just understand that it’s not the visible effects on the bodies of individuals that is the defining characteristic of a work that distinguishes between a work of God and satanic counterfeits.
“The root and cause of things is to be looked at, and the nature of the operations and affections that persons minds are under, are what are to be inquired into, and examined by the rule of God’s word, and not the motions of the blood and animal spirits.” (pg. 105)
Every time we see effects on the body it is because something is occurring that is causing them. It is not the effect that is of the utmost importance but rather the unseen cause and root of the effect. Affections can produce effects but natural processes within our bodies can produce effects as well, this is what Edwards refers to when he says, “blood and animal spirits”. I’ve seen depression overtake a person to the brink of suicide only to see it reversed by dietary changes and vitamins, I’ve also seen severe depression disappear when something demonic was dealt with through a conversion experience or deliverance session. My point is that we have to be very discerning and thoughtful when we analyze our affections and corresponding effects because they are not solely caused by authentic moves of God but neither do they discount authentic works of God, we must accurately discern the root of what we are seeing and feeling if we are to be prudent and wise within the body of Christ. We will definitely go deeper into this in the future, but we’ll leave it here for now.
So before I tackle blogging on Jonathan Edward’s “The religious Affections” I would like to take a step back and explore his first work on the subject called “The Distinguishing Marks Of A Work Of The Spirit Of God”. To my understanding it was written in 1741 after the initial revival that began in 1733 had already occurred and the second round of yet greater revival was only just beginning. The religious affections which I have previously mentioned was written later in 1746. I decided that to better understand The Religious Affections it would benefit me to explore this first work in an attempt to understand his preliminary thoughts before I write about his finished thesis. It is my understanding that he changed his mind in some respects to this original work and the book closest aligned to his final thoughts was “The Religious Affections”. Edward’s having personally experienced unprecedented revival within his community and surrounding towns, was in a unique position to analyze the many unusual spiritual workings that manifested amongst the town members much to his surprise. The time period he lived in was full of danger and always under threat of war from neighboring Indian tribes and as well as the French. Attacks on settlements happened from time to time and its residents both young and old were either killed or relocated to French/Indian settlements in Canada. As if this didn’t provide enough stress, the health of individuals was not to be taken for granted as each new day brought with it the possibility of illness culminating in the loss of a child or spouse rather unexpectedly. Simply put, life was not to be taken for granted and no one was guaranteed tomorrow. They experienced the reality of death far more frequently than our own culture and subsequently were more somber and mature in their worldview. They were far less focused on entertainment and down time and far more engaged with education and survival. The Puritan culture was a culture of order. They were not easily handed over to personal whims and fanciful experiences. Church services were not lively and temperance was to be maintained at all times. This is the bare minimum that can be offered as a historical back drop to this time period, but I offer what I do to make the point that these people were far more serious than most in our own society and rightly so. It will be hard for us to understand the mindset of those that began to criticize the things they were seeing during the course of revival but as I began to analyze some of Edward’s initial arguments I realized that his logical and methodical pattern of thought provided clues as to specific arguments he must have been facing by those that were untrusting of such lively and energetic responses to the things of religion. Revival shook the apathy and stoic nature of such a reserved people and certainly threw them out of their comfort zone. Revival, despite the opinions of many who have never studied it, is not some quiet movement that brings with it a few tears and peaceful smiles. Revival brings with it conviction of sin. Men quake and lose strength in the presence of a Holy God operating in their midst. When the Holy Spirit brings revival He often moves like a wildfire racing at speeds we can’t escape often in directions we can’t predict. Revival is not a gentle breeze to be enjoyed on a spring day, it’s a hurricane that targets sinful structures in our lives that God requires torn down so that new structures might be built in there place. It is a refining fire that separates dross from metal purifying the product. Revival is a wonderful work of God whereby He changes hearts. He effectually livens the human will from a state of spiritual death to a state that is inclined to Him and freely desires His ways. He breathes life into dead men and changes the entire moral climate of a culture. This is painful, terrifying and often leaves many bewildered at it’s circumstances but those that experience true revival and are savingly converted have experienced a sweetness of God that few can comprehend. Edwards witnessed just such an event. I believe God has used Edwards to document the awakenings that occurred within his life time to help future generations within the body of Christ better discern spiritual workings so that we are better equipped to identify the counterfeits that mimic true spiritual works and ultimately poison the church deceptively. I’m going to be referencing my copy of this work found in the Library Of America’s Edition of “Edwards: Writings From The Great Awakening” pg 99 – 167. I can’t stress enough how much I would prefer the reader to explore Edward’s work first hand. “The Distinguishing Marks Of A Work Of The Spirit Of God” is available for free online in many places and you can reference the quotes I make at anytime. The ideas I’m presenting are simplified versions of Edward’s original points and I in no way intend to take credit for the thought processes presented. I just want anyone and everyone to benefit from his work if reading his writings are not an option or feasible for the average person. I’m acutely aware that if you don’t understand something at it’s deepest level then you can’t always simplify it without distorting the truth. I fear I don’t always understand Edward’s at the deepest level, although I have really tried, and it is entirely possible that I could be mistaken at some points in my analysis. I will only expound on what I am reasonably assured I have a decent grasp of and I hope some will benefit from what he originally wrote presented through my own commentary. Now lets look at what this man of God actually had to say.
In the first part of “The Distinguishing Marks Of A Work Of The Spirit Of God” Edwards begins the conversation by listing specific signs that were neither evidence for or against proving an authentic work of God. These were things commonly seen during the time of awakening that people had mixed opinion over but simply by their own merit would not allow someone to authenticate the work by. In other words he listed signs within works that we could see that don’t necessarily indicate one way or another if what we’re seeing is or isn’t a work of the true Spirit of God.
- (Quote pg. 101) “Nothing can certainly be concluded from this that the Work that appears is carried on in such a way very unusual and extraordinary”
“what we have been used to, or what the church of God has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge whether a work be the work of God, because there be new and extraordinary works of God.”…… “he has brought those things to pass that have been new things, strange works; and has rot in such a manner as to surprise both men and angels.” (Pg. 101)
We are not allowed to judge whether a potential work of God is legit based solely on the previous experience of what we’re used to. Just because what we’re looking at is new to our experience and sensibilities does not negate the possibility that God is working. I don’t mean to insinuate that experience isn’t important in discernment of spiritual works but to rebuke a work because it manifests in an entirely new and extraordinary way is not a solid foundation for sound disputation.
I read a book called “The Cosmic Chess Match” by LA Marzulli sometime around 2011 and it’s been hard for me to view the cosmic landscape much differently since he introduced me to that term. Seems only wise to me that God would reveal new methods and strategies in offense and defense at different points in history. If you and I only played chess with a preset pattern of predictable moves our opponents would adapt and defeat us every time we met at the table. Or if you rather, imagine a football team that only used 3 plays over and over, or a boxer that only threw jabs and a left hook. These hypothetical challengers would never be champions because the opposition would always have the counter plays ready and winning would come quite easy for them.
Romans 11:33 says “ Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”
Considering the world we live in is part of a spiritual turf war it only makes sense to me that God would make moves and counter moves on the battlefield that would intentionally catch both men and angels by surprise. He is a masterful strategist by which nobody else Spirit or flesh compares. We must understand that God has a wide variety of tools at his disposal and as Edward’s says “We ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself.” Furthermore, future prophetic events in scripture openly depict specific things that have yet to come to pass that will manifest in ways not yet seen.
“and as God has done thus in times past, so we have no reason to think but that he will do so still. The prophecies of scripture give us reason to think that God has still new things to accomplish and things to bring to pass that have never yet been seen.” (pg. 102)
I assume, based on the methodical approach to arguing all angles, that there were people refuting what they were witnessing not only because it was new but also because the work was immediately and dramatically affecting the minds of many and that the immediate nature of the work was evidence that it was wholly ungodly and rooted in something unholy. They had been so used to very slow temperate spiritual activity that the signs in question were proof that it couldn’t be of God, thus the reason Edwards needed to show that the new and immediate nature of a work can’t be used to prove either way.
Edwards goes on to list examples of ways spiritual works were seen exerting extraordinary influence on the minds of people and how these things were also not evidence against a work of God.
- “Extraordinary conviction of the dreadful nature of sin”
- Very uncommon sense of misery related to realizing they were without Christ.
- Extraordinary views of the glory of divine things and depending on the degree to which they saw divine things subsequent affections of fear, sorrow, desire, love and joy proportionately followed.
- That these changes in people occurred very quickly and unexpectedly.
- That a great number of people were affected simultaneously in a variety of equally unusual ways, unusual but still without violating scripture, most of them being young in age.
“These things are no argument that the work is not a work of the Spirit of God.” (Pg. 102)
He goes on to stress and emphasize as a crucial point that in no way would any of the unusual signs within works violate scripture at any point if indeed it was a true authentic work of God. In fact the extraordinary and unusual nature of the works, if they were in agreement with scripture, only argued in favor of it being a true authentic work of the Spirit of God. Edwards acknowledges the difficulty people have in accepting strange things. Anybody who’s ever dabbled in the world of Christian fringe can appreciate that from personal experience with the outside world. If it was a good argument that because something was new or strange that it couldn’t be of God then that would have to be consistent with what we see in scripture and when it comes to the early church and the gifts bestowed to the Apostles that is simply not the case. What happened in the life of the early church was new to everybody and had manifested to a degree not previously experienced. God’s work was put on full display with more power and visibility than ever before. It affected many in a variety of ways also not previously seen. Men were to great degrees hardened while others to great degrees were convicted of sin in such powerful ways that entire cities and nations were transformed in very short periods of time. It was the unusual nature of God working that surprised the Jews. For some of them, no matter how amazing a sign or work may have been displayed in its operation on people who they witnessed affected, they were left completely baffled and confused and quite frankly scared to lose their own authority.
“But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”- Acts 2:13
“And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”- Acts 26:24
“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” – 1 Cor. 4:10
(Pg. 103) “and we have reason from scripture prophecy to suppose, that at the commencement of that last and greatest outpouring of the Spirit of God, that is to be in the latter ages of the world, the manner of the work will be very extraordinary, and such is never has yet been seen; so that there shall be occasion then to say as in Isaiah 66:8
“Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children.”
Edwards concludes this particular series of thoughts by leaving the future wide open to the possibility that even more extraordinary works of God could manifest in proportion to the extraordinary nature of events and changes to the state of our world that have yet to come to pass.
As a teenager I had a hunger for exploring what was available to me in the areas of theology and philosophy. I’m not sure why but I assume my attraction was due in part to a natural level of comfort I experienced when wrestling with abstract concepts. I never went to seminary, neither did I enter the ministry professionally, but the desire and inward drive to explore these topics never left me. I moved at very casual pace. This was a hobby of mine and if it ever felt like work I more than likely took a break immediately. I never followed a set theme and I frequently bounced around from author to author and subject to subject. I read material that I equated to gold on paper and I also read garbage that I saw fit only to burn in a barrel. The only enjoyment I received from both ends of the spectrum was the simple pleasure of being introduced to new ideas that had previously never crossed the landscape of my own thinking. By far the most instrumental contemporary theologian whose work I began to follow was none other than RC Sproul of Ligonier ministries. I explored the works of many teachers but I was always impressed by his style of teaching and his unique ability to articulate advanced and controversial theological concepts to the average person like myself. In the course of his many sermons, articles, lectures and writings I overheard what appeared to be great admonition and respect for the late great Jonathan Edwards. RC Sproul often suggested that Edwards may just have been the finest theological and philosophical mind that had ever been produced within the United States. RC had already commanded a great deal of respect in my own mind and to hear him compliment Edwards in this way was no small thing to ignore. Prior to hearing Sproul’s commentary on a wide variety of Edward’s contributions I was not ignorant of Edwards’ influence on society. Although I did not at the time truly appreciate the gravity of his contributions, I had already read “Sinners In the Hands Of An Angry God” and owned a copy of a used book that contained a variety of scattered writings including sermons, letters and notes. Edwards, in the humble opinion of myself as a lay person, is not the easiest author to follow. Apart from the usage of eighteenth century English which in and of itself presented its own unique challenges to a reader born in 1986, his commanding use of logic and reason often presented itself in long complicated trains of thought that were not the easiest thing for me to retain after finishing them. The first literary piece of Edwards that I tried to read happened to be “The End For Which God Created The World” as presented in John Piper’s book “God’s Passion For His Glory”. I do not think it’s normal for most to begin reading Edwards by starting with this text but I am glad that it was the first of his great works that landed on my desk. Having researched Edwards somewhat in depth I have come to believe that even though this was one of the last works Edwards produced it also happened to have the narrowest framework by which he outlined the whole foundational way of thinking that was present with him and pivotal in the creation of all his other previous works. I was introduced to both the beginning and ending of a great man of God in a single piece that was created near the end of his lifetime. Although I confess it was difficult to read at times, I benefited immensely in my own thought process from what I was able to retain. Outside of scripture itself I had never encountered a man whose thoughts revolved around such a high and lofty opinion of God and His glory. Edwards appreciation for heavenly matters was not only inspiring but simultaneously intimidating. It was made crystal clear with zero uncertainty that I am not a fraction of the man he was intellectually or spiritually. I am humbled by the immense intellectual offering the Lord used him to provide and I know that I do not hold this opinion alone. The standard set by Edwards was a bar set so high that I have something to forever aspire to with whatever length of life I have left as granted by God. Edwards was a man of endurance. He believed endurance of the faith was the superior fruit as it pertained to affections born of true saving grace. Edwards held fast to these beliefs in the face of alternative thought proposing that evidence of true conversion was rooted in the length, duration and intensity of the spiritual experiences one had. This competing thought process was not new then and it is not new now. Versions of this belief always seem to be present in the minds of unconverted men who look to attain benefit from God without the actual knowledge and understanding that comes with knowing him. This is something seen prevalent in Jesus own ministry from the biblical account of his preaching and teaching ministry. Although men have the appearance of life, we by way of original sin are born dead to the things of God and we always in and of ourselves view God through a dirty and distorted lens. Instead of addressing our spiritual sickness we attempt to create versions of him that we would rather worship instead of seeking after true knowledge of who he really is. As John Calvin so wisely states “we are by nature idol factories”. This will be my first attempt at engaging in a writing project of my own. Without giving my testimony here let me just assure you that I do not fit the average mold. Most people know me from my YouTube channel “Through the Black” which has largely dealt with topics within the Christian fringe community like SRA (satanic ritual abuse) and extreme spectrums of spiritual warfare pertaining to real events of oppression and demonization in the lives of people. Through The Black grew quickly and soon became a lightning rod attracting those who claimed to afflicted with demonic presence in their lives. Some of these proved to be true and some proved to be matters of the flesh. My experiences with intense and extreme forms of spiritual warfare are vastly disproportionate to the life of the average Christian and I want to make it clear that I am not insinuating these things are not regularly encountered or are to be discounted as possibilities in the life of the average Christian, I do however believe that within the larger context of spiritual warfare the battle for the mind is far more engaging and hostile a battlefield then the sometimes necessary hand to hand combat with demons.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”
Paul is explaining another aspect of spiritual warfare here that focuses less on the immediate demonic threats and on the overarching theme that the heart of true spiritual warfare is and always has been to wage war for the minds of men who are held in the captivity of wrong thinking. We are to tear down strong fortresses of ungodly reasoning, conscience, imagination as well as ideologies and destructive philosophical worldviews. This is important because ideas have consequences some of which can lead to forms of actual demonic affliction. If Through The Black aims to tackle all aspects of spiritual warfare then this can no longer be neglected. Recently we have targeted the cancerous growth of eastern mysticism in mainstream culture and its subtle seduction of the church. I must make this subject an ever-present priority in the continuation of this ministry. Since the time of Christ, movements promoting experience over sound doctrine have come and gone and will continue to do so until God separates the visible church from the invisible church, a separation of wheat and chaff as the Bible describes. We will always have a war between the minds of unconverted natural men and those who are truly regenerate containing within them the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the additional spiritual sense that comes with him as a gift to God’s adopted children. Wrong thinking, bad theology, eastern mysticism and the encouragement of self-help pop psychology in the church has appealed to the natural inclinations of men and sound doctrine has been willfully tossed aside because it’s not nearly as fun or pleasant to our sensibilities. To bring this back full circle, this writing project is a scary one for me to pursue. After reading “The religious Affections” by the aforementioned Jonathan Edwards I can no longer stay quiet about the obvious counterfeit nature of the many experiences, not all, most people claim are born of the Holy Spirit and endowed to them with special spiritual privilege. When many of these experiences and special claims are proven contrary to scripture or are simply never fulfilled or even come to pass incorrectly, many churches double down and continue and pursue these experiences with ever increasing enthusiasm. This also applies to the lives of individuals who have adopted the practice of opening up their own imaginations to any impression or experience without any forethought of testing the spirits by the firm and unyielding test of God’s special revelation provided to us through the Holy Bible.
1 John 4:1-6
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
I believe for many reasons not mentioned in this introduction that Edward’s “The Religious Affections” offers us keen insight into right thinking when we attempt to discern the experiences and affections we have in our spiritual lives. I believe that there are many men better suited to this task, the very reason I spoke of this as scary. I hold myself in no high regard and will promise nothing comprehensive and definitive in respect to my exploration of a man far superior to myself and I will offer you only what I have been able to glean from my time with this book. I have attempted to encourage many to read this book only to be met with frustration by the lack of ability and impetus to push through the antiquated way it is presented. I am not expecting to add anything to the academic world in my modern commentary and summation of his thoughts as presented in “The Religious Affections”, however it is my chief hope that many more common people like myself will learn at least the basics of what this book has to provide as a biblical backdrop for discerning their future experiences within their prospective churches and ministries. I have been misled many times in my own life where I allowed impressions of my imagination to fuel my own natural inclinations and sinful desires under the self-deceiving guise of being led by the Spirit. Neither the scripture nor Edwards have left us with definitive criteria on being able to truly distinguish between complex similarities of real works of the Holy Spirit and subtly deceptive counterfeits. I do believe however that we can be far better prepared to defend our minds by taking seriously the advice given by Edwards which is modeled after what is found evident in scripture. I expect this project will take me years, but rather than sit on it until it’s completed, I would like to present it one section at a time hoping that it might be of immediate benefit to not only our growing audience but to those searching out these matters unrelated. I ultimately want to encourage each of you to seek this book out for yourself and study the scripture presented for consideration alongside it. I know this is not a practical reality for everyone which is why I am attempting this endevour.
1 Peter 1:13
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
If the church doesn’t wake up we will see this nation handed over to its own deception as a form of judgment. It already appears to be happening to some degree. This is no conventional war. We are to prepare our minds for action for a war where our effective weaponry is not physical. This is not the type of war where an invading force takes the city and within a day slaughters everyone, no this war is being waged by spiritual sleuths who gain access to the water supply and slowly poison the people until they are too weak to realize their helplessness and succumb to subsequently inevitable demise. May we all pray that God gives us eyes to see and ears to hear that we may not fall prey to doctrines of demons.