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.