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