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by Nick Needham Welling, Kent
Apologists for the so-called "Toronto blessing" have often appealed to the writings of the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58), to give an air of respectability to the experiences and manifestations which have taken place in their gatherings. In particular, they have referred to and quoted from Edwards' The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. This was a treatise published by Edwards in 1741, during the remarkable revival that swept New England in 1740-42, usually known as "The Great Awakening." Edwards' concern in the Distinguishing Marks was to defend the authentic nature of the Awakening as (on the whole, and despite defects) a true work of the Holy Spirit. This defence was prompted by serious criticisms which some had leveled against the movement. Critics were saying that it could not possibly be a genuine work of the Spirit, in view of certain features of the Awakening which contradicted the critics' understanding of how the Spirit worked. One of their main problems was the physical behaviour of some of those affected by the Awakening during services of worship - trembling, weeping, crying out, falling, fainting. It was not uncommon for these physical phenomena to disturb and interrupt the service, sometimes bringing it to an abrupt conclusion.
There are obvious parallels here with the recent Toronto blessing, which has also seen religious gatherings disturbed and interrupted by outbreaks of physical phenomena, such as falling, fainting, pogo-style bouncing, running on the spot, hysterical laughter and animal noises. Critics have questioned whether such manifestations can correctly be attributed to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Various advocates of the Toronto blessing have gone to Edwards' Distinguishing Marks, and used his defence of the Great Awakening in order to vindicate the spiritual authenticity of modern Toronto-type phenomena.1 So it has now become common to see Edwards being quoted by Toronto writers in their favour. Indeed, one sometimes gets the impression that Jonathan Edwards, rather than Rodney Howard-Browne, was the real founding father of the Toronto blessing!
However, this creates a severe problem for those who admire Edwards, but see little or nothing to admire in the Toronto blessing. Edwards was not only a prince among Reformed theologians, but one of the greatest, most spiritually perceptive thinkers in the entire history of Christianity. Can he really be quoted in favour of a religious movement which many regard as gravely unbalanced and dubious even at best, and at worst a destructive deception? Meanwhile, association of the name of Edwards with the Toronto blessing has lent the movement a theological credibility it might not otherwise have had.
My purpose here is to see whether the writings of Edwards, particularly his Distinguishing Marks, have been rightly interpreted by these Toronto apologists. My plan is simply to work through the Distinguishing Marks, look at what Edwards actually says about the signs of a true work of the Spirit, examine the passages to which Toronto apologists have appealed, and also draw attention to other key passages which have not received equivalent exposure in recent Toronto literature. We will also glance at some other products of Edwards' pen, notably his Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, to see what light they shed on some of the issues under debate So, without further ado, let us begin.
Edwards prefaced the Distinguishing Marks with some crucially important words about the role of Scripture in testing whether any religious movement or experience is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. His words are,
And I would here observe, that we are to take the Scriptures as our guide in such cases. This is the great and standing rule which God has given to his children, in order to guide them in things relating to the great concerns of their souls: and it is an infallible and sufficient rule. There are undoubtedly sufficient marks given to guide the church of God in this great affair of judging of spirits, without which it would lie open to woeful delusions, and would be remedilessly exposed to be imposed on and devoured by its enemies.2
The central truth here is the sufficiency of Scripture. Edwards clearly believed that the Bible itself was the one and only guide in religious matters. Not only was Scripture necessary: nothing else was necessary. Therefore it is to Scripture, and Scripture alone, that Edwards bids us go, if we would discern between true works of the Spirit and counterfeits. If the Bible sets its seal of approval on a religious experience, whether of an individual or a group, we can feel sure that the experience is of God. But if no such approval is forthcoming from the Bible, Edwards would have us withhold our approval also.
Having set out the basic standard by which he intended to test religious phenomena, Edwards then proceeded to offer nine "negative signs." By "negative signs" he meant features of a religious experience which do not prove that it is not a true work of the Holy Spirit. But by the same token, a "negative sign" also refers to features of an experience which do not prove that is a true work of the Spirit. In other words, Edwards wanted first of all to draw people's attention to various religious phenomena which are neutral as evidence: they do not show that something is not from God, but neither do they show that it is from God. Edwards' discussion of these negative signs is very helpful, because today we find people appealing to precisely such signs to show that God is at work - or that He is not.
Edwards' first negative sign was the unusual or extraordinary nature of a religious experience:
Nothing can be certainly concluded from this, That a work is carried on in a way very unusual or extraordinary; provided the variety or difference be such, as may still be comprehended within the limits of scripture rules. What the church has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge; because there may be new extraordinary works of God, and he has heretofore evidently wrought in an extraordinary manner. He has brought to pass new things, strange works; and he has wrought in such a manner as to surprise both men and angels.3
Edwards went on to appeal to the sovereignty of God to prove that He can work in new ways not previously known in the history of His people.
The Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation; and we know that he uses a great variety; and we cannot tell how great a variety he may use, within the compass of the rules he himself has fixed. We ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself.4
Some Toronto apologists have recently appealed to these words of Edwards to justify the extraordinary religious phenomena of the Toronto blessing - particularly the animal noises and behaviour experienced by many as they have "received the blessing." This, they claim, is exactly what Edwards was talking about: it is the Holy Spirit working in a new way, previously unknown in Christian history After all, the Spirit has nowhere said in Scripture that He will not work in this way. And "we ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself."
This use of Edwards will not stand up to careful scrutiny. We need to notice that Edwards quite explicitly states that God has limited Himself by Scripture. The Spirit is free to work in extraordinary ways, Edwards argues, as long as those ways "may still be comprehended within the limits of scripture rules." And immediately before the statement that "we ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself," Edwards equally clearly states that the sovereignty of the Spirit is limited by the rules he himself has fixed." For Edwards, Scripture contains "rules", or what we today would probably call "guidelines", about how God works; and God will never step outside these guidelines in the way His Spirit operates. This is not to detract in the slightest from God's sovereignty. It is merely to say that God has sovereignly limited himself never to work outside the guidelines of Scripture. It is, therefore, a dangerously unsound use of Edwards to isolate his statement about the freedom of the Spirit to work in extraordinary ways, and to ignore his clear and crucial statement about the rules or guidelines of Scripture. From an Edwardean point of view, we would most emphatically need to ask of any religious experience: "Does it keep within the clear guidelines laid down by the Holy Spirit in Scripture concerning the true nature of the Spirit's work?"
We next need to inquire what exactly Edwards had in mind when he spoke about unusual and extraordinary ways" in which the Holy Spirit might operate. We do not need to indulge in guesswork; Edwards himself tells us what he meant. He specified the following unusual things:
(a) "an extraordinary conviction of the dreadful nature of sin, and a very uncommon sense of the misery of a Christless condition";
(b) "extraordinary views of the certainty and glory of divine things";
(c) "very extraordinary affections [emotions] of fear and sorrow, desire, love or joy";
(d) "if the apparent change [conversion] be very sudden, and the work carried on with very unusual swiftness";
(e) "the persons affected are very numerous, and many of them are very young."5
There is absolutely nothing in what Edwards says here to suggest that he was thinking about "unusual" spiritual phenomena in the sense of the weird, the bizarre or the ludicrous. The "unusual phenomena" Edwards had in mind were unusual degrees of intensity in the normal spiritual emotions awakened by a conversion experience. If we look at (a), (b) and (c), these factors must surely all be present in some degree in any genuine conversion. Edwards was simply arguing that their presence in an extraordinary degree, in unusual and perhaps overpowering vigour and intensity, must not be taken as a sure sign of psychological imbalance or demonic deception. It might very well be the Spirit Himself working savingly in an uncommonly mighty way To put it in Edwards' own words
The extraordinary and unusual degree of influence. and power of operation, if in its nature it be agreeable to the rules and marks given in scripture, is rather an argument in its favour; for by how much higher the degree which in its nature is agreeable to the rule, so much the more is there of conformity to the rule...6
I have italicized the words about "rules and marks given in scripture" to show how insistent Edwards was on this point. There is nothing Edwards says here that can honestly be used as an apologia for strange spiritual experiences which, by the confession of their defenders, are nowhere described, hinted at, predicted or authorized in the pages of the Bible.
Continuing his exposition of negative sign 1, Edwards criticized those in his day who said that the Great Awakening could not be of God, because such things had never happened before. Edwards countered this argument by pointing critics to the things that happened in the days of the apostles:
The work of the Spirit, then, was carried on in a manner that, in very many respects, was altogether new; such as never had been seen or heard of since the world began.7
Could this be Edwards justifying new and unheard-of manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our own day, comparable to the miraculous manifestations of apostolic times? Before answering this question, one must pause a moment and ask what exactly was "new" about the various manifestations of the Spirit even in the days of the apostles. Prophecies, visions, dreams and healings were not new and unheard-of; these happened in Old Testament times. The only genuinely new phenomenon seems to have been speaking in tongues. And even this was not wholly new, but a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy or typology, according to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21ff. The question therefore arises, what were the "altogether new" things Edwards was thinking of, which he said had happened in the days of the apostles?
Again, we do not need to guess or speculate. Edwards spelled out for us on the same page precisely what he had in mind. According to Edwards, the "altogether new" things that happened in the Pentecostal period of Church history were these:
(a) the conversion of sinners with "more visible and remarkable power than ever";
(b) the fact that sinners were converted "in great multitudes", greater than ever before;
(c) the fact that these conversions were more sudden and unexpected than had ever been seen before - "a sudden alteration in towns, cities and countries";
(d) the fact that the gospel spread with "such a swift progress."8
And of course, what Edwards did not explicitly point out, these powerful, numerous and sudden conversions in apostolic times were soon mainly among Gentiles rather than Jews - certainly a thing which did not occur in the Old Testament (although the conversion of the Gentile nations was predicted there).
So we see clearly enough what Edwards meant by the new works of the Spirit in the days of the apostles, which justifies our looking for similar things today. He meant conversions. He was referring to mighty, sudden, community-wide conversions from sin to holiness, from unbelief to faith, by the preaching of the gospel. Edwards did not mean extraordinary miraculous works of the Spirit such as tongues, prophecies, visions - or any supposedly supernatural manifestations of the Spirit such as hysterical laughter or animal noises, which have so fascinated many believers today. He could not possibly have meant that we should look for such things now, because (as we shall see) Edwards did not believe that there would ever again be extraordinary supernatural works, gifts or operations of the Holy Spirit after the apostolic era had finished
Edwards went on to predict that such extraordinary works of the Spirit as he had spoken about should be expected "in the latter ages of the world", quoting Isaiah 66:8.9 He was of course referring to the "postmillennial'' view of history which then reigned among English-speaking Protestants: the view that expected the national conversion of the Jews and, thereafter, the unprecedented conversion of multitudes of Gentiles, prior to Christ's second coming. (This is not the same as Latter Rain Restorationism, because Edwards did not expect the "spiritual millennium" to involve any restoration of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, concerning which he was a strict cessationist.) But this just goes to show, yet again, that Edwards was not thinking of extraordinary supernatural or miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, when he talked about "new" works of the Spirit which believers ought to expect. He was thinking of the Spirit's "ordinary" work of converting sinners, but carried on at certain points in history in an extraordinary way as far as numbers and community-wide consequences were concerned.
This brings us to Edwards' second negative sign which has profound relevance to us today.
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.10
Edwards here describes the bodily effects that often occurred in the context of religious experience in the Great Awakening. To the extent that these bodily effects were truly the work of the Holy Spirit, they could happen (a) to unbelievers as the Spirit brought them under conviction of sin, and (b) to believers as they gained a new and deeper awareness of spiritual realities. But Edwards is advising us that we cannot, in fact, point to such bodily effects as proof that the Holy Spirit is genuinely at work - or as proof that He is not at work. These physical phenomena are, in the Edwardean view, neutral as evidence. He made the same point in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections where he devoted considerable space to arguing that
It is no sign that affections [emotions] have the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they have great effects on the body.11
Some Toronto apologists have seized on what Edwards says here, in order to ward off criticisms of the more outlandish bodily effects which many people experience in charismatic meetings today, especially the Toronto blessing. Do critics point to the hysterical laughter, animal noises and movements, and other bizarre physical manifestations of charismatic experience (e.g. bouncing like a pogo-stick), and argue that the Holy Spirit could not possibly be responsible for these strange things? The answer comes from Edwards himself: we cannot judge a religious experience by the effects it has on the body. Bodily effects are no criteria. Therefore critics are wrong to dismiss the experience on the basis of its bodily effects.
It seems plausible on a superficial reading of Edwards. But a more detailed and sensitive reading reveals that Toronto apologists have gravely misunderstood and perverted the whole thrust of Edwards' argument at this point.
We need to be clear in our minds about the kind of physical experience Edwards was talking about. He was speaking specifically about physical experiences which are the result of truth-based emotion in the soul. The primary experience Edwards had in mind was an inward and spiritual experience of truth, in the depths of the soul; this then spills over into an outward bodily effect, which is quite secondary in nature. As Edwards explains:
It is easily accounted for from the consideration of the nature of divine and eternal things, and the nature of man, and the laws of the union between soul and body, how a right influence, a true and proper sense of things, should have such effects on the body, even those that are of the most extraordinary kind, such as taking away the bodily strength, or throwing the body into great agonies, and extolling loud outcries. There are none of us but do suppose, and would have been ready at any time to say it, 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 uncertain whether he should be delivered from it...12
The example Edwards uses here makes it crystal-clear what kind of bodily experiences he was talking about. The fear of hell is a truth-based emotion in the soul. The truth of God's Word concerning hell is made known to a person, it comes home to his soul in a powerful way. This experience can produce the physical effect of taking away the bodily strength, throwing the body into great agonies and loud outcries. These physical effects are accounted for by the close union between soul and body. But Edwards leaves us in no doubt that the basic and primary experience is in the soul, not the body. Eternal truth makes an impact on the mind, arousing powerful religious emotion; this truth-based religious emotion in the soul then produces a secondary outward effect of the body.
Edwards'' example cited above concerns an unbeliever who comes under deep conviction of sin. But Edwards also pointed to similar experiences of a more positive nature in the believer:
So it may easily be accounted for, that a true sense of the glorious excellency of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his wonderful dying love, and the exercise of a truly spiritual love and joy, should be such as very much to overcome the bodily strength.13
The Biblical truth about Who Christ is and what Christ has done for sinners can strike home into the believer's mind so powerfully, and kindle such mighty spiritual emotions, that the believer's bodily strength can be overcome; he may, perhaps, fall on his face and worship God. Such experiences in the believer are "easily accounted for" by the principle that strong emotion in the soul can produce sympathetic effects on the body.
It is vital for us to grasp that this is the nature of the physical experience Edwards was discussing and analyzing. Edwards' mind was focused on bodily effects which are produced by the powerful impact of truth on the soul, awakening powerful truth-based emotions - some negative (fear, sorrow, etc.), some positive (love, joy, etc.). It is crucial that we understand this, if we are rightly to interpret Edwards' next point that Scripture does not need to record all the physical experiences which might happen under the Holy Spirit's influence. Again, some Toronto apologists have seized on this to enroll Edwards under their banner. What does it matter if Scripture does not explicitly record such bodily experiences as hysterical laughter, animal noises, etc.? After all, the great Edwards himself says that there are many bodily experiences not recorded in Scripture which are. nonetheless. results of the Holy Spirit's work.
It is true that Edwards does say this. But it is equally true that he has a specific type of bodily experience in mind, the type we have already seen him discussing - physical experiences which are the result of truth-based emotions in the soul. The primary experience is the overwhelming impact of divine truth on the mind and heart, which awakens powerful religious emotions. These emotions then affect the body. Edwards says that Scripture does not need to give a detailed account of all the bodily effects that might flow from various truths striking the soul and awakening various religious feelings. But this, as we will see in a moment, is not the same as saying that no Scriptural justification is necessary for bodily experiences of a different nature, where the impact of truth on the soul is not the inner motivating cause.
First, however, let us hear Edwards on why Scripture does not need to give an exhaustive account of bodily effects produced by truth-based emotions:
Some object against such extraordinary appearances, that we have no instances of them recorded in the New Testament, under the extraordinary effusions of the Spirit .. I do not know that we have any express mention in the New Testament of any person's weeping, groaning, or sighing through fear of hell, or a sense of God's anger; but is there any body so foolish as from hence to argue, that in whomsoever these things appear, their convictions are not from the Spirit of God? And the reason why we do not argue thus, is, because these are easily accounted for, from what we know of the nature of man, and terror, what the Scripture informs us in general, concerning the nature of eternal things, and the nature of the convictions of God's Spirit; so that there is no need that any thing should be said in particular, concerning these external, circumstantial effects.14
The reason why Scripture does not need to describe every bodily effect that might result from truth-based emotions in the soul, according to Edwards, is that Scripture has already given us the general principle. And that general principle is that these truth-based emotions can spill over into a corresponding "external, circumstantial effect" on the body.
But all this is on a fundamentally different level from the physical experiences that Toronto apologists have tried to justify by appealing to Edwards. Let us take the case of the animal noises and behaviour that have characterized the recent Toronto blessing. In HTB in Focus, the newspaper of Holy Trinity Brompton, the leading Anglican charismatic church, a member of the church's staff by the name of Glenda Waddell gives an account of how she first "roared like a lion" through receiving the Toronto blessing.15 It is quite clear from Ms Waddell's account that her lion-like behavior was by no means a natural bodily overflow of some primary religious emotion in her soul. It was not that Ms Waddell had some overwhelming insight into an eternal truth which awakened deep religious emotion, and the emotion then expressed itself in her bodily behaviour. On the contrary, Ms Waddell's account makes it painfully clear that she was simply "taken over" by a spiritual impulse which compelled her to roar. Her words are:
[T]o my absolute horror I just knew beyond any shadow of a doubt my hands were doing strange things and I was going to roar. I said, "Oh Lord, I'll do anything but please, please, don't make me roar. I don't mind what it is - anything - but I just can't bear it. Only the men roar, and women don't roar." But it came and I did roar quite loudly and I made a lot of awful noise and I was crawling around the floor doing terrible things and half of me was thinking, "This cannot be me." But another part of me knew that it was.
Ms Waddell's description is perfectly straightforward. She was invaded and possessed by an impulse which reduced her to bestial behaviour, crawling about and roaring. Half of her did not even recognize herself in what was happening. It was quite clearly not a case of spiritual truth impacting on the soul awakening religious emotion, which then expressed itself in a corresponding bodily effect There was no perception of truth involved in Ms Waddell's experience whatsoever. She was simply taken over, physically and spiritually, by a controlling force.
(It is true that Ms Waddell also says, "while this was happening I felt this huge, righteous anger." So there was some emotional content to her experience. But the emotion was not primary, and did not flow out of any vision of spiritual truth. First of all came the invading and possessing spirit which took Ms Waddell over, making her roar. And then, while she was roaring and crawling about, she began to feel anger. In any case, anger does not normally make people roar like lions and crawl about on the floor!)
This is simply not the kind of experience Edwards was talking about, and nothing he says can be used to justify such experiences.
Let us probe a little deeper. Because it was not a human response to an intelligent or spiritual perception of divine truth, Ms Waddell's experience of roaring like a lion cannot be compared with weeping or trembling or fainting under conviction of sin. It would have to be compared instead with an experience like speaking in tongues, where the whole person, soul and body together, is animated by the Holy Spirit. There is an important difference between these two types of experience. In conviction of sin, the outward physical effect is caused only in an indirect way by the Spirit. The direct act of the Spirit is on the mind, illuminating it to see the truth about the nature of sin and God's judgment. This then kindles corresponding emotions of fear and sorrow, and these emotions in the soul then produce tears or trembling in the body. So the physical effect is caused only indirectly by the Spirit's work. On the contrary, in tongue-speaking, the physical effect is the direct and deliberate act of the Spirit upon and through the inspired person. The very words spoken are the Spirit's own words, chosen by Him. He acts so as deliberately to produce a physical effect.
On this basis, we could distinguish between two ways in which the Holy Spirit produces physical effects in people's behaviour:
(i) The Spirit brings truth to bear powerfully on people's souls, kindling spiritual emotions, and these emotions then overflow into corresponding bodily effects, e.g. fear of God producing trembling. In this case, the Holy Spirit is only indirectly the cause of the bodily effect.
(ii) The Spirit takes over the whole person, and deliberately and directly causes physical behaviour: e.g., oral prophecy, speaking in tongues, the writing of inspired Scripture. Of course, I am not saying that people lost their will or reason when the Spirit worked in these ways in Biblical times. and to that extent we cannot compare these Scriptural experiences with Toronto manifestations. The point of comparison is simply that in these type (ii) works of the Spirit, the physical effect is directly and deliberately produced by the Spirit. In the writing of inspired Scripture, for example, Paul tells us that it is the Scripture itself that is God-breathed, 2 Timothy 3:16. God acted in and through the Scriptural writers in some way unknown to us, with the deliberate intention of producing a physical result, the actual writing down of specific words as authoritative Scripture. The inspired writer by no means went into a trance and lost his will or reason in this process: there was a mysterious union of divine and human agency. In Toronto hysterics and animal manifestations, by contrast, people do lose their will or reason, and to that extent one must emphasize that there is no comparison with the writing of Scripture, or oral prophecy, or tongues. The sole point of comparison is the Holy Spirit's acting through a person in such a way that He deliberately produces a physical effect.
Ms Waddell's description of her experience of lion-like behaviour, then, places it in category (ii). If we grant her assumption that the Holy Spirit was the source of her experience, He directly and deliberately caused her physical behaviour of roaring and crawling about. Therefore what Ms Waddell claims to have experienced is, in effect, an extraordinary supernatural work, gift or operation of the Spirit, comparable with speaking in tongues and prophecy: the point of comparison being that the whole person is animated and inspired, body and soul, by the Holy Spirit, Who directly and deliberately produces physical behaviour.
The problem is that Scripture nowhere mentions this supernatural Toronto work of the Spirit which Ms Waddell and her colleagues so glory in. Edwards' argument about type (i) experiences, that Scripture does not need to record them all, is valid; all Scripture needs to give us is the general principle that truth-based emotion can spill over into bodily effects. This general principle enables us to understand, assess and even predict all specific instances. But we enter new and highly dangerous territory with type (ii) experiences, if we claim (as some Toronto apologists do) that Scripture does not need to give us a complete account of these. That is equivalent to saying that Scripture does not give a complete account of the extraordinary supernatural gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit. Of course, Scripture thereby becomes an insufficient guide concerning these gifts and operations. Who is going to explain to us the status, value and meaning of new spiritual gifts and operations of the Spirit about which the Bible says nothing? Ms Waddell provides an answer to this question, which we will examine in a moment. But first let us face the question squarely. Are we prepared to admit that there might be new, extraordinary, supernatural experiences of the Holy Spirit about which Scripture has kept us in the dark? What would such a belief do to the sufficiency of Scripture - a principle emphatically endorsed by Edwards? The simple fact is that Edwards would never for a moment have accepted any new extraordinary supernatural gifts and operations of the Spirit, because (as we have already remarked) he did not believe that even those mentioned in Scripture were valid any longer. Edwards restricted extraordinary spiritual gifts to the age of the apostles. He rejected all modern-day claims to prophecy and speaking in tongues. When one tries to imagine what he would have said about an alleged new gift of "animal spirit possession", the mind boggles.
The teaching of Jonathan Edwards is, of course, not our doctrinal standard. A Christian is at liberty, under the Scriptures, to disagree with Edwards about the limitation of the Spirit's extraordinary gifts to the apostolic age. But we have surely seen enough to realize that Toronto apologists cannot honestly appeal to what Edwards says about bodily effects in order to support the "animal manifestations" of the Toronto blessing. And that is the problem: the question of honesty. A religious movement does not acquire truth, but it can acquire credibility and respectability, if it can be shown that a great and admired theological teacher from the Church's past gave his approval to some of the principles which that movement now espouses. Many evangelicals, especially within the Reformed tradition, do regard Edwards as a great and admired teacher. We therefore feel compelled to ask whether Toronto apologists are being honest when they seek to associate the name of Edwards with certain aspects of their movement. If truth and honesty are valuable in Christian eyes, we cannot shrug off this question. The present writer's researches have persuaded him that the attempt to claim Edwards in support of modern Toronto phenomena is deeply dishonest, and that the credibility thus gained for the Toronto blessing is wholly spurious. If this conclusion is right (and these chapters present the evidence), truth and honesty demand that we take the formidable weapon of Jonathan Edwards' mighty teaching out of the hands of today's Toronto apologists, and return it where it rightfully belongs, in the hands of those who are convinced of the merits of traditional Reformed theology.
The teaching of Edwards regarding bodily effects found in the context of revival, then, cannot honestly be applied to the animal manifestations of the Toronto blessing. But before we move on, let us look for a moment at how Glenda Waddell of Holy Trinity Brompton tries to justify the animal manifestations. We will find it highly instructive. Roaring like a lion has been the most widely publicized of these manifestations, but it is certainly not the only one. Ms Waddell herself describes the scene in another Toronto-style meeting she attended:
That room sounded like it was a cross between a jungle and a farmyard. There were many, many lions roaring, there were bulls bellowing, there were donkeys, there was a cockerel near me, there were sort of bird songs.. . Everything you could possibly imagine. Every animal you could conceivably imagine you could hear.16
Clearly Ms Waddell can find no support in Scripture for this allegedly new gift of the Spirit, for Scripture's silence on the issue is deafening. So how does she explain its significance? By claiming a new private revelation from God. God gives her (she affirms) a new extra-Scriptural doctrine to explain the new extra-Scriptural work of the Spirit. This is logical; one does not see how else a new extra-Scriptural work of the Spirit could be explained. The doctrine is that God is deliberately making His people behave in a ludicrous, sub-human fashion in order to destroy their vanity. Here are the words Ms Waddell attributes to God: 'What you hear is My church being stripped of its vanity - My church and My leaders being stripped of their dignity, because I hate it " One could comment on the somewhat disturbing content of this allegedly new revelation: the Creator and Redeemer of humanity deliberately stripping away His adopted children's human dignity as those made in His image, and reducing them to the level of the beasts that perish - the temples of the Holy Spirit transformed by that same Spirit into braying donkeys and bellowing bulls. If Satan did that to a person, charismatics would once have been the first to denounce it as a degrading bondage and to call for "deliverance ministry." But it is apparently the Holy Spirit of our merciful heavenly Father Who is doing these things to His children, as a "blessing" which we are all to desire. Truly, we live in odd times.
But let us overlook the unwholesome content of Ms Waddell's supposed new revelation. Let us simply notice how the claim to a new non-Scriptural work or gift of the Spirit has led to a new non-Scriptural revelation, in order to authorize the gift's status and explain its meaning. Ms Waddell gives us, in effect, a new theological doctrine of the gift of animal spirit possession. Presumably we should staple it in the back of our Bibles. Can even the most convinced and committed Toronto advocate honestly think that Jonathan Edwards would have approved of this deep-seated betrayal of Reformation Protestantism? The sort of spirituality that meets us in Ms Waddell and those on her wavelength looks like a wild stampede from sanctified reason, into the ultra-subjective and irrational pole of the human psyche, spewing forth these strange new doctrines instead of submitting to the all-sufficient Word of God. That the name of Jonathan Edwards should have been tacked onto such a spiritually unhinged outlook can only be regarded as one of the more curious and disgusting ironies of modern theology.
Perhaps we should also, at this point, consider the hysterical laughter that has characterized the Toronto blessing (and some other forms of charismatic experience), and ask what Edwards would have made of this. After all, it could be claimed that this is the type of experience Edwards was dealing with and justifying. Could inner spiritual joy not spill over into laughter? Would this not be a case of a primary religious emotion in the soul expressing itself in a corresponding bodily effect?
Unfortunately for this line of argument, Edwards made it clear in a number of places exactly what he thought of laughter as an expression of spiritual joy. Later in the Distinguishing Marks, he compared the Great Awakening of 1740-42 in Northampton with a similar revival six years previously in 1734-5 (the earlier revival is the subject of Edwards' Narrative of Surprising Conversions). He expressed the view that the later work was higher and purer than the earlier one. Let us listen to the reason he gives:
And particularly there has been a remarkable difference in this respect, that whereas many before, in their comforts and rejoicings, did too much forget their distance from God, and were ready in their conversation together of the things of God, and of their own experiences, to talk with too much lightness; but now they seem to have no disposition that way, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy, as God directs (Psalm ii.11). Not because the joy is not as great, and in many instances much greater. Many among us who were wrought upon in that former season, have now had much greater communications from heaven than they had then. Their rejoicing operates in another manner; it abases them, breaks their hearts, and brings them into the dust. When they speak of their joys, it is not with laughter, but with a flood of tears. Thus those that laughed before, weep now, and yet by their united testimony, their joy is vastly purer and sweeter than that which before did more raise their animal spirits.17
Edwards implicitly criticized the revival of 1734-5 for a certain degree of superficiality, because some of those touched by it were rather light-headed in the way they spoke about God and spiritual things. In their joy they forgot "their distance from God", as sinful creatures before an all-holy Creator, in Whose awesome presence we must always feel a deep reverential fear. The joy of these light-headed believers, Edwards suggested, had a lot to do with "animal spirits" - i. e., natural, psychosomatic, temperamental feelings, rather than true spiritual joy from the Holy Spirit. Edwards' remarks could even be taken to mean that some actually expressed their "joy" by laughter in the 1734-5 revival. But the 1740-42 revival, he insists, was altogether a more spiritually pure and holy phenomenon. Why? Precisely because it did not have the element of lightness and superficial happiness that disfigured its predecessor. There was in fact more joy in 1740-42, but it was a true, holy, spiritual joy; and this authentic joy in those who experience it, Edwards says, "abases them, breaks their hearts, and brings them into the dust." It expresses itself "not With laughter, but with a flood of tears."
We find similar comments in Edwards' Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England Edwards gives us here a detailed account of the experience of one particular unnamed believer (probably his wife) whose spirituality was quickened and renewed in a remarkable manner during the 1740-42 revival. He presents this person to us as a model and pattern of a revived believer It is therefore highly significant that Edwards speaks at length about his or her experience of spiritual joy:
This great rejoicing has been with trembling, i. e attended with a deep and lively sense of the greatness and majesty of God, and the person's own exceeding littleness and vileness Spiritual joys in this person never were attended with the least appearance of laughter, or lightness, either of countenance or manner of speaking; but with a peculiar abhorrence of such appearances in spiritual rejoicings.18
The idea that true spiritual joy can be expressed by laughter, or by any kind of "lightness" (what we might call fun or clowning), has never had a more determined opponent than Jonathan Edwards. Those Toronto apologists who appeal to him to justify such modern-day phenomena are either speaking out of a profound ignorance, because they have not troubled to read Edwards at all, or are irresponsibly and deceptively misrepresenting Edwards' clear and forceful teaching on the subject.19
Some readers may think we are going "over the top" in suggesting that Toronto writers are guilty of deceptively misrepresenting Edwards. Consider, however, the following instance relating to the question of laughter Bill Jackson, the author of the paper What in the World is Happening to us? tries to justify the hysterical laughter of the Toronto blessing by quoting a passage from Edwards' Narrative of Surprising Conversions:
It was very wonderful to see how persons' affections were sometimes moved when God did as it were suddenly open their eyes, and let into their minds a sense of the greatness of His grace, the fullness of Christ, and His readiness to save.... Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts as it were to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter, tears often at the same time issuing like a flood, and intermingling a loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forbear crying out with a loud voice, expressing their great admiration.20
One can only think that the use of this quotation to sanction the hysterical laughter of the Toronto blessing is a gravely irresponsible and deeply deceptive misrepresentation of Edwards. Observe the dotted lines in the quotation after "His readiness to save." What did Jackson leave out? The following passage:
...after having been broken with apprehensions of divine wrath, and sunk into an abyss, under a sense of guilt which they were ready to think was beyond the mercy of God
The omission of this passage seriously alters the whole character of the quotation. Bill Jackson is trying to make out that Edwards was speaking of the same sort of experience as the Toronto style hysterics of professing Christians. But the fact is that Edwards was speaking of a completely different experience. He was speaking about the conversion of unbelievers. The emotional experience included deep conviction of sin and terrifying apprehensions of God's holy wrath. However, since the Toronto blessing has not been noted for bringing people into such awesomely serious, solemn, sober and devastating encounters with God's burning and consuming holiness, Jackson has edited out Edwards' references to conviction of sin and the wrath of God. The resulting censored quotation is a travesty of what Edwards actually said. Again, by editing out Edwards' description of conviction of sin and God's wrath, Jackson has obscured the important fact that Edwards is portraying the experience of conversion, not the "renewal" of believers. Where are such conversion experiences in the Toronto blessing? Notice also that Edwards does not even say that these converts did actually laugh. What he says is that they were "ready to break forth into laughter." Under the exhilarating relief of being delivered from God's holy and condemning wrath, some converts were "ready" to laugh - but what they actually did was burst into tears, intermingled with a loud noise of weeping. How such a description could be used to justify the mindless "laughing policeman" hysterics of the Toronto blessing defies all comprehension.21 Finally, Jackson has wholly ignored the clear and explicit statements of Edwards quoted above, where he says that laughter is not a proper or wholesome expression of spiritual joy. In these circumstances, one must (reluctantly) stand by the claim that some Toronto apologists are guilty of deeply irresponsible and deceptive misrepresentation of Jonathan Edwards. Is false propaganda a fruit of the Toronto blessing? Is the Spirit of Truth behind such grave and misleading distortions of the plain facts?
Under this heading of "bodily effects", we should also deal with the falling over and fainting which was found in the Great Awakening, and is a prominent feature of many modern charismatic meetings, especially the Toronto blessing. Are they the same in character? The evidence forces us to say that the resemblance is only superficial. We can sum up the basic differences thus: When people fell down or fainted in the Great Awakening, it was in response to truth - almost always in response to Biblical preaching. (Occasionally it happened to some as they read the Bible on their own.) The doctrinal truths of Scripture so overwhelmed people's souls, that their bodies reacted by losing strength. Neither Edwards himself nor any preacher deliberately tried to induce this effect by laying hands on people. It simply happened, spontaneously. And more often than not, the reason people fell was because the awesome truths of God's holiness and wrath against their own hell-deserving sinfulness had shattered them emotionally, and robbed them of strength through sheer undiluted terror. Contrast this with the quite different spectacle in Toronto meetings. The leaders are intent on deliberately producing the bodily effect, which they call "slaying in the Spirit." They call people to walk to the front of the meeting place, where the leaders then pray for them, and move their hands about over their bodies. Sometimes the person being "ministered to" will be pushed. In any case, those who have walked forward know that they are supposed to fall over in response to these ministrations. They have been led to believe that falling over is the sign of the Spirit's blessing. The result Is (not surprisingly) that people fall over and even faint. The experience is sweet, sugary, and euphoric - "the sweet heaviness of Jesus", as the present writer heard it described by a Toronto Airport Vineyard leader.22
The contrast between this and the Great Awakening is simply huge. There is a great deal of deliberate human manipulation in modern Toronto meetings, all geared to getting people to fall over. The psychological pressures involved are often no different from the techniques of a stage hypnotist. And one would have to add that there is usually precious little preaching of clear Biblical truth in these meetings. This is light years away from what happened in the Great Awakening, where some people fell over purely spontaneously, under the influence of spiritual feeling aroused by mighty Biblical preaching, without being called forward, prayed over, touched pushed, or psychologically manipulated in any way. In case there is any doubt on this, listen to the explicit counsel of Edwards to people who feel themselves being physically overpowered by spiritual feeling in a religious meeting:
I think the persons thus extraordinarily moved, should endeavor to refrain from such outward manifestations, what they well can, and should refrain to their utmost, at the time of their solemn worship.23
Edwards declared that it was the duty of anyone "extraordinarily moved" in a religious service to "refrain to their utmost" from giving way to "outward manifestations." The lesson is crystal-clear. Where modern Toronto teachers make every effort to encourage, promote and induce physical manifestations, Edwards taught people to resist, restrain and suppress them to the utmost of their power. The only physical manifestation Edwards would tolerate was one in which Biblical truth pierced into the soul, awoke an appropriate and powerful response of religious emotion, and the emotion, despite all attempts to discipline it, expressed itself in a bodily way that distracted others (e.g. loud weeping through conviction of sin). Even so, his emphatic counsel was that people should not only not seek outward manifestations, but do their utmost to avoid and suppress them. The contrast between Edwards' views and those of present-day Toronto leaders here is like the difference between noonday and midnight. That anyone could appeal to Edwards' careful teaching to sanction the eagerly sought, deliberately induced, hypnotist-like "slaying in the Spirit" practiced by Hindu gurus, New Age therapists and some modern charismatics, is yet again a sign either of shoddy ignorance of what Edwards really said, or of willful deceitful misrepresentation of Edwards to give credibility to a discredible cause.
Before moving on to look at Edwards' third negative sign, it is worth remembering that a "negative sign" is not only something that cannot be used to prove that an experience or movement is false and not from God, it is also something that cannot rightly be used to prove that it is true and from God. Regarding the particular kind of bodily effects Edwards has been discussing, he states:
We cannot conclude that persons are under the influence of the true Spirit because we see such effects upon their bodies, because this is not given [in Scripture] as a mark of the true Spirit.24
Bodily movements and behaviour which are the overflow of deep religious emotion are no proof that the Holy Spirit is truly at work. Religious emotion is not necessarily spiritual emotion. As Edwards argues at length in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, people can be emotionally moved, touched and excited by religion without the Holy Spirit being at work. It is safe to assume that Edwards would have counselled charismatic leaders in our day in the same terms. "Do not think that the Holy Spirit is at work merely because people experience bodily effects in your meetings. If these bodily effects are generated by strong emotion, they prove only that strong emotions have been aroused. They do not prove that these emotions are from the Holy Spirit's saving activity. They may be from another source. Some other test is needed to assess the origin and nature of these emotions and experiences." How often do we hear cautions like this from Toronto apologists today? All too often, especially in grass-roots meetings for renewal, it is simply taken for granted that bodily effects such as laughing or trembling or falling over are true manifestations of the Spirit's presence. Edwards had no truck with this idea, and explicitly condemned it as false and harmful.
Edwards' third negative sign had to do with the ability of a movement to attract publicity. It is, he said, no proof that a work is false just because "it occasions a great deal of noise about religion." By "noise" Edwards means a high public profile, a great stir. Apparently some people in Edwards' day criticized the Great Awakening on these grounds, and doubted its spiritual authenticity on account of its very public, visible, high-profile nature. Edwards responded that if that were so, the early Church in the days of the apostles must be condemned!
The affair filled the world with noise, and gave occasion to some to say of the apostles, that they had turned the world upside down. Acts xvii 6.25
We must accept Edwards' point. and refrain from criticizing on these grounds a religious movement which we have other reasons for deeming false. A charismatic phenomenon like the Toronto blessing is not unsound merely because it has generated a lot of noise and publicity. On the other hand, of course, its noisy publicity is no guarantee of its truth. Islamic fundamentalism has generated far more noise and publicity in the media than the Toronto blessing, but presumably we do not therefore accept that Islam is a work of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth of Edwards' negative signs relates to the effect a religious experience can have on the imagination.
It is no argument that an operation on the minds of a people, is not a work of the ;Spirit of God, that many who are the subjects of it, have great impressions made on their imagination.26
It seems that a good number of those affected by the Great Awakening had experienced striking visual imaginations of Christ and heaven. Critics had pounced on this as proof of the inherent fanaticism of the movement Edwards trod a delicate path in dealing with this matter. On the one hand he agreed with the critics that such imaginations were not to be regarded as divine revelations, on the same level as the visions of Biblical prophets and apostles. And he gently but firmly chastised those who made such exalted claims for their imaginary experiences.
Some are ready to interpret such things wrong, and to lay too much weight on them, as prophetical visions, divine revelations, and sometimes significations from heaven of what shall come to pass; which the issue, in some instances I have known, has shown to be otherwise.27
Edwards was deeply opposed to any interpretation of even the most exalted spiritual experiences of believers which would elevate them to the status of private revelations of God's will or truth on a par with the revelations enjoyed by Biblical prophets and apostles. He would certainly have had no time for the widespread custom among charismatics of claiming to be in receipt of direct personal words from the Lord about this, that and the other, accepted as infallible guides to duty. But we will postpone consideration of this point until we reach the end of the Distinguishing Marks, where Edwards discussed the whole question of supernatural revelatory gifts of the Spirit in the apostolic age, as compared with the guidance believers can receive from spiritual impressions, feelings and convictions in the present post-apostolic era.
However, Edwards was equally sure that these visual imaginations experienced by some in the Great Awakening did not necessarily prove there was a fanatical spirit at work. Some might have made false claims for these experiences, but the experiences themselves (Edwards argued) were often merely the natural product of the human imagination when exposed to the powerful religious emotions aroused by revival.
Such is our nature that we cannot think of things invisible, without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man of the greatest powers of mind, whether he is able to fix his thoughts on God, or Christ or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his meditations?28
Such imaginations will especially arise, Edwards suggested, when the mind thinks about spiritual things under the influence of vigorous and vivid emotion, such as a revival will stir up, especially in new converts. He also suggested that the less intellectual a person was, the more likely he was to be incapable of distinguishing between spiritual reality, and the visual or other imaginations which that reality might provoke in his mind. God, he thought, sometimes condescended to use such imaginations in less intellectual people to bless them. But Edwards never wavered in his belief that these were human imaginations, not divine revelations.
Toronto apologists who appeal to Jonathan Edwards should be aware of the deep spiritual divide between themselves and Edwards on this matter. He would have said that all their visionary experiences, mental pictures from the Lord, audible voices giving guidance, and so forth, if they are not demonic deceptions, are (at best) merely products of their own human imagination, perhaps under the influence of strong spiritual feeling, but not direct revelations from the Lord Himself, and no safe guide to truth or duty.29
Edwards' fifth negative sign was the fact that the Great Awakening was promoted by the contagious power of example. Some critics argued that this demonstrated the merely human origins and character of the revival, but Edwards counter-argued that God uses means to promote His work, and that the power of example is one of the means He uses.
There never yet was a time of remarkable pouring out of the Spirit, and greatrevival of religion, but that example had a main hand.30
Edwards cited the spread of Christianity in the days of the apostles (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8) and at the Reformation of the 16th century.
Does Edwards' argument here have any relevance to the geographical centrality of Toronto in the spread of the recent "Toronto blessing"? When the present writer attended a Toronto blessing meeting in Edinburgh in October 1994, the main speaker was from the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and he recounted to us how God had been providing finance for many people in remarkable ways to enable them to travel to Toronto in order to receive the blessing. The impression given was that the Spirit had in some sense enthroned Himself in a geographical power-centre, to which needy people must journey, or from which anointed people must be sent forth, if the Spirit's blessing was to be imparted. Does the Edwardean argument about the power of example support this notion?
The answer must be a resounding no. What Edwards is talking about is the contagious power of example where one person is converted, and that person's conversion has a big spiritual impact on others, leading to their conversion too. This principle has nothing to do with the idea of physically located "spiritual power-centres." In the days of the apostles, Jerusalem did not function as a power-centre to which people had to travel in order to be converted. The power was in the Word of God preached, and the traveling preachers were not necessarily based in Jerusalem. The greatest of them, the apostle Paul, was initially based in Antioch, and was regarded with deep suspicion by many in Jerusalem. The same holds true at the time of the Reformation. People did not have to go to Luther's Wittenberg to become Protestants. There was no "Wittenberg blessing" in the 16th century. The Gospel of justification by faith spread across Europe by preaching and by writing, which did not originate exclusively from Wittenberg; indeed, the Swiss Reformation which began under Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich was virtually independent of what was going on in Germany once the Word of God was unleashed, it took on a life of its own. People were inspired by Luther's example, but they did not have to go to Wittenberg to become Protestants. Nor did they need to have hands laid on them by Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, or any of the Wittenberg Reformers. People needed only to read the Bible in their native language in order to catch the Protestant fire.
One of the most serious and damaging criticisms of the Great Awakening focused on the sins and follies of many of those involved in the movement. As Edwards put it,
many, who seem to he the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and illegularities in their conduct.31
Edwards by no means tried to whitewash the conduct of those at whom this criticism was aimed. He fully admitted that there were such people whose "imprudences and irregularities" had disgraced the revival. Interestingly, what Edwards meant by imprudences and irregularities included the very practices which many modern charismatics accept and promote as basic to a healthy spirituality - namely, subjective impressions, feelings, convictions, visions, voices, dreams and prophecies! We will examine Edwards' theological critique of these things later. But it is worth bearing in mind even now that what many present-day charismatics accept as positive features of a renewed spiritual life, and which are so central to the Toronto blessing, Edwards regarded as imprudences and irregularities which had disfigured the fair face of the Great Awakening (clearly two very different views of revival and renewal confront us: one, the Toronto view, points to certain experiences and practices as fundamental; the other, the Edwardean, condemns them as sins and follies which hinder the true work of the Holy Spirit.
However, Edwards did insist that these sins and follies did not prove that the Spirit was not savingly at work. He was working, not to produce these faults but in spite of them to convert unbelievers and also to quicken believers. Edwards pointed to the scandalous moral defects in the church at Corinth: the Spirit was truly at work in their midst in spite of their sins and follies. He also instanced how God was at work in the ministry of the apostle Peter despite his "great and sinful error in his conduct" regarding the Judaizers.32 The sin Edwards highlighted in the conduct of many involved in the Great Awakening was their judgmental spirit towards those they reckoned were unconverted, especially ministers. Such judgmentalism, Edwards said, was sinful and lamentable, but it did not prove that the work the judgmental people were promoting was not of God.
We have certainly seen much judgmentalism from Toronto blessing advocates towards those who stand apart from their movement and particularly those who dare to criticize it. We would do well to remember that such judgmentalism, however arrogant it seems, does not in itself prove that the Toronto blessing is wrong. After all, judgmentalism against those who disagree is not a monopoly of the Toronto blessing. Reformed people can be just as judgmental towards charismatics and Armenians; but this does not prove that the five points of Calvinism are not true. These sins and follies disgrace us all and prove only that we are people of c clay.
Having said this, the sin of judgmentalism does seem to sit particularly heavily on those who claim to have been spiritually renewed in a remarkable manner. Edwards was talking about sinful judgmentalism among new converts and inexperienced ministers, which showed how immature they were. But what about sinful judgmentalism among those who claim already to be Christians, indeed recognized Christian leaders, and to have had their Christian lives lifted up to new spiritual levels by a second blessing-type experience? One has heard so much about Christians being transformed by special encounters with the Holy Spirit through the Toronto blessing. When such people turn wolf-like on Christians who cannot in good conscience accept the Toronto blessing and issue the most appallingly judgmental statements about them, it makes one wonder what happened to the alleged blessing these people have received - a blessing which (one was led to suppose) had brought them so much closer to the Lamb of God than ever before. Leading British charismatic Clifford Hill, editor of Prophecy Today, who has refused to endorse the Toronto blessing, makes this point in the May 1995 issue of the Prophecy Today newsletter.
We cannot understand how those who claim to have been blessed and filled with a new love for Jesus can be so aggressive towards others who are taking a stand for biblical truth. Indeed, this violent reaction makes us even more hesitant in endorsing it. Jesus taught, "by their fruit you shall know them." If the fruit is acrimonious reviling of other believers it is hardly "good fruit."
Edwards then turned to another criticism of the Great Awakening, that there were
many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work.33
Obviously such a feature of a religious movement could not prove that it was from God: but Edwards was equally clear that it did not necessarily prove it was from the devil. Satanic deceptions, he maintained, could flourish at the same time as a genuine spiritual awakening. The same person could be truly a subject of the Spirit's saving work and yet subject to delusions from the evil one. This, said Edwards, was no more of a mystery than the coexistence of sin and grace in a believer's heart. He gave an example of what he meant by a Satanic delusion:
Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions, by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, or what to do.34
Yet again Edwards returned to the theme of believers claiming to be in immediate contact with heaven apart from the objective, universally available teaching of Scripture. For Edwards, the expectation of direct divine guidance from contemporary revelations, whether through "impulses and impressions", or dreams, visions, prophecies, interpreted tongues, or the utterances of modern apostles, was simply a delusion. To the extent that such things were present in the Great Awakening, they corrupted its purity. But for Edwards, these deceptive beliefs and experiences did not destroy the credibility of the Awakening as a work of God, because they were no central to it; such delusions were not at the heart of the revival, but peripheral. The real heart of the revival, as Edwards was at pains to demonstrate, was the sound conversion of sinners from self, sin, and falsehood, to Christ, holiness and truth, and accompanying this, the quickening of many believers in true faith and the love of holiness.
We are constrained to ask, however, what Edwards would have made of a modern-day Toronto revival (or renewal), in which the things he classed as delusions, far from being peripheral, do lie at the very heart of the movement - are highlighted, promoted, and seen as belonging to the central essence of true Spirit-anointed Christianity. In other words, one could strip all such things away from the Great Awakening without affecting its basic character, and that is precisely why Edwards thought the Awakening was a true work of the Holy Spirit. But could one strip these things away from the Toronto blessing without affecting its basic character? One tends to feel that nothing of importance would be left in Toronto-style renewal, if one purged it of all the elements Edwards would have deemed delusions.
A criticism often leveled today at modern mass-evangelism is the high rate of dropout among its "converts." Critics suggest that this probably points to something defective in the techniques employed, or even in the content of the evangelistic message; but few would take it to mean that the Holy Spirit never works to save sinners through mass-evangelism. In any case, a similar criticism about dropouts was leveled at the Great Awakening in Edwards' day. Critics pointed to apparent converts who then fell away "into gross errors, or scandalous practices."35 Unlike many defenders of present-day mass-evangelism, however, Edwards met this criticism frankly, and openly admitted its truth. His blunt explanation was that those who fell away had had a counterfeit conversion experience. They were false tares among God's wheat. Indeed, Edwards had an amazingly keen awareness of counterfeit Christianity; almost the whole of his Treatise concerning Religious Affections was devoted to showing the difference between true religious experience, and its many plausible but spurious imitations. He was therefore saddened, but not surprised, that many seeming converts of the Great Awakening fell away. He did not hesitate to ascribe this to the activity of Satan in producing bogus conversions.
Edwards spent some time under the heading of his 8th Negative Sign in trying to show that people can display many outward signs of being "subjects of a work of the Spirit" without really being saved at all - "counterfeits'' He pointed to the New Testament instance of Judas Iscariot. Judas's outward signs of apparent Christianity included:
(a) He was one of the twelve apostles chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself;
(b) he was a preacher of the Gospel, commissioned by Christ;
(c) he was endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit;
(d) he was intimate with many true disciples of Christ who never suspected his sincerity.
All this, and yet Judas was not genuinely a subject of the Spirit's saving influences. He was a diabolical counterfeit. Similar examples could be found, Edwards said, from the Reformation and Puritan eras.36
Edwards' powerful note of warning here is very timely, and one can only lament that it does not seem to have much currency in modern circles given over to charismatic renewal, especially Toronto-style. Too often, especially at grass-roots level, it is simply assumed that certain visible experiences are sure signs that a person has received the Holy Spirit and is a true Christian. The Edwardian sensitivity to counterfeit experience, bogus faith and sham works of the Spirit, is tragically absent. One cannot help thinking that Edwards' example of Judas Iscariot is strikingly relevant for many modern charismatics. Here was a man who was an apostle - one publicly and obviously given his apostleship by Christ Himself. Here was a man who had miraculous powers; he could heal diseases and cast out evil spirits (Luke 9:1-2). Here was a man whose life was dedicated to preaching the gospel in all its truth and purity (Luke 9:2 6). Here was a man accepted by other leading Christians, esteemed as one of themselves by the other eleven apostles. Here was Judas; and here was a counterfeit who betrayed his Lord and went to hell. Edwards' message is simple. These things can and do happen. We must be on our guard. There can be apostles, miracles, healings, exorcisms, preaching, and Christian publicity, fame and acceptance - and no genuine saving work of the Spirit.
Some Toronto blessing advocates have actually used the example of Judas Iscariot to ward off criticisms of the heretical "Faith Movement" teachers among whom the blessing originated. The Holy Spirit, they say, worked through Judas, e.g. healing the sick, casting out demons, even though Judas was the child of perdition; so too, the Spirit can work through Faith Movement leaders, like Kenneth Copeland. whose doctrinal teaching is gravely erroneous. But the comparison is wholly false, for two important reasons. First, Judas did not have the power to transmit the Holy Spirit, or the sanctifying presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit, into people's very souls. Yet this is what supposedly happens when a Toronto-style leader lays hands on a person. Judas neither did this nor claimed to be able to do it; when the Spirit worked through Judas's hands, it was to heal people's bodies or cast out demons - neither of which had any connection with a person's eternal salvation. Then secondly, and quite simply, Judas Iscariot did not go around teaching destructive error. The Lord Jesus would never have tolerated that! Judas's public ministry was one of preaching the pure Word of God. When the Holy Spirit worked through Judas's preaching ministry, it was not Judas He was honouring or sanctioning, but the truth Judas taught. So the Spirit has often worked in Church history, converting sinners and edifying saints, and thus giving honour and sanction to the Word of God, even when it has been preached by ungodly or backslidden ministers. But alas, the Faith Movement teachers do not teach the Word of God. They teach destructive error, "another Jesus" and "another gospel." To say that the Holy Spirit is, nevertheless, working through these men to impart unusual spiritual blessing into the very souls of believers, is to say that the Spirit of Truth is honouring and sanctioning diabolical heresy. And that is to implicate the Holy Spirit in falsehood, blasphemy and misleading God's children. Such are the depths to which Toronto blessing apologists will sometimes sink in order to defend their movement against well-founded criticism of its roots and origins.
The last of Edwards' negative signs was the place given to the preaching of God's law, its holy demands and its condemning power by the preachers of the Great Awakening. Critics objected to this facet of the Awakening, that
it seems to be promoted by ministers insisting very much on the terrors of God's holy law, and that with a great deal of pathos and earnestness.37
This shows, of course, that the essential thrust of the Great Awakening was the conversion of sinners, not the renewal of believers. When we preach to believers who have been rescued from hell, it is no longer necessary for us to dwell on the doom that once hung over them. But Edwards and other preachers of the Awakening did dwell on this doom as they preached to the unconverted, and applied "the terrors of God's holy law" to their consciences. Critics objected; surely one could not frighten people into heaven. True, said Edwards, but one can frighten people away from hell - one can terrify the impenitent into listening seriously to the claims of Christ. The fear of hell, if it is based on a true Scriptural belief in the reality of hell, is an eminently reasonable fear in the unbeliever who is on his way to hell. Edwards therefore insisted on the necessity and importance of preaching to the unconverted about hell
I appeal to everyone, whether this is not the very course they would take in case of exposedness to any great temporal calamity? If any of you who are heads of families saw one of your children in a house all on fire, and in imminent danger of being consumed in the flames, yet seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape after you had often called to it - would you go on to speak of it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would you not cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly in delaying, in the most lively manner of which you was capable?.... When ministers preach of hell, and warn sinners to avoid it, in a cold manner - though they may say in words that it is infinitely terrible - they contradict themselves. For actions, as I observed before, have a language as well as words. If a preacher's words represent the sinner's state as infinitely dreadful, while his behaviour and manner of speaking contradict it - showing that the preacher does not think so, he defeats his own purpose; for the language of his actions, in such a case, is much more effectual than the bare signification of his words.38
There are two vital lessons we can learn from what Edwards says here. First, the Great Awakening was obviously characterized by a tremendous spiritual seriousness. The awesomeness of eternity, the reality and imminence of an everlasting heaven and hell, the ultimate fate of the soul, the urgency of true repentance: these things shone through all the preaching and worship. So much was this the case, that critics accused the movement of being too serious, too grave, too much preoccupied with the question of people's eternal destiny, with the terrors of hell and the necessity of conversion. Surely, the critics said, all this emphasis on the awesome is unhealthy and unbalanced? Edwards vigorously refuted the charge. But what would Edwards have made of many of today's worship meetings, especially those influenced by the Toronto blessing, where the spiritual atmosphere is the direct opposite of what we have just seen in the Great Awakening? Seriousness or awesomeness is the last thing one will find in these modern meetings. Indeed the very claim made by their advocates is that God is teaching us how to have fun; it is a big party.39 People get "drunk" on the Spirit. Uncontrolled laughter is the order of the day. Jokes, humour and light-headedness abound in a remarkable measure. Any Toronto apologist who thinks that Jonathan Edwards would have approved of this must surely have kissed a final farewell to his mind. What Edwards approved of was the complete mirror-mirage of such fun-drunk spiritual "parties." Perhaps Edwards was wrong. Perhaps he was spiritually deficient in his sense of humour. But it is profoundly dishonest to appeal to Edwards' name to give credibility to a spiritual ethos he would have abhorred with every fiber of his lofty and reverent soul.
Secondly, let us take Edwards' teaching about hell to our hearts. Let us seek a greater awareness of eternal realities. Let us pray for deliverance from a cold, indifferent way of speaking about heaven and hell to the unconverted. May the Holy Spirit help us vividly to realize the righteous, awesome and fearful fate that awaits our impenitent relatives, friends and acquaintances. May the note of high spiritual seriousness and deep spiritual compassion return to our evangelical preaching and witness. There is something slightly sinister about Christians having a self-indulgent spiritual "party" while the world around them is sliding into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and grinding of teeth, where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. Edwards teaches us that we need to confront the soul-destroying idolatry of entertainment and fun that dominates our society, and appears to be hypnotizing and seducing the Church. We need to hunger and thirst instead for that close consciousness of eternity that so pervaded, cleansed and elevated the minds and hearts of our spiritual forefathers, and made them the spiritual giants they clearly were.
After sketching these nine negative signs, which do not prove that a religious movement either is or is not from God, Edwards then moved on to present five positive signs - five evidences which, if present in a movement or experience, prove that it definitely is from God. On the other hand, if these positive signs are missing, Edwards would have us conclude that such a movement or experience cannot be a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Edwards took these five positive signs from 1 John 4. So let us look at Edwards' positive tests, and try to see how they might apply to the Toronto blessing. This is particularly important in that Toronto advocates positively challenge us to look at the "fruits" of the "blessing" and to judge its authenticity from these fruits.
A true work of the Holy Spirit, Edwards argued, will always lead people into true, orthodox, Scriptural views of the Lord Jesus Christ - Who He is and what He has done. Edwards quoted 1 John 4:2-3:
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.
Edwards specified the following as essential ingredients in an orthodox belief about Christ. One must accept:
(a) His virgin birth;
(b) His divine Sonship within the Trinity;
(c) the fact that He is the Saviour of mankind;
(d) His death on the cross;
(e) His Messiahship;
(f) the historical truth of the Gospel narratives.40
The list was not meant to be exhaustive; presumably Edwards thought that a belief in Christ's bodily resurrection was also fundamental. But Edwards' point remains firm. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and He leads people into truth - especially the truth about Jesus Christ, in Whom all the Father's glory and purposes are treasured up. As the Saviour Himself predicted in His "farewell discourse" in John 14-16:
When the Helper comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth Who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.... He will glorify Me (15:26, 16:13).
A genuine work of the Spirit will focus and concentrate people's minds on Christ, teaching them the truth about Him from the Scriptures. Any seeming revival or renewal which does not give public pride of place to orthodox, Biblical views of Christ stands self-condemned.
Edwards also insisted that this orthodoxy of belief about Christ will be allied to "esteem and affection" towards Him. People will not just believe rightly about Christ; they will also love Christ, glory in Him, and revere Him. Mind and heart, belief and feeling, will be united in embracing the truth of Jesus Christ, the unique eternal Word and Son of God.
Edwards warned people against the spiritual delusion of loving an imaginary Christ. The Christ Who is loved, he said, must be the Christ of the Bible:
the person to whom the Spirit gives testimony, and for whom he raises their esteem, must be that Jesus who appeared in the flesh, and not another Christ in his stead; nor any mystical, fantastical Christ, such as the light within.41
It is not enough that we should have a religious experience which kindles our hearts with love towards someone. That someone must be the true Christ. And that is why orthodox doctrinal belief, and its centrality through Biblical preaching and teaching, are so crucial. It is the only way we can tell whether it is really Christ we are loving, rather than some imaginary spiritual figure we have dreamt up in our own minds, or been deceived into accepting by false teaching or bogus experience. We remember the apostle Paul's warning about accepting "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4).
Here, then, was Edwards' first positive sign of a true work of the Holy Spirit. Such a work will throw its spotlight on orthodox belief in the Christ of the Bible, and enthrone that Christ in people's affections as their true Beloved. The centrality of the Biblical Christ, His person and saving work, doctrinally understood and spiritually loved, was (for Edwards) an essential test of any religious experience or movement.
One hesitates to try to apply this test in some generalized way to all charismatic experiences and movements of renewal. But certainly the overwhelming impression one gains from the Toronto blessing is the centrality, not of Christ, but of self. The spotlight is on the wonderful religious experiences that self can have. "You too can get drunk on the Holy Spirit, and have marvelous feelings of being appreciated and hugged and kissed by God": this sort of thing tends to be the loudest note. In his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, Edwards issued the following warning about spiritual hypocrisy:
And hence it comes to pass, that in their rejoicings and elevations, hypocrites are wont to keep their eye upon themselves; having received what they call spiritual discoveries, their minds are taken up about their own experiences; and not the glory of God, or the beauty of Christ. They keep thinking with themselves, what a good experience is this! what a great discovery is this! what wonderful things have I met with! and so they put their experiences in the place of Christ, his beauty and fullness. Instead of rejoicing in Christ Jesus, they rejoice in their admirable experiences.42
Do Toronto-style meetings and writings focus people's minds on the sound, orthodox, Scriptural doctrine of Jesus Christ's divine-human person and atoning work? A particular experience, rather than the Christ of the Bible, is central in this movement. Even its theology (such as it is) is mainly an attempt to give theological justification for the all-important experience. Sadly, therefore, one cannot escape the strong impression that advocates of the Toronto blessing have fallen headlong into Edwards' trap, and "put their experiences in the place of Christ."
Further, in view of Edwards' great emphasis on orthodox views of Christ, extremely serious questions have to be asked about the Christology of Rodney Howard-Browne, and others involved in the Toronto blessing. In his teaching ministry, Rodney Howard-Browne, the human spearhead of the Toronto blessing, sets forth a view of Christ which, by the standards of classic orthodox Christology, is gravely in error. For example, in his book The Touch Of God: A Practical Handbook on the Anointing, Howard-Browne teaches that when the Son of God became man, he laid aside His divine nature and effectively ceased to be God while He was here on earth. To quote Howard-Browne:
Nothing Jesus did was because He was the Son of God. The Bible says He laid aside His royal robes of deity, and when He walked the earth He did so as a prophet under the Abrahamic covenant.43
Howard-Browne's view of the incarnation reduces Christ to the status of a mere prophet, a Spirit filled man. This is part and parcel of Howard-Browne's view of the "anointing" of the Spirit. Jesus, the human prophet, was anointed with the Spirit, and did all His mighty works simply as a Spirit-filled man; we too can be anointed with the same Spirit, and do the same mighty works as Spirit-filled men and women. This doctrine of the incarnation effectively destroys the atonement, for if Christ offered Himself to His Father, not as the Son of God, but only "as a prophet under the Abrahamic covenant", such a mere human offering could not have saved anyone. Moreover, Scripture assures us that Christ offered Himself, not only as the Son of God (Galatians 2:20), but also in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). The incarnate Christ did His mighty works both as the Son of God and in the power of the Spirit. Son and Spirit cannot be disjoined. Howard-Browne has disjoined them to the point of stripping Christ of His divine Sonship altogether and degrading Him to the rank of a Spirit-anointed human prophet. This is very far from being anything that Jonathan Edwards, or the early Church fathers, or Reformers, or Puritans, would have recognized as even remotely orthodox or Scriptural. It is deeply disturbing that such a false Christology should lie at the heart of Rodney Howard-Browne's beliefs about the work of the Spirit - and Howard-Browne is the fountainhead of the Toronto blessing .
In fact, Howard-Browne's unorthodoxy about Christ should not surprise us. His spiritual roots are firmly in the so-called "Faith Movement" of Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, otherwise known as the "health, wealth and prosperity gospel" or the "Rhema Bible Church." Many readers of this book will probably have seen video footage of Howard-Browne and Copeland speaking to and joking with each other "in tongues." What will probably not be so well-known is that the Faith Movement's views of the person and work of Christ are so grossly heretical that the movement - or at least its leaders - ought to be stripped immediately of the title "Christian." Hagin, Copeland and other Faith leaders openly deny that the blood and cross of Christ have any saving or atoning power. Indeed, they display an almost contemptuous attitude to the cross. According to them, what happened on the cross was not at all that Christ atoned for our sins, but that He lost His divine nature and received instead the spiritual nature of Satan, which is why He cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Then, having died both spiritually and physically, Jesus (with His new Satanic nature) went literally into hell, where He was tortured for three days and three nights by demons. It was this spiritual and demonic torment in hell, the Faith Movement teaches, which was the true atonement for man's sin. (The Bible teaches that Jesus went to paradise, not hell, after His atoning death, because Biblically speaking, the true work of atonement by blood-sacrifice was finished on the cross. See John 19:30 and Luke 23:43.) At the end of the three days and three nights of spiritual torture in hell, the Jesus of the Faith Movement was "spiritually born again", the first man ever to experience the new birth, losing the Satanic nature and re-acquiring the divine nature. Furthermore, every Christian receives the divine nature in just the same sense that Jesus had it; we too are incarnations of God - or, as Copeland puts it, "Jesus is no longer the only-begotten Son of God."44
Let us speak plainly. These views are simply not Christianity. They are a different religion. The denial of Christ's unique deity, and of the atoning power of His blood and cross, and a belief that every Christian is as much a divine incarnation as Jesus was, are deviations from truth so grave that he who believes them without repenting will die in his sins. Yet it was here, in this deeply heretical Faith Movement, that the Toronto blessing was born. Many months before it reached Toronto, Copeland and Howard-Browne were already dispensing the "blessing" to thousands in Faith meetings. So inevitably one asks oneself: How can this be the Spirit of Truth at work, if exactly the same spiritual experiences and phenomena which are now sweeping believers off their feet originated with heretics who cannot be considered Christians at all? It defies reason to think that a euphoric religious experience that can be happily shared by believers and heretical unbelievers alike (and began with the unbelievers) is consistent with or a product of the one true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, if a strange religious movement began among the Mormons, and was then transmitted to "evangelicals" through a man commissioned by the Mormons, we would unhesitatingly regard it as spiritual deception and poison. The Toronto blessing is no different: Rodney Howard-Browne, its leading figure, was commissioned by Kenneth Copeland and is deeply implicated in the heretical Faith Movement. Toronto apologists are fond of telling us to "look at the fruits" of their movement. It is far more important for us to "look at the roots." The tree is diabolically bad; any supposedly good fruits which grow from this tree of poisoned experience, rather than from true repentance and faith in God's Word, must be regarded as sweet but deceptive counterfeits. So Jonathan Edwards would certainly have reasoned, with his insistence on orthodox views of Jesus Christ as an indispensable sign of a true work of the Spirit.
In one sense, it is of course deeply depressing that so many professing believers are so breathtakingly doctrinally ignorant and undiscerning, quite prepared to open up their minds to any spirit that promises peace and joy and love. But in another sense, we should be glad that it has happened. The Toronto blessing will force more and more people to think and work out what they believe Christianity actually is. Is it a Scriptural religion of understanding, believing, and obeying God's Word? Or is it a content-free mysticism of emotional highs and spiritual blowouts, liberally sprinkled with Christian language but lacking Christian substance? We should not hesitate or be ashamed to take sides on this issue. Let us take to our hearts (especially if we are in positions of Christian leadership) the charge to newly ordained presbyters in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: "Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations"? If we are not ready, God will require it of us; and He will not be impressed by specious excuses about not wanting to be controversial or to divide the Body of Christ. The Toronto blessing has already divided and poisoned the Body. The only question now is whether we will stand by and allow our Lord's beloved Church to continue to be divided and poisoned by this alien spirit. In these circumstances, the fearful price of woolly-mindedness or cowardice is simply not worth contemplating, let alone paying.
Edwards' second positive sign of an authentic work of the Spirit was that it would draw people's minds and hearts away from this present world and life, and focus them instead on the next - on heaven and eternity, on second coming, final judgment, and new creation. Edwards quoted 1 John 4:4-5:
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.
The apostle John here, Edwards argued, continues his contrast between those influenced by the Spirit of God and by false spirits. The contrast now focuses on people's relationship to "the world." The Holy Spirit, Edwards said, works
to lessen men's esteem of the pleasures, profits, and honors of the world, and to take off their hearts from an eager pursuit of these things; and to engage them in a deep concern about a future state and eternal happiness that the gospel reveals - and puts them upon earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness...45
Edwards particularly insisted that the Spirit works in people's consciences and creates a new sensitivity to sin. This present world of lost humanity is marked by slavery to sin in its infinitely various forms; but those awakened by the Holy Spirit become marked by the following antiworldly characteristics:
(a) they see "the dreadfulness of sin";
(b) they become "exceedingly afraid of' sin because of its awful consequences;
(c) they become conscious of "their great need of deliverance from their guilt";
(d) they become "careful, inquisitive, and watchful to discern what is sinful; and to avoid future sins."46
And therefore, if we see persons made sensible of the dreadful nature of sin, and of the displeasure of God against it; of their own miserable condition as they are in themselves, by reason of sin, and earnestly concerned for their eternal salvation - and sensible of their need of God's pity and help, and engaged to seek it in the use of the means that God has appointed - we may certainly conclude that it is from the Spirit of God, whatever effect this concern has on their bodies; though it cause them to cry out aloud, or to shriek, or to faint; or, though it throw them into convulsions, or whatever other way the blood and spirits are moved.47
We observe once more here the kind of bodily effects Edwards was prepared to tolerate: the physical overflow of religious emotion, awakened by overpowering convictions of Biblical truth. Truth shining from Scripture into the mind, not hands of charismatic leaders waving over the body, constituted the source of whatever bodily effects Edwards would permit. However, the real question is whether we see in the Toronto blessing any of the spiritual effects Edwards described Is the movement characterized by the way it produces deep moral conviction of sin? Does it make people sharply aware of God's infinitely holy hatred and wrath against sin? Does it grip people's souls with the belief that the one supremely desirable blessing is eternal salvation from the outer darkness of hell into the uncreated light of heaven? Apparently not.
The influence of the Spirit of God is yet more abundantly manifest, if persons have their hearts drawn off from the world, and weaned from the objects of their worldly lusts, and taken off from worldly pursuits, by the sense they have of the excellency of divine things, and the affection they have to those spiritual enjoyments of another world, that are promised in the gospel.48
Here is the positive spiritual quality Edwards looked for: not wonderful feelings, not emotional euphoria, but an abiding consciousness of eternity. He wanted to see people surrendering the sinful dream of any kind of heaven on earth, whether through material possessions, pleasures, marriage or any other temporary thing. He expected, in those truly influenced by God's Spirit, a life governed by the anticipation of the next life, and a sense of the supreme beauty, value and desirableness of "divine things" over all worldly, created vanities. In short, Edwards thought a true work of the Spirit would summon people to die to self and the world. There was to be a death, in order that there might be a life. The sinful ego, addicted to created things and self boosting feelings, must be crucified with Christ. Only in such bloodstained soil could the new life flourish, where holy love for a holy God (not our feeling of being loved by God) was the foremost and finest flower. Is this the "experience" promoted by the Toronto blessing? Again, apparently not.
Edwards took his third positive sign from 1 John 4:6:
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Edwards interpreted the "we" and "us" of this verse as a reference by the apostle John to himself and the other New Testament apostles. By extension, Edwards argued, the reference also includes all who, like the apostles, were directly inspired by God to deliver infallible teaching to the Church - all true prophets of both Old and New Testament times. Such prophets and apostles were "of God", i e. appointed and sent by Him to be His authoritative mouthpieces. The sign that a person "knows God" is that he listens to God's truth, spoken through His inspired ambassadors. This test is still valid today, because the prophets and apostles still speak today through their inspired writings the holy Scriptures. For us, then, living in the post-apostolic era, the mark of a person influenced by the Spirit of Truth is his submission to Scripture. He "hears" the Scriptural witness of the prophets and apostles - listens humbly and obediently, as a docile pupil. He does not make up his own religion, but receives God's religion from the inspired Word. "By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."
The Holy Spirit, then, according to Edwards, when He is genuinely at work converting sinners or renewing saints,
operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity,
and He will beget
a regard to that divine word which God has given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters, and all concerns of their souls, in all ages.49
Edwards quoted Isaiah 8:20:
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
A true work of the Spirit will make people stick close to Scripture, accepting it as the only guide and authority "in all religious matters and all concerns of their souls." Finally, Edwards maintained that the Holy Spirit will also give people a deep love of Scripture, and a practical commitment to study and understand it. People's "esteem" and "affection" for the Bible will be raised high.
The centrality of Scripture in the Great Awakening and other similar revivals is beyond dispute. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for all too many modern charismatic renewal or revival meetings. The ones the present writer has attended, especially the Toronto blessing conference in Edinburgh in October 1994, have been marked by a notable absence of Scripture, either read out or expounded. This is a common criticism made of large sections of the charismatic movement and need not be dwelt on. It is revealing, however, that some charismatic leaders themselves are now coming to the same conclusion. The report Charismatic Crossroads, recently put together by British charismatic leaders such as Clifford Hill (editor of the magazine Prophecy Today, makes sobering if not chilling reading for its critique of the ignorance of Scripture that marks many charismatic fellowships.
One also wonders where exactly the distinctive manifestations of the Toronto blessing fit into Edwards' belief that the Spirit always leads people into submission to Scripture. When people laugh hysterically as though "zapped" by spiritual laughing gas, does the experience make them accept the Bible as the unique, all-sufficient guide "in all religious matters and all concerns of their souls"? When people roar and crawl about like lions, or crow and strut about like cockerels, does the experience leave them with a new resolve to stick fast by Scripture as "the great and standing rule" whose guidelines must never be overstepped? If that were the result of these Toronto-style experiences, it would place those affected in a curious position. Their first question would have to be, 'What does Scripture (the one and only spiritual guide to which I now submit with a new love and docility) say about the experiences I have just had?" The answer, of course, will be disenchanting, because it can be summed up in the word "Nothing." This then leads people either to bizarre misinterpretations of any and every Scripture verse that mentions laughter or an animal, or to a rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture - "It doesn't matter that Scripture says nothing about these things, because this is a new work of the Spirit." Worst of all, it leads to the delivery and acceptance of new theological revelations, as in the case of Glenda Waddell and Holy Trinity Brompton. None of this is the fruit of submission to Scripture that Edwards was looking for.
For his fourth sign, Edwards dwelt on the last part of 1 John 4:6:
By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
The Holy Spirit, Edwards stated, always operates as a Spirit of Truth. He makes people understand, believe and prize the truth. The "truth" Edwards had in mind was, of course, religious truth - the truth taught by Scripture about God, man, sin and salvation. He then mentioned a number of the fundamental religious truths of Scripture which the Spirit of Truth would always impress on people's souls, if He was genuinely at work in them.
(a) the existence of God;
(b) the greatness of God;
(c) God's moral purity - "that He is a sin-hating God";
(d) the shortness and uncertainty of life on earth;
(e) the reality of eternity;
(f) the immortality of the soul,
(g) the certainty of divine judgment;
(h) our desperate sinfulness of nature and practice;
(i) our spiritual impotence to help or save ourselves.50
Edwards added that there were some other basic truths he had not specified here - perhaps because he had already sketched them under Positive Sign 1, orthodox views of Christ.
One is struck once again by the awesomeness and seriousness of the truths Edwards was so concerned about. If the Holy Spirit impressed the truths listed above into someone's soul, one somehow doubts that the person would respond by rip-roaring laughter or crowing like a cock.
Truth, however, is not at the centre of these irrational Toronto experiences. But then, truth objective, Scriptural, doctrinal truth - has never been very prominent in most forms of charismatic spirituality. One is reminded of the rebuke which pioneer charismatic Edward Irving delivered to his pastoral assistant David Brown, when Brown rejected the tongue-speaking and prophecy of Irving's day: "Sir, your intellect has destroyed you."51 But mind and truth go together: like man and woman, they were made for each other. It is not surprising that the suspicion and even hostility shown towards the mind and rational thinking in much that passes for charismatic spirituality, is linked with a general lack of concern for doctrinal truth, and an often uncritical hunger for supernatural manifestations and mind-blowing emotional highs. This tendency seems to have reached its climax in the Toronto blessing. Not truth, but outlandish physical and emotional forms of experience occupy centre stage, and what little Toronto theology exists is devoted to defending and commending these experiences. It is difficult to think that Edwards would have seen such a religious movement as satisfying his fourth positive criterion of a true work of the Spirit of God.
Edwards' fifth and final sign of a true work of the Spirit was taken from 1 John 4:7ff. When the Holy Spirit is at work, He always "operates as a spirit of love to God and man":52
If someone says "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (4:20, 5:2-3.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.... Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (4:7 11).
First, then. the Holy Spirit always promotes love for God. He brings people to
high and exalting thoughts of the Divine Being, and his glorious perfections; and works in them an admiring, delightful sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ; representing him as the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, and makes him precious to the soul....53
In his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, Edwards went into more detail about the nature of a true love for God. He particularly emphasized that true love for God is not based on a feeling of how much God loves us. It is based, rather, on a spiritual perception of the supreme beauty of God Himself, regardless of whether He loves us. Edwards criticized those who said that
it is impossible in the nature of things for any man to love God, or any other being, but that love to himself must be the foundation of it.54
On the contrary, Edwards maintained,
the first foundation of a true love to God, is that whereby he is in himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of his nature.... God's nature, or the divinity, is infinitely excellent; yea it is infinite beauty, brightness, and glory itself. But how can that be true love of this excellent and lovely nature, which is not built on the foundation of its true loveliness? how can that be true love of beauty and brightness, which is not for beauty and brightness' sake? how can that be a true prizing of that which is in itself infinitely worthy and precious, which is not for the sake of its worthiness and preciousness?55
True love for God is God-centred. It does not arise primarily out of a feeling of God love for us. That, Edwards argued, is simply the natural principle of self-love at work. He cited Luke 6:32:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
Those in whom the Holy Spirit works savingly, Edwards maintained, love God in a different manner
They do not first see that God loves them, and then see that he is lovely; but they first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious; their hearts are first captivated with this view.... The saints' affections begin with God.56
Edwards defined God's beauty as His holiness:
Holy persons, in the exercise of their holy affections, love divine things primarily for their holiness; they love God, in the first place, for the beauty of his holiness, or moral perfection, as being supremely amiable in itself.57
It is crucial that we bear this in mind in any attempt to evaluate claims that a religious experience has moved someone to love God more. Edwards would have us ask: "Why does he love God more? Is it merely because he has been overwhelmed with a feeling of being loved by God? Or is it mainly because he has seen, in a new way, the stunning beauty of God's holy perfection? Is it a basically God-centred love for God, or a merely self-centred love for God?" Of course, Edwards may be wrong on this point. But we are dealing with Toronto apologists who are appealing to Edwards' teaching In these circumstances, one should not ignore such a central emphasis in Edwards' whole conception of loving God.
This true love for God, Edwards taught, will give birth to several vital spiritual fruits:
(a) it will make us delight in God's attributes, "as revealed in the gospel";
(b) it will make us long for personal communion with the Father and the Son, and hunger for Their presence;
(c) it will make us desire to be like Them - to be conformed to Their pure, perfect, holy character;
(d) it will make the desire to please God as our Beloved into the chief motive of our daily living.58
Edwards then outlined what he understood by a true love for our neighbor. It involved three main elements:
(a) a general compassion and kindness to all people, especially a desire for peace;
(b) a desire to see sinners converted;
(c) a special delight in those who give evidences of being God's children and Christ's disciples.59
Edwards proceeded to warn against a counterfeit brotherly love. This, he said, was common among "enthusiasts" - those taken in by some spiritual deception. They love each other simply because they agree with each other and are brought together by being ridiculed by the rest of mankind. But this is not Christian love at all; it is self-love. It is no different in principle from
the union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates, that are at war with all the rest of the world.60
In order to bring out the difference between true Christian love and its counterfeits, Edwards suggested four distinguishing signs which will always mark the love of the genuine Christian:
(a) It arises from spiritual causes, from seeing "the wonderful riches of the free grace and sovereignty of God's love to us, in Christ Jesus."
(b) It is always allied to "a sense of our own utter unworthiness", and a deep realization that we are "the enemies and haters of God by nature."
(c) It is accompanied by "a renunciation of all our own excellency and righteousness" - the death of all self-centred claims to personal worth and goodness in the sight of God.
(d) Above all, true Christian love is distinguished by humility - by "self-diffidence, self-emptiness, self-renunciation and poverty of spirit." It is a love pervaded all through by a sense of our own "littleness, vileness, weakness, and utter insufficiency." It is a love which "renounces, abases, and annihilates what we term self."61 He cited Paul's "hymn to love" in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked.
Edwards' insistence on the radical anti-self nature of the Holy Spirit's work forms a striking contrast to much modern teaching on the psychological necessity of self-love, self-worth and self-esteem. This notion, derived from secular psychotherapy, has been embraced and "spiritualised" by large sections of the evangelical world. It was reproduced at the Toronto blessing meeting the present writer attended in October 1994, where the entire content of the teaching offered by this supposedly Spirit-inspired movement was on the need of self to feel loved, valued, appreciated, and "hugged and kissed" by God - an experience which, it was proclaimed, would be granted through the Toronto blessing. But from an Edwardian point of view, this lop-sided, self-orientated attitude is a sure sign of spiritual disease. True Christian love does not demand self-fulfillment. It "renounces, abases, and annihilates" self. This is because the child of God has found Someone else far more beautiful and desirable than petty self to gaze on; his life now revolves around loving God and fulfilling His will. As Edwards has already said, the desire to please the Beloved is the Christian's chief motive in daily life. And the Beloved is not self, for the kingdom of ego has beer dismantled and replaced by the Kingdom of Christ. The search for self-fulfilling, self-pleasing religious experiences which seems so prevalent in Toronto circles (although not only there) is the polar opposite of what Edwards meant by true, self-annihilating Christian love for God and one's neighbor.
Edwards concluded this section on positive signs thus;
And therefore when there is an extraordinary influence or operation appearing on the minds of a people, if these things [the five positive signs] are found in it, we are safe in determining that it is the work of God, whatever other circumstances it may be attended with, whatever instruments are used, whatever methods are taken to promote it; whatever means a sovereign God, whose judgments are a great deep, employs to carry it on; and whatever motion there may be of the animal spirits, whatever effects may be wrought on men's bodies.62
Taken out of context, this passage is yet another weapon in the Toronto armory, proving that Edwards might have favored the Toronto blessing. But we have already seen what Edwards meant by an "extraordinary influence": not bizarre manifestations, but unusually great conviction of sin, great sense of God's reality and glory, great God-centred spiritual emotions, and great numbers of unbelievers being converted. When Edwards says "whatever other circumstances it may be attended with", and so on, we have seen how he takes it for granted that the doctrinal content and spiritual experiences of a revival must clearly be within the all-sufficient limits and guidelines of God's Word - "the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters, and all concerns of their souls." The "other circumstances" he outlined in his nine negative signs. And when Edwards says "whatever effects may be wrought on men's bodies", we have seen what sort of bodily effects Edwards was discussing. He did not mean people being invaded and possessed by spiritual forces which make them fall over, laugh hysterically or behave like animals. He meant the impact of eternal truth on the mind and heart, so powerful that it kindles mighty spiritual emotions towards God which affect the body.
Edwards' conclusion, rightly understood, means that the five positive signs of a true work of God's Spirit, if they are present, show that a religious movement or experience is genuinely from God. The five signs, we recall, are orthodox views of Christ, heavenly-mindedness, submission to Scripture, knowing the truth, and true love for God and man. These must be the outstanding features which occupy centre-stage in any authentic revival or renewal. These are the things it must overwhelmingly emphasize, proclaim and promote. Such holy qualities, as Edwards expounded them, seem to the present writer to be painfully inconsistent with the content and effects of the Toronto blessing But the opinion of an individual is not particularly relevant. The onus lies on those who have used the name of Edwards as a shield to protect the Toronto blessing from criticism, and give it respectability: Let them summon up the honesty and courage to re-assess their beliefs, experiences and practices in the bright and cleansing light of what Edwards really said. Then they might receive an "Edwards blessing." It could change their lives.
In Edwards' final section, he drew out three practical lessons to be learned from his previous discussion. There is much wisdom here. In particular, there are passages to which Toronto apologists have wrongly appealed, whose real meaning needs to be explored. And there is Edwards' all-important treatment of gifts of the Spirit, usually ignored by Toronto blessing advocates who have claimed Edwards as their ally.
Applying his five positive signs from 1 John 4, Edwards concluded that the Awakening was (broadly speaking) a genuine work of God. We need not follow him through his lengthy arguments to this effect. But we will look at one of the objections to the Awakening made by its critics, because Toronto apologists have seized on Edwards' response as providing justification for the Toronto blessing:
Some object against it as a great confusion, when there is a number together in such circumstances [a religious assembly] making a noise; and say, God cannot be the author of it; because he is the God of order, not of confusion. But let it be considered, what is the proper notion of confusion, but the breaking that order of things, whereby they are properly disposed, and duly directed to their end so that the order and due connexion of means being broken, they fail of their end.63
In other words, the "confusion" that Scripture condemns (1 Corinthians 14:33 & 40) is the disruption of a religious gathering which prevents it from attaining to its desired end. But what is the desired end? Edwards continued:
Now the conviction of sinners for their conversion is the obtaining of the end of religious means. Not but that I think the persons thus extraordinarily moved, should endeavor to refrain from such outward manifestations, what they well can, and should refrain to their utmost, at the time of their solemn worship. But if God is pleased to convince the consciences of persons, so that they cannot avoid great outward manifestations, even to interrupting and breaking off those public means they were attending, I do not think this is confusion, or an unhappy interruption, any more than if a company should meet on the field to pray for rain, and should be broken off from their exercise by a plentiful shower. Would to God that all the public assemblies in the land were broken off from their public exercises with such confusion as this the next sabbath day!.... He who is going to fetch a treasure need not be sorry that he is stopped, by meeting the treasure in the midst of his journey.64
Some Toronto blessing advocates have used this passage to justify the interruption and disruption of worship services by outbreaks of hysterical laughter or other bizarre physical manifestations among believers. But any reasonable person reading the passage must see that this is not even remotely what Edwards was talking about. For a start, Edwards' whole concern here is quite explicitly with the conversion of unbelievers. This, he says, is the great desired end of our religious gatherings. If therefore sinners are converted during a service, in such a way that it "interrupts" the service and brings it to an unexpected end, we should rejoice. This is not confusion. It is the very thing we were hoping and praying and preaching for.
The conversion of an unbeliever from sin and hell to Christ and heaven is worlds away from the emotional self-indulgence and exhibitionism of professing Christians who writhe with hysterical laughter and cavort about like various animals. Are these experiences the great desired end of a religious gathering? Perhaps they are, for Toronto blessing advocates. But they were certainly not, for Jonathan Edwards. And if Toronto apologists try to point away from the bizarre outward manifestations to the inner experience which induces it, claiming that this is the desired end of our gatherings, one must again dissent Edwards said that the experience of conversion was the desired end. Toronto apologists say that an experience of inner euphoria for those already converted is the desired end The two things are utterly different. It should be clear enough by now, from what we have seen of Edwards' teaching, that he did not in any case approve of such self-exalting feelings of joy, devoid as they are of the self-annihilating conviction of sin and prostration before God's awesome holiness which Edwards thought absolutely essential to any true rejoicing in God. We recall how he condemned laughter as an expression of spiritual joy. Immediately after the passage quoted above, Edwards went on to say that even true Christians
have had their bodily strength taken away with a sense of the glorious excellency of the Redeemer, and the wonders of his dying love; with a very uncommon sense of their own littleness and exceeding vileness attending it, with all expressions and appearances of the greatest abasement and abhorrence of themselves. Not only new converts, but many who were, as we hope, formerly converted, have had their love and joy attended with a flood of tears, and a great appearance of contrition and humiliation, especially for their having lived no more to Gods glory since their conversion. These have had a far greater sight of their vileness, and the evil of their hearts, than they ever had; with an exceeding earnestness of desire to live better for the time to come, but attended with greater self-diffidence than ever.65
The phrases I have italicized show how far away the "renewal" experiences of believers in the Great Awakening were from the great "fun party" that Toronto blessing people are getting drunk on today.
We have looked at it before, but it is worth noticing again in the passage on "interruptions" of a religious assembly, that Edwards positively exhorts people not to give way to any outward expression of inner experience, liable to disrupt the meeting, if they can possibly help it. The jarring contrast between this and the modern pursuit and glorification of these outward manifestations is too obvious to require any comment.
Edwards was convinced that the Great Awakening was truly a mighty work of God the Holy Spirit. He thought there was enough evidence of this to persuade any reasonable, fair-minded Christian who would take Scripture alone as his guide. Therefore Edwards exhorted the Church of his day:
Let us all be hence ..warned by no means to oppose, or do anything in the least to clog or hinder; the work; but, on the contrary, do our utmost to promote it.66
Toronto blessing advocates issue the same exhortation to the Church today. The difference, of course, is that the Toronto blessing is not the Great Awakening. The two movements are vastly distinct in their origins, their spiritual ethos, and in the doctrines they promote. We must also say that Edwards never tried to bully or pressurize people into supporting (or not criticizing) the Great Awakening. His warning came at the end of a highly rational, lucidly argued presentation of Scriptural teaching about the nature of the Holy Spirit's work, and a careful, discerning examination of what was happening in the Awakening. And we should recollect that in the course of this argument, Edwards himself criticized much that was going on under the banner of revival. His Treatise concerning Religious Affections rejects many beliefs and experiences which were popular during revival then, and are still popular today. Only at this point, in the light of such a calm appeal to reason and Scripture, did Edwards finally put it to his readers that they would be guilty of great sin in opposing this movement of the Spirit:
We had better speak against God the Father, or the Son, than to speak against the Holy Spirit in his gracious operations on the hearts of men. Nothing will so much tend for ever to prevent our having any benefit of his operations on our own souls....If there be any who still resolutely go on to speak contemptibly of these things, I would beg of them to take heed that they be not guilty of the unpardonable sin.67
Wise and sober words for unbelievers who persist in opposing true works of the Spirit, although one assumes that Edwards, as a sound Calvinist, did not believe that a true Christian could commit the unpardonable sin. (Christ's warning about the unpardonable sin was addressed to unbelieving Pharisees - see Matthew 12:22-37). However, it leaves unanswered our present-day question, whether the Toronto blessing really is the work of the Holy Spirit. And we have seen many excellent reasons from Edwards himself to believe that it is not. Still, on one point both Edwards and Toronto apologists are agreed and are surely right: we must take sides. Neutrality is a dead option. Edwards had some harsh words to say about those who tried to sit on the fence regarding the Great Awakening.
This pretended prudence, in persons waiting so long before they acknowledged this work, will probably in the end prove the greatest imprudence. Hereby they will fail of any share of so great a blessing, and will miss the most precious opportunity of obtaining divine light, grace, and comfort, heavenly and eternal benefits, that God ever gave in New England.68
We could apply the same Edwardian reasoning to those evangelical leaders and ministers who adopt the "sit on the fence, wait and see" posture towards the Toronto blessing. If this movement is a true work of God, Edwards would say, these men are excluding themselves (and by their example, others) from a precious opportunity of obtaining divine light, grace and comfort. But if it is not of God, their neutrality could act as an encouragement to others to try out a destructive counterfeit experience - because after all, their pastor did not say it was harmful. Such are the perils of fence-sitting. Edwards expressed his amazement at the 18th century fence-sitters who were content to remain in a no-man's land of neutrality towards the Awakening,
without taking thorough pains to inform themselves, by going where such things have been to be seen, narrowly observing and diligently inquiring into them; not contenting themselves with observing two or three instances, nor resting till they were fully informed by their own observation.69
This point is plainly valid for us today. Let no-one accept the Toronto blessing, and let no-one reject it, unless they have thoroughly informed themselves first, and know what they are accepting or rejecting, and why.
Edwards' final practical inference was in some ways the most relevant to our modern situation. He warned that the Great Awakening, although a true work of the Holy Spirit, was in, danger of being spoilt and undermined by the sins and follies of believers. One of the gravest perils, he felt, was the temptation to spiritual pride. He admonished converts and renewed believers against
self-exalting reflections upon what we have received, and high thoughts of ourselves, as being now some of the most eminent saints and peculiar favorites of heaven, and that the secret of the Lord is especially with us. Let us not presume, that we above all are fit to be advanced as the great instructors and censors of this evil generation; and, in a high conceit of our own wisdom and discerning, assume to ourselves the airs of prophets, or extraordinary ambassadors of heaven. When we have great discoveries of God made to our souls, we should not shine bright in our own eyes.70
The elitism Edwards warned against is always a danger to those who have (or think they have) been specially blessed or favored by God. Non-charismatic Calvinists who glory in their orthodoxy are just as prone to it as the most spiritually drunk neo-pentecostals. But Edwards' warning about not assuming "the airs of prophets" has a particular application to charismatics, some of whose leaders not only assume the airs, but boldly claim the office of prophet and of apostle. And this brings us to the broadest and deepest dividing line that separates Edwards from the modern charismatics who have tried to shelter beneath his wing. Edwards did not believe in the continuing validity of any of those spiritual gifts which are so precious to Toronto advocates and central to their theology, church life and movements of renewal or revival.
Edwards warned the awakened Church of his own day against accepting charismatic teaching. There were no Pentecostal denominations in the 18th century, but intelligent Christians were aware of the appearance of charismatic manifestations among sectarian groupings on the outer limits of the Church. In his Some Thoughts on the Present Revival, Edwards mentioned the Camisards, or "French prophets", a group that sprang up among the persecuted Protestants of southern France in the early 18th century. From a bygone age he also referred to the Montanists, charismatics of the 2nd century who were ejected from the early Church.71 These and other movements had practiced what they alleged were the extraordinary supernatural or miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as tongues, prophecy and receiving direct revelations through dreams, visions and impressions. But Edwards classed them all as "enthusiasts" - people who had fallen prey to spiritual deception.72 He did this because of his belief that these gifts had ceased after the apostolic age, in harmony with God's purpose. This belief he now expounded in the Distinguishing Marks, as he warned friends of the Awakening not to have anything to do with such false claims:
Some of the true friends of the work of God's Spirit have erred in giving too much heed to impulses and strong impressions on their minds, as though they were immediate significations from heaven to them, of something that should come to pass, or something that it was the mind and will of God that they should do, which was not signified or revealed anywhere in the Bible without those impulses. These impressions, if they are truly from the Spirit of God, are of a quite different nature from his gracious influences on the hearts of the saints: they are of the nature of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and are properly inspiration, such as the prophets and apostles and others had of old; which the apostle distinguishes from the grace of the Spirit, 1 Cor xiii.73
Spiritual impulses, overwhelming impressions, immediate revelations as a source of guidance we are in the familiar territory of charismatic spirituality (and some types of non-charismatic evangelical spirituality). If these things are truly from God, Edwards argued, they are equivalent to "inspiration" - that is, to being inspired by God in the sense of receiving direct revelation (This theological use of the word "inspired" should not be confused with the modern use of the term to mean simply "emotionally fired-up" ) But why should evangelicals in Edwards' day have needed warning against a belief in such things? Edwards explained:
One reason why some have been ready to lay weight on such impulses, is an opinion they have had, that the glory of the approaching happy days of the church would partly consist in restoring those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. This opinion, I believe, arises partly through want of duly considering and comparing the nature and value of those two kinds of influences of the Spirit, viz. those that are ordinary and gracious, and those that are extraordinary and miraculous.74
By "the glory of the approaching happy days of the church", Edwards was again referring to the postmillennial belief then prevalent among English-speaking evangelicals, which looked for a time of worldwide spiritual blessing after the conversion of the Jews. Some, it seems, thought that this spiritual millennium might be preceded or inaugurated by a restoration of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. A similar view was held by Edward Irving and the Catholic Apostolic Church in the 1 9th century, and has also influenced many modern charismatics. Jonathan Edwards would have nothing to do with it. He argued from 1 Corinthians 13 that the Holy Spirit's extraordinary gifts (apostleship, prophecy, tongues, etc.) were limited to the apostolic age:
The apostle speaks of these gifts of inspiration as childish things, in comparison of the influence of the Spirit in divine love; things given to the church only to support it in its minority. till the church should have a complete standing rule established, and all the ordinary means of grace should be settled; but as things that should cease, as the church advanced to the state of manhood.75
The extraordinary, supernatural, miraculous gifts of the Spirit were bestowed for a particular time and purpose, to strengthen the Church in its early infancy until the New Testament had been fully written ("till the church should have a complete standing rule established"). When people today express the wish that the Church should be as it was in New Testament times, they probably do not realize that they are actually wishing the Church to be deprived of the New Testament. The infant Church had only the Old Testament. The New was not completed until the end of the 1st century. In the absence of a New Testament, a primary function of the Spirit's extraordinary gifts was to supply each congregation with revelations of God's mind and will, as perfectly embodied in Jesus Christ. Edwards' argument was that once the New Testament had been finished, the Church now had a final, definitive, objective, universally applicable revelation in written form. Living apostles. prophets, tongues, direct revelations, etc., were no longer necessary. A congregation with a New Testament in its hands is far better equipped spiritually than a church in New Testament times which did not have a New Testament, and had to rely on the more piecemeal revelations of local prophets and traveling apostles.
Edwards continued his exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:
When the apostle, in this chapter, speaks of prophecies, tongues, and revelations ceasing, and vanishing away in the church - when the Christian church should be advanced from a state of minority to a state of manhood - he seems to have respect to its coming to an adult state in this world, as well as in heaven; for he speaks of such a state of manhood, wherein those three things, Faith, Hope, and Charity, should remain after miracles and revelations had ceased; as in the last verse, and "now abideth ( I. remaineth) Faith, Hope, and Charity, these three " The apostle's manner of speaking here shows an evident reference to what he had just been saying before; and here is a manifest antithesis, between remaining, and that failing, ceasing, and vanishing away, spoken of in the 8th verse. The apostle had been showing us how all those gifts of inspiration, which were the leading-strings of the Christian church in its infancy, should vanish away, when the church came to a state of manhood. Then he returns to observe, what things remain after those had failed and ceased; and he observes that those three things shall remain in the church, Faith, Hope, and Charity; and therefore the adult state of the church he speaks of, is the mole perfect one at which it shall arrive on earth, especially in the latter ages of the world.76
Edwards' argument is that faith, hope and charity are the spiritual adulthood and maturity of the Church even on earth. Therefore when Paul speaks of faith, hope and charity "remaining", but the childish gifts of tongues and prophecy "failing", he is referring to the cessation of the extraordinary gifts here on earth, in the course of history. They cease, but faith, hope and charity remain Extraordinary gifts vanish: grace abides And grace is all-important. To focus on the gifts is a sign of immaturity:
God communicates His own nature to the soul in saving grace in the heart, more than in all miraculous gifts. The blessed image of God consists in that and not in these. The excellency, happiness, and glory of the soul, immediately consists in the former. That is a root which bears infinitely more excellent fruit .Salvation and the eternal enjoyment of God is promised to divine grace, but not to inspiration. A man may have all those extraordinary gifts, and yet be abominable to God, and go to hell.77
Edwards, then, saw the extraordinary gifts as operating only in the New Testament Church's earliest youth. They were her life-support system before she became strong enough to walk on her own two feet. Now the Church has been established on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and has all the revelation she needs in the completed Scriptures to feed and guide her life of grace. This is more glorious than all miracles.
Therefore I do not expect a restoration of these miraculous gifts in the approaching glorious times of the church, nor do I desire it. It appears to me, that it would add nothing to the glory of those times, but rather diminish from it. For my part, I had rather enjoy the sweet influences of the Spirit, showing Christ's spiritual divine beauty, infinite grace, and dying love, drawing forth the holy exercises of faith, divine love, sweet complacence, and humble joy in God, one quarter of an hour, than to have prophetical visions and revelations the whole year.78
One wonders how many Toronto charismatics could say an honest and eager Amen to that?
It appears to me much more probable that God should give immediate revelations to his saints in the dark times of prophecy [before the New Testament was finished], than now in the approach of the most glorious and perfect state of his church on earth. It does not appear to me that there is any need of those extraordinary gifts to introduce this happy state, and set up the kingdom of God through the world; I have seen so much of the power of God in a more excellent way. as to convince me that God can easily do without it.79
One does not necessarily have to share Edwards' postmillennial zeal to feel the force of his argument. More than this, what we see here in Edwards is a kind of turning upside-down of the "restorationist" views of many modern charismatics. They see the restoration of the Church as bound up with its possession of extraordinary supernatural gifts and powers. Edwards saw the postmillennial glory of the Church as a convincing argument against any possession of such gifts. For Edwards, the Church's coming glory on earth is her adulthood made perfect; and the more perfect adulthood is, the less it needs the gifts of infancy!
And so Edwards exhorted the Church of his day to beware of any attempt to seek the restoration of the extraordinary spiritual gifts of apostolic times. Direct revelations from God as sure guides to truth or duty, whether through prophecies, interpreted tongues, visions, dreams, or overwhelming impressions, were not for God's people after the end of the apostolic age. Any attempt to practice them today would be a lapse from maturity into babyhood, a folly which would quench true revival Returning to the theme of supposed revelation being given through spiritual impulses and impressions, Edwards said:
I would therefore entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things. 1 have seen them fail in very many instances, and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true, yea, eminent saints - even in the midst of extraordinary exercises of grace, and sweet communion with God, and attended with texts of Scripture strongly impressed on the mind - are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven. I have known such impressions fail, attended with all these circumstances. They who leave the sure word of prophecy [Scripture - 2 Peter 1:19l - which God has given us as a light shining in a dark place - to follow such impressions and impulses, leave the guidance of the polar star, to follow a Jack with a lantern. No wonder therefore that sometimes they are led into woeful extravagancies.80
So Edwards warned new converts and renewed believers in the Great Awakening. Such beliefs and experiences were not central to the Awakening; they were minor and secondary spots on a blazing sun. Even so, Edwards felt the need to write at length about them, under the heading of "errors and misconduct" liable to "darken and obscure" the work.81 If he had been confronted with an alleged revival in which these things were central, forming part of the very core of all that was experienced, believed, gloried in, taught, and defended, we must assume that Edwards would have been far more gravely emphatic than he already was in sounding the trumpet against spiritual delusion. For the sunspots have swallowed up the sun. Edwards would have seen this as a sure sign of a movement that has gone completely off the rails, if it was ever on them. We must especially assume this when we bear in mind that large sections of the charismatic movement, and the Toronto, blessing, have gone far beyond mere "impulses" and "impressions" in their claims to immediate divine revelation. They offer us apostles, prophets, prophecies, direct audible speech from God, new doctrinal revelations to explain new gifts of the Spirit, visions, dreams, and (no doubt) other forms of supposed contact with heaven. "No wonder therefore that sometimes they are led into woeful extravagancies." That Toronto apologists have tried to make Edwards their champion is an exercise so bizarre, one is tempted to think they have indeed received a new gift of the Spirit, the gift of lunacy.
Was Jonathan Edwards the founding father of the Toronto blessing? A dispassionate reading of his works leads us to the conclusion that he most emphatically was not. More than that, it convinces us that had Edwards been alive today and encountered the Toronto blessing, he would have been one of its most discerning critics. Therefore, with the rich revival writings of Edwards open in front of us, let us turn to his God and ours to pray for real religious awakening and authentic spiritual renewal - and the deliverance of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ from all forms of deception in these mind-clouded days.
The phenomenon of "holy laughter" is nothing new It has occurred in genuine revivals, and also outside any Christian context. e g. through hypnotism and mesmerism. The difference from the Toronto experience is that it was generally recognized in previous times that there was nothing spiritual or desirable about this phenomenon. John Wesley has some very full remarks on the subject in his Journal, which we here transcribe.
Friday 9th May 1740 "I was a little surprised at some. who were buffeted of Satan in an unusual manner, by such a spirit of laughter as they could in no wise resist, though it was pain and grief unto them. I could scarce have believed the account they gave me, had I not known the same thing ten or eleven years ago. Part of Sunday my brother and I then used to spend in walking in the meadows and singing psalms. But one day, just as we were beginning to sing, he burst out into a loud laughter. I asked him, if he was distracted; and began to be very angry, and presently after to laugh as loud as he. Nor could he possibly refrain, though we were ready to tear ourselves in pieces, hut we were forced to go home without singing another line."
Wednesday 21st May 1740. "In the evening such a spirit of laughter was among us, that many were much offended. But the attention of all was fixed on poor L---a S---, whom we all knew to be no dissembler. One so violently and variously torn of the evil one did I never see before. Sometimes she laughed till almost strangled; then broke out into cursing and blaspheming; then stamped and struggled with incredible strength, so that four or five could scarce hold her: Then cried out, "O eternity, eternity! O that I had no soul! O that I had never been born!" At last she faintly called on Christ to help her. And the violence of her pangs ceased."Most of our brethren and sisters were now fully convinced, that those who were under this strange temptation could not help it. Only E---th B--- and Anne H--- were of another mind; being still sure, anyone might help laughing if she would. This they declared to many on Thursday: but on Friday, 23 God suffered Satan to teach them better. Both of them were suddenly seized in the same manner as the rest, and laughed whether they would or no, almost without ceasing. Thus they continued for two days, a spectacle to all; and were then, upon prayer made for them, delivered in a moment."
Wesley's observations reveal several points of interest:
(i) Clearly Wesley regarded the phenomenon as unspiritual and undesirable. He refers three times to the devil as its source.
(ii) The laughter was quite irrational. Its victims were not laughing at anything. They were simply swept away by an uncontrollable spirit of laughter.
(iii) It was quite possible for the holy laughter suddenly to be changed into equally uncontrollable cursing, blaspheming and bodily convulsions, as in the case of L---a S---.
(iv) It could afflict believers and unbelievers alike. Wesley's description of how he and Charles experienced the phenomenon is dated ten or eleven years prior to the journal entry, i.e. in 1729 or 1730, eight years before John's famous conversion in 1738. John and Charles were as yet strangers to the true gospel when they were seized with the holy laughter. The same applies today, as we can see from the well-known experience of the non-Christian journalist Mick Brown of the Daily Telegraph, who welt to Toronto to report on proceedings and accidentally found himself among a group of people having hands laid on them by John Arnott. Brown too was hurled to the ground and smitten with hysterics without the slightest repentance towards God or faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can only conclude with Wesley that "holy laughter" is not holy at all. It is an irrational, nonspiritual and degrading experience, which has the sanction neither of Scripture, nor the great (Christian thinkers of Church history, nor sanctified reason. It is not the work of the Holy Spirit, and is no evidence that the person experiencing it is a true Christian.
1Notably Guy Chevreau in his Catch the Fire, the longest chapter of which is all about Edwards. Among many others who appeal to Edwards are Jack Deere in his Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, David Roberts in The Toronto Blessing, Gerald Coates in Renewal magazine (no.222, November 1994), and Bill Jackson, author of the Vineyard paper What in the World is Happening to us?
2Distinguishing Marks, p. 260, col. 2 (in Works of Edwards, Banner of Truth, 1979, vol. 2)
3Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
4Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
5Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
6Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
7Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
8Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
9Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
10Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
11Treatise concerning Religious Affections, p. 246, col.1 (in Works vol. 1). Edwards quoted Psalm 63:1, 84:2 and 119: 120, Habakkuk 3:16, Daniel 10:8 and Revelation 1:17 to illustrate the effect that true spiritual emotions might have on the body. But he was equally clear that such bodily effects could be the result of emotions and experiences which were not spiritual in nature - i.e., did not originate from the Holy Spirit's saving work.
12Distinguishing Marks, p. 261, col. 2.
13Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
14Ibid., p. 262, col. 1.
15The account, and all following quotations from it, can be found in HTB in Focus, no. 32, October 9th, 1994.
16One ought to ask, What possible spiritual emotion is there which could naturally express itself physically by bellowing like a bull, braying like a donkey, crowing like a cockerel or twittering like a bird? These experiences are clearly not natural bodily overflows of spiritual emotion, but the result of people being taken over by some strange spiritual force. One could say the same about bouncing like a pogo-stick, running on the spot, etc.
17Distinguishing Marks, p. 272, col. 1.
18Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival, p. 376, col. 2.
19From what the present writer has seen and heard, including testimonies of those who have experienced it, the hysterical laughter of the Toronto blessing is not so much an expression of inner joy, as an invasion and possession of a person by a mindless spirit of laughter. It is not that people are laughing at anything They are simply laughing, laughing, laughing, in the grip of some comedic spirit - a sort of spiritual laughing-gas. Where does Scripture say that this is one of the sovereign works of the Holy Spirit?
20Narrative of Surprising Conversions, p. 354 (in Works, vol. 1). Quoted on p.7 of What in the World is Happening to us?
21This is not to deny that some people experienced "religious laughter" in the Great Awakening, both in Britain and America. It is simply to deny that Edwards can be used to provide a justification for such experiences. Religious laughter has sometimes appeared in revivals before, but revival leaders of a bygone generation condemned it as fleshly or Satanic. See the appendix for two examples from John Wesley's experience and how he responded.
22It is true that some Christians in the Great Awakening lost their bodily strength and fell or fainted through an overwhelming spiritual perception of the beauty and love of Christ. But the experience was still coloured all through with an awesome sense of God's holiness and a corresponding holy fear which one does not normally find in modern charismatic "slayings in the Spirit." Consider Edwards' description of the experiences of his "model revived believer" in his Some Thoughts on the Present Revival After describing his or her experiences of losing strength through overwhelming spiritual sights of God's beauty and love, Edwards adds "The things already mentioned have been attended also with the following, viz. An extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness, and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body; a sense of the piercing all-seeing eye of God, so as sometimes to take away the bodily strength; and an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness of the wrath of God; together with a sense of the ineffable misery of sinners who are exposed to this wrath" (p.377, col.1, in Works, vol. 1). The spiritual experience which led to the physical prostration of a believer, as endorsed by Edwards, included both the ravishingly beautiful and the awesomely fearful aspects of God's holiness. By contrast, the emotional accompaniments of today's Toronto prostrations are not about God's holiness at all; they focus on sweet joy-inducing feelings, interpreted as God's love for the person experiencing them (being "hugged" and "kissed" by God). As a result we are offered a completely saccharine experience of euphoria, "the sweet heaviness of Jesus", automatically dispensed at the hands of charismatic leaders, little different in content to what might be obtained from a potent tranquilizing drug, and identical to prostration experiences in non-Christian forms of spirituality
23Distinguishing Marks, p. 271, col. 1.
24Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
25Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
26Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
27Ibid., p. 263, cols. 1 & 2.
28Ibid., p. 263, col. 1.
29That such experiences might be demonic deceptions, Edwards argued in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, p. 269, col. 1.
30Ibid., p. 263, col. 2.
31Ibid., p. 264, col. 1.
32Ibid., p. 264, col. 1.
33Ibid., p. 265, col. 1.
34Ibid., p. 265, col. 1.
35Ibid., p. 265, col. 1.
36Ibid., p. 265, col. 2.
37Ibid., p. 265, col. 2.
38Ibid., p. 266, col. 1.
39Bill Jackson in What in the World is Happening to us? interprets the Toronto blessing thus: God's people are simply having fun in Him.... We are learning to party in God" (pp. 16-17).
40Distinguishing Marks, p. 266, col. 2.
41Ibid., p. 266, col. 2. "The light within" is a reference to the Quaker teaching that Christ is mystically and inwardly present in every human being, and can be discovered by journeying into the depths of one's own spirit. Similar views exist today in New Age circles and even among some evangelicals.
42Religious Affections, p. 277-8.
43The Touch of God, pp. 13-14.
44For the teachings of the Faith Movement (or Rhema Bible Church), whose leaders include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Ray McCauley, Charles Capps, Marilyn Hickey, Robert Tilton, Buddy Harrison, and to a lesser extent Benny Hinn (who claims to have renounced these heresies, but still indirectly propagates them by publicly praising and defending Faith teachers like Copeland as true men of God), see D.R.McConnell's A Different Gospel (Hendrickson, 1988), and the collection of essays edited by M.S.Horton, The Agony of Deceit (Moody, 1990). Most of the Faith Movement's heresies were derived from E.W.Kenyon, who died in 1948. Kenyon was steeped in the anti-Christian spiritual ethos and teachings of "Christian Science" and "New Thought".
45Distinguishing Marks, p. 267, col. 1.
46Ibid., p. 267, col. 1.
47Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
48Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
49Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
50Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
51Brown had the last word. Only historians and scholars read the works of Irving today, works disfigured by his unhappy and long-winded insistence on the "fallen" state of Christ's human nature. But many ordinary Christians continue to be edified by David Brown's contributions to the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary on the Bible, and by Brown's classic book on the second coming, Christ's Second Coming: Will it be Premillennial? (1846). We should replace Irving's tragic rebuke to Brown with a hearty blessing: "Sir, your sanctified intellect has won you esteem and gratitude."
52Distinguishing Marks, p.268, col. 1.
53Ibid., p. 268, col. 2.
54Religious Affections, p. 275, col. 1.
55Ibid., p. 275, col. 2.
56Ibid., p. 276, col. 2.
57Ibid., p. 279, col. 1.
58Distinguishing Marks, p. 268, col. 2.
59Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
60Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
61Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
62Ibid., p. 269, col. 1.The phrase "animal spirits" in the 18th century referred to chemical influences in the body which humans have in common with animals. What Edwards would have made of humans being possessed by "animal spirits" in the sense of spiritual powers that induce animalistic behaviour is another matter!
63Ibid., p. 271, col. 1.
64Ibid., p. 271, col. 1.
65Ibid., p. 271, cols. 1 & 2.
66Ibid., p. 271, col. 1. Emphasis in the original.
67Ibid., p. 273, col. 2.
68Ibid., p. 273, col. 1.
69Ibid., p. 273, col. 1.
70Ibid., p. 274, col. 1.
71Some Thoughts on the Present Revival, p.371, col. 1.
72Distinguishing Marks, p.262, col. 2.
73Ibid., p. 274, col. 1.
74Ibid., p. 274, col. 1.
75Ibid., p. 274, col. 1.
76Ibid., p. 275, col. 1.
77Ibid., p. 274, col. 2.
78Ibid., p. 275, col. 1.
79Ibid., p. 275, col. 1.
80Ibid., p. 275, col. 1.
81Ibid., p. 273, col. 2.
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