I’m getting rather tired of charismatics calling on Jonathan Edwards to the defense of any number of absurd “manifestations” of the Spirit. I first encountered the “Summon Forth the Edwards!” argument 2 decades ago and I’ve run into it continuously ever since.
In my recent review of Authentic Fire by Michael Brown, I encountered it again. I noticed that Dr. Brown regularly reads his Charismatic experience back into the writing of Edwards and thus finds support where there would have been serious condemnation. Dr. Brown frames the debate with some rather subtle rhetorical slight-of-hand says things like this:
To explain the background to this book, we need to remember that it is common during times of revival for there to be intense and unusual physical and emotional responses to the Spirit’s work, such as weeping, crying out, shaking, falling into trances, and the like. These can be disruptive, alarming, and unsettling, and not all of this activity can be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Is it demonic? Is it simply emotionalism? Or is it a genuine response to the Spirit? (Authentic Fire, Kindle Locations 2002-2005).
Now let’s unpack the statement “it is common during times of revival for there to be intense and unusual physical and emotional responses to the Spirit’s work, such as weeping, crying out, shaking, falling into trances, and the like…”
1. When he’s talking about weeping, he’s likely talking about stuff like what happened at Brownsville; stuff that Dr. Brown himself experienced like what you see from 41:25 – 45:25: (or more, if you desire):
That kid has remorse over sin, but nowhere do you hear any evidence of repentance. He thought he was a sinner and then God gave him a vision of a bunch of people, and then…that’s it. Then he starts talking about bringing “revival” back to his home town.
Watch the following kids and listen closely. The stories are similar. There’s remorse over wrong, or admittance that there were hardened hearts, but no understanding of what needs to happen (outside of “revival” needing to be brought to their hometowns). That’s not biblical repentance over sin; that’s remorse evidencing guilt. Sure, they’re children and not professional theologians, but notice how Dr. Brown doesn’t correct them. Instead, he yells “yes Lord” and asks “do you feel like you’re getting along with God a little better now?” (49:10) Dr. Brown asks for fasting and prayer and talks about fruit but doesn’t help those kids move on from the pure emotion of the moment.
I weep for those kids.
I’ve been one of those kids: standing in front of a crowd facing tremendous pressure, sharing some experience I don’t understand and embellishing it due to the applause, being told by some “prophet/pastor” that I’m now closer to God because of it, being anointed with oil and receiving a “word from the Lord” that I would do something amazing for him in my home town/another town/another country/etc.
I’ve watched dozens of hours of Brownsville video by now and I’ve yet to see any clear conviction of sin and repentance. I’ve heard lots of people mentioning other people’s sin, or recognizing that they were”sinners”, but recognition is not repentance.
That’s not what was happening in Edwards’ day:
– In the Journal of the life of David Brainerd (here’s one of the best introductions to the man I know of), Brainerd writes:
– September 1. Preached to the Indians here from Luke 14:16-23. The Word appeared to be attended with some power, and caused some tears in the assembly. Afterwards, preached to a number of white people present, and observed many of them in tears, and some who had formerly been as careless and unconcerned about religion, perhaps as the Indians.
– September 4. Rode fifteen miles to an Irish settlement, and preached there from Luke 14:22, “and yet there is room.” God was pleased to afford me some tenderness and enlargement in the first prayer, and much freedom as well as warmth in sermon. There were many tears in the assembly: The people of God seemed to melt, and others to be in some measure awakened. Blessed be the Lord that lets me see his work going on in one place and another.
– September 5. Discoursed to the Indians from the parable of the sower; afterwards, conversed particularly with sundry persons, which occasioned them to weep and even to cry out in an affecting manner, and seized others with surprise and concern; and I doubt not but that a divine power accompanied what was then spoken. Sundry of these persons had been with me to Crossweeksung, and had there seen, and some of them, I trust, felt the power of God’s Word in an effectual and saving manner. I asked one of them, who had obtained comfort and given hopeful evidences of being truly religious, why he now cried? He replied: when he thought how Christ was slain like a lamb, and spilt his blood for sinners, he could not help crying, when he was all alone; and thereupon burst out into tears and cries again. I then asked his wife, who had likewise been abundantly comforted, wherefore she cried; she answered, she was grieved that the Indians here would not come to Christ as well as those at Crossweeksung. I asked her if she found a heart to pray for them, and whether Christ had seemed to be near to her of late in prayer, as in time past (which is my usual method of expressing a sense of the divine presence). She replied: yes, he had been near to her, and that at some times when she had been praying alone, her heart loved to pray so that she could not bear to leave the place, but wanted to stay and pray longer.
– September 8. Discoursed to the Indians in the forenoon from John 12:44-50; in the afternoon from Acts 2:36-39. The Word of God at this time seemed to fall with weight and influence upon them. There were but few present, but most that were, were in tears, and sundry cried out under distressing concern for their souls.
Notice how in an average week of his ministry, Brainerd saw weeping occurring in three contexts: (1) in response to the sermon and concern for one’s soul, (2) in reflection upon the death of Christ for sinners, and (3) in recognition of sinners being hardened against the gospel. No mention of revival or various manifestations. No mention of the outpouring of the Spirit in anything besides the conscience being quickened to the word that was preached.
What about Crossweeksung, the place that he mentions favorably? What happened there?
– October 5. Preached to my people from John 14:1-6. The divine presence seemed to be in the assembly. Numbers were affected with divine truths, and it was a season of comfort to some in particular.
Oh, what a difference is there between these and the Indians I had lately treated with upon Susquehanna! To be with those seemed like being banished from God and all his people; to be with these like being admitted into his family, and to the enjoyment of his divine presence! How great is the change lately made upon numbers of these Indians, who not many months ago were many of them as thoughtless and averse to Christianity as those upon Susquehanna! And how astonishing is that grace that has made this change!
Lord’s Day, October 6. Preached in the forenoon from John 10:7-11. There was a considerable melting among my people;the dear young Christians were refreshed, comforted, and strengthened, and one or two persons newly awakened.
In the afternoon I discoursed on the story of the jailer, Acts 16, and in the evening expounded Acts 20:1-12. There was at this time a very agreeable melting spread through the whole assembly. I think I scarce ever saw a more desirable affection in any number of people in my life. There was scarce a dry eye to be seen among them, and yet nothing boisterous or unseemly, nothing that tended to disturb the public worship; but rather to encourage and excite a Christian ardor and spirit of devotion.
Those who I have reason to hope were savingly renewed, were first affected and seemed to rejoice much, but with brokenness of spirit and godly fear; their exercises were much the same with those mentioned in my Journal of August 26, evidently appearing to be the genuine effect of a “Spirit of adoption”.
After public service was over I withdrew (being much tired with the labors of the day), and the Indians continued praying among themselves for near two hours together, which continued exercises appeared to be attended with a blessed quickening influence from on high.
I could not but earnestly wish that numbers of God’s people had been present at this season, to see and hear these things which I’m sure must refresh the heart of every true lover of Zion’s interest. To see those, who very lately were savage pagans and idolators, “having no hope, and without God in the world”, now filled with a sense of divine love and grace, and worshiping the “Father in spirit and in truth”, as numbers here appeared to do, was not a little affecting; and especially to see them appear so tender and humble, as well as lively, fervent, and devout in the divine service.
Interesting. Notice how there was plenty of weeping at Crossweeksung, but yet Brainerd mentions explicitly that there was “nothing boisterous or unseemly, nothing that tended to disturb the public worship”. Brainerd preached the word of God and people were “affected with divine truths” that led to “a Christian ardor and spirit of devotion”.
We could go on and on (and I’d encourage my readers to pick up The Diary and Life of David Brainerd), but I’ve sufficiently made my point.
Now some will point to that and say “That’s some guy named David Brainerd, not Jonathan Edwards!”
Okay. What about Edwards?
(No, not the Olympian…if you aren’t super familiar with Jonathan Edwards, start here.)
Well, his famous sermon Sinners in the hands of an angry God was preached on July 8th, 1741 in Enfield. The reverend Stephen Williams heard the sermon and wrote in his diary (page 191 of the pdf here):
Notice how the woman basically has a seizure, and it’s while she’s trying to share something with the church. It’s not in response to a sermon, and it’s not out of conviction of sin (that I can, in any way, see). Does anyone honestly think that the puritans were doing that in church? (Also, from 0:30-2:00 you hear that woman’s testimony of how she dealt with her “sin”. Think about her weeping and point 1 and ask yourself, “does a person overcome years of pain from abuse by someone else waving their arm and ‘speaking a blessing’ over them?” I dare say that’s just another example of an important theological error from a list that is really long.)
And the crying out? Notice how the guy disrupted the service, jumped around completely ignoring everyone (order and edification, right?), and wasn’t doing so as a result of the preaching, or apparent personal conviction of sin? Someone was sharing a testimony and that fellow was in his own little world, “letting the Spirit move”. Does anyone honestly think that the puritans were doing that in church? (Also note that he spoke in Spanish and Steve Hill gave a rough, uh, paraphrase. Earthly language with no translation = that’s likely the closest thing to Biblical tongues that church has ever seen…)
That’s not what was happening in Edwards’ day.
3. When he’s talking about “falling into trances”, he’s likely talking about stuff like what happened at Brownsville; stuff that Dr. Brown himself experienced like what you see from the beginning to around 2:17 (or more, if you desire):
Notice how the woman (same woman from the previous video; she was busy that day…) basically falls over, and it’s while she’s trying to share something with the church. It’s not in response to a sermon, and it’s not out of conviction of sin (that I can, in any way, see). Does anyone honestly think that the puritans were doing that in church?
That’s not what was happening in Edwards’ day…but we’ll get to that.
Point of interest #1 – watch from the beginning until 2:17, and notice Kilpatrick’s statement from 2:03-2:17. Apparently he felt the Holy Spirit hitting the woman but he kept all composure when the Spirit apparently touched him too…is he suggesting that he’s immune to the Holy Spirit when he wants to be? How exactly does that work?
Point of interest #2 – The woman in that video is Sandee Fields, and her husband’s name is Don; he’s the one talking after 2:17. Interestingly enough, in those videos they had already been in ministry for 20[ish] years and Sandee talks about how she absolutely hated her church (around 0:24 in “honey where are we from?” 4/4)…and only a short time later in August of 1999 God told them to leave the church to feed the nations and fight world hunger. In other words, in their lives the ultimate fallout was them abandoning the church for a “calling” of social activism towards unbelievers. What kind of rotten fruit is that when a pastor abandons God’s church to feed starving unbelievers? Those are hard words, I know, but we have to grow up and face reality: food doesn’t save sinners…and they don’t mention the gospel anywhere on their website, nor do they have any indications on their Facebook page or on the Youtube channel that they share the gospel with the people they feed. I know these comments will make me a monster to some, but at some time we have to grow up and start asking the real hard questions. Is social activism synonymous, in any way, with the gospel? No. Not for a second. Will social activism be help either the giver or receiver before the Lord? No. Not for a second. Doug and Sandee fields were betrayed by their theology and betrayed by Brownsville; they didn’t hear God tell them to leave the church and abandon gospel proclamation because God cannot tell anyone to do that; God’s biggest priority is the gospel and the center of his spiritual economy in the world is the church. (If I have to somehow prove something that obvious with biblical texts, ask me in the comments).
So what then about Edwards? What was going on in his day? Were people weeping, crying out, shaking, and falling into trances?
Well, I’ll restate what I’ve already written on this idea here.
Michael Brown says that Sarah Edwards “…sometimes fell into trances lasting hours at a time…” (Kindle Location 4413)
Well, according to the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale, I’d suggest that she didn’t. The term “trance” only occurs in the entire extended corpus of Jonathan Edwards 12 times, and none of those references refer to Sarah being in a trance. What’s interesting is that in Jonathan Edwards’ Letters and Personal Writings (page 120, Vol. 16), we find this interesting quote of when the recent seminary graduate Samuel Buell came to town to fill Edwards’ pulpit while he was away:
“Mr. Buell continued here a fortnight or three weeks after I returned: there being still great appearances attending his labors; many in their religious affections being raised far beyond what they ever had been before: and there were some instances of persons lying in a sort of trance, remaining for perhaps a whole twenty-four hours motionless, and with their senses locked up; but in the meantime under strong imaginations, as though they went to heaven, and had there a vision of glorious and delightful objects. But when the people were raised to this height, Satan took the advantage and his interposition in many instances soon became very apparent: and a great deal of caution and pains were found necessary to keep the people, many of them, from running wild.”
People fell into a “sort of trance” for up to twenty four hours, having their senses locked up but being very active in their imaginations. They apparently had glorious visions of “delightful objects”, which doesn’t mean that they actually went to Heaven in a vision but were consumed in the thoughts of heavenly things…and it mostly turned out in people “running wild”. Not necessarily a great testimony…
…but that’s not the end of it.
In case there is some question about the specific nature of what happened while Jonathan Edwards was away and Samuel Bell was preaching. Good thing Sarah Edwards wrote down her own original account of her “trance” experience. It is here (starting on page 171). Go read it, and pay close attention to what she says.
I dare you.
Did Sarah Edwards experience her trances at a church service? No.
Did Sarah Edwards experience her trance as a response to music or prayer or preaching? No.
Did Sarah Edwards experience convulsions? No.
Did Sarah Edwards lose self control? No.
Did Sarah Edwards lose her strength to stand up? Yes, though she could still sit in a chair.
Did Sarah Edwards lose the ability to speak? No…in fact, she discusses how she actually couldn’t stop talking about the glories of Heaven to anyone who was nearby.
There’s absolutely no parallel between what was happening to Sarah Edwards and what was going on at Brownsville.
So let’s wrap this together:
Did people weep over their sin, during Edwards’ preaching?
Did people cry out during Edwards’ preaching?
Did people shake in response to Edwards’ preaching?
Did people fall into trances or do anything beyond that, like “fall out in the Spirit” (slain in the Spirit), speak in ecstatic speech and claim it was the spiritual gift of “tongues”, laugh hysterically, jerk around uncontrollably, etc. in response to Edwards’ preaching?
Did people shake, cry out in pain, or weep as a demonstration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?
There was was both a limit of acceptability and a different explanation for the manifestations during Edwards’ day. Michael Brown and the other charismatics who claim precedent for their “manifestations” on the basis of Jonathan Edwards are simply trying to make certain activities look far more spiritually respectable than they really are.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Imagining Jonathan Edwards at Brownsville” Unger