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Text Sermons : ~Other Speakers A-F : Discernment Reasearch Articles : Was Jonathan Edwards the Father of the Toronto Blessing?

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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.


Section 1: Negative Signs
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.

1st Negative Sign: The unusual

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 GodD5s 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:

"an extraordinary conviction of the dreadful nature of sin, and a very uncommon sense of the misery of a Christless condition";
"extraordinary views of the certainty and glory of divine things";
"very extraordinary affections [emotions] of fear and sorrow, desire, love or joy";
"if the apparent change [conversion] be very sudden, and the work carried on with very unusual swiftness";
"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:

the conversion of sinners with "more visible and remarkable power than ever";
the fact that sinners were converted "in great multitudes", greater than ever before;
the fact that these conversions were more sudden and unexpected than had ever been seen before - "a sudden alteration in towns, cities and countries";
the fact that the gospel spread with "such a swift progress."
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.

2nd Negative Sign: Bodily effects

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 SpiritD5s 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:

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.
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.

Promoting Revival to this Generation.
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