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Enjoying God Blog

Many argued that the revival known as the First Great Awakening couldn’t be of God because of the way people responded both physically and emotionally. Jonathan Edwards insisted that as long as we are careful to monitor the state of one's mind and moral conduct, insisting that such be in conformity with Scripture, "our fears and suspicions arising from extraordinary bodily effects seem wholly groundless" (Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, 301).

But is it reasonable or biblical to think that people under the influence of the Spirit might experience intense bodily effects? Edwards answers:

"Let us rationally consider what we profess to believe of the infinite greatness of the things of God, the divine wrath, the divine glory, and the divine infinite love and grace in Jesus Christ, and the vastness and infinite importance of the things of eternity; and how reasonable is it to suppose that if it pleases God a little to withdraw the veil, and let in light into the soul, and give something of a view of the great things of another world in their transcendent and infinite greatness, that human nature, that is as the grass, a shaking leaf, a weak withering flower, should totter under such a discovery? Such a bubble is too weak to bear the weight of a view of things that are so vast. Alas! What is such dust and ashes, that it should support itself under the view of the awful wrath of infinite glory and love of Jehovah!" (302)

Edwards was careful never to assert that physiological reactions, whether weeping, laughing, trembling, or what he often referred to as “losing one’s bodily strength” (i.e., falling down), were sure and certain signs of the work of the Holy Spirit. They may be the result of the Spirit’s powerful presence in a person’s life. But there are other equally credible explanations for such behavior that have nothing to do with what happens in seasons of revival. Simply put, bodily manifestations prove nothing either way. They neither prove that the Spirit is at work nor that he isn’t. They may be the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry, but again may not.

What we must look for are those sure and certain signs that are clearly delineated in Scripture, among which would be: increased love for Jesus Christ, deeper devotion to the truth and authority of Scripture, intensified hatred for sin, heartfelt repentance, love for the saints, and of course the fruit of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5.

Thus the point of Edwards’ comment above is to remind us that it would certainly make sense if, in a season of revival, people experienced strong physiological reactions to the nearness of God and the disclosure to the human soul of his greatness, grace, justice, and wrath. But that does not mean that such reactions necessarily prove that God is responsible for them. He may be. But then again, he may not.

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