As we continue working through Jonathan Edwards' work, I hope to cover negative signs 5-9 today. Please keep in mind Edwards is arguing for the idea that certain phenomena are neither signs the Spirit of God is at work, nor signs he could not be at work. These are what he calls negative signs. We will turn next to signs that are necessarily present if the Holy Spirit is at work.
5. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that example is a great means of it. It is surely no argument that an effect is not from God, that means are used in producing it..." Edwards seems to be arguing Christians should not deny an effect in one person because the example of another person was the means used to bring about the effect. If a man is moved to worship by seeing others worship as he hears the word, Edwards argues this man's worship is not necessarily less genuine. On the other hand, this man's worship could be just an attempt to conform or follow a pattern seen in others.
6. "It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that many, who seem to be the subjects of it, are guilty of great imprudences and irregularities in their conduct. We are to consider that the end for which God pours out his Spirit, is to make men holy, and not to make them politicians." Edwards is arguing that the Spirit works among men who are sinners. He is working to make them holy, but they still struggle with sin. If one argues the Spirit can't be present where sin is still great, then one has not read 1 Corinthians. However, the Spirit is not present where there is no repentance and growth in holiness.
7. "Nor are many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed with the work, any argument that the work in general is not of the Spirit of God." It is not only possible but likely Satan will attempt to bring confusion when the Spirit is at work. He will produce counterfeits alongside the true work of the Spirit, so as to confuse God's people. Error and delusions does not necessarily rule out that the Holy Spirit can be at work in the main. Of course, all of this is provided the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit are present.
8. "If some, who were thought to be wrought upon, fall away into gross errors, or scandalous practices, it is no argument that the work in general is not the work of the Spirit of God." Whenever the Spirit of God is at work in men, there are bound to be men who are phonies. Those men may look like the real deal initially. Their fall is no proof that the work of the Holy Spirit was not working at all. The Spirit of God was at work in the apostles while Judas turned out to be a phony. However, most would have considered Judas the real deal as he cast our demons and followed Christ. The devil always sows tares in among the wheat.
9. "It is no argument that a work is not from the Spirit of God, 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." It seems that many were arguing the preachers of the day were stirring up excessively emotional responses by speaking passionately about the terrors of the law and the coming pains of Hell. Edwards can't imagine the idea of coldly and calmly speaking of people going to Hell. He believes the minister's primary job is to preach the gospel. He also believes we must warn people with tears of their coming judgment apart from Christ. He does not believe we can rule out men's responses to this kind of preaching as superficial fear. The Spirit of God could very much be at work. He also may not be.
All 9 of these signs could demonstrate we have strange fire and not a true work of the Spirit of God. However, none of these 9 signs necessitate that the general work occuring is strange fire. So, how do we then judge a whether a work is strange fire or a true work of the Spirit of God? To answer that question we will turn to the positive signs of a true work of the Spirit in our next post
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