I am not expert on the study of Jonathan Edwards. I enjoy reading him occasionally. I appreciate his depth of thought upon a subject. I don't always agree with his conclusions. However, I am thankful to God for giving teachers such as him to the church. As a leader in the First Great Awakening in America, Edwards was well situated to think about what is a true work of the Holy Spirit. This is why I have chosen to blog through his work, "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God."
Edwards began his work by following the apostle John in imploring us to not accept every spirit, but to test the spirits. We are positively commanded to examine claims of a work of the Spirit. You are not a skeptic, or quenching the Spirit, if you closely examine a work to see whether it is from God. You are an obedient Christian. Edwards then proceeds to lay out 9 negative signs. These are not signs that a work is from the Holy Spirit. However, many of these works may be true works of the Spirit. Yet, they do not remain as true marks by which we judge a true work of the Holy Spirit.
The first negative sign Edwards points to is a "work that is carried on in a way very unusual and extraordinary." The Spirit can do a work that is unusual and extraordinary. He can do a work different from what we have seen in previous works. He is not limited to only do what he has done. It is important to note though that an unusual and extraordinary work of the Spirit must always comply with the rules of Scripture.
If an unusual and extraordinary work does not violate the rules of the Word, it may be a true work of the Spirit. Edwards expects us to see great outpourings of the Holy Spirit. He expects the Spirit to do great works he has not done in the past. He expects us to be skeptical of the claims of these works being works of the Holy Spirit. But we must be careful here! Edwards is not saying that because you witness an extraordinary and unusual work, which does not violate the rules of Scripture, you are thereby witnessing a true work of the Spirit of God. It is necessary that a true work of the Spirit of God not violate the rule of Scripture. But not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient to determine whether something is a true work of the Spirit. The positive marks which distinguish a work of the Spirit of God must also be present.
I will continue to work through the negative signs in my next posts. Let me sum up this post with a few thoughts. First, I agree with Edwards. I believe the Holy Spirit can and may do extraordinary works. I also agree that a work being unusual does not disqualify it from being a true work, so long as it complies with the rules of Scripture. Second, I agree with Edwards that a work not violating the rule of Scripture is not sufficient in determining whether a work is a true work of the Holy Spirit. There are lots of counterfeits in the history of God's people. There are signs which sweetly comply with God's Word but which are performed by false spirits posing as angels of light. We must constantly be reminded of our biblical duty to test the spirits to see whether they are from God for many false prophets have gone into the world. Third, I found John MacArthur's sermon working through Edwards at Strange Fire to miss the mark here. He did a superb job of walking through the positive signs of a work of the Spirit. At the same time, he seemed to dismiss all contemporary and unusual works as false. His argument seemed to border on using their unusual nature as an evidence they are false. I believe this weakened his case. His charismatic listeners likely tuned him out here. He may have won their attention better by structuring the argument in a similar fashion to Edwards. It is also true they still may have tuned him out for doing his biblical duty of testing the spirits.
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