One of the more controversial features of the religious awakening surrounding the preaching of Jonathan Edwards was the phenomenon of people crying out, falling over and becoming apparently immobile on the floor. Some were in distress, others described their experience as an inexpressible joy. Either way it has made subsequent historians uncomfortable. Both Whitefield and Wesley saw similar phenomena.
But Edwards did not shy away from accurately and soberly reporting what was happening.
‘Some persons [have] had such longing desires after Christ, or which have risen to such degree, as to take away their natural strength.
Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ to such poor, wretched, and unworthy creatures, as to weaken the body.
Several persons have had so great a sense of the glory of God, and excellency of Christ, that nature and life seemed almost to sink under it; and in all probability, if God had showed them a little more of Himself, it would have dissolved their frame.’
Perfectly sober, but not always able to speak!
‘I have seen some, and conversed with them in such frames, who have certainly been perfectly sober, and very remote from any thing like enthusiastic wildness.
And they have talked, when able to speak, of the glory of God’s perfections, the wonderfulness of His grace in Christ, and their own unworthiness, in such a manner as cannot be perfectly expressed after them.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p. p.45)
The phrase which causes an involuntary smile on my face is ‘when able to speak’! ‘They have talked, when able to speak, of the glory of God’s perfections…and their own unworthiness.’
Then and now
We are a good distance from human pride here, but we must be careful not to immediately dismiss contemporary claims from those we meet who say they have had similar encounters with God. We must heed Martin Luther’s advice and ‘Let God be God!’ Where is the fruit? What does the person say about subsequent changes that have occurred in their life?
If we are praying for a rekindling of the power of the Christian Faith in our city, town or nation, then we can be sure that we are asking for God the Holy Spirit to come amongst us with fresh power.
Dear reader, read on, as we continue to examine Edwards’ treatment of these ‘power encounters’.
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You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here
© 2009 Lex Loizides