The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
~ Proverbs 14:15
Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
~ Luke 12:57
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
~ 1 John 2:18
Marks by Which Not to Judge a Work of the Spirit, by Jonathan Edwards. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God”.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
— 1 John 4:1
3. It occasions a great deal of noise about religion.
It is no argument that an operation on the minds of people is not the work of the Spirit of God, just because it occasions a great deal of noise about religion. For though true religion has a nature contrary to that of the Pharisees — which was ostentatious, and delighted to present itself to the view of men for their applause — yet such is human nature. It is morally impossible for there to be a great concern, strong affection, and general zealousness of mind among a people, without causing a notable, visible, and open commotion and alteration among that people. Surely, it is no argument that the minds of people are not under the influence of God’s Spirit, just because they are greatly moved. For indeed, spiritual and eternal things are so great, and of such infinite concern, that it would be a great absurdity if men were but moderately moved and affected by them.
And surely it is no argument that they are not moved by the Spirit of God, if they are affected by these things in some measure, as these things deserve, or in some proportion to their importance. When was there ever any such thing since the world began, as a people in general being greatly affected in any affair whatsoever, without noise or stir? The nature of man will not allow it.
Indeed Christ says, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation.” Luk 17.20. That is, it won’t consist in what is outward and visible; it won’t be like earthly kingdoms, set up with outward pomp in some particular place, which will especially be the royal city and seat of the kingdom. As Christ explains himself in the words that follow next, “Nor will they say, Look here, or look there; for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Not that the kingdom of God will be set up in the world, upon the ruin of Satan’s kingdom, without a very observable and great effect — a mighty change in the state of things, to the observation and astonishment of the whole world. For such an effect as this is even held out in the prophecies of Scripture, and is so expressed by Christ himself in this very place — even in his own explanation of these fore-mentioned words: “For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven, shines to another part under heaven, so also the Son of man will be in his day.” (Luk 17.24) This is to distinguish Christ’s coming to set up his kingdom, from the coming of false Christ’s, which he tells us will be in a private manner in the deserts, and in the secret chambers. Whereas, this event of setting up the kingdom of God, would be open and public, in the sight of the whole world with clear manifestation — like lightning that cannot be hidden, but glares in everyone’s eyes, and shines from one side of heaven to the other. And we find that when Christ’s kingdom came by that remarkable pouring out of the Spirit in the apostles’ days, it occasioned a great stir everywhere. What a mighty opposition there was in Jerusalem, on the occasion of that great effusion of the Spirit! And so too in Samaria, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and other places! The affair filled the world with noise, and gave occasion for some to say of the apostles, that they had “turned the world upside down.” (Act 17.6)
4. Great impressions are made on the imagination.
It is no argument that an operation on the minds of a people, is not the work of the Spirit of God, just because many who are the subjects of it, have great impressions made on their imaginations. That persons have many impressions on their imaginations, does not prove that they have nothing else. It is easily accounted for, that there should be much of this nature among a people where a great multitude of all kinds of constitutions have their minds engaged with intense thought and strong affections about invisible things. Indeed, it would be strange if there were not. Such is our nature, that we cannot think of invisible things, without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man of the greatest powers of mind, whether he is able to fix his thoughts on God, or Christ, or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his meditations? And the more engaged the mind is, and the more intense the contemplation and affection, the more lively and strong the imaginary idea will ordinarily be— especially when attended with surprise. And this is the case when the mental prospect is very new, and takes strong hold of the passions, such as fear or joy; and when the change of the state and views of the mind is sudden, from a contrary extreme, such as from what was extremely dreadful, to that which is extremely ravishing and delightful. It is no wonder that many persons do not distinguish very well between what is imaginary and what is intellectual and spiritual; or that they are apt to lay too much weight on the imaginary part, and are most ready to speak of that part in the account they give of their experiences — especially persons of less understanding and of distinguishing capacity.
God has given us such a faculty as the imagination, and has so made us, that we cannot think of spiritual and invisible things without some exercise of this faculty. So too, it appears to me that such is our state and nature, that this faculty is really subservient and helpful to the other faculties of the mind, when a proper use is made of it. Though oftentimes, when the imagination is too strong, and the other faculties too weak, it overbears, and disturbs them in their exercise. It appears manifest to me, in many instances with which I have been acquainted, that God has really made use of this faculty for truly divine purposes; especially in some who are more ignorant. God seems to condescend to their circumstances, and to deal with them as babes — as of old He instructed his church, while in a state of ignorance and minority, by types and outward representations. I can see nothing unreasonable in such a position. Let others who have much occasion to deal with souls in spiritual concerns, judge whether experience doesn’t confirm this.
It is no argument that a work is not of the Spirit of God, that some who are the subjects of it have been in a kind of ecstasy, in which they have been carried beyond themselves, and have had their minds transported into a train of strong and pleasing imaginations, and a kind of vision, as though they were rapt up even to heaven, and there saw glorious sights. I am acquainted with some instances of this kind. And I see no need for bringing in the help of the devil into the account that we give of these things, nor yet supposing them to be of the same nature with the visions of the prophets, or of St. Paul’s rapture into paradise. Human nature, under these intense exercises and affections, is all that needs to be brought into the account. If it may be well accounted for, that persons under a true sense of the glorious and wonderful greatness and excellency of divine things, and soul-ravishing views of the beauty and love of Christ, should have the strength of nature overpowered, as I have already shown that it may. Then I think it is not at all strange, that among great numbers who are thus affected and overborne, there should be some persons of particular constitutions, who should have their imaginations thus affected. The effect is no different than what bears a proportion and analogy to other effects of the strong exercise of their minds. It is no wonder, when the thoughts are so fixed, and the affections are so strong — and the whole soul is so engaged, ravished, and swallowed up — that all other parts of the body are so affected as to be deprived of their strength, and the whole frame is ready to dissolve. Is it any wonder that in such a case, the brain in particular (especially in some constitutions), which we know is most especially affected by intense contemplations and exercises of mind, should be so affected that its strength and spirits should be diverted for a season, and taken away from the impressions made on the organs of our external senses, and be wholly employed in a train of pleasing and delightful imaginations, corresponding with the present frame of the mind? Some are ready to interpret such things wrongly, and to lay too much weight on them as prophetic visions, divine revelations, and sometimes significations from heaven of what will come to pass. The issue of this, in some instances which I have known, has shown to be otherwise. Yet, it appears to me that such things are sometimes evidently from the Spirit of God, though indirectly. That is, their extraordinary frame of mind, and that strong and lively sense of divine things which occasions them, is from His Spirit — and also as the mind continues in its holy frame, and retains a divine sense of the excellency of spiritual things even in its rapture. This holy frame and sense is from the Spirit of God, though the imaginations that attend it are but incidental. And therefore, there is commonly something or other in them that is confused, improper, and false.
5. One means used is setting an example, or following another’s.
It is no sign that a work is not from the Spirit of God, that example is a great means of doing that work. It is surely no argument that an effect is not from God, just because means are used in producing it. For we know that it is God’s manner to make use of means in carrying on his work in the world. And so it is no more an argument against the divinity of an effect, that this means is made use of, than if it was by any other means. It is agreeable to Scripture that persons should be influenced by one another’s good example. The Scripture directs us to set good examples to that very end: Mat 5.16; 1Pet 3.1; 1Tim 4.12; Tit 2.7. And it also directs us to be influenced by the good examples of others, and to follow them: 2Cor 8.1-7; Heb 6.12; Phi 3.17; 1Cor 4.16; 11.1; 2The 3.9; 1The 1.7. By these passages, it appears that example is one of God’s means. And certainly, it is no argument that a work is not of God, just because His own means are made use of to effect it.
And as it is a Scriptural way of carrying on God’s work by example, so it is a reasonable way. It is no argument that men are not influenced by reason, just because they are influenced by example. This way of persons presenting truth to one another, has a tendency to enlighten the mind, and to convince reason. None will deny that when persons signify things to one another by words, it may rationally be supposed to tend to enlighten each other’s minds; but the same thing may be signified by actions, and signified much more fully and effectually. Words are of no use other than as they convey our own ideas to others; but actions, in some cases, may do it much more fully.
There is a language in actions; and in some cases, it is much clearer and more convincing than in words. It is therefore no argument against the goodness of the effect, that persons are greatly affected by seeing others so — though the impression is made only by seeing the tokens of great and extraordinary affection in others, in their behaviour — taking for granted what they are affected by, without hearing them say one word. There may be language sufficient in such a case, in their behaviour alone, to convey their minds to others, and to signify to them their sense of things, more than can possibly be done by words alone. If a person were to see another under extreme bodily torment, he might receive much clearer ideas, and more convincing evidence of what that person suffered, by his actions in his misery, than he could only by the words of an unaffected and indifferent relater. In like manner, he might receive a greater idea of anything that is excellent and very delightful, from the behaviour of one who is in actual enjoyment of it, than by the dull narration of someone who is inexperienced and insensible himself.
I desire that this matter may be examined by the strictest reason. Isn’t it manifest that effects produced in persons’ minds are rational, since not only weak and ignorant people are much influenced by example, but also those who make the greatest boast of their strength of reason? They are more influenced by reason held forth in this way, than almost any other. Indeed, the religious affections of many, when raised by this means — such as by hearing the word preached, or any other means — may prove flashy, and soon vanish, as Christ represents the stony-ground hearers. But the affections of some who are thus moved by example, are abiding, and prove to be of saving issue.
There was never yet a time of remarkable outpouring of the Spirit, and of a great revival of religion, without example having a main hand. So it was at the Reformation, and in the apostles’ days in Jerusalem, and Samaria, and Ephesus, and other parts of the world, as will be most manifest to anyone who attends to the accounts we have in the Acts of the Apostles. As in those days one person was moved by another, so one city or town was influenced by the example of another.
“So that you were examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God is spread abroad.” (1The 1.7-8)
It is no valid objection against examples being so much used, that the Scripture speaks of the Word as the principal means of carrying on God’s work. For the word of God is the principal means, nevertheless, by which other means operate and are made effectual. Even the sacraments have no effect except by the word. And so it is, that example becomes effectual. For all that is visible to the eye is unintelligible and vain, without the word of God to instruct and guide the mind. It is the word of God that is indeed held forth and applied by example, as the word of the Lord sounded forth to other towns in Macedonia and Achaia, by the example of those in Thessalonica who believe.
That example should be a great means of propagating the church of God seems to be signified several ways in Scripture. It is signified by Ruth’s following Naomi out of the land of Moab into the land of Israel, when she resolved that she would not leave her, but would go wherever she went, and lodge wherever she lodged; and that Naomi’s people would be her people, and Naomi’s God, her God. Ruth, who was the ancestral mother of David and of Christ, was undoubtedly a great type of the church; upon which account her history is inserted in the canon of Scripture. In her leaving the land of Moab and its gods, to come and put her trust under the shadow of the wings of the God of Israel, we have a type of the conversion not only of the Gentile church, but of every sinner, who is naturally an alien and stranger. But in his conversion, he forgets his own people, and his fathers house, and he becomes a fellow-citizen with the saints, and a true Israelite.
The same thing seems to be signified in the effect that the example of the spouse, when she was lovesick, had on the “daughters of Jerusalem,” i.e., visible Christians, who are first awakened, by seeing the spouse in such extraordinary circumstances, and then are converted. See Song 5.8-9, and 6.1. This is undoubtedly one way that “the Spirit and the bride say, Come” (Rev 22.17) — i.e. the Spirit in the Bride. It is foretold that the work of God would be very much carried on by this means in the last great outpouring of the Spirit; and that it would introduce the glorious day of the church, so often spoken of in Scripture.
“And the inhabitants of one city will go to another, saying, Let us go at once to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also. Yes, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass that ten men from the nations of every language, will take hold of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” (Zec 8.21-23)