And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
~ Luke 1:16-17
I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
~ Jeremiah 23:21
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbour, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Baal.
~ Jeremiah 23:25-27
The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD.
~ Jeremiah 23:28-32
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
~ Ephesians 3:1-5
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
~ Revelation 22:18
Concerning External Revelation Outside Holy Scriptures, by Jonathan Edwards.
The following contains an excerpt from his work, Some Thoughts Concerning The Present Revival Of Religion In New England, And The Way In Which It Ought To Be Acknowledged And Promoted, Humbly Offered To The Public In A Treatise On That Subject.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high way for our God.
~ Isaiah 40:3
One erroneous principle, than which scarce any has proved more mischievous to the present glorious work of God, is a notion that it is God’s manner in these days to guide his saints, at least some that are more eminent, by inspiration or immediate revelation. They suppose he makes known to them what shall come to pass hereafter, or what it is his will that they should do, by impressions made upon their minds either with or without texts of Scripture, whereby something is made known to them that is not taught in the Scripture. By such a notion the devil has a great door opened for him; and if once this opinion should come to be fully yielded to and established in the church of God, Satan would have opportunity thereby to set up himself as the guide and oracle of God’s people and to have his Word regarded as their infallible rule and so to lead them where he would and to introduce what he pleased and soon to bring the Bible into neglect and contempt. — Late experience, in some instances, has shown that the tendency of this notion is to cause persons to esteem the Bible as in a great measure useless.
This error will defend and support errors. As long as a person has a notion that he is guided by immediate direction from heaven, it makes him incorrigible and impregnable in all his misconduct. For what signifies it, for poor blind worms of the dust, to go to argue with a man and endeavor to convince him and correct him that is guided by the immediate counsels and commands of the great JEHOVAH? This great work of God has been exceedingly hindered by this error; and, till we have quite taken this handle out of the devil’s hands, the work of God will never go on without great clogs and hindrances. — Satan will always have a vast advantage in his hands against it and as he has improved it hitherto, so he will do still. And it is evident that the devil knows the vast advantage he has by it, that makes him exceeding loth to let go his hold.
It is strange what a disposition there is in many well-disposed and religious persons to fall in with and hold fast this notion. It is enough to astonish one, that such multiplied, plain instances of the failing of such supposed revelations in the event do not open every one’s eyes. I have seen so many instances of the failing of such impressions that would almost furnish a history. I have been acquainted with them when made under all kinds of circumstances and have seen them fail in the event when made with such circumstances as have been fairest and brightest and most promising. They have been made upon the minds of apparently eminent saints and with an excellent heavenly frame of spirit yet continued and made with texts of Scripture that seemed exceeding apposite, yea, many texts following one another, extraordinarily and wonderfully brought to the mind, and the impressions repeated over and over. And yet all has most manifestly come to nothing to the full conviction of the persons themselves. God has in so many instances of late, in his providence, covered such things with darkness that one would think it should be enough quite to blank the expectations of those who have been ready to think highly of such things. It seems to be a testimony of God that he has no design of reviving revelations in his church and a rebuke from him to the groundless expectations of it.
It seems to me that Zec. 13:5 is a prophecy concerning ministers of the gospel in the latter and glorious days of the Christian church (which is evidently spoken of in this and the foregoing chapters). The words, I apprehend, are to be interpreted in a spiritual sense. I am an husbandman: The work of ministers is very often, in the New Testament, compared to the business of the husbandmen that take care of God’s husbandry, to whom he lets out his vineyard and sends them forth to labor in his field where one plants and another waters, one sows and another reaps. So ministers are called laborers in God’s harvest. And as it is added, “Men taught me to keep cattle from my youth;” so the work of a minister is very often in Scripture represented by the business of a shepherd or pastor. And whereas it is said, “I am no prophet; but man taught me from my youth:” it is as much as to say, I do not pretend to have received my skill, whereby I am fitted for the business of a pastor or shepherd in the church of God, by immediate inspiration but by education, by being trained up to the business by human learning and instructions received from my youth or childhood by ordinary means.
And why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God which we have in such abundance and clearness now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have anything added to them by impulses from above? Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to his church which, the apostle teaches us, is surer than a voice from heaven? And why should we desire to make the Scripture speak more to us than it does? Or why should any desire a higher kind of intercourse with heaven than by having the Holy Spirit given in his sanctifying influences, infusing and exciting grace and holiness, love and joy, which is the highest kind of intercourse that the saints and angels in heaven have with God and the chief excellency of the glorified man Christ Jesus?
Some that follow impulses and impressions indulge a notion that they do no other than follow the guidance of God’s Word because the impression is made with a text of Scripture that comes to their mind. But they take that text as it is impressed on their minds and improve it as a new revelation to all intents and purposes; while the text, as it is in the Bible, implies no such thing, and they themselves do not suppose that any such revelation was contained in it before. Suppose, for instance, that text should come into a person’s mind with strong impression, Acts 9:6, “Arise, and go into the city; and it shall be told thee what thou must do;” and he should interpret it as an immediate signification of the will of God that he should now forthwith go to such a neighboring town and there he should meet with a further discovery of his duty. If such things as these are revealed by the impression of these words, it is to all intents a new revelation not the less because certain words of Scripture are made use of in the case. Here are the propositions or truths entirely new that those words do not contain. These propositions, That it is God’s mind and will that such a person by name should arise at such a time and go to such a place and that there he should meet with discoveries, are entirely new propositions, wholly different from those contained in that text of Scripture. They are no more implied in the words themselves, without a new revelation, that it is implied that he should arise and go to any other place or that any other person should arise and go to that place. The propositions supposed to be now revealed are as really different from those contained in that scripture as they are from the propositions contained in that text, Gen. 5:6, “And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos.” This is quite a different thing from the Spirit’s enlightening the mind to understand the words of God and know what is contained and revealed in them and what consequences may justly be drawn from them and to see how they are applicable to our case and circumstances; which is done without any new revelation only by enabling the mind to understand and apply a revelation already made.
Those texts of Scripture that speak of the children of God as led by the Spirit have been by some brought to defend such impulses; particularly Rom. 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God:” and Gal. 5:18, “But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” But these texts themselves confute them that bring them; for it is evident that the leading of the Spirit which the apostle speaks of is peculiar to the children of God and that natural men cannot have; for he speaks of it as a sure evidence of their being the sons of God and not under the law. But a leading or directing of a person by immediately revealing to him where he should go or what shall hereafter come to pass or what shall be the future consequence of his doing thus or thus, if there be any such thing in these days, is not of the nature of the gracious leading of the Spirit of God peculiar to God’s children. It is no more than a common gift. There is nothing in it but what natural men are capable of, and many of them have had in the days of inspiration. A man may have ten thousand such revelations and directions from the Spirit of God and yet not have a jot of grace in his heart. It is no more than the gift of prophecy which immediately reveals what will be or should be hereafter; but this is only a common gift as the apostle expressly shows (1 Cor. 13:2, 8). If a person has anything revealed to him from God or is directed to anything by a voice from heaven or a whisper or words immediately suggested to his mind, there is nothing of the nature of grace merely in this: it is of the nature of a common influence of the Spirit and is but dross in comparison of the excellency for that gracious leading of the Spirit that the saints have. Such a way of being directed where one shall go and what he shall do is no more than what Balaam had from God who from time to time revealed to him what he should do; so that he was in this sense led by the Spirit for a considerable time. There is a more excellent way in which the Spirit leads the sons of God that natural men cannot have; and that is by inclining them to do the will of God and go in the shining path of truth and Christian holiness from a holy, heavenly disposition which the Spirit of God gives them and which inclines and leads them to those things that are excellent and agreeable to God’s mind, whereby they “are transformed by the renewing of their minds and prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God,” (Rom. 12:2). And so the Spirit of God does in a gracious manner teach the saints their duty; and he teaches them in a higher manner than ever Balaam or Saul or Judas were taught. The Spirit of God enlightens them with respect to their duty by making their eye single and pure, whereby the whole body is full of light. The sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God rectifies the taste of the soul, whereby it savors those things that are holy and agreeable to God’s mind; and, like one of a distinguishing taste, it chooses those things that are good and wholesome and rejects those that are evil. The sanctified ear tries words, and the sanctified heart tries actions as the mouth tastes meat. And thus the Spirit of God leads and guides the meek in his way, agreeable to his promises. He enables them to understand the commands and counsels of his Word and rightly to apply them. Christ blames the Pharisees that they had not this holy distinguishing taste to discern and distinguish what was right and wrong (Luke 12:57), “Yea, and why even of your own selves judge ye not what is right?”
The leading of the Spirit which God gives his children, and which is peculiar to them, is that teaching them his statutes and causing them to understand the way of his precepts which the psalmist so very often prays for, especially in the 119th Psalm: and not in giving them new statutes and new precepts. He graciously gives them eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand. He causes them to understand the fear of the Lord and so “brings the blind by a way they knew not, and leads them in paths that they had not known, and makes darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” So the assistance of the Spirit in praying and preaching seems by some to have been greatly misunderstood, and they have sought after a miraculous assistance of inspiration by the immediate suggesting of words to them by such gifts and influences of the Spirit in praying and teaching as the apostle speaks of, 1 Cor. 14:14, 26. (Which many natural men had in those days), instead of a gracious holy assistance of the Spirit of God which is the far more excellent way; (as 1 Cor. 12:31 and 13:1). The gracious and most excellent assistance of the Spirit of God in praying and preaching is not by immediately suggesting words to the apprehension which may be with a cold, dead heart; but by warming the heart and filling it with a great sense of things to be spoken and with holy affections that these may suggest words. Thus indeed the Spirit of God may be said, indirectly and mediately, to suggest words to us, to indite our petitions for us, and to teach the preacher what to say. He fills the heart, and that fills the mouth. We know that when men are greatly affected in any matter and their hearts are very full, it fills them with matter for speech and makes them eloquent upon that subject; and much more have spiritual affections this tendency for many reasons that might be given. When a person is in a holy and lively frame in secret prayer or in Christian conversation, it will wonderfully supply him with matter and with expressions as every true Christian knows; and it has the like tendency to enable a person in public prayer and preaching. And, if he has these holy influences of the Spirit on his heart in a high degree, nothing in the world will have so great a tendency to make both the matter and manner of his public performances excellent and profitable. But, since there is no immediate suggesting of words from the Spirit of God to be expected or desired, they who neglect and despise study and premeditation in order to a preparation for the pulpit, in such an expectation, are guilty of presumption: though doubtless it may be lawful for some persons in some cases (and they may be called to it) to preach with very little study; and the Spirit of God, by the heavenly frame of heart that he gives them, may enable them to do it to excellent purpose. Besides this most excellent way of the Spirit of God assisting ministers in public performances which (considered as the preacher’s privilege) far excels inspiration, there is a common assistance which natural men may have in these days and which the godly may have intermingled with a gracious assistance which is also very different from inspiration, and that is his assisting natural principles; as the natural apprehension, reason, memory, conscience, and natural affection.
But, to return to the head of impressions and immediate revelations; many lay themselves open to a delusion by expecting direction from heaven in this way and waiting for it. In such a case it is easy for persons to imagine that they have it. They are perhaps at a loss concerning something, undetermined what they shall do, or what course they shall take in some affair; and they pray to God to direct them and make known to them his mind and will: and then instead of expecting to be directed by being assisted in considering the rules of God’s Word, his providence, and their circumstances, to look on things in a true light and justly to weigh them, they are waiting for some secret immediate influence, unaccountably swaying their minds and turning their thoughts or inclinations that way in which God would have them to go. Hereby they are exposed to two things; first, they lay themselves open to the devil and give him a fair opportunity to lead them where he pleases. For they stand ready to follow the first extraordinary impulse that they shall have, groundlessly concluding it is from God. And, secondly, they are greatly exposed to be deceived by their own imaginations: for such an expectation awakens and quickens the imagination; and that oftentimes is called an uncommon impression that is no such thing; and they ascribe that to the agency of some invisible being which is owing only to themselves.
Again, another way that many have been deceived is by drawing false conclusions from true premises. Many true and eminent saints have been led into mistakes and snares by arguing that they have prayed in faith. They have indeed been greatly assisted in prayer for such a particular mercy and have had the true spirit of prayer in exercise in their asking it of God: but they have concluded more from these premises than is a just consequence from them. That they have thus prayed is a sure sign that their prayer is accepted and heard and that God will give a gracious answer according to his own wisdom and that the particular thing asked shall be given or that which is equivalent. This is a just consequence from it. — But it is not inferred by any new revelation now made but by the promises made to the prayer of faith in the Holy Scriptures. But that God will answer them in that individual thing they ask if it be not a thing promised in God’s Word or they do not certainly know that it is what will be most for the good of God’s church and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom and glory nor whether it will be best for them is more than can be justly concluded from it. If God remarkably meets with one of his children while he is praying for a particular mercy of great importance for himself or some other person or any society of men and does by the influences of his Spirit greatly humble him and empty him of himself in his prayer and manifests himself remarkably in his excellency, sovereignty, and all-sufficient power and grace in Jesus Christ — and in a remarkable manner enables the person to come to him for that mercy poor in spirit and with humble resignation to God and with a great degree of faith in the divine sufficiency and the sufficiency of Christ’s mediation — that person has indeed a great deal the more reason to hope that God will grant that mercy than otherwise he would have. The greater probability is justly inferred, agreeable to the promises of the Holy Scripture, in that such prayer is accepted and heard; and it is much more probable that a prayer that is heard will be returned with a particular mercy that is asked than one that is not so. And there is no reason at all to doubt but that God sometimes especially enables to the exercises of faith when the minds of his saints are engaged in thoughts of and prayer for some particular blessing they greatly desire, i.e. God is pleased especially to give them a believing frame, a sense of his fullness, and a spirit of humble dependence on him at such times. When they are thinking of and praying for such mercy he gives them a particular sense of his ability and of the sufficiency of his power to overcome obstacles and the sufficiency of his mercy and of the blood of Christ for the removal of the guilt that is in the way of the bestowment of such a mercy in particular. When this is the case it makes the probability still much greater that God intends to bestow the particular mercy sought in his own time and his own way. But there is nothing of the nature of a revelation in the case but only a drawing rational conclusions from the particular manner and circumstances of the ordinary gracious influences of God’s Spirit. And as God is pleased sometimes to give his particular exercises of faith in his sufficiency with regard to particular mercies; so he is sometimes pleased to make use of his Word in order to it and helps the actings of faith with respect to such a mercy. The strengthening of their faith in God’s sufficiency in this case is therefore a just improvement of such scriptures. It is no more than what those scriptures, as they stand in the Bible, hold forth. But to take them as new whispers or revelations from heaven is not making a just improvement of them. If persons have thus a spirit of prayer, remarkably given them concerning particular mercy from time to time so as evidently to be assisted to act faith in God, in that particular, in a very distinguishing manner. The argument in some cases may be very strong that God does design to grant that mercy, not from any revelation now made of it but from such a kind and manner of the ordinary influence of his Spirit with respect to that thing.
But here a great deal of caution and circumspection must be used in drawing inferences of this nature. There are many ways by which persons may be misled and deluded. The ground on which some expect that they shall receive the thing they have asked for is rather a strong imagination than any true humble faith in the divine sufficiency. They have a strong persuasion that the thing asked shall be granted (which they can give no reason for) without any remarkable discovery of that glory and fullness of God and Christ that is the ground of faith. And sometimes the confidence that their prayers shall be answered is only a self-righteous confidence and no true faith. They have a high conceit of themselves as eminent saints and special favorites of God and have also a high conceit of the prayers they have made because they were much enlarged and affected in them; and hence they are positive in it that the thing will come to pass. And sometimes, when once they have conceived such a notion, they grow stronger and stronger in it; and this they think is from an immediate divine hand upon their minds to strengthen their confidence; whereas it is only by their dwelling in their minds on their own excellency and high experiences and great assistances, whereby they look brighter and brighter in their own eyes. Hence it is found by observation and experience that nothing in the world exposes so much to enthusiasm as spiritual pride and self- righteousness.
In order to drawing a just inference from the supposed assistance we have had in prayer for a particular mercy and judging of the probability of the bestowment of that individual mercy, many things must be considered. We must consider the importance of the mercy sought and the principle whence we so earnestly desire it; how far it is good and agreeable to the mind and will of God; the degree of love to God that we exercised in our prayer; the degree of discovery that is made of the divine sufficiency, and the degree in which our assistance is manifestly distinguishing with respect to that mercy. — And there is nothing of greater importance in the argument than the degree of humility, poverty of spirit, self- emptiness, and resignation to the holy will of God exercised in seeking that mercy. Praying for a particular mercy with much of these things, I have often seen blessed with a remarkable bestowment of the particular thing asked for. From what has been said, we may see which way God may only by the ordinary gracious influences of his Spirit sometimes give his saints special reason to hope for the bestowment of a particular mercy they prayed for, and which we may suppose he oftentimes gives eminent saints who have great degrees of humility and much communion with God. And here, I humbly conceive, some eminent servants of Jesus Christ that we read of in ecclesiastical story have been led into a mistake; and, through want of distinguishing such things as these from immediate revelations, have thought that God has favored them, in some instances, with the same kind of divine influences that the apostles and prophets had of old.