If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
~ Deuteronomy 13:1-5
The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
~ Proverbs 14:15
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?
~ Jeremiah 5:31
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
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
~ Matthew 24:5
Mr Cooper’s Preface to The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, by Jonathan Edwards.
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
Mr Cooper’s Preface to the Reader.
There are several dispensations, or days of grace, which the church of God has been under from the beginning of time. There is the one under the patriarchs; one under the law of Moses; and there is that one of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which we are now under. This is the brightest day that has ever shone, and exceeds the others for peculiar advantages. To us who are so happy as to live under the evangelical dispensation, may those words of our Saviour be directed which he spoke to his disciples when he was first setting up the Messiah’s kingdom in the world, and gospel-light and power began to spread abroad:
“Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them.” (Luk 10.23-24.)
The Mosaic dispensation, though darkened with types and figures, yet far exceeded the former. But the gospel dispensation so much exceeds in glory, that it eclipses the glory of the legal, as the stars disappear when the sun arises and goes forth in its strength.
And the chief thing that renders the gospel so glorious, is that it is the ministration of the Spirit. Under the preaching of the gospel, the Holy Spirit was to be poured out in more plentiful measures. This was not only in miraculous gifts, as in the first times of the gospel, but in His internal saving operations accompanying the outward ministry, to produce numerous conversions to Christ, and give spiritual life to souls who before were dead in trespasses and sins, and so prepare them for eternal life. Thus the apostle speaks when he runs a comparison between the Old Testament and the New, the law of Moses and the gospel of Jesus Christ:
“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious — so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away with — how will the ministration of the Spirit not be more glorious?” (2Cor 3.6-8)
This blessed time of the gospel has several other labels which may raise our esteem and value for it. It is called by the evangelical prophet, “The acceptable year of the Lord” (Isa 61.2). Or as it may be read, the year of liking, or of benevolence, or of the good will of the Lord — because it would be the special period in which He would display his grace and favour in an extraordinary manner, and deal out spiritual blessings with a full and liberal hand.
It is also styled by our Saviour, the regeneration (Mat 19.28). This may refer not only to that glorious restitution of all things, which is looked for at the close of the Christian dispensation, but to the renewing work of grace in particular souls, carried on from the beginning to the end of it. But few were renewed and sanctified under the former dispensations, compared with the instances of the grace of God in gospel-times. Such numbers were brought into the gospel-church when it was first set up, as to give occasion for that pleasing and admiring question which was indeed a prophecy of it, “Who are these who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows?” (Isa 60.8) Then the power of the divine Spirit so accompanied the ministry of the word, that thousands were converted under one sermon.
But notwithstanding this large effusion of the Spirit when gospel-light first dawned upon the world — that pleasant spring of religion which then appeared on the face of the earth — there was a gradual withdrawing of His saving light and influences. And so the gospel came to be less successful, and the state of Christianity withered in one place and another.
Indeed at the time of the Reformation from popery, when gospel-light broke in upon the church, and dispelled the clouds of antichristian darkness that covered it, the power of divine grace so accompanied the preaching of the word, that it had admirable success in the conversion and edification of souls; and the blessed fruits of this appeared in the hearts and lives of its professors. That was one of “the days of the Son of man,” on which the exalted Redeemer rode forth in His glory and majesty on the white horse of the pure gospel, “conquering and to conquer;” and the bow in his hand, like that of Jonathan, did not return empty. But what a dead and barren time it has now been, for a great while, with all the churches of the Reformation. The golden showers have been restrained; the influences of the Spirit suspended; and the consequence has been that the gospel has not had any eminent success. Conversions have been rare and dubious. Few sons and daughters have been born to God. And the hearts of Christians have not been so quickened, warmed, and refreshed under the ordinances, as they have been (in the past).
This has been the sad state of religion among us in this land for many years — except for one or two distinguished places, which have been visited at times with a shower of mercy, while other towns and churches have not been rained upon. This will be acknowledged by all who have their spiritual senses exercised, as it has been lamented by faithful ministers and serious Christians. Accordingly, it has been a constant petition in our public prayers, from Sabbath to Sabbath, “That God would pour out his Spirit upon us, and revive his work in the midst of the years.” And besides our annual fast-days appointed by government, most of the churches have set apart days in which to seek the Lord by prayer and fasting, that He would “come and rain down righteousness upon us.”
And now, “Behold! The Lord whom we have sought, has suddenly come to his temple.” Mal 3.1 The dispensation or grace that we are now under, is certainly such as neither we nor our fathers have seen. And in some circumstances, it is so wonderful that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediately after our Lord’s ascension. The apostolical times seem to have returned upon us — there has been such a display of the power and grace of the divine Spirit in the assemblies of his people, and such testimonies that He has given to the word of the gospel. I remember a remarkable passage of the late reverend and learned Mr. Howe,1 which I think it worthwhile to transcribe here.
“In such a time, when the Spirit will be poured forth plentifully, surely ministers will have their proportionate share. And when such a time as that comes, I believe you will hear many other kinds of sermons (or those will who live till such a time) than you usually do now-a-days: souls will surely be dealt with at another rate. It is plain, too sadly plain, there is a great retraction of the Spirit of God even from us. We do not know how to speak living sense into souls; how to get within you: our words die in our mouths, or drop and die between you and us. We even faint when we speak; long-experienced unsuccessfulness makes us despond. We do not speak as persons who hope to prevail, who expect to make you serious, heavenly, mindful of God, and to
1 John Howe (1630-1705) was an English Puritan theologian. He served briefly as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell. “The Prosperous State of the Christian Church before the End of Time, by a plentiful Effusion of the Holy Spirit,” p. 80.
walk more like Christians. The methods of alluring and convincing souls, even those that some of us have known, are lost from among us in great part. Other ways have been taken than we can now tell how to fall upon, for mollifying the obdurate, and awakening the self-secure, and convincing and persuading the obstinate, and winning the disaffected. Surely there will be a large share who will come even to the part of ministers, when such an effusion of the Spirit comes as expected. They will know how to speak to better purpose, with more compassion, with more seriousness, with more authority and allurement, than we can now find.”
We have found our own remarkable day to be agreeable to the just expectation of this great and excellent man. A number of preachers have appeared among us, to whom God has given such a large measure of his Spirit, that we are sometimes ready to apply to them the character of Barnabas: “he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost, and of faith.” (Act 11.24) They preach the gospel of the grace of God from place to place, with uncommon zeal and assiduity.
The doctrines they insist on are the doctrines of the Reformation, under the influence of which the power of godliness so flourished in the last century. The points on which their preaching mainly turns are those important ones of man’s guilt, corruption, and impotence; supernatural regeneration by the Spirit of God, and free justification by faith in the righteousness of Christ; and the marks of the new birth.
The manner of their preaching is not with the enticing words of man’s wisdom. “However, they speak wisdom among those who are mature.” (1Cor 2.6) An ardent love for Christ and souls warms their breasts, and animates their labours. God has made His ministers active spirits, a flame of fire in his service; and His word in their mouths has been “like a fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces.” (Jer 23.29) In most places where they have laboured, God has evidently worked with them, and “confirmed the word by accompanying signs.” (Mar 16.20) Such a power and presence of God in religious assemblies, has not been known since God set up his sanctuary among us. He has indeed “glorified the house of his glory.” (Isa 60.7)
This work is truly extraordinary in respect of its extent. It is more or less in the several provinces that measure many hundreds of miles on this continent. “He sends forth his commandment on earth! His word runs very swiftly.” (Psa 147.15) It has entered and spread in some of the most populous towns, the chief places of concourse and business. And — blessed be God! — it has visited the seats of learning, both here and in a neighbouring colony. O may the Holy Spirit constantly reside in them both, seize our devoted youth, and form them as polished shafts, to successfully fight the Lord’s battles against the powers of darkness when they will be called out to service! — It is also extraordinary with respect to the numbers who have been the subjects of this operation. Stupid sinners have been awakened by the hundreds; and it has been widely asked in some places, “What must I do to be saved?” I truly believe that in this metropolis of ours, there were some thousands last winter, who were under such religious impressions as they had never felt before.
The work has been remarkable also for the various sorts of persons who have been under its influence. — These have been of all ages. Some elderly persons have been snatched as brands out of the burning, made monuments of divine mercy, and born to God, though “out of due time,” as the apostle says in his own case (1Cor 15.8). But here with us, it has lain mostly among the young. Sprightly youth have been made to bow like willows to the Redeemer’s sceptre, and to willingly subscribe with their own hands to the Lord. And out of the mouths of babes, some little children, God has ordained praise to Himself, to still the enemy and the avenger. — They have also been of all ranks and degrees. Some are of the great and rich; but more of the low and poor — and of other countries and nations. Ethiopia has stretched out her hand: some poor negroes have, I trust, been brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God — those of all qualities and conditions.
The most ignorant, the foolish things of the world, babes in knowledge, have been made “wise unto salvation” (2Tim 3.15), and been taught those heavenly truths which have been hidden from the wise and prudent. Some of the learned and knowing among men, have had those things revealed to them by the Father in heaven, which flesh and blood do not teach. And of these, some who had gone into the modern notions, and had only the polite religion of the present times, have had their prejudices conquered, their carnal reasonings overcome, and their understandings made to bow to gospel mysteries. They now receive “the truth as it is in Jesus” (Eph 4.21), and their faith no longer “stands in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.” (1Cor 2.5) Some of the most rude and disorderly have become regular in their behaviour, and sober in all things. The gay and airy 2 have become grave and serious.
Some of the greatest sinners have appeared to be turned into real saints: drunkards have become temperate; fornicators and adulterers are now of chaste conduct; swearers and profane persons have learned to fear that glorious and fearful Name, THE LORD THEIR GOD; carnal worldlings have been made to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Mat 6.33) Even deriders and scoffers at this work and its instruments, have come under its conquering power. Some of this stamp, who have gone to hear the preacher — as some did with Paul, wondering “What will this babbler say?” (Act 17.18) — have not been able to resist the power and the Spirit with which he spoke. They have sat trembling under the word, and gone away from it weeping; afterward they clung to the preacher. So Dionysius the Areopagite did with Paul. (Act 17.34) Diverse instances of this kind have come to my knowledge.
The virtuous and civil have been convinced that morality is not to be relied on for life; and so they are excited to seek the new birth, and a vital union to Jesus Christ by faith. The formal professor likewise has been awakened out of his dead formalities, brought under the power of godliness; taken away from his false rests, and brought to build his hope on the Mediator’s righteousness alone. At the same time, many of the children of God have been greatly quickened and refreshed. They have been awakened out of the sleeping frames they had fallen into, and are excited to be “diligent to make their calling and election sure.” (2Pet 1.10) They have had precious, reviving, and sealing times. — The divine influence has been this extensive and general in this glorious season.
One more thing is worthy of remark, and this is the uniformity of the work. By the accounts I have received in letters, and conversation with ministers and others who live in different parts of the land where this work is going on, it is the same work that is carried on in one place as in another. The method of the Spirit’s operation on the minds of the people is the same as usual at other times, though with some variety of circumstances. And the particular appearances with which this work is attended, that have not been so common at other times,
2 The phrase refers to those who are fun-loving, flighty, and fanciful.
are also much the same. These points are indeed objected by many against the work. But though conversion is the same work in its main strokes wherever it is wrought, it still seems reasonable to suppose that at an extraordinary season in which God is pleased to carry on a work of His grace in a more observable and glorious manner, in a way that He would have the world take notice of — at such a time, I say, it seems reasonable to suppose that there may be some particular appearances in the work of conversion, which are not common at other times — when true conversions are yet wrought — or when some circumstances attending the work may be carried on to an unusual degree and height. If it were not thus, then the work of the Lord would not be so much regarded and spoken of, and so God would not have so much of the glory from it. Nor would the work itself be likely to spread so fast; for God has evidently made use of example and discourse in carrying it on.
And as to the fruits of this work (which we have been asked so often to wait for), blessed be God! So far as there has been time for observation, they appear to be abiding. I do not mean that none have lost their impressions, or that there are no instances of hypocrisy and apostacy. Scripture and experience lead us to expect these at such a season. To me, it is a matter of surprise and thankfulness that as yet there have not been more. But I mean that a great number of those who have been awakened, are still seeking and striving to “enter by the narrow gate” (Mat 7.13). Most of those who were thought to be converted, continue to give evidence of their being new creatures, and seem to cling to the Lord with full purpose of heart. To be sure, a new face of things continues in this town, though many circumstances concur to render such a work not so observable here 3 as in smaller and more distant places. Many things that are not becoming of the profession of the gospel, are in a measure reformed. Taverns, dancing-schools, and those meetings which have been called assemblies, which have always proved unfriendly to serious godliness, are frequented much less. Many have reduced their dress and apparel to make themselves look more like followers of the humble Jesus.
It has been both surprising and pleasant to see that some younger people — also of that sex which is most fond of such vanities — have put away the “finery of their ornaments” (Isa 3.18), as the effect and indication of their seeking the inward glories of “the King’s daughter.” 4 Religion is now much more the subject of conversation at friends’ houses, than I ever knew it. The doctrines of grace are espoused and relished. Private religious meetings have greatly multiplied. Public assemblies (especially lectures) are much better attended; and our listeners were never so attentive and serious. There is indeed an extraordinary appetite for “the sincere milk of the word.” (1Pet 2.2)
It is more than twelve months since an evening lecture was set up in this town. There are now several: two constantly on Tuesday and Friday evenings. This is when some of our most capacious houses are well-filled with hearers who, by their looks and deportment, seem to have come to hear, that their souls might live. An evening in God’s courts is now esteemed better than many elsewhere. There is also great resort to ministers in private. Our hands continue full of work; and many times we have more than we can discourse with distinctly and separately. I have written thus largely and particularly, that persons at a distance, who
3 Here: i.e., in the city of Boston, in New England. 4 1Pet 3.4; Mat 21.5.
desire to know the present state of religion here — those into whose hands these papers will come — may receive some satisfaction.
And now, can anyone be at a loss as to what spirit to ascribe this work? To attribute it to the devil, as some do, is to make the old serpent like the foolish woman “who pulled down her house with her hands.” (Pro 14.1) Our Saviour has taught us to argue otherwise in such a case as this. “Every kingdom divided against itself will not stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?” (Mat 12.25-26)
Some entertain prejudices against this work, and others revile and reproach it. This does not make it look less like a work of God. It would otherwise lack one mark of its being so. For the spirit of this world, and the spirit which is of God, are contrary to one another. I do not wonder that Satan rages, and shows his rage in some who are under his influence, when his kingdom is so shaken, and his subjects desert him by the hundreds, I hope by the thousands. — The prejudices of some, I have no doubt, are owing to the lack of opportunity to be rightly informed, and to their having received misrepresentations from abroad. Others may be offended because they have not experienced anything like such a work in themselves. And if these things are so, then they must begin again, and get another foundation laid than that on which they have built. And this is what men are hardly brought to do. Others, perhaps, may dislike the present work because it supports and confirms some principles which they have not yet embraced, and against which such prejudices hang about their minds, because they cannot be easily shaken off. For it is certain that these fruits do not grow on Arminian ground.
I hope none dislike the work because they have not been used as instruments in it. For if we love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, we will rejoice to see Him increase, even if we decrease. If any are resolutely set to disbelieve this work, to reproach and oppose it, they must be left to the free sovereign power and mercy of God to enlighten and rescue them. If they have had an opportunity to be rightly informed, I am ready to think they would have been disbelievers, and opposers of the miracles and mission of our Saviour, had they lived in His days. The malignity which some of them have revealed, to me approaches the unpardonable sin. And they need to beware, lest they indeed sin “the sin which is unto death.” (1Joh 5.16) For as I believe it can be committed in these days, as well as in the days of the apostles, so I think persons are now in more danger of committing it, than at other times. At least let them come under the awe of this word: “Because they do not regard the works of the Lord, nor the operation of his hands, He shall destroy them, and not build them up.” (Psa 28.5)
But if any are disposed to receive conviction, and have a mind open to light, and are really willing to know about the present work, whether it is of God, it is with great satisfaction and pleasure that I can recommend to them the following sheets. They will find in them the “distinguishing marks” of such a work, as they are found in the Holy Scriptures, applied to the uncommon operation that has been on the minds of many in this land. Here the matter is tested by the infallible touchstone of the Holy Scriptures, and it is weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, with great judgment and impartiality.
A performance of this kind is seasonable and necessary. And I heartily desire to bless God, who inclined this servant of His to undertake it, and has graciously assisted him in it. The Reverend Author is known to be “a scribe instructed for the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 13.52) The place where he has been called to exercise his ministry has been famous for experiential religion; and he has had opportunities to observe this work in many places where it has powerfully appeared, and to converse with numbers who have been the subjects of it. These things qualify him for this undertaking above most. His arguments in favour of the work, are strongly drawn from Scripture, reason, and experience. And I believe that every candid, judicious reader will say that he writes very free from an enthusiastic or a party spirit.5
The use of human learning is asserted; a methodical way of preaching, the fruit of study as well as prayer is recommended; and the exercise of charity in judging others is pressed and urged. And those things which are esteemed blemishes, and are likely to be the hinderances of the work, are cautioned and warned against with great faithfulness. — Many, I believe, will be thankful for this publication. Those who have already entertained favourable thoughts of this work, will be confirmed by it; and the doubting may be convinced and satisfied. But if there are any who cannot after all, see the signatures of a divine hand on the work, it is to be hoped they will be prevailed upon to spare their censures, and stop their oppositions, lest “they even be found to fight against God.” (Act 5.39)
I still had several things to say, which I see I must suppress, or I will go far beyond the limits of a preface. And I fear I need to ask pardon both from the reader and the publishers for the length I have already run. Only, I cannot help expressing my wish that those who have been conversant in this work in one place or another, would transmit accounts of it to such a hand as the Reverend Author of this discourse, to be compiled into a narrative. It would be like that of the conversions at Northampton, which was published a few years ago, so that the world may know this surprising dispensation, in its beginning, progress, and various circumstances.
This, I apprehend, would be for the honour of the Holy Spirit, whose work and office has been treated so reproachfully in the Christian world. It would be an open attestation to the divinity of a despised gospel. And it might have a happy effect on the other places where the sound of this marvelous work would by this means be heard. I cannot help but think it would be one of the most useful pieces of church history the people of God are blessed with. Perhaps it would come the nearest to the Acts of the Apostles of anything extant; and all the histories in the world do not come up to that. There we have something as surprising as in the book of Genesis; and a new creation of another kind seems to open to our view. But I must forbear.
I will only add my prayer, That the worthy Author of this discourse may long be continued a burning and shining light in the golden candlestick where Christ has placed him, and from there diffuse his light through these provinces! That the divine Spirit whose cause is espoused here, would accompany this and the other valuable publications of his servant, with his powerful influences. That they may promote the Redeemer’s interest, serve the ends of vital religion, and so add to the Author’s present joy, and future crown!
— W. COOPER.6
Boston, Nov. 20, 1741.
5 That is, free from bias (blind passion or over-emotionalism) and partisanship.
6 William Cooper (1693-1743). An eminent revivalist preacher in Boston during the Great Awakening. He served at the church in Brattle Street. He was a close friend and supporter of Jonathan Edward. Hence this lengthy preface to the Reader, draws on his personal experience of the events, circumstances, and conversions which Edwards describes.