Spiritual Impulses, Errors, and Delusions (Edwards)

 Jonathan Edwards was around ten years older than George Whitefield.  Both were involved in the famous revivals of the 1730’s and 40’s.  Edwards and Whitefield did meet and were both interested in promoting revival, so they had common ground.  However, as George Marsden notes, Edwards was somewhat critical of Whitefield.  Below is Marsden’s summary of Edwards’ criticism:

“Never one to put politeness above principle, Edwards had already taken the young man aside and spoken to him privately about the danger of relying on ‘impulses.’  Whitefield and many of his fellow awakeners were following what they took to be direct leadings from God’s Spirit.  They would, after intense prayer about a decision, become convinced that God was directly telling them what they should do.  Edwards believed such ‘impressions’ were often products of the imagination rather than ‘impulses from above.’  He strongly favored prayerful spiritual intensity accompanied by wonderful images of God’s grace, and so forth.  But for Edwards, these ecstatic experiences had to be disciplined by the rational mind, informed by Scripture.  The point was crucial.  If everyone who had intense spiritual experiences could claim special messages from God, there would be no way of checking all sorts of errors and delusions.”

George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, p. 211-212.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Fanaticism Is Not Faith (Or: One Conversion Will Suffice)

Ichabod Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches is an excellent resource of a 19th-century pastor’s deeply spiritual conversations with various people in his ministry.  In one journal entry, Spencer talked about a young woman who claimed to have been converted three times in a church that emphasized revivals, emotions, and experiences.  Her emotions and affections were excited, but she had little understanding of the Christian faith and her conscience had not been touched.  Spencer called this “fanaticism.”

The heart that has once been drunk with fanaticism is ever afterwards exposed to the same evil.  It will mistake excitement – any fancy – for true religion.  Fanaticism is not faith.

When the affections or mere sensibilities of the heart are excited and the understanding and conscience are but little employed, there is a sad preparation for false hope – for some wild delusion or fanatical faith. The judgment and conscience should take the lead of the affections; but when the affections take the lead, they will be very apt to monopolize the whole soul, judgment and conscience will be overpowered, or flung into the background; and then, the deluded mortal will have a religion of mere impressions – more feeling than truth – more sensitiveness than faith – more fancy and fanaticism, than holiness. Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from

Emotions, agitations, or sensibilities of any sort, which do not arise from clear and conscientious perception of truth will be likely to be pernicious. The most clear perception of truth, the deepest conviction, is seldom accompanied by any great excitement of the sensibilities.  Under such conviction, feeling may be deep and strong, but will not be fitful, capricious and blind. To a religion of mere impressions, one may be “converted three times,” or three times three, but to a religion of truth, one conversion will suffice. In my opinion, my young friend was all along misled by the idea, that religion consisted very much in a wave of feeling. Her instructors ought to have taught her better.

Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches, p. 175.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Fire from Heaven  The kind folks at EP books sent me a review copy of Paul Cook’s Fire From Heaven: Times of Extraordinary Revival.  To be honest, I have mixed feelings about revivals: some had to do with solid doctrine and true calls to faith and repentance.  Others had to do with emotional frenzy and unbiblical mysticism.  Cook’s Fire From Heaven isn’t really a book about the “ins” and “outs” or the “goods” and “bads” of revival.  Instead, it is a look at a series of revivals which took place in Britain from 1791-1840 among the Calvinistic Methodists and Baptists.  Before going on, I should point out how Cook defines revival:

“The characteristics of revival are no different from the characteristics of any normal working of the Holy Spirit except in terms of intensity and extent” (p. 117).

Cook begins in chapter one by discussing the period before 1791-1840 to give a historical background of his topic.  He later writes about some of the theological beliefs (prayer, God’s sovereignty, calling, etc.) of the preachers of this revival period.  Of course he also talks about those leading preachers of the day, such as William Bramwell, Hugh Bourne, Oliver Heywood, and others, along with the areas of Britain that benefited from their preaching.  If you’re interested in this topic, I do recommend this book. 

This book got me thinking in quite a few ways.  One of them is the necessity of churchly prayer.  I was convicted once again that prayer is more effective than programs, bands, committees, clubs, and societies when it comes to the spiritual health of a church.  I’ll end with this great quote from page 70.

“In our desperate situation today we need to cast ourselves upon God.  We are not as desperate as we ought to be.  Depressed, perhaps; but that is because we have been too self-assured, overconfident in ourselves and our schemes.  We do not cast ourselves upon God like our forefathers.  Despite our professions, our Reformed theology is too much in our heads and too little in our hearts.  The truth of the matter is that we are not Reformed enough.  Despite their doctrine, the mentality of the old Methodists was much more Reformed than ours.  They depended upon God more than we do, they looked to him more often, they prayed more diligently.  In the sort of situation that faces us today, they had but one answer: call upon God.  And this they did again and again.”

Makes me think of 1 Thessalonians 5.17.

shane lems