Was Jonathan Edwards
the Founding Father of the Toronto Blessing?
Part 1a: Phenomena that do not prove that the Holy Spirit is present
by Nick Needham, Welling, Kent
Apologists for the so-called "Toronto blessing" have often appealed to
the writings of the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58),
to give an air of respectability to the experiences and manifestations
which have taken place in their gatherings. In particular, they have referred
to and quoted from Edwards' The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the
Spirit of God.
This was a treatise published by Edwards in 1741, during
the remarkable revival that swept New England in 1740-42, usually known
as "The Great Awakening." Edwards' concern in the Distinguishing Marks
was to defend the authentic nature of the Awakening as (on the whole,
and despite defects) a true work of the Holy Spirit.
This defence was
prompted by serious criticisms which some had leveled against the movement.
Critics were saying that it could not possibly be a genuine work of the
Spirit, in view of certain features of the Awakening which contradicted
the critics' understanding of how the Spirit worked. One of their main
problems was the physical behaviour of some of those affected by the Awakening
during services of worship - trembling, weeping, crying out, falling,
It was not uncommon for these physical phenomena to disturb
and interrupt the service, sometimes bringing it to an abrupt conclusion.
There are obvious parallels here with the recent Toronto blessing, which
has also seen religious gatherings disturbed and interrupted by outbreaks
of physical phenomena, such as falling, fainting, pogo-style bouncing,
running on the spot, hysterical laughter and animal noises. Critics have
questioned whether such manifestations can correctly be attributed to
the activity of the Holy Spirit. Various advocates of the Toronto blessing
have gone to Edwards' Distinguishing Marks, and used his defence
of the Great Awakening in order to vindicate the spiritual authenticity
of modern Toronto-type phenomena. So it has now become common to see
Edwards being quoted by Toronto writers in their favour. Indeed, one sometimes
gets the impression that Jonathan Edwards, rather than Rodney Howard-Browne,
was the real founding father of the Toronto blessing!
However, this creates a severe problem for those who admire Edwards,
but see little or nothing to admire in the Toronto blessing. Edwards was
not only a prince among Reformed theologians, but one of the greatest,
most spiritually perceptive thinkers in the entire history of Christianity.
Can he really be quoted in favour of a religious movement which many regard
as gravely unbalanced and dubious even at best, and at worst a destructive
deception? Meanwhile, association of the name of Edwards with the Toronto
blessing has lent the movement a theological credibility it might not
otherwise have had.
My purpose here is to see whether the writings of Edwards, particularly
his Distinguishing Marks, have been rightly interpreted by these
Toronto apologists. My plan is simply to work through the Distinguishing
Marks, look at what Edwards actually says about the signs of a true
work of the Spirit, examine the passages to which Toronto apologists have
appealed, and also draw attention to other key passages which have not
received equivalent exposure in recent Toronto literature. We will also
glance at some other products of Edwards' pen, notably his Some Thoughts
concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, to see
what light they shed on some of the issues under debate So, without further
ado, let us begin.
Edwards prefaced the Distinguishing Marks with some crucially
important words about the role of Scripture in testing whether any religious
movement or experience is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. His words
And I would here observe, that we are to take the Scriptures
as our guide in such cases. This is the great and standing rule which
God has given to his children, in order to guide them in things relating
to the great concerns of their souls: and it is an infallible and sufficient
rule. There are undoubtedly sufficient marks given to guide the church
of God in this great affair of judging of spirits, without which it would
lie open to woeful delusions, and would be remedilessly exposed to be
imposed on and devoured by its enemies. 
The central truth here is the sufficiency of Scripture. Edwards clearly
believed that the Bible itself was the one and only guide in religious
matters. Not only was Scripture necessary: nothing else was necessary.
Therefore it is to Scripture, and Scripture alone, that Edwards bids us
go if we would discern between true works of the Spirit and counterfeits.
If the Bible sets its seal of approval on a religious experience, whether
of an individual or a group, we can feel sure that the experience is of
God. But if no such approval is forthcoming from the Bible, Edwards would
have us withhold our approval also.
Section 1: Negative Signs
Having set out the basic standard by which he intended to test religious
phenomena, Edwards then proceeded to offer nine "negative signs." By "negative
signs" he meant features of a religious experience which do not prove
that it is not a true work of the Holy Spirit. But by the same token,
a "negative sign" also refers to features of an experience which do not
prove that is a true work of the Spirit. In other words, Edwards wanted
first of all to draw people's attention to various religious phenomena
which are neutral as evidence: they do not show that something is not
from God, but neither do they show that it is from God. Edwards' discussion
of these negative signs is very helpful, because today we find people
appealing to precisely such signs to show that God is at work - or that
He is not.
1st Negative Sign: The unusual
Edwards' first negative sign was the unusual or extraordinary nature
of a religious experience:
Nothing can be certainly concluded from this, That a work is
carried on in a way very unusual or extraordinary; provided the variety
or difference be such, as may still be comprehended within the limits
of scripture rules. What the church has been used to, is not a rule by
which we are to judge; because there may be new extraordinary works of
God, and he has heretofore evidently wrought in an extraordinary manner.
He has brought to pass new things, strange works; and he has wrought in
such a manner as to surprise both men and angels. 
Edwards went on to appeal to the sovereignty of God to prove that He
can work in new ways not previously known in the history of His people.
The Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation; and we know that
he uses a great variety; and we cannot tell how great a variety he may
use, within the compass of the rules he himself has fixed. We ought not
to limit God where he has not limited himself. 
Some Toronto apologists have recently appealed to these words of Edwards
to justify the extraordinary religious phenomena of the Toronto blessing
- particularly the animal noises and behaviour experienced by many as
they have "received the blessing." This, they claim, is exactly what Edwards
was talking about: it is the Holy Spirit working in a new way, previously
unknown in Christian history After all, the Spirit has nowhere said in
Scripture that He will not work in this way. And "we ought not to limit
God where he has not limited himself."
This use of Edwards will not stand up to careful scrutiny. We need to
notice that Edwards quite explicitly states that God has limited Himself
by Scripture. The Spirit is free to work in extraordinary ways, Edwards
argues, as long as those ways "may still be comprehended within the limits
of scripture rules." And immediately before the statement that "we ought
not to limit God where he has not limited himself," Edwards equally clearly
states that the sovereignty of the Spirit is limited by the rules he himself
has fixed." For Edwards, Scripture contains "rules", or what we today
would probably call "guidelines", about how God works; and God will never
step outside these guidelines in the way His Spirit operates. This is
not to detract in the slightest from GodD5s sovereignty. It is merely
to say that God has sovereignly limited himself never to work outside
the guidelines of Scripture. It is, therefore, a dangerously unsound use
of Edwards to isolate his statement about the freedom of the Spirit to
work in extraordinary ways, and to ignore his clear and crucial statement
about the rules or guidelines of Scripture. From an Edwardean point of
view, we would most emphatically need to ask of any religious experience:
"Does it keep within the clear guidelines laid down by the Holy Spirit
in Scripture concerning the true nature of the Spirit's work?"
We next need to inquire what exactly Edwards had in mind when he spoke
about unusual and extraordinary ways" in which the Holy Spirit might operate.
We do not need to indulge in guesswork; Edwards himself tells us what
he meant. He specified the following unusual things:
- "an extraordinary conviction of the dreadful nature of sin, and a
very uncommon sense of the misery of a Christless condition";
- "extraordinary views of the certainty and glory of divine things";
- "very extraordinary affections [emotions] of fear and sorrow, desire,
love or joy";
- "if the apparent change [conversion] be very sudden, and the work
carried on with very unusual swiftness";
- "the persons affected are very numerous, and many of them are very
There is absolutely nothing in what Edwards says here to suggest that
he was thinking about "unusual" spiritual phenomena in the sense of the
weird, the bizarre or the ludicrous. The "unusual phenomena" Edwards had
in mind were unusual degrees of intensity in the normal spiritual emotions
awakened by a conversion experience. If we look at (a), (b) and (c), these
factors must surely all be present in some degree in any genuine conversion.
Edwards was simply arguing that their presence in an extraordinary degree,
in unusual and perhaps overpowering vigour and intensity, must not be
taken as a sure sign of psychological imbalance or demonic deception.
It might very well be the Spirit Himself working savingly in an uncommonly
mighty way. To put it in Edwards' own words:
The extraordinary and unusual degree of influence, and power
of operation, if in its nature it be agreeable to the rules and marks
given in scripture, is rather an argument in its favour; for by how
much higher the degree which in its nature is agreeable to the rule, so
much the more is there of conformity to the rule... 
I have italicized the words about "rules and marks given in scripture"
to show how insistent Edwards was on this point. There is nothing Edwards
says here that can honestly be used as an apologia for strange spiritual
experiences which, by the confession of their defenders, are nowhere described,
hinted at, predicted or authorized in the pages of the Bible.
Continuing his exposition of negative sign 1, Edwards criticized those
in his day who said that the Great Awakening could not be of God, because
such things had never happened before. Edwards countered this argument
by pointing critics to the things that happened in the days of the apostles:
The work of the Spirit, then, was carried on in a manner that,
in very many respects, was altogether new; such as never had been seen
or heard of since the world began. 
Could this be Edwards justifying new and unheard-of manifestations of
the Holy Spirit in our own day, comparable to the miraculous manifestations
of apostolic times? Before answering this question, one must pause a moment
and ask what exactly was "new" about the various manifestations of the
Spirit even in the days of the apostles. Prophecies, visions, dreams and
healings were not new and unheard-of; these happened in Old Testament
times. The only genuinely new phenomenon seems to have been speaking in
tongues. And even this was not wholly new, but a fulfillment of Old Testament
prophecy or typology, according to the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:21ff.
The question therefore arises, what were the "altogether new" things Edwards
was thinking of, which he said had happened in the days of the apostles?
Again, we do not need to guess or speculate. Edwards spelled out for
us on the same page precisely what he had in mind. According to Edwards,
the "altogether new" things that happened in the Pentecostal period of
Church history were these:
- the conversion of sinners with "more visible and remarkable power
- the fact that sinners were converted "in great multitudes", greater
than ever before;
- the fact that these conversions were more sudden and unexpected than
had ever been seen before - "a sudden alteration in towns, cities and
- the fact that the gospel spread with "such a swift progress."
And of course, what Edwards did not explicitly point out, these powerful,
numerous and sudden conversions in apostolic times were soon mainly among
Gentiles rather than Jews - certainly a thing which did not occur in the
Old Testament (although the conversion of the Gentile nations was predicted
So we see clearly enough what Edwards meant by the new works of the Spirit
in the days of the apostles, which justifies our looking for similar things
today. He meant conversions. He was referring to mighty, sudden, community-wide
conversions from sin to holiness, from unbelief to faith, by the preaching
of the gospel. Edwards did not mean extraordinary miraculous works of
the Spirit such as tongues, prophecies, visions - or any supposedly supernatural
manifestations of the Spirit such as hysterical laughter or animal noises,
which have so fascinated many believers today. He could not possibly have
meant that we should look for such things now, because (as we shall see)
Edwards did not believe that there would ever again be extraordinary supernatural
works, gifts or operations of the Holy Spirit after the apostolic era
Edwards went on to predict that such extraordinary works of the Spirit
as he had spoken about should be expected "in the latter ages of the world",
quoting Isaiah 66:8,9. He was of course referring to the "postmillennial"
view of history which then reigned among English-speaking Protestants:
the view that expected the national conversion of the Jews and, thereafter,
the unprecedented conversion of multitudes of Gentiles, prior to Christ's
second coming. (This is not the same as Latter Rain Restorationism, because
Edwards did not expect the "spiritual millennium" to involve any restoration
of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, concerning which he was a strict
cessationist.) But this just goes to show, yet again, that Edwards was
not thinking of extraordinary supernatural or miraculous manifestations
of the Holy Spirit when he talked about "new" works of the Spirit which
believers ought to expect. He was thinking of the Spirit's "ordinary"
work of converting sinners, but carried on at certain points in history
in an extraordinary way as far as numbers and community-wide consequences
2nd Negative Sign: Bodily effects
This brings us to Edwards' second negative sign which has profound relevance
to us today.
A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such
as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing
of bodily strength. 
Edwards here describes the bodily effects that often occurred in the
context of religious experience in the Great Awakening. To the extent
that these bodily effects were truly the work of the Holy Spirit, they
could happen (a) to unbelievers as the Spirit brought them under conviction
of sin, and (b) to believers as they gained a new and deeper awareness
of spiritual realities. But Edwards is advising us that we cannot, in
fact, point to such bodily effects as proof that the Holy Spirit is genuinely
at work - or as proof that He is not at work. These physical phenomena
are, in the Edwardean view, neutral as evidence. He made the same point
in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections where he devoted
considerable space to arguing that
It is no sign that affections [emotions] have the nature of
true religion, or that they have not, that they have great effects on
the body. 
Some Toronto apologists have seized on what Edwards says here, in order
to ward off criticisms of the more outlandish bodily effects which many
people experience in charismatic meetings today, especially the Toronto
blessing. Do critics point to the hysterical laughter, animal noises and
movements, and other bizarre physical manifestations of charismatic experience
(e.g. bouncing like a pogo-stick), and argue that the Holy Spirit could
not possibly be responsible for these strange things? The answer comes
from Edwards himself: we cannot judge a religious experience by the effects
it has on the body. Bodily effects are no criteria. Therefore critics
are wrong to dismiss the experience on the basis of its bodily effects.
It seems plausible on a superficial reading of Edwards. But a more detailed
and sensitive reading reveals that Toronto apologists have gravely misunderstood
and perverted the whole thrust of Edwards' argument at this point.
We need to be clear in our minds about the kind of physical experience
Edwards was talking about. He was speaking specifically about physical
experiences which are the result of truth-based emotion in the soul. The
primary experience Edwards had in mind was an inward and spiritual experience
of truth, in the depths of the soul; this then spills over into an outward
bodily effect, which is quite secondary in nature. As Edwards explains:
It is easily accounted for from the consideration of the nature
of divine and eternal things, and the nature of man, and the laws of the
union between soul and body, how a right influence, a true and proper
sense of things, should have such effects on the body, even those that
are of the most extraordinary kind, such as taking away the bodily strength,
or throwing the body into great agonies, and extolling loud outcries.
There are none of us but do suppose, and would have been ready at any
time to say it, that the misery of hell is doubtless so dreadful, and
eternity so vast, that if a person should have a clear apprehension of
that misery as it is, it would be more than his feeble frame could bear,
and especially if at the same time he saw himself in great danger of it,
and to be utterly uncertain whether he should be delivered from it...
The example Edwards uses here makes it crystal-clear what kind of bodily
experiences he was talking about. The fear of hell is a truth-based emotion
in the soul. The truth of God's Word concerning hell is made known to
a person, it comes home to his soul in a powerful way. This experience
can produce the physical effect of taking away the bodily strength, throwing
the body into great agonies and loud outcries. These physical effects
are accounted for by the close union between soul and body. But Edwards
leaves us in no doubt that the basic and primary experience is in the
soul, not the body. Eternal truth makes an impact on the mind, arousing
powerful religious emotion; this truth-based religious emotion in the
soul then produces a secondary outward effect of the body.
Edwards' example cited above concerns an unbeliever who comes under deep
conviction of sin. But Edwards also pointed to similar experiences of
a more positive nature in the believer:
So it may easily be accounted for, that a true sense of the
glorious excellency of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of his wonderful dying
love, and the exercise of a truly spiritual love and joy, should be such
as very much to overcome the bodily strength. 
The Biblical truth about Who Christ is and what Christ has done for sinners
can strike home into the believer's mind so powerfully, and kindle such
mighty spiritual emotions, that the believer's bodily strength can be
overcome; he may, perhaps, fall on his face and worship God. Such experiences
in the believer are "easily accounted for" by the principle that strong
emotion in the soul can produce sympathetic effects on the body.
It is vital for us to grasp that this is the nature of the physical experience
Edwards was discussing and analyzing. Edwards' mind was focused on bodily
effects which are produced by the powerful impact of truth on the soul,
awakening powerful truth-based emotions - some negative (fear, sorrow,
etc.), some positive (love, joy, etc.). It is crucial that we understand
this, if we are rightly to interpret Edwards' next point that Scripture
does not need to record all the physical experiences which might happen
under the Holy SpiritD5s influence. Again, some Toronto apologists have
seized on this to enroll Edwards under their banner. What does it matter
if Scripture does not explicitly record such bodily experiences as hysterical
laughter, animal noises, etc.? After all, the great Edwards himself says
that there are many bodily experiences not recorded in Scripture which
are. nonetheless. results of the Holy Spirit's work.
It is true that Edwards does say this. But it is equally true that he
has a specific type of bodily experience in mind, the type we have already
seen him discussing - physical experiences which are the result of truth-based
emotions in the soul. The primary experience is the overwhelming impact
of divine truth on the mind and heart, which awakens powerful religious
emotions. These emotions then affect the body. Edwards says that Scripture
does not need to give a detailed account of all the bodily effects that
might flow from various truths striking the soul and awakening various
religious feelings. But this, as we will see in a moment, is not the same
as saying that no Scriptural justification is necessary for bodily experiences
of a different nature, where the impact of truth on the soul is not the
inner motivating cause.
First, however, let us hear Edwards on why Scripture does not need to
give an exhaustive account of bodily effects produced by truth-based emotions:
Some object against such extraordinary appearances, that we
have no instances of them recorded in the New Testament, under the extraordinary
effusions of the Spirit .. I do not know that we have any express mention
in the New Testament of any person's weeping, groaning, or sighing through
fear of hell, or a sense of God's anger; but is there any body so foolish
as from hence to argue, that in whomsoever these things appear, their
convictions are not from the Spirit of God? And the reason why we do not
argue thus, is, because these are easily accounted for, from what we know
of the nature of man, and terror, what the Scripture informs us in general,
concerning the nature of eternal things, and the nature of the convictions
of God's Spirit; so that there is no need that any thing should be said
in particular, concerning these external, circumstantial effects. 
The reason why Scripture does not need to describe every bodily effect
that might result from truth-based emotions in the soul, according to
Edwards, is that Scripture has already given us the general principle.
And that general principle is that these truth-based emotions can spill
over into a corresponding "external, circumstantial effect" on the body.
But all this is on a fundamentally different level from the physical
experiences that Toronto apologists have tried to justify by appealing
to Edwards. Let us take the case of the animal noises and behaviour that
have characterized the recent Toronto blessing. In HTB in Focus, the newspaper
of Holy Trinity Brompton, the leading Anglican charismatic church, a member
of the church's staff by the name of Glenda Waddell gives an account of
how she first "roared like a lion" through receiving the Toronto blessing.
 It is quite clear from Ms Waddell's account that her lion-like behavior
was by no means a natural bodily overflow of some primary religious emotion
in her soul. It was not that Ms Waddell had some overwhelming insight
into an eternal truth which awakened deep religious emotion, and the emotion
then expressed itself in her bodily behaviour. On the contrary, Ms Waddell's
account makes it painfully clear that she was simply "taken over" by a
spiritual impulse which compelled her to roar. Her words are:
[T]o my absolute horror I just knew beyond any shadow of a doubt
my hands were doing strange things and I was going to roar. I said, "Oh
Lord, I'll do anything but please, please, don't make me roar. I don't
mind what it is - anything - but I just can't bear it. Only the men roar,
and women don't roar." But it came and I did roar quite loudly and I made
a lot of awful noise and I was crawling around the floor doing terrible
things and half of me was thinking, "This cannot be me." But another part
of me knew that it was.
Ms Waddell's description is perfectly straightforward. She was invaded
and possessed by an impulse which reduced her to bestial behaviour, crawling
about and roaring. Half of her did not even recognize herself in what
was happening. It was quite clearly not a case of spiritual truth impacting
on the soul awakening religious emotion, which then expressed itself in
a corresponding bodily effect There was no perception of truth involved
in Ms Waddell's experience whatsoever. She was simply taken over, physically
and spiritually, by a controlling force.
(It is true that Ms Waddell also says, "while this was happening I felt
this huge, righteous anger." So there was some emotional content to her
experience. But the emotion was not primary, and did not flow out of any
vision of spiritual truth. First of all came the invading and possessing
spirit which took Ms Waddell over, making her roar. And then, while she
was roaring and crawling about, she began to feel anger. In any case,
anger does not normally make people roar like lions and crawl about on
This is simply not the kind of experience Edwards was talking about,
and nothing he says can be used to justify such experiences.
Let us probe a little deeper. Because it was not a human response to
an intelligent or spiritual perception of divine truth, Ms Waddell's experience
of roaring like a lion cannot be compared with weeping or trembling or
fainting under conviction of sin. It would have to be compared instead
with an experience like speaking in tongues, where the whole person, soul
and body together, is animated by the Holy Spirit. There is an important
difference between these two types of experience. In conviction of sin,
the outward physical effect is caused only in an indirect way by the Spirit.
The direct act of the Spirit is on the mind, illuminating it to see the
truth about the nature of sin and God's judgment. This then kindles corresponding
emotions of fear and sorrow, and these emotions in the soul then produce
tears or trembling in the body. So the physical effect is caused only
indirectly by the Spirit's work. On the contrary, in tongue-speaking,
the physical effect is the direct and deliberate act of the Spirit upon
and through the inspired person. The very words spoken are the Spirit's
own words, chosen by Him. He acts so as deliberately to produce a physical
On this basis, we could distinguish between two ways in which the Holy
Spirit produces physical effects in people's behaviour:
- The Spirit brings truth to bear powerfully on people's souls, kindling
spiritual emotions, and these emotions then overflow into corresponding
bodily effects, e.g. fear of God producing trembling. In this case,
the Holy Spirit is only indirectly the cause of the bodily effect.
- The Spirit takes over the whole person, and deliberately and directly
causes physical behaviour: e.g., oral prophecy, speaking in tongues,
the writing of inspired Scripture. Of course, I am not saying that people
lost their will or reason when the Spirit worked in these ways in Biblical
times. and to that extent we cannot compare these Scriptural experiences
with Toronto manifestations. The point of comparison is simply that
in these type (ii) works of the Spirit, the physical effect is directly
and deliberately produced by the Spirit. In the writing of inspired
Scripture, for example, Paul tells us that it is the Scripture itself
that is God-breathed, 2 Timothy 3:16. God acted in and through the Scriptural
writers in some way unknown to us, with the deliberate intention of
producing a physical result, the actual writing down of specific words
as authoritative Scripture. The inspired writer by no means went into
a trance and lost his will or reason in this process: there was a mysterious
union of divine and human agency. In Toronto hysterics and animal manifestations,
by contrast, people do lose their will or reason, and to that extent
one must emphasize that there is no comparison with the writing of Scripture,
or oral prophecy, or tongues. The sole point of comparison is the Holy
Spirit's acting through a person in such a way that He deliberately
produces a physical effect.
Ms Waddell's description of her experience of lion-like behaviour, then,
places it in category (ii). If we grant her assumption that the Holy Spirit
was the source of her experience, He directly and deliberately caused
her physical behaviour of roaring and crawling about. Therefore what Ms
Waddell claims to have experienced is, in effect, an extraordinary supernatural
work, gift or operation of the Spirit, comparable with speaking in tongues
and prophecy: the point of comparison being that the whole person is animated
and inspired, body and soul, by the Holy Spirit, Who directly and deliberately
produces physical behaviour.
The problem is that Scripture nowhere mentions this supernatural Toronto
work of the Spirit which Ms Waddell and her colleagues so glory in. Edwards'
argument about type (i) experiences, that Scripture does not need to record
them all, is valid; all Scripture needs to give us is the general principle
that truth-based emotion can spill over into bodily effects. This general
principle enables us to understand, assess and even predict all specific
instances. But we enter new and highly dangerous territory with type (ii)
experiences if we claim (as some Toronto apologists do) that Scripture
does not need to give us a complete account of these. That is equivalent
to saying that Scripture does not give a complete account of the extraordinary
supernatural gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit. Of course, Scripture
thereby becomes an insufficient guide concerning these gifts and operations.
Who is going to explain to us the status, value and meaning of new spiritual
gifts and operations of the Spirit about which the Bible says nothing?
Ms Waddell provides an answer to this question, which we will examine
in a moment. But first let us face the question squarely. Are we prepared
to admit that there might be new, extraordinary, supernatural experiences
of the Holy Spirit about which Scripture has kept us in the dark? What
would such a belief do to the sufficiency of Scripture - a principle emphatically
endorsed by Edwards? The simple fact is that Edwards would never for a
moment have accepted any new extraordinary supernatural gifts and operations
of the Spirit, because (as we have already remarked) he did not believe
that even those mentioned in Scripture were valid any longer. Edwards
restricted extraordinary spiritual gifts to the age of the apostles. He
rejected all modern-day claims to prophecy and speaking in tongues. When
one tries to imagine what he would have said about an alleged new gift
of "animal spirit possession", the mind boggles.
The teaching of Jonathan Edwards is, of course, not our doctrinal standard.
A Christian is at liberty, under the Scriptures, to disagree with Edwards
about the limitation of the Spirit's extraordinary gifts to the apostolic
age. But we have surely seen enough to realize that Toronto apologists
cannot honestly appeal to what Edwards says about bodily effects in order
to support the "animal manifestations" of the Toronto blessing. And that
is the problem: the question of honesty. A religious movement does not
acquire truth, but it can acquire credibility and respectability if it
can be shown that a great and admired theological teacher from the Church's
past gave his approval to some of the principles which that movement now
espouses. Many evangelicals, especially within the Reformed tradition,
do regard Edwards as a great and admired teacher. We therefore feel compelled
to ask whether Toronto apologists are being honest when they seek to associate
the name of Edwards with certain aspects of their movement. If truth and
honesty are valuable in Christian eyes, we cannot shrug off this question.
The present writer's researches have persuaded him that the attempt to
claim Edwards in support of modern Toronto phenomena is deeply dishonest,
and that the credibility thus gained for the Toronto blessing is wholly
spurious. If this conclusion is right (and these chapters present the
evidence), truth and honesty demand that we take the formidable weapon
of Jonathan Edwards' mighty teaching out of the hands of today's Toronto
apologists, and return it where it rightfully belongs, in the hands of
those who are convinced of the merits of traditional Reformed theology.
The teaching of Edwards regarding bodily effects found in the context
of revival, then, cannot honestly be applied to the animal manifestations
of the Toronto blessing. But before we move on, let us look for a moment
at how Glenda Waddell of Holy Trinity Brompton tries to justify the animal
manifestations. We will find it highly instructive. Roaring like a lion
has been the most widely publicized of these manifestations, but it is
certainly not the only one. Ms Waddell herself describes the scene in
another Toronto-style meeting she attended:
That room sounded like it was a cross between a jungle and a
farmyard. There were many, many lions roaring, there were bulls bellowing,
there were donkeys, there was a cockerel near me, there were sort of bird
songs.. . Everything you could possibly imagine. Every animal you could
conceivably imagine you could hear. 
Clearly Ms Waddell can find no support in Scripture for this allegedly
new gift of the Spirit, for Scripture's silence on the issue is deafening.
So how does she explain its significance? By claiming a new private revelation
from God. God gives her (she affirms) a new extra-Scriptural doctrine
to explain the new extra-Scriptural work of the Spirit. This is logical;
one does not see how else a new extra-Scriptural work of the Spirit could
be explained. The doctrine is that God is deliberately making His people
behave in a ludicrous, sub-human fashion in order to destroy their vanity.
Here are the words Ms Waddell attributes to God: 'What you hear is My
church being stripped of its vanity - My church and My leaders being stripped
of their dignity, because I hate it " One could comment on the somewhat
disturbing content of this allegedly new revelation: the Creator and Redeemer
of humanity deliberately stripping away His adopted children's human dignity
as those made in His image, and reducing them to the level of the beasts
that perish - the temples of the Holy Spirit transformed by that same
Spirit into braying donkeys and bellowing bulls. If Satan did that to
a person, charismatics would once have been the first to denounce it as
a degrading bondage and to call for "deliverance ministry." But it is
apparently the Holy Spirit of our merciful heavenly Father Who is doing
these things to His children, as a "blessing" which we are all to desire.
Truly, we live in odd times.
But let us overlook the unwholesome content of Ms Waddell's supposed
new revelation. Let us simply notice how the claim to a new non-Scriptural
work or gift of the Spirit has led to a new non-Scriptural revelation,
in order to authorize the gift's status and explain its meaning. Ms Waddell
gives us, in effect, a new theological doctrine of the gift of animal
spirit possession. Presumably we should staple it in the back of our Bibles.
Can even the most convinced and committed Toronto advocate honestly think
that Jonathan Edwards would have approved of this deep-seated betrayal
of Reformation Protestantism? The sort of spirituality that meets us in
Ms Waddell and those on her wavelength looks like a wild stampede from
sanctified reason, into the ultra-subjective and irrational pole of the
human psyche, spewing forth these strange new doctrines instead of submitting
to the all-sufficient Word of God. That the name of Jonathan Edwards should
have been tacked onto such a spiritually unhinged outlook can only be
regarded as one of the more curious and disgusting ironies of modern theology.
Perhaps we should also, at this point, consider the hysterical laughter
that has characterized the Toronto blessing (and some other forms of charismatic
experience), and ask what Edwards would have made of this. After all,
it could be claimed that this is the type of experience Edwards was dealing
with and justifying. Could inner spiritual joy not spill over into laughter?
Would this not be a case of a primary religious emotion in the soul expressing
itself in a corresponding bodily effect?
Unfortunately for this line of argument, Edwards made it clear in a number
of places exactly what he thought of laughter as an expression of spiritual
joy. Later in the Distinguishing Marks, he compared the Great Awakening
of 1740-42 in Northampton with a similar revival six years previously
in 1734-5 (the earlier revival is the subject of Edwards' Narrative of
Surprising Conversions). He expressed the view that the later work was
higher and purer than the earlier one. Let us listen to the reason he
And particularly there has been a remarkable difference in this
respect, that whereas many before, in their comforts and rejoicings, did
too much forget their distance from God, and were ready in their conversation
together of the things of God, and of their own experiences, to talk with
too much lightness; but now they seem to have no disposition that way,
but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy, as God directs
(Psalm ii.11). Not because the joy is not as great, and in many instances
much greater. Many among us who were wrought upon in that former season,
have now had much greater communications from heaven than they had then.
Their rejoicing operates in another manner; it abases them, breaks their
hearts, and brings them into the dust. When they speak of their joys,
it is not with laughter, but with a flood of tears. Thus those that laughed
before, weep now, and yet by their united testimony, their joy is vastly
purer and sweeter than that which before did more raise their animal spirits.
Edwards implicitly criticized the revival of 1734-5 for a certain degree
of superficiality, because some of those touched by it were rather light-headed
in the way they spoke about God and spiritual things. In their joy they
forgot "their distance from God", as sinful creatures before an all-holy
Creator, in Whose awesome presence we must always feel a deep reverential
fear. The joy of these light-headed believers, Edwards suggested, had
a lot to do with "animal spirits" - i. e., natural, psychosomatic, temperamental
feelings, rather than true spiritual joy from the Holy Spirit. Edwards'
remarks could even be taken to mean that some actually expressed their
"joy" by laughter in the 1734-5 revival. But the 1740-42 revival, he insists,
was altogether a more spiritually pure and holy phenomenon. Why? Precisely
because it did not have the element of lightness and superficial happiness
that disfigured its predecessor. There was in fact more joy in 1740-42,
but it was a true, holy, spiritual joy; and this authentic joy in those
who experience it, Edwards says, "abases them, breaks their hearts, and
brings them into the dust." It expresses itself "not With laughter, but
with a flood of tears."
We find similar comments in Edwards' Some Thoughts concerning the
Present Revival of Religion in New England. Edwards gives us here
a detailed account of the experience of one particular unnamed believer
(probably his wife) whose spirituality was quickened and renewed in a
remarkable manner during the 1740-42 revival. He presents this person
to us as a model and pattern of a revived believer It is therefore highly
significant that Edwards speaks at length about his or her experience
of spiritual joy:
This great rejoicing has been with trembling, i. e attended
with a deep and lively sense of the greatness and majesty of God, and
the person's own exceeding littleness and vileness Spiritual joys in this
person never were attended with the least appearance of laughter, or lightness,
either of countenance or manner of speaking; but with a peculiar abhorrence
of such appearances in spiritual rejoicings. 
The idea that true spiritual joy can be expressed by laughter, or by
any kind of "lightness" (what we might call fun or clowning), has never
had a more determined opponent than Jonathan Edwards. Those Toronto apologists
who appeal to him to justify such modern-day phenomena are either speaking
out of a profound ignorance, because they have not troubled to read Edwards
at all, or are irresponsibly and deceptively misrepresenting Edwards'
clear and forceful teaching on the subject. 
Some readers may think we are going "over the top" in suggesting that
Toronto writers are guilty of deceptively misrepresenting Edwards. Consider,
however, the following instance relating to the question of laughter Bill
Jackson, the author of the paper What in the World is Happening to us?
tries to justify the hysterical laughter of the Toronto blessing by quoting
a passage from Edwards' Narrative of Surprising Conversions:
It was very wonderful to see how persons' affections were sometimes
moved when God did as it were suddenly open their eyes, and let into their
minds a sense of the greatness of His grace, the fullness of Christ, and
His readiness to save.... Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts
as it were to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter,
tears often at the same time issuing like a flood, and intermingling a
loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forbear crying out
with a loud voice, expressing their great admiration. 
One can only think that the use of this quotation to sanction the hysterical
laughter of the Toronto blessing is a gravely irresponsible and deeply
deceptive misrepresentation of Edwards. Observe the dotted lines in the
quotation after "His readiness to save." What did Jackson leave out? The
. . . after having been broken with apprehensions of divine
wrath, and sunk into an abyss, under a sense of guilt which they were
ready to think was beyond the mercy of God
The omission of this passage seriously alters the whole character of
the quotation. Bill Jackson is trying to make out that Edwards was speaking
of the same sort of experience as the Toronto style hysterics of professing
Christians. But the fact is that Edwards was speaking of a completely
different experience. He was speaking about the conversion of unbelievers.
The emotional experience included deep conviction of sin and terrifying
apprehensions of God's holy wrath. However, since the Toronto blessing
has not been noted for bringing people into such awesomely serious, solemn,
sober and devastating encounters with God's burning and consuming holiness,
Jackson has edited out Edwards' references to conviction of sin and the
wrath of God. The resulting censored quotation is a travesty of what Edwards
actually said. Again, by editing out Edwards' description of conviction
of sin and God's wrath, Jackson has obscured the important fact that Edwards
is portraying the experience of conversion, not the "renewal" of believers.
Where are such conversion experiences in the Toronto blessing? Notice
also that Edwards does not even say that these converts did actually laugh.
What he says is that they were "ready to break forth into laughter." Under
the exhilarating relief of being delivered from God's holy and condemning
wrath, some converts were "ready" to laugh - but what they actually did
was burst into tears, intermingled with a loud noise of weeping. How such
a description could be used to justify the mindless "laughing policeman"
hysterics of the Toronto blessing defies all comprehension.  Finally,
Jackson has wholly ignored the clear and explicit statements of Edwards
quoted above, where he says that laughter is not a proper or wholesome
expression of spiritual joy. In these circumstances, one must (reluctantly)
stand by the claim that some Toronto apologists are guilty of deeply irresponsible
and deceptive misrepresentation of Jonathan Edwards. Is false propaganda
a fruit of the Toronto blessing? Is the Spirit of Truth behind such grave
and misleading distortions of the plain facts?
Under this heading of "bodily effects", we should also deal with the
falling over and fainting which was found in the Great Awakening, and
is a prominent feature of many modern charismatic meetings, especially
the Toronto blessing. Are they the same in character? The evidence forces
us to say that the resemblance is only superficial. We can sum up the
basic differences thus: When people fell down or fainted in the Great
Awakening, it was in response to truth - almost always in response to
Biblical preaching. (Occasionally it happened to some as they read the
Bible on their own.) The doctrinal truths of Scripture so overwhelmed
people's souls, that their bodies reacted by losing strength. Neither
Edwards himself nor any preacher deliberately tried to induce this effect
by laying hands on people. It simply happened, spontaneously. And more
often than not, the reason people fell was because the awesome truths
of God's holiness and wrath against their own hell-deserving sinfulness
had shattered them emotionally, and robbed them of strength through sheer
undiluted terror. Contrast this with the quite different spectacle in
Toronto meetings. The leaders are intent on deliberately producing the
bodily effect, which they call "slaying in the Spirit." They call people
to walk to the front of the meeting place, where the leaders then pray
for them, and move their hands about over their bodies. Sometimes the
person being "ministered to" will be pushed. In any case, those who have
walked forward know that they are supposed to fall over in response to
these ministrations. They have been led to believe that falling over is
the sign of the Spirit's blessing. The result Is (not surprisingly) that
people fall over and even faint. The experience is sweet, sugary, and
euphoric - "the sweet heaviness of Jesus", as the present writer heard
it described by a Toronto Airport Vineyard leader. 
The contrast between this and the Great Awakening is simply huge. There
is a great deal of deliberate human manipulation in modern Toronto meetings,
all geared to getting people to fall over. The psychological pressures
involved are often no different from the techniques of a stage hypnotist.
And one would have to add that there is usually precious little preaching
of clear Biblical truth in these meetings. This is light years away from
what happened in the Great Awakening, where some people fell over purely
spontaneously, under the influence of spiritual feeling aroused by mighty
Biblical preaching, without being called forward, prayed over, touched
pushed, or psychologically manipulated in any way. In case there is any
doubt on this, listen to the explicit counsel of Edwards to people who
feel themselves being physically overpowered by spiritual feeling in a
I think the persons thus extraordinarily moved, should endeavor
to refrain from such outward manifestations, what they well can, and should
refrain to their utmost, at the time of their solemn worship. 
Edwards declared that it was the duty of anyone "extraordinarily moved"
in a religious service to "refrain to their utmost" from giving way to
"outward manifestations." The lesson is crystal-clear. Where modern Toronto
teachers make every effort to encourage, promote and induce physical manifestations,
Edwards taught people to resist, restrain and suppress them to the utmost
of their power. The only physical manifestation Edwards would tolerate
was one in which Biblical truth pierced into the soul, awoke an appropriate
and powerful response of religious emotion, and the emotion, despite all
attempts to discipline it, expressed itself in a bodily way that distracted
others (e.g. loud weeping through conviction of sin). Even so, his emphatic
counsel was that people should not only not seek outward manifestations,
but do their utmost to avoid and suppress them. The contrast between Edwards'
views and those of present-day Toronto leaders here is like the difference
between noonday and midnight. That anyone could appeal to Edwards' careful
teaching to sanction the eagerly sought, deliberately induced, hypnotist-like
"slaying in the Spirit" practiced by Hindu gurus, New Age therapists and
some modern charismatics, is yet again a sign either of shoddy ignorance
of what Edwards really said, or of willful deceitful misrepresentation
of Edwards to give credibility to a discredible cause.
Before moving on to look at Edwards' third negative sign, it is worth
remembering that a "negative sign" is not only something that cannot be
used to prove that an experience or movement is false and not from God,
it is also something that cannot rightly be used to prove that it is true
and from God. Regarding the particular kind of bodily effects Edwards
has been discussing, he states:
We cannot conclude that persons are under the influence of the
true Spirit because we see such effects upon their bodies, because this
is not given [in Scripture] as a mark of the true Spirit. 
Bodily movements and behaviour which are the overflow of deep religious
emotion are no proof that the Holy Spirit is truly at work. Religious
emotion is not necessarily spiritual emotion. As Edwards argues at length
in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, people can be emotionally
moved, touched and excited by religion without the Holy Spirit being at
work. It is safe to assume that Edwards would have counselled charismatic
leaders in our day in the same terms. "Do not think that the Holy Spirit
is at work merely because people experience bodily effects in your meetings.
If these bodily effects are generated by strong emotion, they prove only
that strong emotions have been aroused. They do not prove that these emotions
are from the Holy Spirit's saving activity. They may be from another source.
Some other test is needed to assess the origin and nature of these emotions
and experiences." How often do we hear cautions like this from Toronto
apologists today? All too often, especially in grass-roots meetings for
renewal, it is simply taken for granted that bodily effects such as laughing
or trembling or falling over are true manifestations of the Spirit's presence.
Edwards had no truck with this idea, and explicitly condemned it as false
Endnotes for Part One:
- Notably Guy Chevreau in his Catch the Fire, the longest chapter of
which is all about Edwards. Among many others who appeal to Edwards
are Jack Deere in his Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, David Roberts
in The Toronto Blessing, Gerald Coates in Renewal magazine (no.222,
November 1994), and Bill Jackson, author of the Vineyard paper What
in the World is Happening to us?
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 260, col. 2 (in Works of Edwards, Banner
of Truth, 1979, vol. 2)
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Treatise concerning Religious Affections, p. 246, col.1 (in Works
vol. 1). Edwards quoted Psalm 63:1, 84:2 and 119: 120, Habakkuk 3:16,
Daniel 10:8 and Revelation 1:17 to illustrate the effect that true spiritual
emotions might have on the body. But he was equally clear that such
bodily effects could be the result of emotions and experiences which
were not spiritual in nature - i.e., did not originate from the Holy
Spirit's saving work.
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 262, col. 1.
- The account, and all following quotations from it, can be found in
HTB in Focus, no. 32, October 9th, 1994.
- One ought to ask, What possible spiritual emotion is there which could
naturally express itself physically by bellowing like a bull, braying
like a donkey, crowing like a cockerel or twittering like a bird? These
experiences are clearly not natural bodily overflows of spiritual emotion,
but the result of people being taken over by some strange spiritual
force. One could say the same about bouncing like a pogo-stick, running
on the spot, etc.
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 272, col. 1.
- Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival, p. 376, col. 2.
- From what the present writer has seen and heard, including testimonies
of those who have experienced it, the hysterical laughter of the Toronto
blessing is not so much an expression of inner joy, as an invasion and
possession of a person by a mindless spirit of laughter. It is not that
people are laughing at anything They are simply laughing, laughing,
laughing, in the grip of some comedic spirit - a sort of spiritual laughing-gas.
Where does Scripture say that this is one of the sovereign works of
the Holy Spirit?
- Narrative of Surprising Conversions, p. 354 (in Works, vol. 1). Quoted
on p.7 of What in the World is Happening to us?
- This is not to deny that some people experienced D2religious laughterD3
in the Great Awakening, both in Britain and America. It is simply to
deny that Edwards can be used to provide a justification for such experiences.
Religious laughter has sometimes appeared in revivals before, but revival
leaders of a bygone generation condemned it as fleshly or Satanic. See
the appendix for two examples from John WesleyD5s experience and how
- It is true that some Christians in the Great Awakening lost their
bodily strength and fell or fainted through an overwhelming spiritual
perception of the beauty and love of Christ. But the experience was
still coloured all through with an awesome sense of God's holiness and
a corresponding holy fear which one does not normally find in modern
charismatic "slayings in the Spirit." Consider Edwards' description
of the experiences of his "model revived believer" in his Some Thoughts
on the Present Revival After describing his or her experiences of losing
strength through overwhelming spiritual sights of God's beauty and love,
Edwards adds "The things already mentioned have been attended also with
the following, viz. An extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness,
and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body; a sense
of the piercing all-seeing eye of God, so as sometimes to take away
the bodily strength; and an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness
of the wrath of God; together with a sense of the ineffable misery of
sinners who are exposed to this wrath" (p.377, col.1, in Works, vol.
1). The spiritual experience which led to the physical prostration of
a believer, as endorsed by Edwards, included both the ravishingly beautiful
and the awesomely fearful aspects of God's holiness. By contrast, the
emotional accompaniments of today's Toronto prostrations are not about
God's holiness at all; they focus on sweet joy-inducing feelings, interpreted
as God's love for the person experiencing them (being "hugged" and "kissed"
by God). As a result we are offered a completely saccharine experience
of euphoria, "the sweet heaviness of Jesus", automatically dispensed
at the hands of charismatic leaders, little different in content to
what might be obtained from a potent tranquilizing drug, and identical
to prostration experiences in non-Christian forms of spirituality
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 271, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.