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Was Jonathan Edwards
the Founding Father of the Toronto Blessing?

Part 2: Positive Tests of the Spirit's Work

by Nick Needham, Welling, Kent

After sketching these nine negative signs, which do not prove that a religious movement either is or is not from God, Edwards then moved on to present five positive signs - five evidences which, if present in a movement or experience, prove that it definitely is from God. On the other hand, if these positive signs are missing, Edwards would have us conclude that such a movement or experience cannot be a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Edwards took these five positive signs from 1 John 4. So let us look at Edwards' positive tests, and try to see how they might apply to the Toronto blessing. This is particularly important in that Toronto advocates positively challenge us to look at the "fruits" of the "blessing" and to judge its authenticity from these fruits.

1st Positive Sign: Orthodox views of Christ

A true work of the Holy Spirit, Edwards argued, will always lead people into true, orthodox, Scriptural views of the Lord Jesus Christ - Who He is and what He has done. Edwards quoted 1 John 4:2-3:

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.

Edwards specified the following as essential ingredients in an orthodox belief about Christ. One must accept:

  • His virgin birth;
  • His divine Sonship within the Trinity;
  • the fact that He is the Saviour of mankind;
  • His death on the cross;
  • His Messiahship;
  • the historical truth of the Gospel narratives [40]

The list was not meant to be exhaustive; presumably Edwards thought that a belief in Christ's bodily resurrection was also fundamental. But Edwards' point remains firm. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, and He leads people into truth - especially the truth about Jesus Christ, in Whom all the Father's glory and purposes are treasured up. As the Saviour Himself predicted in His "farewell discourse" in John 14-16:

When the Helper comes, Whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth Who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.... He will glorify Me (15:26, 16:13).

A genuine work of the Spirit will focus and concentrate people's minds on Christ, teaching them the truth about Him from the Scriptures. Any seeming revival or renewal which does not give public pride of place to orthodox, Biblical views of Christ stands self-condemned.

Edwards also insisted that this orthodoxy of belief about Christ will be allied to "esteem and affection" towards Him. People will not just believe rightly about Christ; they will also love Christ, glory in Him, and revere Him. Mind and heart, belief and feeling, will be united in embracing the truth of Jesus Christ, the unique eternal Word and Son of God.

Edwards warned people against the spiritual delusion of loving an imaginary Christ. The Christ Who is loved, he said, must be the Christ of the Bible:

the person to whom the Spirit gives testimony, and for whom he raises their esteem, must be that Jesus who appeared in the flesh, and not another Christ in his stead; nor any mystical, fantastical Christ, such as the light within. [41]

It is not enough that we should have a religious experience which kindles our hearts with love towards someone. That someone must be the true Christ. And that is why orthodox doctrinal belief, and its centrality through Biblical preaching and teaching, are so crucial. It is the only way we can tell whether it is really Christ we are loving, rather than some imaginary spiritual figure we have dreamt up in our own minds, or been deceived into accepting by false teaching or bogus experience. We remember the apostle Paul's warning about accepting "another Jesus" (2 Corinthians 11:4).

Here, then, was Edwards' first positive sign of a true work of the Holy Spirit. Such a work will throw its spotlight on orthodox belief in the Christ of the Bible, and enthrone that Christ in people's affections as their true Beloved. The centrality of the Biblical Christ, His person and saving work, doctrinally understood and spiritually loved, was (for Edwards) an essential test of any religious experience or movement.

One hesitates to try to apply this test in some generalized way to all charismatic experiences and movements of renewal. But certainly the overwhelming impression one gains from the Toronto blessing is the centrality, not of Christ, but of self. The spotlight is on the wonderful religious experiences that self can have. "You too can get drunk on the Holy Spirit, and have marvelous feelings of being appreciated and hugged and kissed by God": this sort of thing tends to be the loudest note. In his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, Edwards issued the following warning about spiritual hypocrisy:

And hence it comes to pass, that in their rejoicings and elevations, hypocrites are wont to keep their eye upon themselves; having received what they call spiritual discoveries, their minds are taken up about their own experiences; and not the glory of God, or the beauty of Christ. They keep thinking with themselves, what a good experience is this! what a great discovery is this! what wonderful things have I met with! and so they put their experiences in the place of Christ, his beauty and fullness. Instead of rejoicing in Christ Jesus, they rejoice in their admirable experiences. [42]

Do Toronto-style meetings and writings focus people's minds on the sound, orthodox, Scriptural doctrine of Jesus Christ's divine-human person and atoning work? A particular experience, rather than the Christ of the Bible, is central in this movement. Even its theology (such as it is) is mainly an attempt to give theological justification for the all-important experience. Sadly, therefore, one cannot escape the strong impression that advocates of the Toronto blessing have fallen headlong into Edwards' trap, and "put their experiences in the place of Christ."

Further, in view of Edwards' great emphasis on orthodox views of Christ, extremely serious questions have to be asked about the Christology of Rodney Howard-Browne, and others involved in the Toronto blessing. In his teaching ministry, Rodney Howard-Browne, the human spearhead of the Toronto blessing, sets forth a view of Christ which, by the standards of classic orthodox Christology, is gravely in error. For example, in his book The Touch Of God: A Practical Handbook on the Anointing, Howard-Browne teaches that when the Son of God became man, he laid aside His divine nature and effectively ceased to be God while He was here on earth. To quote Howard-Browne:

Nothing Jesus did was because He was the Son of God. The Bible says He laid aside His royal robes of deity, and when He walked the earth He did so as a prophet under the Abrahamic covenant. [43]

Howard-Browne's view of the incarnation reduces Christ to the status of a mere prophet, a Spirit filled man. This is part and parcel of Howard-Browne's view of the "anointing" of the Spirit. Jesus, the human prophet, was anointed with the Spirit, and did all His mighty works simply as a Spirit-filled man; we too can be anointed with the same Spirit, and do the same mighty works as Spirit-filled men and women. This doctrine of the incarnation effectively destroys the atonement, for if Christ offered Himself to His Father, not as the Son of God, but only "as a prophet under the Abrahamic covenant", such a mere human offering could not have saved anyone. Moreover, Scripture assures us that Christ offered Himself, not only as the Son of God (Galatians 2:20), but also in the power of the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). The incarnate Christ did His mighty works both as the Son of God and in the power of the Spirit. Son and Spirit cannot be disjoined. Howard-Browne has disjoined them to the point of stripping Christ of His divine Sonship altogether and degrading Him to the rank of a Spirit-anointed human prophet. This is very far from being anything that Jonathan Edwards, or the early Church fathers, or Reformers, or Puritans, would have recognized as even remotely orthodox or Scriptural. It is deeply disturbing that such a false Christology should lie at the heart of Rodney Howard-Browne's beliefs about the work of the Spirit - and Howard-Browne is the fountainhead of the Toronto blessing .

In fact, Howard-Browne's unorthodoxy about Christ should not surprise us. His spiritual roots are firmly in the so-called "Faith Movement" of Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland, otherwise known as the "health, wealth and prosperity gospel" or the "Rhema Bible Church." Many readers of this book will probably have seen video footage of Howard-Browne and Copeland speaking to and joking with each other "in tongues." What will probably not be so well-known is that the Faith Movement's views of the person and work of Christ are so grossly heretical that the movement - or at least its leaders - ought to be stripped immediately of the title "Christian." Hagin, Copeland and other Faith leaders openly deny that the blood and cross of Christ have any saving or atoning power. Indeed, they display an almost contemptuous attitude to the cross. According to them, what happened on the cross was not at all that Christ atoned for our sins, but that He lost His divine nature and received instead the spiritual nature of Satan, which is why He cried out, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Then, having died both spiritually and physically, Jesus (with His new Satanic nature) went literally into hell, where He was tortured for three days and three nights by demons. It was this spiritual and demonic torment in hell, the Faith Movement teaches, which was the true atonement for man's sin. (The Bible teaches that Jesus went to paradise, not hell, after His atoning death, because Biblically speaking, the true work of atonement by blood-sacrifice was finished on the cross. See John 19:30 and Luke 23:43.) At the end of the three days and three nights of spiritual torture in hell, the Jesus of the Faith Movement was "spiritually born again", the first man ever to experience the new birth, losing the Satanic nature and re-acquiring the divine nature. Furthermore, every Christian receives the divine nature in just the same sense that Jesus had it; we too are incarnations of God - or, as Copeland puts it, "Jesus is no longer the only-begotten Son of God." [44]

Let us speak plainly. These views are simply not Christianity. They are a different religion. The denial of ChristD5s unique deity, and of the atoning power of His blood and cross, and a belief that every Christian is as much a divine incarnation as Jesus was, are deviations from truth so grave that he who believes them without repenting will die in his sins. Yet it was here, in this deeply heretical Faith Movement, that the Toronto blessing was born. Many months before it reached Toronto, Copeland and Howard-Browne were already dispensing the "blessing" to thousands in Faith meetings. So inevitably one asks oneself: How can this be the Spirit of Truth at work, if exactly the same spiritual experiences and phenomena which are now sweeping believers off their feet originated with heretics who cannot be considered Christians at all? It defies reason to think that a euphoric religious experience that can be happily shared by believers and heretical unbelievers alike (and began with the unbelievers) is consistent with or a product of the one true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. After all, if a strange religious movement began among the Mormons, and was then transmitted to "evangelicals" through a man commissioned by the Mormons, we would unhesitatingly regard it as spiritual deception and poison. The Toronto blessing is no different: Rodney Howard-Browne, its leading figure, was commissioned by Kenneth Copeland and is deeply implicated in the heretical Faith Movement. Toronto apologists are fond of telling us to "look at the fruits" of their movement. It is far more important for us to "look at the roots." The tree is diabolically bad; any supposedly good fruits which grow from this tree of poisoned experience, rather than from true repentance and faith in God's Word, must be regarded as sweet but deceptive counterfeits. So Jonathan Edwards would certainly have reasoned, with his insistence on orthodox views of Jesus Christ as an indispensable sign of a true work of the Spirit.

In one sense, it is of course deeply depressing that so many professing believers are so breathtakingly doctrinally ignorant and undiscerning, quite prepared to open up their minds to any spirit that promises peace and joy and love. But in another sense, we should be glad that it has happened. The Toronto blessing will force more and more people to think and work out what they believe Christianity actually is. Is it a Scriptural religion of understanding, believing, and obeying God's Word? Or is it a content-free mysticism of emotional highs and spiritual blowouts, liberally sprinkled with Christian language but lacking Christian substance? We should not hesitate or be ashamed to take sides on this issue. Let us take to our hearts (especially if we are in positions of Christian leadership) the charge to newly ordained presbyters in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer: "Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations"? If we are not ready, God will require it of us; and He will not be impressed by specious excuses about not wanting to be controversial or to divide the Body of Christ. The Toronto blessing has already divided and poisoned the Body. The only question now is whether we will stand by and allow our Lord's beloved Church to continue to be divided and poisoned by this alien spirit. In these circumstances, the fearful price of woolly-mindedness or cowardice is simply not worth contemplating, let alone paying.

2nd Positive Sign: Heavenly-mindedness

Edwards' second positive sign of an authentic work of the Spirit was that it would draw people's minds and hearts away from this present world and life, and focus them instead on the next - on heaven and eternity, on second coming, final judgment, and new creation. Edwards quoted 1 John 4:4-5:

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them.

The apostle John here, Edwards argued, continues his contrast between those influenced by the Spirit of God and by false spirits. The contrast now focuses on people's relationship to "the world." The Holy Spirit, Edwards said, works to lessen men's esteem of the pleasures, profits, and honors of the world, and to take off their hearts from an eager pursuit of these things; and to engage them in a deep concern about a future state and eternal happiness that the gospel reveals - and puts them upon earnestly seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness... [45]

Edwards particularly insisted that the Spirit works in people's consciences and creates a new sensitivity to sin. This present world of lost humanity is marked by slavery to sin in its infinitely various forms; but those awakened by the Holy Spirit become marked by the following antiworldly characteristics:

  • they see "the dreadfulness of sin";
  • they become "exceedingly afraid of' sin because of its awful consequences;
  • they become conscious of "their great need of deliverance from their guilt";
  • they become "careful, inquisitive, and watchful to discern what is sinful; and to avoid future sins." [46]

Edwards concluded:

And therefore, if we see persons made sensible of the dreadful nature of sin, and of the displeasure of God against it; of their own miserable condition as they are in themselves, by reason of sin, and earnestly concerned for their eternal salvation - and sensible of their need of God's pity and help, and engaged to seek it in the use of the means that God has appointed - we may certainly conclude that it is from the Spirit of God, whatever effect this concern has on their bodies; though it cause them to cry out aloud, or to shriek, or to faint; or, though it throw them into convulsions, or whatever other way the blood and spirits are moved. [47]

We observe once more here the kind of bodily effects Edwards was prepared to tolerate: the physical overflow of religious emotion, awakened by overpowering convictions of Biblical truth. Truth shining from Scripture into the mind, not hands of charismatic leaders waving over the body, constituted the source of whatever bodily effects Edwards would permit. However, the real question is whether we see in the Toronto blessing any of the spiritual effects Edwards described Is the movement characterized by the way it produces deep moral conviction of sin? Does it make people sharply aware of God's infinitely holy hatred and wrath against sin? Does it grip people's souls with the belief that the one supremely desirable blessing is eternal salvation from the outer darkness of hell into the uncreated light of heaven? Apparently not.

Edwards continued:

The influence of the Spirit of God is yet more abundantly manifest, if persons have their hearts drawn off from the world, and weaned from the objects of their worldly lusts, and taken off from worldly pursuits, by the sense they have of the excellency of divine things, and the affection they have to those spiritual enjoyments of another world, that are promised in the gospel. [48]

Here is the positive spiritual quality Edwards looked for: not wonderful feelings, not emotional euphoria, but an abiding consciousness of eternity. He wanted to see people surrendering the sinful dream of any kind of heaven on earth, whether through material possessions, pleasures, marriage or any other temporary thing. He expected, in those truly influenced by God's Spirit, a life governed by the anticipation of the next life, and a sense of the supreme beauty, value and desirableness of "divine things" over all worldly, created vanities. In short, Edwards thought a true work of the Spirit would summon people to die to self and the world. There was to be a death, in order that there might be a life. The sinful ego, addicted to created things and self boosting feelings, must be crucified with Christ. Only in such bloodstained soil could the new life flourish, where holy love for a holy God (not our feeling of being loved by God) was the foremost and finest flower. Is this the "experience" promoted by the Toronto blessing? Again, apparently not.

3rd Positive Sign: Submission to Scripture

Edwards took his third positive sign from 1 John 4:6:

We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Edwards interpreted the "we" and "us" of this verse as a reference by the apostle John to himself and the other New Testament apostles. By extension, Edwards argued, the reference also includes all who, like the apostles, were directly inspired by God to deliver infallible teaching to the Church - all true prophets of both Old and New Testament times. Such prophets and apostles were "of God", i e. appointed and sent by Him to be His authoritative mouthpieces. The sign that a person "knows God" is that he listens to God's truth, spoken through His inspired ambassadors. This test is still valid today, because the prophets and apostles still speak today through their inspired writings the holy Scriptures. For us, then, living in the post-apostolic era, the mark of a person influenced by the Spirit of Truth is his submission to Scripture. He "hears" the Scriptural witness of the prophets and apostles - listens humbly and obediently, as a docile pupil. He does not make up his own religion, but receives God's religion from the inspired Word. "By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error."

The Holy Spirit, then, according to Edwards, when He is genuinely at work converting sinners or renewing saints,

operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, and He will beget a regard to that divine word which God has given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters, and all concerns of their souls, in all ages. [49]

Edwards quoted Isaiah 8:20:

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

A true work of the Spirit will make people stick close to Scripture, accepting it as the only guide and authority "in all religious matters and all concerns of their souls." Finally, Edwards maintained that the Holy Spirit will also give people a deep love of Scripture, and a practical commitment to study and understand it. People's "esteem" and "affection" for the Bible will be raised high.

The centrality of Scripture in the Great Awakening and other similar revivals is beyond dispute. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for all too many modern charismatic renewal or revival meetings. The ones the present writer has attended, especially the Toronto blessing conference in Edinburgh in October 1994, have been marked by a notable absence of Scripture, either read out or expounded. This is a common criticism made of large sections of the charismatic movement and need not be dwelt on. It is revealing, however, that some charismatic leaders themselves are now coming to the same conclusion. The report Charismatic Crossroads, recently put together by British charismatic leaders such as Clifford Hill (editor of the magazine Prophecy Today, makes sobering if not chilling reading for its critique of the ignorance of Scripture that marks many charismatic fellowships.

One also wonders where exactly the distinctive manifestations of the Toronto blessing fit into Edwards' belief that the Spirit always leads people into submission to Scripture. When people laugh hysterically as though "zapped" by spiritual laughing gas, does the experience make them accept the Bible as the unique, all-sufficient guide "in all religious matters and all concerns of their souls"? When people roar and crawl about like lions, or crow and strut about like cockerels, does the experience leave them with a new resolve to stick fast by Scripture as "the great and standing rule" whose guidelines must never be overstepped? If that were the result of these Toronto-style experiences, it would place those affected in a curious position. Their first question would have to be, 'What does Scripture (the one and only spiritual guide to which I now submit with a new love and docility) say about the experiences I have just had?" The answer, of course, will be disenchanting, because it can be summed up in the word "Nothing." This then leads people either to bizarre misinterpretations of any and every Scripture verse that mentions laughter or an animal, or to a rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture - "It doesn't matter that Scripture says nothing about these things, because this is a new work of the Spirit." Worst of all, it leads to the delivery and acceptance of new theological revelations, as in the case of Glenda Waddell and Holy Trinity Brompton. None of this is the fruit of submission to Scripture that Edwards was looking for.

4th Positive Sign: Knowing the truth

For his fourth sign, Edwards dwelt on the last part of 1 John 4:6: By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The Holy Spirit, Edwards stated, always operates as a Spirit of Truth. He makes people understand, believe and prize the truth. The "truth" Edwards had in mind was, of course, religious truth - the truth taught by Scripture about God, man, sin and salvation. He then mentioned a number of the fundamental religious truths of Scripture which the Spirit of Truth would always impress on people's souls, if He was genuinely at work in them.

  • the existence of God;
  • the greatness of God;
  • God's moral purity - "that He is a sin-hating God";
  • the shortness and uncertainty of life on earth;
  • the reality of eternity;
  • the immortality of the soul,
  • the certainty of divine judgment;
  • our desperate sinfulness of nature and practice;
  • our spiritual impotence to help or save ourselves. [50]

Edwards added that there were some other basic truths he had not specified here - perhaps because he had already sketched them under Positive Sign 1, orthodox views of Christ.

One is struck once again by the awesomeness and seriousness of the truths Edwards was so concerned about. If the Holy Spirit impressed the truths listed above into someone's soul, one somehow doubts that the person would respond by rip-roaring laughter or crowing like a cock.

Truth, however, is not at the centre of these irrational Toronto experiences. But then, truth objective, Scriptural, doctrinal truth - has never been very prominent in most forms of charismatic spirituality. One is reminded of the rebuke which pioneer charismatic Edward Irving delivered to his pastoral assistant David Brown, when Brown rejected the tongue-speaking and prophecy of Irving's day: "Sir, your intellect has destroyed you." [51] But mind and truth go together: like man and woman, they were made for each other. It is not surprising that the suspicion and even hostility shown towards the mind and rational thinking in much that passes for charismatic spirituality, is linked with a general lack of concern for doctrinal truth, and an often uncritical hunger for supernatural manifestations and mind-blowing emotional highs. This tendency seems to have reached its climax in the Toronto blessing. Not truth, but outlandish physical and emotional forms of experience occupy centre stage, and what little Toronto theology exists is devoted to defending and commending these experiences. It is difficult to think that Edwards would have seen such a religious movement as satisfying his fourth positive criterion of a true work of the Spirit of God.

5th Positive Sign: Love for God and man

Edwards' fifth and final sign of a true work of the Spirit was taken from 1 John 4:7ff. When the Holy Spirit is at work, He always "operates as a spirit of love to God and man": [52]

If someone says "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar.... By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments (4:20, 5:2-3.) Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.... Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (4:7 11).

First, then. the Holy Spirit always promotes love for God. He brings people to high and exalting thoughts of the Divine Being, and his glorious perfections; and works in them an admiring, delightful sense of the excellency of Jesus Christ; representing him as the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely, and makes him precious to the soul.... [53]

In his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, Edwards went into more detail about the nature of a true love for God. He particularly emphasized that true love for God is not based on a feeling of how much God loves us. It is based, rather, on a spiritual perception of the supreme beauty of God Himself, regardless of whether He loves us. Edwards criticized those who said that it is impossible in the nature of things for any man to love God, or any other being, but that love to himself must be the foundation of it. [54]

On the contrary, Edwards maintained,

the first foundation of a true love to God, is that whereby he is in himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of his nature.... God's nature, or the divinity, is infinitely excellent; yea it is infinite beauty, brightness, and glory itself. But how can that be true love of this excellent and lovely nature, which is not built on the foundation of its true loveliness? how can that be true love of beauty and brightness, which is not for beauty and brightness' sake? how can that be a true prizing of that which is in itself infinitely worthy and precious, which is not for the sake of its worthiness and preciousness? [55]

True love for God is God-centred. It does not arise primarily out of a feeling of God love for us. That, Edwards argued, is simply the natural principle of self-love at work. He cited Luke 6:32: "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them."

Those in whom the Holy Spirit works savingly, Edwards maintained, love God in a different manner. They do not first see that God loves them, and then see that he is lovely; but they first see that God is lovely, and that Christ is excellent and glorious; their hearts are first captivated with this view.... The saints' affections begin with God. [56]

Edwards defined God's beauty as His holiness:

Holy persons, in the exercise of their holy affections, love divine things primarily for their holiness; they love God, in the first place, for the beauty of his holiness, or moral perfection, as being supremely amiable in itself. [57]

It is crucial that we bear this in mind in any attempt to evaluate claims that a religious experience has moved someone to love God more. Edwards would have us ask: "Why does he love God more? Is it merely because he has been overwhelmed with a feeling of being loved by God? Or is it mainly because he has seen, in a new way, the stunning beauty of God's holy perfection? Is it a basically God-centred love for God, or a merely self-centred love for God?" Of course, Edwards may be wrong on this point. But we are dealing with Toronto apologists who are appealing to Edwards' teaching In these circumstances, one should not ignore such a central emphasis in Edwards' whole conception of loving God.

This true love for God, Edwards taught, will give birth to several vital spiritual fruits:

  • it will make us delight in God's attributes, "as revealed in the gospel";
  • it will make us long for personal communion with the Father and the Son, and hunger for Their presence;
  • it will make us desire to be like Them - to be conformed to Their pure, perfect, holy character;
  • it will make the desire to please God as our Beloved into the chief motive of our daily living. [58]

Edwards then outlined what he understood by a true love for our neighbor. It involved three main elements:

  • a general compassion and kindness to all people, especially a desire for peace;
  • a desire to see sinners converted;
  • a special delight in those who give evidences of being God's children and Christ's disciples. [59]

Edwards proceeded to warn against a counterfeit brotherly love. This, he said, was common among "enthusiasts" - those taken in by some spiritual deception. They love each other simply because they agree with each other and are brought together by being ridiculed by the rest of mankind. But this is not Christian love at all; it is self-love. It is no different in principle fromthe union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates, that are at war with all the rest of the world.60 In order to bring out the difference between true Christian love and its counterfeits, Edwards suggested four distinguishing signs which will always mark the love of the genuine Christian:

  • It arises from spiritual causes, from seeing "the wonderful riches of the free grace and sovereignty of God's love to us, in Christ Jesus."
  • It is always allied to "a sense of our own utter unworthiness", and a deep realization that we are "the enemies and haters of God by nature."
  • It is accompanied by "a renunciation of all our own excellency and righteousness" - the death of all self-centred claims to personal worth and goodness in the sight of God.
  • Above all, true Christian love is distinguished by humility - by "self-diffidence, self-emptiness, self-renunciation and poverty of spirit." It is a love pervaded all through by a sense of our own "littleness,vileness, weakness, and utter insufficiency." It is a love which "renounces, abases, and annihilates what we term self." [61] He cited Paul's "hymn to love" in 1 Corinthians 13: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked."

Edwards' insistence on the radical anti-self nature of the Holy Spirit's work forms a striking contrast to much modern teaching on the psychological necessity of self-love, self-worth and self-esteem. This notion, derived from secular psychotherapy, has been embraced and "spiritualised" by large sections of the evangelical world. It was reproduced at the Toronto blessing meeting the present writer attended in October 1994, where the entire content of the teaching offered by this supposedly Spirit-inspired movement was on the need of self to feel loved, valued, appreciated, and "hugged and kissed" by God - an experience which, it was proclaimed, would be granted through the Toronto blessing. But from an Edwardian point of view, this lop-sided, self-orientated attitude is a sure sign of spiritual disease. True Christian love does not demand self-fulfillment. It "renounces, abases, and annihilates" self. This is because the child of God has found Someone else far more beautiful and desirable than petty self to gaze on; his life now revolves around loving God and fulfilling His will. As Edwards has already said, the desire to please the Beloved is the Christian's chief motive in daily life. And the Beloved is not self, for the kingdom of ego has beer dismantled and replaced by the Kingdom of Christ. The search for self-fulfilling, self-pleasing religious experiences which seems so prevalent in Toronto circles (although not only there) is the polar opposite of what Edwards meant by true, self-annihilating Christian love for God and one's neighbor.

Edwards concluded this section on positive signs thus;

And therefore when there is an extraordinary influence or operation appearing on the minds of a people, if these things [the five positive signs] are found in it, we are safe in determining that it is the work of God, whatever other circumstances it may be attended with, whatever instruments are used, whatever methods are taken to promote it; whatever means a sovereign God, whose judgments are a great deep, employs to carry it on; and whatever motion there may be of the animal spirits, whatever effects may be wrought on men's bodies. [62]

Taken out of context, this passage is yet another weapon in the Toronto armory, proving that Edwards might have favored the Toronto blessing. But we have already seen what Edwards meant by an "extraordinary influence": not bizarre manifestations, but unusually great conviction of sin, great sense of God's reality and glory, great God-centred spiritual emotions, and great numbers of unbelievers being converted. When Edwards says "whatever other circumstances it may be attended with", and so on, we have seen how he takes it for granted that the doctrinal content and spiritual experiences of a revival must clearly be within the all-sufficient limits and guidelines of God's Word - "the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters, and all concerns of their souls." The "other circumstances" he outlined in his nine negative signs. And when Edwards says "whatever effects may be wrought on men's bodies", we have seen what sort of bodily effects Edwards was discussing. He did not mean people being invaded and possessed by spiritual forces which make them fall over, laugh hysterically or behave like animals. He meant the impact of eternal truth on the mind and heart, so powerful that it kindles mighty spiritual emotions towards God which affect the body.

Edwards' conclusion, rightly understood, means that the five positive signs of a true work of God's Spirit, if they are present, show that a religious movement or experience is genuinely from God. The five signs, we recall, are orthodox views of Christ, heavenly-mindedness, submission to Scripture, knowing the truth, and true love for God and man. These must be the outstanding features which occupy centre-stage in any authentic revival or renewal. These are the things it must overwhelmingly emphasize, proclaim and promote. Such holy qualities, as Edwards expounded them, seem to the present writer to be painfully inconsistent with the content and effects of the Toronto blessing But the opinion of an individual is not particularly relevant. The onus lies on those who have used the name of Edwards as a shield to protect the Toronto blessing from criticism, and give it respectability: Let them summon up the honesty and courage to re-assess their beliefs, experiences and practices in the bright and cleansing light of what Edwards really said. Then they might receive an "Edwards blessing." It could change their lives.

Continue to Part Three

Endnotes for Part Two:

  1. Distinguishing Marks, p. 266, col. 2.
  2. Ibid., p. 266, col. 2. 'The light within' is a reference to the Quaker teaching that Christ is mystically and inwardly present in every human being, and can be discovered by journeying into the depths of one's own spirit. Similar views exist today in New Age circles and even among some evangelicals.
  3. Religious Affections, p. 277-8.
  4. The Touch of God, pp. 13-14.
  5. For the teachings of the Faith Movement (or Rhema Bible Church), whose leaders include Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Fred Price, Ray McCauley, Charles Capps, Marilyn Hickey, Robert Tilton, Buddy Harrison, and to a lesser extent Benny Hinn (who claims to have renounced these heresies, but still indirectly propagates them by publicly praising and defending Faith teachers like Copeland as true men of God), see D.R.McConnell's A Different Gospel (Hendrickson, 1988), and the collection of essays edited by M.S.Horton, The Agony of Deceit (Moody, 1990). Most of the Faith Movement's heresies were derived from E.W.Kenyon, who died in 1948. Kenyon was st eeped in the anti-Christian spiritual ethos and teachings of "Christian Science" and "New Thought".
  6. Distinguishing Marks, p. 267, col. 1.
  7. Ibid., p. 267, col. 1.
  8. Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
  9. Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
  10. Ibid., p. 267, col. 2.
  11. Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
  12. Brown had the last word. Only historians and scholars read the works of Irving today, works disfigured by his unhappy and long-winded insistence on the "fallen" state of Christ's human nature. But many ordinary Christians continue to be edified by David Brown's contributions to the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary on the Bible, and by Brown's classic book on the second coming, Christ's Second Coming: Will it be Premillennial? (1846). We should replace Irving's tragic rebuke to Brown with a hearty blessing: "Sir, your sanctified intellect has won you esteem and gratitude"
  13. Distinguishing Marks, p.268, col. 1.
  14. Ibid., p. 268, col. 2.
  15. Religious Affections, p. 275, col. 1.
  16. Ibid., p. 275, col. 2.
  17. Ibid., p. 276, col. 2.
  18. Ibid., p. 279, col. 1.
  19. Distinguishing Marks, p. 268, col. 2.
  20. Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
  21. Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
  22. Ibid., p. 268, col. 1.
  23. Ibid., p. 269, col. 1.The phrase 'animal spirits' in the 18th century referred to chemical influences in the body which humans have in common with animals. What Edwards would have made of humans being possessed by 'animal spirits' in the sense of spiritual powers that induce animalistic behaviour is another matter!
  24. Ibid., p. 271, col. 1.