In the comments one person mentioned Edwards as a guy who may have followed this type of thinking. I disagree. And perhaps the comment was not directed at what I am referring to here. In my reading of Edwards he seems to have been staunchly opposed to this type of practice, even calling such folks who practice this subjectivism “incorrigible”:
1. Erik is preparing to quote Jonathan Edwards. I have a lot of respect for Edwards, as one of the key preachers during the Great Awakening. But he was also on the extreme Calvinistic side of the revival spectrum. John Wesley, just as powerful a preacher, was on the other side–a pure Arminian. So, already as Erik quotes Edwards, let’s keep in mind that Edwards is not the only authority on revival. He’s just simply the authority that Reformed revivalists prefer to refer to, because of his Calvinist views.
2. Erik said: “In the comments one person mentioned Edwards as a guy who may have followed this type of thinking. I disagree.” This demonstrates that there are conflicting views about Jonathan Edwards as a Charismatic. Although Edwards did not speak in tongues, there is evidence that he certainly felt God’s presence, and supported the physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit that he saw in his revivals: shaking, fainting, and even ecstatic holy laughter. Dr. Guy Chevreau demonstrated this about Edwards in an extensive and scholarly way in his work, Catch the Fire (1995). Edwards was also a supporter of dreams and visions of Christ and Heaven, but he was extremely skeptical of them. He relied on 1 John 4 to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” in his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741). He was only open to revelations that were plainly about salvation and sanctification topics already revealed in the Bible. He rejected futuristic prophecies and mind-reading words of knowledge (which I would disagree with him about). See: Jonathan Edwards’ Rules for Spiritual Discernment. So, at least in 1741, Edwards was a limited and very skeptical Charismatic Christian.
“Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions, by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do.”
1. Erik quotes Edwards: “Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions…” He may be referring to the Quakers of his own day, and Catholic saints of the past. Calling their revelations “woeful delusions” or tragic deceptions of satan and self, not of the Holy Spirit.
2. Erik quotes Edwards: “…by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God…” This is an important issue worth noting. When Charismatics begin to lay too much emphasis on what are called “prophetic impressions” or nudges, feelings, emotional intuitions, or know-that-you-knows, deception is indeed heightened to an absurd extent! Dr. Jack Deere’s The Beginner’s Guide to the Gift of Prophecy (2008) goes so far as to refer to impressions as “flimsy” or unreliable experiences. In my experience, impressions, impulses, intuitions–whatever you want to call them–are the most PROPHETICALLY INACCURATE experiences you can possibly have as a Charismatic! It is better to take Numbers 12:6 as your guide for prophetic accuracy: “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal Myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.”
3. Erik quotes Edwards: “…to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do.” This would be an example of hyper-prophetic Quietism, in my opinion. Besides, I don’t know of any example in the Bible where any prophet or apostle prophesied the future, or received prophetic direction without either a dream, vision, or voice from God. Impressions had little or nothing to do with it!
“I would therefore entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things. I have seen them fail in very many instances, and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the mind…are no sure sign of their being revelations from Heaven.”
1. Erik quotes Edwards: “I would therefore entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things.” Notice that Edwards was what today people would call an open-but-cautious Charismatic Christian. He was not a closed-and-resistant Cessationist. And he is right to be cautious. Everyone should be cautious. But caution should never lead to the extreme of rationalism, theological idolatry, intellectual speculation alone, and an overall resistance to the works of the Holy Spirit–just like the Pharisees. Edwards was wise enough to avoid this Phariseeism.
2. Erik quotes Edwards: “I have seen them fail in very many instances…” So have I! Too many Charismatics in the prophetic movement have such a loosey-goosey attitude about “missing God” with regard to prophesying the future or to words of knowledge. Perfectionism is not the answer, but neither is this concept that developing spiritual gifts is unnecessary. Paul said, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12).
3. Erik quotes Edwards: “…and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the mind…are no sure sign of their being revelations from Heaven.” Edwards rightfully observed, that when people become so deceived as to think that IMPRESSIONS and IMPULSES are God’s voice, or the Spirit’s messages, they fail over and over again at predicting the future, or reading minds by those emotions and feelings. They would do better to go by dreams and visions only (Num. 12:6), and forget impressions altogether! Provided that the dreams and visions are Biblical in nature.
“Why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God, which we have in such abundance and clearness, now since the canon of Scripture is completed? Why should we desire to have any thing added to them by impulses from above? Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to his church, which the apostles teaches us, is surer than a voice from heaven? And why should we desire to make the Scripture speak more to us than it does?”
In a series of rhetorical questions, Edwards expresses his frustration with the prophetically inaccurate Charismatics of his day. I have to admit, this sounds very Cessationist. It may have been that at this point in 1743 (two years after his more Charismatic leaning), Edwards had felt like giving up on the prophetic altogether, and just sticking to the old Reformed idea of sola Scriptura or “Bible only” thinking.
1. Erik quotes Edwards: “Why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God, which we have in such abundance and clearness, now since the canon of Scripture is completed?” From a Charismatic viewpoint, I will say that I cannot be contented merely with the Bible, because God is not. The gift of prophecy has obviously continued throughout the history of the church, especially among some of the Catholic saints. Paul gives Christians guidelines on the prophetic in 1 Corinthians 14. The Bible is authoritative, because it contains the most significant revelations of the prophets and apostles of the past. But God is still in the business of confirming His Word with signs following (Mark 16:20). He does this to confirm, affirm, and strengthen people’s faith in the Bible. This is especially true in an increasingly rationalistic and agnostic age like ours.
2. Erik quotes Edwards: “Why should we desire to have any thing added to them by impulses from above?” I take issue with his use of the expression “to have any thing added to them”–because again: this is that same kind of Cessationist straw man argument, that maintains Charismatics are seeking rhema words from God, so they can go and write their own cult scriptures and Books of Mormon. This is not the case! We are only seeking validation of the Bible’s truth–confirmation of the Word with signs following (Mark 16:20). This is not only necessary for the conversion of the heathen during evangelism, but for the progressive deliverance of Christians from our heathenish hearts in cloudy skepticism and doubt. Faith is based on the Gospel of Christ in the Bible, but is certainly strengthened by dreams, visions, God’s voice, and miracles. Edwards said, “Impulses from above”–again, who in their right mind thinks that God inspired the Bible through mere emotions and impulses? (Apparently some in Edwards’ day.) I think it is evident when you study the Old Testament prophets, and such, that you are reading vision and dream experiences: either interpreted into poetry, prose, or otherwise.
3. Erik quotes Edwards: “Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to His church, which the apostles teaches us, is surer than a voice from Heaven?” I encountered this argument once in a conversation with a Southern Baptist Cessationist seminary student. The argument is, why put your faith in these impressions (and even audible voices from Heaven), when now we have the Bible–God’s rule for the Body of Christ? There is no need for rhemas. Only the Bible, says Edwards. We can trust the Bible, he says, but not supposed revelation experiences. I respond: but that’s just the thing. God appears to be still speaking with a voice from Heaven! Why else would Peter have dealt with the issue? Because he experienced it! Peter wrote that Christ “received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from Heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:17-19). A plain reading of the text leads me to see that when Peter said, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it”–he meant to say: the Old Testament prophets’ words about Christ being the Son of God, are now more certain to us, because they have been so powerfully confirmed by our experience with the voice from Heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration.
If ever the apostle Peter had doubted that the Old Testament prophets were speaking of Jesus, his doubts were annihilated, and his faith in Jesus was made more certain because of His experience of God’s voice saying, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” This is what Peter meant, in my view. THE VOICE OF GOD he experienced on the mount with Christ, made more certain to him that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Messiah, prophesied by the Old Testament prophets! Peter was saying that HIS EXPERIENCE CONFIRMED THE WORD! (Mark 16:20). Adam Clarke agrees. And this had made this interpretation of Scripture more certain to Peter: that Jesus is the Christ spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. Peter no longer needs to have any doubts about Him. But unfortunately, Cessationists do not see it that way. They think Peter had so doubted the voice he heard on the mount, that in effect, he was saying, “But the Scriptures are more certain than what I experienced on the mount.” This is accusing the apostle Peter of doubting his experience on the mount! All the while, that was probably the most powerful revelation experience he had in his life! Oh, the persistent skepticism of Cessationists! Woe to this doubtful viewpoint! By the way, just verses before this disputed text in 2 Peter 1:17-19, he writes that Jesus had just recently spoken to him in a subjective revelation that he was going to die very soon: “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:13-14). Who made it clear to him that he was going to die very soon? The Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Through a dream, vision, or some other kind of revelation! MORE CLEAR! THROUGH A SUBJECTIVE REVELATION! Do you see how wrong the Cessationist view of this text is? It is totally wrong.
4. Erik quotes Edwards: “Why should we desire to make the Scripture speak more to us than it does?” My Charismatic answer is: the Scripture is Scripture, but God is a Spirit. Now, it is true that the Spirit of God inspired the Scriptures through the prophets and apostles. But what has been said in them is what has been said in them. After that, there is nothing more that can rightfully come under the category of “Scripture.” So, all the visions and revelations of the saints of the ages: of St. Antony, of St. Patrick, Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias, of St. Dominic, of St. Francis of Assisi, of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Charles Finney, Rebecca Springer, William Seymour, John G. Lake, William Branham, Mary K. Baxter, Rick Joyner, etc–all these Christian saints who ever had visions or revelations directly from God–none of their revelations can ever be categorized as “Scripture.” They are private revelations that come out of their experience of spiritual gifts. Christians at large in the Body of Christ, are free to doubt them as they please, if something in them seems to contradict what is written in the Bible. Why should Christians desire these things to be so? Because obviously God wills it! Otherwise He would not reveal these things to Christians. Paul said, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1). The apostle Paul commands all Christians to DESIRE ESPECIALLY THE GIFT OF PROPHECY!