- “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (I John 4:1 – NKJV)
Have you heard of the Great Awakening? It took place in the eighteenth century,here in America, during colonial times. It is of significance in our country’s history, being a very prominent revival that took place in the church. The man who is associated with being at the head of this great revival was a pastor named Jonathan Edwards, a man who was a great teacher and scholar and considered to be, a great intellectual.
During this revival there was a great deal of emotional reaction taking place in the pews. People were responding to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word with a certain physical intensity. People who witnessed these responses spoke of hearing “howling, screeching, and groaning . . . as people agonized over the states of their souls. Some fainted or were in trances; others were overcome with extraordinary bodily shaking.” It is said during the preaching of Edwards’ great sermon, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God,” he was unable to finish the message due to the reaction of the people sitting under his teaching. They were, in what would be termed in our day, coming “unglued.” There was what many claim to be, “a mighty working of God’s Spirit.”
This vast emotional upheaval in the church was of great concern to many Puritan pastors of that day and there arose much skepticism as to it being a real working of the Spirit of God. Aware of this, Edwards set his face toward the holy Scriptures. His intent was to address the concerns regarding the emotional outbursts that so repeatedly marked this revival. He came to the conclusion that “physical phenomena such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body or the failing of bodily strength did not prove anything one way or the other about the legitimacy of a revival.” He “denied that ecstatic signs were the best evidence of a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit.” He came to the conclusion that the “real . . . distinguishing marks of a genuine work of the Spirit of God had nothing to do with such dramatic effects or lack thereof. Rather, these tests were found in the changed lives of those who were now living according to the dictates of the gospel and manifested the traits and virtues of true Christians.”
What Jonathan Edwards did to properly deal with the situation was to search the Scriptures, and he found his answer in I John 4:1-8. He noted that physical and emotional reaction could as well be the response to false teaching as to that which was true. He set about establishing from the Bible and I John 4, criteria that marked a true working of God’s Spirit. He extracted principles, developed “a biblical grid” that could be used to measure whether a revival was of God or not.
The important lesson we can learn from all of this is what Edwards taught us as he reacted to what was happening in his day . . . brethren, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.” And we do this with great concern for the church, the body of Christ, “because many false prophets have gone out into the world,” and thus there are many false manifestations of the Spirit’s work. We are called, commanded if you will, to be discerning (Philippians 1:9-10), to “test the spirits” and not buy into every so-called emotional or experiential phenomena that comes along.
Have a good day brethren . . . and as you walk be a discerning Christian, and when faced with questions, search the Scriptures diligently to determine whether something is of God or not. It is our calling to test!
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