Jonathan Edwards and Revival, Part 2

Bethlehem Baptist Church | Minneapolis

Sometimes I hear people calling for revival in terms of the rediscovery of our first love, based on the text in Revelation 3:3, with regard to the church at Ephesus where they had lost their first love. I never resonate with those calls because that’s just not the way my Christian life has worked. I’ve wondered whether I should say this. It just came to my mind that there may be others like me, whose pilgrimage is not such that your greatest love was your first love.

Why should that be the case? It is a very dangerous assumption that the love you want to have corresponds to the first year of your Christian life. There’s nothing biblical about that assumption. Now, in Ephesus there was evidently a lot of powerful, wonderful love in that first experience, but it wasn’t so with me. I was six years old when I was converted. Six-year-olds don’t have a great capacity to feel mighty religious affections and appropriate the glories of God. I do not harken back to the first 10 years of my Christian life as the golden era.

I just mention that to you who may feel strange when people songs and hear people say, “God restore our first love.” Maybe you’re sitting there saying, “I liked last year, not 30 years ago. Last year was a great year.” Or maybe you’ve never had a very great year. That’s okay. Revival is not about getting you back to year one; revival is to get you forward to where God appoints for you to be in all the fullness of his Spirit. Charles Colson wrote:

The Western church, much of it drifting, enculturated, and infected with cheap grace, desperately needs to hear Jonathan Edwards’s challenge. It is my belief that the prayers and work of those who love and obey Christ in our world may yet prevail as they keep the message of such a man as Jonathan Edwards.

Charles Colson and others like him are lifting the banner and saying, “Check out Jonathan Edwards.” I join him this morning, telling you to check out Jonathan Edwards as a possible antidote to some of the maladies of our day, and as a clear note of guidance in a morass of confusion on a lot of issues in our day, especially as they surround revival. My understanding is that there are nine unsold copies left in America of The Works of Jonathan Edwards — the two volume publication by Banner of Truth. We have three of them in the bookstore, and they will probably be gone before this day is over.

I understand from Banner of Truth that they will be reissued toward the end of the year, but for now they’re out of print. There are paperback books of some of the ones I’ll be mentioning this morning down in our bookstore, and you can get those too. Not all of you, of course, should have the big expensive two volume work with all the fine print and the double columns. But there are some paperbacks I wish were in every home in this church, and meditated on from time to time.

A Remarkable Man

Let me go back and pick up where I left off about the man that God used to awaken the revival, and then we’ll get into some of his own understandings of what actually happened in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he lived. If you weren’t here, Jonathan Edwards was a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts. He lived from 1703 to 1758. He was a pastor for 23 of those years in Northampton, and for eight of those years he was a missionary to Indians and a pastor of a little rural church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he wrote most of his great works. Most people in America don’t know that even secular scholars today, for example from the University of North Carolina, will say that Jonathan Edwards is the most profound and creative thinker that Protestant America has ever produced.

What’s so remarkable about that is that he was a rural pastor for 31 years of his life. Seven of those years were way out in the sticks on a frontier mission. He raised 11 faithful children together with Sarah, whom you’ll hear about next week from Noel. He worked without any electric light, word processors, or any quick correspondence. He had no snail mail or email at all. It took a long time to correspond. He seldom had enough paper to work on and often wrote on the backs of envelopes and other ways. He died when he was 54. That’s not quite five years older than I am. When he died, there were only 300 books in his library. I have 1,0000 books in my library and I hardly buy any books anymore. I say that just so that you will grasp the constraints upon a man who is now known 250 years later as the most significant thinker in American church history, or even American secular history for that matter. He was a remarkable person.

The Impact of Edwards

He was not only the instrument that God used to strike the match of the Great Awakening in New England, he was also the awakening’s most significant critic and analyst. He is the one who thought about it the most, who wrote about it the most. We also don’t usually realize that Edwards had a passion for the Great Commission. He wanted his life to count for finishing the Great Commission, and the most significant work that he wrote in that regard was The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. I don’t know if we have that down there, but everybody should have that book. What made that book so significant is the number of missionaries who, for these 250 years, have benefited from it. These are missionaries like Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, William Carey, Henry Martyn, Robert Morrison, Samuel Miller, Frederick Schwarz, Robert M’Cheyne, David Livingstone, and Andrew Murray. All of those people said that this diary of David Brainerd had a tremendous impact upon their lives.

We all know Jim Elliot, the martyr in Ecuador, who said:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

He then went and did that. Three days before Jim Elliot was killed he wrote something in his journal about David Brainerd’s diary. When he talks about David Brainerd he means Jonathan Edwards’s publication of David Brainerd’s diary. We would not have had it, had Jonathan Edwards, after the death of David Brainerd at 29, not taken time out of his pastoral labor to spend a year or so putting together these journals and diaries and then launching them on a trajectory he never dreamed. He never dreamed what this book would do for helping the Great Commission. Jim Elliot said:

Confession of pride suggested by David Brainerd’s diary yesterday must become an hourly thing with me.

That’s Jim Elliot three days before he died, being nurtured and strengthened by Jonathan Edwards’s labors 250 years earlier. I could give you quote after quote from missionaries about him. I remember one from William Carey on the boat as he was leaving to go to India where he never returned and spent 40 years without a furlough. He said:

Today, watching the flying fish and meditating on sermons by Jonathan Edwards and studying Bengali.

The Legacy of Edwards

Mark Noll, who teaches history at Wheaton College, and probably knows as much about Edwards as anybody in the evangelical world, wrote this:

Since Edwards, American evangelicals have not thought about life from the ground up as Christians, because their entire culture has ceased to do so.

What he’s saying is that today in America almost nobody thinks like Edwards. Almost nobody thinks about culture, business, arts, leisure, and science from the ground up with a God-saturated worldview. Almost nobody does that. He goes on to say:

Edwards’s piety [his faith and his affections for God] continued on in the revivalist tradition in America, and his theology continued on in academic Calvinism.

By revivalist tradition he means people like Moody, Finney, Sunday, and Billy Graham, along with the whole pietistic wing that put a high premium on conversion, holiness, and walking close to God — that stream of evangelicalism. And by academic Calvinism, he means people that were once represented by Princeton seminary and are now represented at places like Dordt, Northwestern College (not the Northwestern in St. Paul), Calvin college, Calvin seminary, and other places. It would include the Christian Reformed Church, the PCA, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These kinds of groups continue on in the Orthodox Calvinism of Edwards, and the piety of Edwards continues on in the revivalistic tradition that probably most of you have been influenced and nurtured by. Continuing his quote, Knoll says:

But there were no successors to his God-entranced worldview or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards’s perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy.

That’s Mark Noll’s assessment. I am a little pygmy compared to Jonathan Edwards. I can’t think like Edwards, read like Edwards, or speak like Edwards, but I do regard my little, pygmy life as an effort to bring those together. That’s my life at Bethlehem. I want to bring together that tradition of revivalistic, pietistic, heartfelt, warm, personal loving fervor for God, and the academic, rigorous, careful understanding of God from a Reformed perspective that appreciates and loves his sovereignty into one being, one church, one movement, and one body of literature. That’s what I hope we’re about.


I’ll give a few more comments about the kind of man that God used in this revival. The reason for spending time on this man is that it may be that God would be pleased to kindle in you these traits and that he would use these things to awaken his people in this generation. He was an incredibly single-minded person. He wrote Resolutions when he was 20 years old. One of them, number 61, was this:

Resolved that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it.

Anything that would unbend his mind towards a penetrating analysis of Christianity and its implications for all things, he would resist continually. If he were alive today, with the barrage of unbending influences like television and every other manner of distraction, he would say a lot more I think.

He labored earnestly and continually to know the Scriptures. He said, “Don’t get your vision of God second-hand.” Here’s one of his biographers:

He had studied theology not chiefly in systems or commentaries but in the Bible, and in the character and mutual relations of God and his creatures from which all its principles are derived.

Here’s a resolution that he wrote, number 28, which I would like very much to live up to, and fail at again and again, I’m afraid. I think his life showed that he pretty much obeyed this during his lifetime:

Resolved to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently that I may find and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

He wanted to study the Scriptures constantly, frequently, and steadily such that as time went by, he would look upon his mind and heart as having grown in the understanding of them. Edwards would be very dissatisfied if a year later he did not have a year’s worth of a better grasp on the counsel of God in the Bible than he did a year before. I fear that today there are very few Christians who think in terms of 2 Peter 3:18, where Peter commanded us:

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus.

It is not an option for Christians to say I know enough, or I’ve experienced enough. To not have a passion to grow is to be sick and on a downward slide. So Edwards resolved, “I will study the Scriptures such that I can perceive that I grow.”

In other words, he resolved that he would understand some new things two weeks after studying and have an affection for God corresponding with that new understanding that he didn’t have in the previous two weeks. I commend that to you.

Redeeming the Time

He was a man who redeemed the time, as Paul says we should (Ephesians 5:16). Here’s his sixth resolution:

Resolved to live with all my might while I do live.

I think that’s as close to the core of Edwards’s personality as you can get. He said he wanted to live with all his might. How many of us coast? We just coast in our lives. We get up in the morning and we coast. We come home from work and we coast. Where’s the passion to redeem, to buy up time, and fill it with productive growing experiences to live on the edge? Here’s resolution number five:

Resolved never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I can.

Here’s an illustration. There were no little tape recorders like this that I use for dictation, and there were no laptop computers, and everything as far as travel was horseback or carriage or walking. So he traveled a good bit. He would go from church to church and they would invite him to preach. He would go up to Boston for some business and back again, and it would be a day or two on the horse. How do you fulfill this resolution on a horse? He was resolved not to lose one moment of time but to improve it.

Well on the horse he would think and he would read. As he thought, and a new idea came to him about God or about the world or about the revival, he didn’t have anything to write it on. But he carried little pieces of paper and pins that his wife provided for him, and he would locate a spot on his coat and associate the spot on his coat with the insight that he’d just gotten, and he would pin a piece of paper there. It didn’t have anything on it, just like a string around your finger, but he would pin a piece of paper there. His wife commented that now and then he would come home and just be dotted with these little pieces of paper on his coat. He would then get home and go to his study and he would pull it off, then it would all come back and he would write it down.

Resolution number 11 said:

Resolved when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it if circumstances do not hinder.

In other words, if he thought of a problem that needed to be worked on from the Bible, he would take care of it right away. If you read the Bible assiduously, you’ll find problems like that almost every day. If you bump into a problem in the Bible, keep in mind that you’re not the first one to have seen it. Don’t throw the faith out. I can remember back in seminary a professor named Dr. Hubbard. This situation was like a lightbulb going off for me. Some guys would come to seminary and they would feel like their vocation was to find all the problems in the Bible and all the problems in theology, and just hammer their teachers with those problems. One time Dr. Hubbard, who was the president of Fuller for a long time, was commenting after class one day on the attitude of one young man and he said:

I feel sorry for this guy because he thinks he’s found some hard problems, but he hasn’t begun to find the hard problems yet.

In other words, he was saying. “I’ve been a Christian now over 40 years, and I’ve been struggling to see and penetrate through the difficulties in theology and in Scripture, and this young fellow is about to throw away the faith because he’s seen two or three.”

Constant Study

He did not like procrastination, he didn’t like it. He studied, at one point in his ministry, about 13 hours a day, which would totally get him fired from any church today. He had resolved not to do regular visitation among his people, feeling himself unsuited for it and more valuable to the kingdom in his study and his writing. Whether or not that was an accurate judgment and he made the right choice we’ll let God decide.

I personally, not being a part of his church, but being a beneficiary of his writings, appreciate the choice that he made, but I’m not sure. He rose early in the morning. Remember there were no electrical lights in those days. I think he was not joking when he wrote:

I think Christ has commended rising early in the morning by rising early from the dead.

A biographer said:

In the evening he usually allowed himself a season of relaxation in the midst of his family before he retired to his study again.

However, in 1734 when he was 31 years old he wrote this:

I judge that it is best when I am in a good frame for divine contemplation, or engaged in reading the Scriptures or any study of divine subjects, that ordinarily I will not be interrupted by going to dinner, but will forgo my dinner rather than be broken off.

In other words, he was so aware of the frame that could come over him when he was engaged with God at a certain moment and things were flowing and he was, in a worshipful way, proceeding in his studying and growing and getting things on paper, that he wouldn’t let it be stopped until it lifted. He would just work right on through because those times were so precious to him.

All 11 of his children were faithful to the Lord. I am very slow to dictate the way families function in precise ways. I have principles that I want to press home to you in how you care for and love and teach. He taught his children. They knew his theology. But he was with them probably an hour a day, which is about 60 times more than most dads are with their kids today, from the statistics that I read — some dads focus on their kids one or two minutes a day. But how do you focus on 11 kids? One might be 14 the other is in diapers. His children came regularly every other year for 22 years.

Discipline and Bodily Training

Here’s one last thing on his discipline about his diet, just to show how he viewed his life as a brief investment in the kingdom. He would bring everything under control of the Holy Spirit:

By a sparingness of diet and eating as much as maybe what is light and easy for digestion, I shall doubtless be able to think more clearly and shall gain time. One, by lengthening my life. Two, I shall need less time for digestion after meals. Three, I shall be able to study more closely without injury to my health. Four, I shall need less time for sleep. Five, I shall more seldom be troubled with a headache.

He didn’t know anything about nutrition in his day, but he experimented with foods to see what worked and what didn’t. If it made him sleepy and heavy-headed after he ate, he didn’t eat that again. If this quantity did something negative, he wouldn’t eat that. His whole life, and all of his appetites for everything, was governed by a great goal in his life.

For exercise he would chop wood for half an hour or so in the winter, and in the summer he would take horseback rides out into the woods and he would walk for a half an hour or so. He did everything for the sake of worship, practical holiness, and obedience. He said:

The more you have a rational knowledge of divine things, the more opportunity there will be, when the Spirit shall be breathed into your heart, to see the excellency of these things and to taste the sweetness of them.

Do you get that? Go ahead even when your frame is not as energetic, vibrant, vital, emotional, and affectionate, and study and learn about God factually from the Scriptures, so that when the Spirit begins to move on your life, he has something with which to kindle fire. He doesn’t do it out of nothing. The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible so that he could inspire you with the Bible. If you don’t stock your mind with the Bible, he has no kindling to set fire to. Truth is the kindling of the fire of worship and adoration and warmth towards God. Don’t think that if there’s a season in your life where the fire is low, that God doesn’t have a great worshipful work for you to do. That’s a season for going ahead and, in a disciplined way, growing in your understanding and your grasp of divine things, so that when the season of reviving comes he has something to work with.

This is the Calvinistic reason for personal evangelism. The reason you tell people the gospel is not because you save, but because the Holy Spirit saves with truth. The Holy Spirit does not save people without truth, so you must put truth, gospel truth, into people’s minds, and the Holy Spirit awakens hearts to truth.

Therefore, if we say, “Well the Holy Spirit does it all and I’m Calvinist and God saves people and I don’t,” and you keep your mouth shut, then he won’t. If we don’t reach the unreached, they won’t be saved. If you don’t talk to your neighbor, they may not know the gospel. God won’t save people without the gospel. But it’s the Spirit, the sovereign Spirit of God, that quickens hearts to believe the truth, both in us and in those we speak to.

Preparation for Revival

Let’s get to the revival here. 1734 is the key year. From 1734 till about 1749 there was what’s called the Great Awakening in New England. It spread from Maine to Georgia, and it swept back and forth, up and down. There were seasons that would be up for a couple of years, and then down for a year or two, for about those 15 years. That’s called the First Great Awakening. The second one came about 100 years later, and we have not seen one since.

The first Great Awakening is what we’re talking about here. This is the one that Edwards was so much a part of. Now, don’t be mistaken; the First Great Awakening was not the first revival in local churches. It’s called a Great Awakening because it affected thousands of churches across the Eastern seaboard of America, which is all there was of America — thousands of churches. However, Edwards says that when he came to his church in Northampton — the congregational church was the only church in Northampton and it had 600 communicants in its prime — there had been five harvests in Solomon Stoddard’s ministry, who had been the pastor of that church for 60 years before he came. Can you picture that? He was a pastor for 60 years. Amazing.

During those 60 years there had been five harvests — a harvest meaning the Spirit of God blew, and he blows where he wills according to John (John 3:8). You don’t know where he comes from or where he’s going. Such are those who are born of the Spirit of God.

When the Spirit of God moves on a congregation in an extraordinary way, people are converted, people are revived, and people are gathered in. It may last for a year or two years. You could either let this discourage you or encourage you. If you’re an Eeyore type, and the glass is always half empty, you’ll be discouraged by this. If you are a bright, optimistic type, and the glass is always half full and on its way to being filled, you’ll be encouraged by this. I’m encouraged even though I tend to be a pessimist a lot, but not ultimately.

The first harvest was in 1679, and the next harvest was 1683. If you compute that, it’s four years. There had been a dip because the next one was in 1696, 13 years later. There was one man who was the pastor through all this time. He had been through two harvests and it stopped. There was a kind of a fallow time in the field, so what did he do emotionally?

How could he hang in there? Did he believe in steady-state ministry, and keep on keeping on, or did he say, “We had two flashes in the pan and it’s over, and I might as well look for another church or something like that”? He kept on. The next harvest was in 1712, 16 years later. Then, the next harvest after that was in 1718, six years later. So there was a four-year gap, a 13-year gap, a 16-year gap, and a six-year gap between revivals. Revival was when the church was blown upon by the Spirit, and there was an awakening and there was an in-gathering from the town and the church grew.

Edwards said that it was in his father’s church in Windsor, Connecticut that he had his first stirrings. He put it like this:

The first exercises of soul occurred to me some years before I went to college at a time of remarkable awakening in my father’s congregation at East Windsor, Connecticut.

He chalked up his own first awakening to this. He didn’t say it was his conversion yet, but it was owing to a revival that his father’s church experienced at East Windsor. I mention that just to say that before 1734, when the Great Awakening began, there had been other little awakenings along the way in various churches. As we think about Bethlehem, and churches in the Twin Cities, and the evangelical movement, and what’s happening around the world, we must avoid at all cost any kind of lockstep paradigm that it has to be, any kind of length that it has to be, or any kind of frequency that it has to be. We’re going to see some other things that get blown out of the water here too as we move along. I think we should be constantly in prayer like it says in Luke 18:1:

He told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

We should always pray and not lose heart. Always pray and do not lose heart that God will move on your lost relative, or that he would move on someone in the church that is cool and lukewarm, or that he would move on a marriage relationship that is just a coexistence between two people. Never say, “It’ll never change.” Never, never, never say that if it’s not God’s will that the thing is the way it is.

The Half-Way Covenant

Here are the reasons why revival in 1734 was so critical. In 1662 in New England, the Half-Way Covenant was established. Let me see if I can put into my own words what that was. A council in New England grappled with this problem. The first wave of Puritans came in the 1620s and 1630s, and America as we know it now was established in New England. The Puritans were there. Now, they were all Calvinist Puritans from England trying to get away from oppression. They were building the city of God on earth, sort of, because most of them were postmillennialists. Edwards was a postmillennialist, so I’ll talk about that a little later. It means he believed that the kingdom was going to come before Jesus came, and Jesus would return after the millennium which would be marked by his church establishing his rule by gospel proclamation.

They believed in infant baptism — that you baptize your child into the covenant — because the visible people of God are the people of God, and a child that is born to Christian parents is part of the visible covenant people of God. So then, any child born to Christian parents should receive the sign of the covenant, which is baptism, not circumcision anymore.

That was working until the second generation grew up, but after that many of them in America had no saving experience of Christ. The crisis was: Do their children get baptized? And if they don’t, what becomes of the covenant community? Everything in New England was hanging on the covenant people of God together in a community — everything was understood in terms of covenant. The sign of the covenant was baptism, and children born into the covenant received the sign. Suddenly a generation was emerging that didn’t “own the covenant experientially,” but just externally.

The idea was, “We will come to church. We will not steal and kill and cheat on our wives, but we don’t have any saving experience of Jesus Christ like we hear you preaching about.” So do you baptize their children? The Half-Way Covenant said that they would settle this by going halfway. They would baptize the children, but they would not allow unbelievers to have communion and voting privileges. This was the third generation getting baptized, born to unbelieving covenant members.

One of the problems with infant baptism is that you have to talk like that. I’m a Baptist because I don’t buy some of this. There were unbelieving covenant members whose children were being baptized as a sign of the covenant, but whose parents could not eat at the Lord’s table. It’s halfway. They would take their children and give them a sign of the covenant, but they would not permit the parents to have communion and voting privileges. Well, now what that did, according to the things that I read, was create generations of unbelievers in the church. One historian named Robert Pope said:

By the turn of the century, purity had been largely sacrificed to community.

One of the reasons Roger Williams founded Rhode Island was that he couldn’t buy this. He was a Baptist and he just couldn’t see his way through to building a Christian community around unbelieving covenant members. Here’s an amazing quote from Jonathan Edwards’s grandfather, who was the 60-year pastor, who went even further than the Half-Way Covenant and said, “You don’t have to be a believer even to eat the Lord’s supper because the Lord’s supper is a converting ordinance.” This is the church that Jonathan Edwards moved into. In 1709, Stoddard announced:

Visible sainthood has nothing to do with the inward grace of conversion.

That’s Jonathan Edwards’s grandfather. Visible sainthood, meaning a visible outward participation in the covenant life of the community, has nothing to do with inner conversion. He saw that if they lost this covenant community, and the Baptists turned out to be right, the whole thing would be shattered and disintegrate into a bunch of individualistic Baptist churches, which is in fact what happened in America. There are downsides of being a Baptist. There is a kind of individualism. I grew up in the South and if you didn’t like the pastor, you just started Reedy Creek Baptist Church down the street and got yourself a preacher boy.

The Baptist scheme of independence, and the local church being its own autonomy, and the loss of this large sense of covenant community in the wider world, is not all good. I just think it’s a little closer to the biblical ideal than Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans who came over were. That’s why I’ve never been able to be persuaded not to be one, and why I’m the pastor of a Baptist church.


So one of the preparations for the revival was this massive nominalism in the churches. Here’s a second thing, and this is a little more controversial, but the controversial nature of it is significant. Arminianism was the word that Edwards used as the doctrinal threat to the life of the community. But now, what he meant by Arminianism, and what was being preached about by Arminianism against Calvinism in those days, was not merely a strict list of doctrines, as if there were five Aminian points and five Calvinistic points against each other. It wasn't so much that. It had less to do with Jacobus Arminius, and it had more to do with a mood of rising confidence in man’s ability to gain some purchase on the divine favor by human endeavor. Another writer described the change from puritanism inside the covenant theology like this:

A native variety of human self-sufficiency, which expressed itself still within the forms of covenant theology.

What Edwards smelled in 1734, that he called Arminianism, was a rising tide of human self-confidence, and a weakening of the despair of our total depravity before God. It was the beginning of getting the nose of the camel in the door of the tent to say, “There is something we can contribute to our salvation.” That’s what he smelled, and that’s what he began to preach against. Amazingly — now this blows some of my preconceptions of revival of the water — it was his controversial preaching that unleashed the revival.

In 1738, looking back on the 1734/1735 revival, which lasted about two years, he put together five sermons and published them, which he said were the key human components that unleashed the revival. Let me list them. All these are grouped together in volume one in the first volume of his works:

  • Justification by Faith Alone,
  • Pressing into the Kingdom of God,
  • Ruth’s Resolution,
  • The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, and
  • The Excellency of Jesus Christ.

It was especially number one that affected this. Here is what he said:

The beginning of the late work of God in this place was so circumstance that I could not but look upon it as a remarkable testimony of God’s approbation [God’s approval] of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

He said that he viewed the revival as an evidence of God’s approval of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which he preached into a controversial situation where he thought it was being called into question.

Implications for Revival Today

Let me just mention a couple of implications at this point for revival today and back then.

1. Awakening came on the wings of highly doctrinal preaching.

It came on the wings of the kind of highly doctrinal preaching that is not present today. Now, you might conclude that, therefore, we can’t have a great awakening, or therefore, the awakening that comes from other preaching is not true awakening. Well, I think that would be a non-sequitur. I have not sat under much of the preaching at the Toronto Blessing, or in Melbourne, or in New Zealand, or in Britain, but from what I hear, it’s not this kind of preaching. It’s not heavily doctrinal preaching. In fact, the half dozen sermons I have sat under in the Third Wave over the last five years, that are preludes to ministry times, are impatient, let’s-get-to-the-real-thing-kind of sermons. The real thing is hands-on prayer for people. To treat a sermon as a quick prelude to the real thing is not good.

However, my conclusion is not that the Toronto Blessing is not of God, but to raise a yellow flag and say that there is a defect here. There’s a defect when the word of God starts to diminish in its importance, in its truthfulness, and in its biblical rootedness. Be discerning because you’ve got great vulnerability at that point. That’s implication number one.

2. Unity in the body of Christ is not a prerequisite of revival.

Now, the reason I stress this is because I’m amazed at the confidence with which I read certain books and articles that say things like, “Until the pastors of this church are united and praying together, there will be no revival.” Well, that may be true, but it’s not necessarily true. The reason it’s not necessarily true, very simply, is that we need revival to make that happen. That is revival.

We’ve been working at this for about 10 years in the Twin Cities with the prayer movement, trying to pull pastors together, and the best we can do is get 80 out of about 1200 of them. This is a call for revival. The reason I have a misgiving about the way it’s stated is that it smacks of measures that humans can accomplish to get God to move, as if we would say, “If we pastors do the right things, if we get together in the right ways, and if we spend the right amount of time, God will then be obliged to fall on the Twin Cities.”

Well, frankly, God is free to fall or not to fall anytime he chooses, and I want him to fall now to help me love pastors, to help them love me, and to get us together, praying the way we ought to pray. But historically the reason I say this, is that the church at Sunderland was a church propagating a defective view of justification by faith, and Edwards did not get along with the pastor. He thought he was wrong and he preached against him. Listen, this is what he wrote:

By the noise that had a little before been raised in this country concerning that doctrine of justification by faith, people here seem to have their minds put into an unusual ruffle. The following discourse of justification that was preached at two public lectures seemed to be remarkably blessed, so that this was the doctrine on which this work in its beginning was founded.

Although great fault was found with me for meddling with the controversy in the pulpit by such a person, and at that time, and though it was ridiculed by many elsewhere, yet it proved to be a word spoken in season here, and was most evidently attended with a very remarkable blessing of heaven to the souls of the people.

In other words, in his day, people were saying, “Edwards if you get up and preach on justification by faith over against the Sunderland church over there in Sunderland, Massachusetts, you will do nothing but create strife and division in the Christian Church.” I don’t know the spirit in which he preached it. I hope it was winsome and gentle and loving with a tone of, “Come on in”. But however he did it, God blessed it. He blessed the preaching of truth even though it looked like it was Edwards saying, “Here’s the line drawn and that’s a mistaken way to think about justification by faith.” The Great Awakening flowed in that context of controversy. When I read that before that revival will come to the Twin Cities, a certain measure of pastors have to get together and agree on this, I say this is a human prerequisite being elevated in order for God to move.

3. God will use events for revival.

The first awakened souls were young people. This is another implication we could get, young people had a tremendous influence and they were affected deeply. He said:

In the end of 1733, there was a growing seriousness among the youth and frivolous people were being made earnest, and a young woman professed faith that had a dramatic impact in the fall of 1734. Religious concerns suddenly gripped the whole of the town. Within six months, more than 300 persons ranging in age from four to about 70 had testified to a lively hope of having been savingly wrought upon.

That’s 300 people. He had 600 in his church. Most everybody was in the church who were in the town. Those were the effects. Here’s the way he described some of the effects:

Old converts were revived. Contentions abated. Exercises of public worship were enlivened. Religion became everybody’s chief engagement. The town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house.

Then he says he could name 32 other villages where the same thing was happening. God used calamities to help stir it up. In April of 1734, he said:

A very sudden and awful death of a young man in the bloom of his youth greatly affected many of the young people, followed with the death of another young married woman who had been considerably exercised in mind about the salvation of her soul.

God will use events. That’s why when I hear about the Kobe earthquake, or when I hear about a monsoon, or when I hear about a volcano, or when I was in Pensacola under the hurricane, one of the things I pray is: Awaken this city. Cause them to feel their finitude and their frailty and their helplessness as human beings, and make them deal with eternity. God uses natural calamities to bring people to a serious frame of mind.

4. Revival comes with difficulty.

Why did it end so suddenly in 1735? On March 25th, Thomas Stebbins, a man of unstable mind attempted suicide. Then, on June 1st, Joseph Hawley, Northampton’s leading merchant and Jonathan Edwards’s uncle, cut his throat and died on Sunday morning. This broke the work to a significant degree because the effect was deranging.

People were hearing voices telling them to cut their throats. Edwards talked about this. He said that it so decisively ended the revival in 1735 in his church, because it happened on Sunday morning, it was the chief merchant, and it was his uncle. The church was clobbered with the shock of it all. Hawley had been a man who was out of a family of depressed people. But the ongoing effect was that people began to hear voices telling them to cut their throats — people who had not had any kind of mental instability before. Edwards’s own assessment is this:

Satan seems to be in a great rage at this extraordinary breaking forth of the work of God. I hope it is because he knows that his time is short.

There was a lapse then. It started in 1736, and for four years in his church nothing extraordinary was happening. It was the ongoing steady-state work of the ministry. And then, the catalyst of the second piece of the revival (around 1740–1742), was George Whitefield. Whitefield was the golden-tongued evangelist from England. George Garrick, the Shakespearean actor, said that he would give all the gold in England if he could say Mesopotamia the way George Whitefield did.

But Whitefield was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he came to America six times and was part of fanning the flame that swept up and down the sea coast from Georgia to Maine during those 15 years after 1735. He came and preached in Edwards’s pulpit, and Edwards sat in the front pew and it was said he was in a flood of tears the whole time listening to this man of God speak. The church began to be awakened again.

Then, the most famous sermon that Edwards ever preached, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was preached on July eight, 1741, not in his own church, but in Enfield. It was just a horse ride up the river a little ways. This is the report that an eyewitness gave regarding the sermon:

The assembly appeared deeply impressed and bowed down with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence so that he might be heard.

There was just weeping and crying out, and Edwards had to tell them to be quiet so that he could finish his message.

A Cause for Close Examination

Now what gave rise to Edwards’s examination of the revival? He wrote four books to assess the revival, including the excesses that he saw and the controversy those things elicited. For example, this is a quote that explains one kind of excess:

In an Ipswich diary there’s a description of a meeting in which a man cried out, “Come to Christ! Come to Christ!” without intermission for half an hour. An old woman on the backseat denounced lawyers for an equal space of half an hour. In a boisterous rivalry, a man was preaching over her head.

You got here a man saying, “Come to Christ,” nonstop for half an hour, another lady denouncing lawyers for half an hour, and then over her head a man preaching about something else. All that was happening at the same time in one crazy service. Edwards saw these things and many others. The first thing he wrote was A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in November of 1736 — that’s when it was published. Isaac Watts, the hymn writer, published it in England. John Wesley published it in 1744. The reason he wanted these things published relates very closely to the college revivals in our own day. Here’s what he said:

There is no one thing that I know of that God has made such a means of promoting this work among us as the news of others’ conversions.

That’s an amazing statement. He said that was above preaching, evidently. He said, “No one thing has God used more to promote the work of revival than the spreading of news to other churches of what’s happening in conversion here or there.” That’s exactly the way it happened through the colleges last fall. One group would go to another college and say, “Down in Wheaton such and such is happening, or down in Texas such and such was happening, and let’s pray,” and something else would happen. It seems like God ordains that the spread of good news about his work somewhere also helps that power to come somewhere else.

Holding Fast to What is Good

The other two or three books that he wrote were the Yale Commencement Address in 1741, which is titled The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. In this, he tried to analyze what is a work of the Spirit and what is a work of the flesh. He also wrote Thoughts Concerning the Revival, which was published in1743. And then, the most important one, Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, was his mature, comprehensive treatment of the revival in 1746 when it was all over.

With regard to physical manifestations in revival, let me say a word about that. People were falling down, they were fainting, they were crying out, and they were groaning under these revivals. Edwards said:

It is a great fault in us to limit a sovereign, all-wise God whose judgments are a great deep, and his ways past finding out where he has not limited himself, and in things concerning which he has not told us what his way shall be.

He is saying that if you don’t find in the Scriptures the command, “Thou shall not fall down under conviction of sin,” or “Thou shall not fall down under the weight of the Holy Spirit,” you may not stand up and say, “Don’t do that,” or, “It may not be done,” or declare that it’s unbiblical or wrong to do it. He goes on and he says:

The design of the Scripture is to teach us divinity not physic and anatomy. If Christ had seen it needful in order to the church’s safety, he doubtless would have given ministers rules to judge of bodily effects, and would have told them how the pulse should beat under such and such religious exercises of mind — when men should look pale, and when they should shed tears, and when they should tremble, and whether or no they should ever faint or cry out. Or whether their body should ever be put into convulsions.

If ministers thoroughly did their duty as watchmen and overseers of the state of the frame of men’s souls, and of their voluntary conduct according to the rules he had given them in the Bible, his church would be well provided for as to its safety in these physical matters. Outcries, faintings, and bodily effects are no certain evidence of the Spirit of God. But it could be, especially if the effect is from the display of spiritual things in the preaching worthy of the effect.

Now there is an important criteria. Is the effect that is coming over a person owing to a display of spiritual things? Edwards goes on to say this:

It has all along been God’s manner to open new scenes, to bring forth to view things that are new and wonderful, such as eye has not seen nor ear heard nor entered into the heart of man or angels to the astonishment of earth and heaven.

Maybe there will be another chance to talk about these things. I’ll weave it into a sermon or something. I’ve got about two more pages on Edwards regarding how he handled errors in judgment in the revival, and how an error in judgment can be promoted by authentic love for God. You can think about that, but I’m going to close in prayer before we go.