Was Jonathan Edwards
the Founding Father of the Toronto Blessing?
by Nick Needham, Welling, Kent
3rd Negative Sign: Publicity
Edwards' third negative sign had to do with the ability of a movement
to attract publicity. It is, he said, no proof that a work is false just
because "it occasions a great deal of noise about religion." By "noise"
Edwards means a high public profile, a great stir. Apparently some people
in Edwards' day criticized the Great Awakening on these grounds, and doubted
its spiritual authenticity on account of its very public, visible, high-profile
nature. Edwards responded that if that were so, the early Church in the
days of the apostles must be condemned! The affair filled the world with
noise, and gave occasion to some to say of the apostles, that they had
turned the world upside down. Acts xvii 6.
We must accept Edwards' point. and refrain from criticizing on these
grounds a religious movement which we have other reasons for deeming false.
A charismatic phenomenon like the Toronto blessing is not unsound merely
because it has generated a lot of noise and publicity. On the other hand,
of course, its noisy publicity is no guarantee of its truth. Islamic fundamentalism
has generated far more noise and publicity in the media than the Toronto
blessing, but presumably we do not therefore accept that Islam is a work
of the Holy Spirit.
4th Negative Sign: Imaginary visions
The fourth of Edwards' negative signs relates to the effect a religious
experience can have on the imagination.
It is no argument that an operation on the minds of a people, is not
a work of the Spirit of God, that many who are the subjects of it, have
great impressions made on their imagination. 
It seems that a good number of those affected by the Great Awakening
had experienced striking visual imaginations of Christ and heaven. Critics
had pounced on this as proof of the inherent fanaticism of the movement
Edwards trod a delicate path in dealing with this matter. On the one hand
he agreed with the critics that such imaginations were not to be regarded
as divine revelations, on the same level as the visions of Biblical prophets
and apostles. And he gently but firmly chastised those who made such exalted
claims for their imaginary experiences.
Some are ready to interpret such things wrong, and to lay too
much weight on them, as prophetical visions, divine revelations, and sometimes
significations from heaven of what shall come to pass; which the issue,
in some instances I have known, has shown to be otherwise. 
Edwards was deeply opposed to any interpretation of even the most exalted
spiritual experiences of believers which would elevate them to the status
of private revelations of God's will or truth on a par with the revelations
enjoyed by Biblical prophets and apostles. He would certainly have had
no time for the widespread custom among charismatics of claiming to be
in receipt of direct personal words from the Lord about this, that and
the other, accepted as infallible guides to duty. But we will postpone
consideration of this point until we reach the end of the Distinguishing
Marks, where Edwards discussed the whole question of supernatural revelatory
gifts of the Spirit in the apostolic age, as compared with the guidance
believers can receive from spiritual impressions, feelings and convictions
in the present post-apostolic era.
However, Edwards was equally sure that these visual imaginations experienced
by some in the Great Awakening did not necessarily prove there was a fanatical
spirit at work. Some might have made false claims for these experiences,
but the experiences themselves (Edwards argued) were often merely the
natural product of the human imagination when exposed to the powerful
religious emotions aroused by revival.
Such is our nature that we cannot think of things invisible,
without a degree of imagination. I dare appeal to any man of the greatest
powers of mind, whether he is able to fix his thoughts on God, or Christ
or the things of another world, without imaginary ideas attending his
Such imaginations will especially arise, Edwards suggested, when the
mind thinks about spiritual things under the influence of vigorous and
vivid emotion, such as a revival will stir up, especially in new converts.
He also suggested that the less intellectual a person was, the more likely
he was to be incapable of distinguishing between spiritual reality, and
the visual or other imaginations which that reality might provoke in his
mind. God, he thought, sometimes condescended to use such imaginations
in less intellectual people to bless them. But Edwards never wavered in
his belief that these were human imaginations, not divine revelations.
Toronto apologists who appeal to Jonathan Edwards should be aware of
the deep spiritual divide between themselves and Edwards on this matter.
He would have said that all their visionary experiences, mental pictures
from the Lord, audible voices giving guidance, and so forth, if they are
not demonic deceptions, are (at best) merely products of their own human
imagination, perhaps under the influence of strong spiritual feeling,
but not direct revelations from the Lord Himself, and no safe guide to
truth or duty. 
5th Negative Sign: The power of example
Edwards' fifth negative sign was the fact that the Great Awakening was
promoted by the contagious power of example. Some critics argued that
this demonstrated the merely human origins and character of the revival,
but Edwards counter-argued that God uses means to promote His work, and
that the power of example is one of the means He uses.
There never yet was a time of remarkable pouring out of the
Spirit, and great revival of religion, but that example had a main hand.
Edwards cited the spread of Christianity in the days of the apostles (1
Thessalonians 1:7-8) and at the Reformation of the 16th century.
Does Edwards' argument here have any relevance to the geographical centrality
of Toronto in the spread of the recent "Toronto blessing"? When the present
writer attended a Toronto blessing meeting in Edinburgh in October 1994,
the main speaker was from the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and he recounted
to us how God had been providing finance for many people in remarkable
ways to enable them to travel to Toronto in order to receive the blessing.
The impression given was that the Spirit had in some sense enthroned Himself
in a geographical power-centre, to which needy people must journey, or
from which anointed people must be sent forth, if the Spirit's blessing
was to be imparted. Does the Edwardean argument about the power of example
support this notion?
The answer must be a resounding no. What Edwards is talking about is
the contagious power of example where one person is converted, and that
person's conversion has a big spiritual impact on others, leading to their
conversion too. This principle has nothing to do with the idea of physically
located "spiritual power-centres." In the days of the apostles, Jerusalem
did not function as a power-centre to which people had to travel in order
to be converted. The power was in the Word of God preached, and the traveling
preachers were not necessarily based in Jerusalem. The greatest of them,
the apostle Paul, was initially based in Antioch, and was regarded with
deep suspicion by many in Jerusalem. The same holds true at the time of
the Reformation. People did not have to go to Luther's Wittenberg to become
Protestants. There was no "Wittenberg blessing" in the 16th century. The
Gospel of justification by faith spread across Europe by preaching and
by writing, which did not originate exclusively from Wittenberg; indeed,
the Swiss Reformation which began under Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich was virtually
independent of what was going on in Germany once the Word of God was unleashed,
it took on a life of its own. People were inspired by Luther's example,
but they did not have to go to Wittenberg to become Protestants. Nor did
they need to have hands laid on them by Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen,
or any of the Wittenberg Reformers. People needed only to read the Bible
in their native language in order to catch the Protestant fire.
6th Negative Sign: The sins and follies of the awakened
One of the most serious and damaging criticisms of the Great Awakening
focused on the sins and follies of many of those involved in the movement.
As Edwards put it, "Many, who seem to he the subjects of it, are guilty
of great imprudences and illegularities in their conduct." 
Edwards by no means tried to whitewash the conduct of those at whom this
criticism was aimed. He fully admitted that there were such people whose
"imprudences and irregularities" had disgraced the revival. Interestingly,
what Edwards meant by imprudences and irregularities included the very
practices which many modern charismatics accept and promote as basic to
a healthy spirituality - namely, subjective impressions, feelings, convictions,
visions, voices, dreams and prophecies! We will examine Edwards' theological
critique of these things later. But it is worth bearing in mind even now
that what many present-day charismatics accept as positive features of
a renewed spiritual life, and which are so central to the Toronto blessing,
Edwards regarded as imprudences and irregularities which had disfigured
the fair face of the Great Awakening (clearly two very different views
of revival and renewal confront us: one, the Toronto view, points to certain
experiences and practices as fundamental; the other, the Edwardean, condemns
them as sins and follies which hinder the true work of the Holy Spirit.
However, Edwards did insist that these sins and follies did not prove
that the Spirit was not savingly at work. He was working, not to produce
these faults but in spite of them to convert unbelievers and also to quicken
believers. Edwards pointed to the scandalous moral defects in the church
at Corinth: the Spirit was truly at work in their midst in spite of their
sins and follies. He also instanced how God was at work in the ministry
of the apostle Peter despite his "great and sinful error in his conduct"
regarding the Judaizers.  The sin Edwards highlighted in the conduct
of many involved in the Great Awakening was their judgmental spirit towards
those they reckoned were unconverted, especially ministers. Such judgmentalism,
Edwards said, was sinful and lamentable, but it did not prove that the
work the judgmental people were promoting was not of God.
We have certainly seen much judgmentalism from Toronto blessing advocates
towards those who stand apart from their movement and particularly those
who dare to criticize it. We would do well to remember that such judgmentalism,
however arrogant it seems, does not in itself prove that the Toronto blessing
is wrong. After all, judgmentalism against those who disagree is not a
monopoly of the Toronto blessing. Reformed people can be just as judgmental
towards charismatics and Armenians; but this does not prove that the five
points of Calvinism are not true. These sins and follies disgrace us all
and prove only that we are people of clay.
Having said this, the sin of judgmentalism does seem to sit particularly
heavily on those who claim to have been spiritually renewed in a remarkable
manner. Edwards was talking about sinful judgmentalism among new converts
and inexperienced ministers, which showed how immature they were. But
what about sinful judgmentalism among those who claim already to be Christians,
indeed recognized Christian leaders, and to have had their Christian lives
lifted up to new spiritual levels by a second blessing-type experience?
One has heard so much about Christians being transformed by special encounters
with the Holy Spirit through the Toronto blessing. When such people turn
wolf-like on Christians who cannot in good conscience accept the Toronto
blessing and issue the most appallingly judgmental statements about them,
it makes one wonder what happened to the alleged blessing these people
have received - a blessing which (one was led to suppose) had brought
them so much closer to the Lamb of God than ever before. Leading British
charismatic Clifford Hill, editor of Prophecy Today, who has refused to
endorse the Toronto blessing, makes this point in the May 1995 issue of
the Prophecy Today newsletter.
We cannot understand how those who claim to have been blessed
and filled with a new love for Jesus can be so aggressive towards others
who are taking a stand for biblical truth. Indeed, this violent reaction
makes us even more hesitant in endorsing it. Jesus taught, "by their fruit
you shall know them." If the fruit is acrimonious reviling of other believers
it is hardly "good fruit."
7th Negative Sign: Errors and delusions
Edwards then turned to another criticism of the Great Awakening, that
there were many errors in judgment, and some delusions of Satan intermixed
with the work. 
Obviously such a feature of a religious movement could not prove that
it was from God: but Edwards was equally clear that it did not necessarily
prove it was from the devil. Satanic deceptions, he maintained, could
flourish at the same time as a genuine spiritual awakening. The same person
could be truly a subject of the SpiritD5s saving work and yet subject
to delusions from the evil one. This, said Edwards, was no more of a mystery
than the coexistence of sin and grace in a believer's heart. He gave an
example of what he meant by a Satanic delusion:
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,
or what to do. 
Yet again Edwards returned to the theme of believers claiming to be in
immediate contact with heaven apart from the objective, universally available
teaching of Scripture. For Edwards, the expectation of direct divine guidance
from contemporary revelations, whether through "impulses and impressions",
or dreams, visions, prophecies, interpreted tongues, or the utterances
of modern apostles, was simply a delusion. To the extent that such things
were present in the Great Awakening, they corrupted its purity. But for
Edwards, these deceptive beliefs and experiences did not destroy the credibility
of the Awakening as a work of God, because they were no central to it;
such delusions were not at the heart of the revival, but peripheral. The
real heart of the revival, as Edwards was at pains to demonstrate, was
the sound conversion of sinners from self, sin, and falsehood, to Christ,
holiness and truth, and accompanying this, the quickening of many believers
in true faith and the love of holiness.
We are constrained to ask, however, what Edwards would have made of a
modern-day Toronto revival (or renewal), in which the things he classed
as delusions, far from being peripheral, do lie at the very heart of the
movement - are highlighted, promoted, and seen as belonging to the central
essence of true Spirit-anointed Christianity. In other words, one could
strip all such things away from the Great Awakening without affecting
its basic character, and that is precisely why Edwards thought the Awakening
was a true work of the Holy Spirit. But could one strip these things away
from the Toronto blessing without affecting its basic character? One tends
to feel that nothing of importance would be left in Toronto-style renewal,
if one purged it of all the elements Edwards would have deemed delusions.
8th Negative Sign: Converts falling away
A criticism often leveled today at modern mass-evangelism is the high
rate of dropout among its "converts." Critics suggest that this probably
points to something defective in the techniques employed, or even in the
content of the evangelistic message; but few would take it to mean that
the Holy Spirit never works to save sinners through mass-evangelism. In
any case, a similar criticism about dropouts was leveled at the Great
Awakening in Edwards' day. Critics pointed to apparent converts who then
fell away "into gross errors, or scandalous practices."  Unlike many
defenders of present-day mass-evangelism, however, Edwards met this criticism
frankly, and openly admitted its truth. His blunt explanation was that
those who fell away had had a counterfeit conversion experience. They
were false tares among God's wheat. Indeed, Edwards had an amazingly keen
awareness of counterfeit Christianity; almost the whole of his Treatise
concerning Religious Affections was devoted to showing the difference
between true religious experience, and its many plausible but spurious
imitations. He was therefore saddened, but not surprised, that many seeming
converts of the Great Awakening fell away. He did not hesitate to ascribe
this to the activity of Satan in producing bogus conversions.
Edwards spent some time under the heading of his 8th Negative Sign in
trying to show that people can display many outward signs of being "subjects
of a work of the Spirit" without really being saved at all - "counterfeits''
He pointed to the New Testament instance of Judas Iscariot. Judas's outward
signs of apparent Christianity included:
- He was one of the twelve apostles chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ
- he was a preacher of the Gospel, commissioned by Christ;
- he was endowed with miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit;
- he was intimate with many true disciples of Christ who never suspected
All this, and yet Judas was not genuinely a subject of the Spirit's saving
influences. He was a diabolical counterfeit. Similar examples could be
found, Edwards said, from the Reformation and Puritan eras. 
Edwards' powerful note of warning here is very timely, and one can only
lament that it does not seem to have much currency in modern circles given
over to charismatic renewal, especially Toronto-style. Too often, especially
at grass-roots level, it is simply assumed that certain visible experiences
are sure signs that a person has received the Holy Spirit and is a true
Christian. The Edwardian sensitivity to counterfeit experience, bogus
faith and sham works of the Spirit, is tragically absent. One cannot help
thinking that Edwards' example of Judas Iscariot is strikingly relevant
for many modern charismatics. Here was a man who was an apostle - one
publicly and obviously given his apostleship by Christ Himself. Here was
a man who had miraculous powers; he could heal diseases and cast out evil
spirits (Luke 9:1-2). Here was a man whose life was dedicated to preaching
the gospel in all its truth and purity (Luke 9:2-6). Here was a man accepted
by other leading Christians, esteemed as one of themselves by the other
eleven apostles. Here was Judas; and here was a counterfeit who betrayed
his Lord and went to hell. Edwards' message is simple. These things can
and do happen. We must be on our guard. There can be apostles, miracles,
healings, exorcisms, preaching, and Christian publicity, fame and acceptance
- and no genuine saving work of the Spirit.
Some Toronto blessing advocates have actually used the example of Judas
Iscariot to ward off criticisms of the heretical "Faith Movement" teachers
among whom the blessing originated. The Holy Spirit, they say, worked
through Judas, e.g. healing the sick, casting out demons, even though
Judas was the child of perdition; so too, the Spirit can work through
Faith Movement leaders, like Kenneth Copeland. whose doctrinal teaching
is gravely erroneous. But the comparison is wholly false, for two important
reasons. First, Judas did not have the power to transmit the Holy Spirit,
or the sanctifying presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit, into people's
very souls. Yet this is what supposedly happens when a Toronto-style leader
lays hands on a person. Judas neither did this nor claimed to be able
to do it; when the Spirit worked through Judas's hands, it was to heal
people's bodies or cast out demons - neither of which had any connection
with a person's eternal salvation. Then secondly, and quite simply, Judas
Iscariot did not go around teaching destructive error. The Lord Jesus
would never have tolerated that! Judas's public ministry was one of preaching
the pure Word of God. When the Holy Spirit worked through Judas's preaching
ministry, it was not Judas He was honouring or sanctioning, but the truth
Judas taught. So the Spirit has often worked in Church history, converting
sinners and edifying saints, and thus giving honour and sanction to the
Word of God, even when it has been preached by ungodly or backslidden
ministers. But alas, the Faith Movement teachers do not teach the Word
of God. They teach destructive error, "another Jesus" and "another gospel."
To say that the Holy Spirit is, nevertheless, working through these men
to impart unusual spiritual blessing into the very souls of believers,
is to say that the Spirit of Truth is honouring and sanctioning diabolical
heresy. And that is to implicate the Holy Spirit in falsehood, blasphemy
and misleading God's children. Such are the depths to which Toronto blessing
apologists will sometimes sink in order to defend their movement against
well-founded criticism of its roots and origins.
9th Negative Sign: The preaching of the Law
The last of Edwards' negative signs was the place given to the preaching
of God's law, its holy demands and its condemning power by the preachers
of the Great Awakening. Critics objected to this facet of the Awakening,
that it seems to be promoted by ministers insisting very much on the terrors
of God's holy law, and that with a great deal of pathos and earnestness.
 This shows, of course, that the essential thrust of the Great Awakening
was the conversion of sinners, not the renewal of believers. When we preach
to believers who have been rescued from hell, it is no longer necessary
for us to dwell on the doom that once hung over them. But Edwards and
other preachers of the Awakening did dwell on this doom as they preached
to the unconverted, and applied "the terrors of God's holy law" to their
consciences. Critics objected; surely one could not frighten people into
heaven. True, said Edwards, but one can frighten people away from hell
- one can terrify the impenitent into listening seriously to the claims
of Christ. The fear of hell, if it is based on a true Scriptural belief
in the reality of hell, is an eminently reasonable fear in the unbeliever
who is on his way to hell. Edwards therefore insisted on the necessity
and importance of preaching to the unconverted about hell:
I appeal to everyone, whether this is not the very course they
would take in case of exposedness to any great temporal calamity? If any
of you who are heads of families saw one of your children in a house all
on fire, and in imminent danger of being consumed in the flames, yet seemed
to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape after you
had often called to it - would you go on to speak of it only in a cold
and indifferent manner? Would you not cry aloud, and call earnestly to
it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly in delaying,
in the most lively manner of which you was capable?.... When ministers
preach of hell, and warn sinners to avoid it, in a cold manner - though
they may say in words that it is infinitely terrible - they contradict
themselves. For actions, as I observed before, have a language as well
as words. If a preacher's words represent the sinner's state as infinitely
dreadful, while his behaviour and manner of speaking contradict it - showing
that the preacher does not think so, he defeats his own purpose; for the
language of his actions, in such a case, is much more effectual than the
bare signification of his words. 
There are two vital lessons we can learn from what Edwards says here.
First, the Great Awakening was obviously characterized by a tremendous
spiritual seriousness. The awesomeness of eternity, the reality and imminence
of an everlasting heaven and hell, the ultimate fate of the soul, the
urgency of true repentance: these things shone through all the preaching
and worship. So much was this the case, that critics accused the movement
of being too serious, too grave, too much preoccupied with the question
of people's eternal destiny, with the terrors of hell and the necessity
of conversion. Surely, the critics said, all this emphasis on the awesome
is unhealthy and unbalanced? Edwards vigorously refuted the charge. But
what would Edwards have made of many of today's worship meetings, especially
those influenced by the Toronto blessing, where the spiritual atmosphere
is the direct opposite of what we have just seen in the Great Awakening?
Seriousness or awesomeness is the last thing one will find in these modern
meetings. Indeed the very claim made by their advocates is that God is
teaching us how to have fun; it is a big party. 
People get "drunk" on the Spirit. Uncontrolled laughter is the order
of the day. Jokes, humour and light-headedness abound in a remarkable
measure. Any Toronto apologist who thinks that Jonathan Edwards would
have approved of this must surely have kissed a final farewell to his
mind. What Edwards approved of was the complete mirror-mirage of such
fun-drunk spiritual "parties." Perhaps Edwards was wrong. Perhaps he was
spiritually deficient in his sense of humour. But it is profoundly dishonest
to appeal to Edwards' name to give credibility to a spiritual ethos he
would have abhorred with every fiber of his lofty and reverent soul.
Secondly, let us take Edwards' teaching about hell to our hearts. Let
us seek a greater awareness of eternal realities. Let us pray for deliverance
from a cold, indifferent way of speaking about heaven and hell to the
unconverted. May the Holy Spirit help us vividly to realize the righteous,
awesome and fearful fate that awaits our impenitent relatives, friends
and acquaintances. May the note of high spiritual seriousness and deep
spiritual compassion return to our evangelical preaching and witness.
There is something slightly sinister about Christians having a self-indulgent
spiritual "party" while the world around them is sliding into the outer
darkness, where there is weeping and grinding of teeth, where the worm
never dies and the fire is never quenched. Edwards teaches us that we
need to confront the soul-destroying idolatry of entertainment and fun
that dominates our society, and appears to be hypnotizing and seducing
the Church. We need to hunger and thirst instead for that close consciousness
of eternity that so pervaded, cleansed and elevated the minds and hearts
of our spiritual forefathers, and made them the spiritual giants they
Endnotes for Part One:
- Notably Guy Chevreau in his Catch the Fire, the longest chapter of
which is all about Edwards. Among many others who appeal to Edwards
are Jack Deere in his Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, David Roberts
in The Toronto Blessing, Gerald Coates in Renewal magazine (no.222,
November 1994), and Bill Jackson, author of the Vineyard paper What
in the World is Happening to us?
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 260, col. 2 (in Works of Edwards, Banner
of Truth, 1979, vol. 2)
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 1.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Treatise concerning Religious Affections, p. 246, col.1 (in Works
vol. 1). Edwards quoted Psalm 63:1, 84:2 and 119: 120, Habakkuk 3:16,
Daniel 10:8 and Revelation 1:17 to illustrate the effect that true spiritual
emotions might have on the body. But he was equally clear that such
bodily effects could be the result of emotions and experiences which
were not spiritual in nature - i.e., did not originate from the Holy
Spirit's saving work.
- Distinguishing Marks, p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 261, col. 2.
- Ibid., p. 262, col. 1.
- The account, and all following quotations from it, can be found in
HTB in Focus, no. 32, October 9th, 1994.
One ought to ask, What possible spiritual emotion is there which could
naturally express itself physically by bellowing like a bull, braying
like a donkey, crowing like a cockerel or twittering like a bird? These
experiences are clearly not natural bodily overflows of spiritual emotion,
but the result of people being taken over by some strange spiritual
force. One could say the same about bouncing like a pogo-stick, running
on the spot, etc. [ Distinguishing Marks, p. 272, col. 1. ]
Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival, p. 376, col. 2.
From what the present writer has seen and heard, including testimonies
of those who have experienced it, the hysterical laughter of the Toronto
blessing is not so much an expression of inner joy, as an invasion and
possession of a person by a mindless spirit of laughter. It is not that
people are laughing at anything They are simply laughing, laughing,
laughing, in the grip of some comedic spirit - a sort of spiritual laughing-gas.
Where does Scripture say that this is one of the sovereign works of
the Holy Spirit?
Narrative of Surprising Conversions, p. 354 (in Works, vol. 1). Quoted
on p.7 of What in the World is Happening to us?
This is not to deny that some people experienced "religious laughter"
in the Great Awakening, both in Britain and America. It is simply to
deny that Edwards can be used to provide a justification for such experiences.
Religious laughter has sometimes appeared in revivals before, but revival
leaders of a bygone generation condemned it as fleshly or Satanic. See
the appendix for two examples from John WesleyD5s experience and how
It is true that some Christians in the Great Awakening lost their
bodily strength and fell or fainted through an overwhelming spiritual
perception of the beauty and love of Christ. But the experience was
still coloured all through with an awesome sense of God's holiness and
a corresponding holy fear which one does not normally find in modern
charismatic "slayings in the Spirit."
Consider Edwards' description
of the experiences of his "model revived believer" in his Some Thoughts
on the Present Revival After describing his or her experiences of losing
strength through overwhelming spiritual sights of God's beauty and love,
Edwards adds "The things already mentioned have been attended also with
the following, viz. An extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness,
and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body; a sense
of the piercing all-seeing eye of God, so as sometimes to take away
the bodily strength; and an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness
of the wrath of God; together with a sense of the ineffable misery of
sinners who are exposed to this wrath" (p.377, col.1, in Works, vol.
The spiritual experience which led to the physical prostration of
a believer, as endorsed by Edwards, included both the ravishingly beautiful
and the awesomely fearful aspects of God's holiness. By contrast, the
emotional accompaniments of today's Toronto prostrations are not about
God's holiness at all; they focus on sweet joy-inducing feelings, interpreted
as God's love for the person experiencing them (being "hugged" and "kissed"
As a result we are offered a completely saccharine experience
of euphoria, "the sweet heaviness of Jesus", automatically dispensed
at the hands of charismatic leaders, little different in content to
what might be obtained from a potent tranquilizing drug, and identical
to prostration experiences in non-Christian forms of spirituality [Distinguishing Marks, p. 271, col. 1. ]
- That such experiences might be demonic deceptions, Edwards argued
in his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, p. 269, col.1.
- Bill Jackson in What in the World is Happening to us? interprets
the Toronto blessing thus: God's people are simply having fun in Him....
We are learning to party in God (pp. 16-17).