I cannot think of anyone better than Jonathan Edwards to evaluate the testimonies that were offered during the Great Awakening in 1734-35. Nothing has changed in the church when it comes to experiences – some are legitimate and some are sham. Sang Hyun Lee, editor of Volume 21 holds that this short essay contains “raw material that Edwards could use in constructing his treatises on conversion, affections, and the signs of grace.”
Edwards is concerned that a particular experience “be solid, not operating very much by pangs and sudden passions, freaks and frights, and capriciousness of mind.” His concern his miles away from the current lack of discernment that exists in the church. Imagine a contemporary pastor or theologian setting forth these concerns in the postmodern church. The criticism would be and is devastating! I hear the constant echo in my ear, “Who are you to judge a someone’s experience.”
Edwards is less concerned with his critics. He is more concerned with genuine religious experience. So he cites several benchmarks for evaluating whether a given experience is genuine or not:
- That they long after HOLINESS, and that all their experiences increased their longing.
- Let ’em be inquired of concerning their disposition and willingness to bear the cross, sell all for Christ, choosing their portion in heaven, etc.
- Makes ’em long after perfect freedom from sin, and after those wherein holiness consists; and by fixed and strong resolutions …
- Whether, when they tell of their experiences, it is not with such an air that you as it were feel that they expect to be admired and applauded …
- Inquire whether their joy be truly and properly joy in God and in Christ; joy in divine good; or whether it ben’t wholly joy in themselves, joy in their own excellencies or privileges, in their experiences; what God has done for them, or what he has promised he will do for them; and whether they’ve been affected with their own discoveries and affections.
Edwards sets forth a more comprehensive evaluation of experiences in his powerful work, Religious Affections. This short piece is yet another reminder and a corrective in our culture that is bent on narcissism and subjectivism.