Many believers mistakenly suppose that God offers only a CHOICE between having spiritual gifts or the fruits of the Spirit in their life. It sounds oh, so spiritual, to say you’re content with having only the LOVE of Jesus in your life, and it doesn’t matter if His power to defeat the powers of darkness is missing from your experience, because love is the ONLY important thing. This rosy religious lie of satan has helped derail many a zealous believer who lost fierce battles with the enemy by throwing away their supernatural weapons so hard-won by Christ on Calvary.
I’ve been blessed by reading the works of Jonathan Edwards. His faithfulness in preaching unpopular doctrines like holiness and hell is an example to timid preachers of today who wimp out of these topics to stay popular with everyone. But there’s a couple of things I disagree with Edwards on. He allegedly believed in cessationism, which holds that the Gifts of the Spirit are not for the post-apostolic age. How, then, would Edwards have explained the fact that no expiration date is found on the Gifts of the Spirit in Scripture? Much NT scripture is devoted to the gifts and their proper functioning in the assembly of the saints. What Edwards is saying, in effect is this: Certain parts of the NT scriptures aren’t applicable to post-apostolic Christians. Well, if that’s so, which others don’t apply today either? That leaves the question wide open for risky speculation.
You might as well say that like the Old Law of Moses, the supernatural workings of God to bless and deliver His people are obsolete. Taking this to its logical conclusion, that would mean that the only relevant sections of Scripture are those which teach us to reverence God and love our neighbor. Such passages stir up less controversy than attempting to raise the dead or deliver people from satan’s demons.
To be fair, I believe Edwards SINCERELY thought the gifts aren’t for today. This conviction didn’t stem from any fear of controversy. It wasn’t even because of being bound by church tradition. Edwards was so effective at preaching the judgment of God and stirring cold hearts that his success irritated many of his fellow churchmen. Edwards was disliked by lukewarm preachers for being too radical in his beliefs and eventually lost his pulpit for this very reason. Edwards preached with such a powerful anointing of the Spirit that many actually cried out in terror and fainted from the fear of God’s judgment to come. His own wife was so emotionally overcome she lapsed into a comatose state for several hours, totally detached from the things of this world. Edwards permitted such emotional manifestations in his services, not wishing to hinder God’s dealings with sinners. Part of Edwards’ ministry took place during the Great Awakening of the 18th century. A great harvest of souls was converted to Christ during this short but powerful revival. Sadly it fizzled out just a couple of years after it began. There was just too much resistance from religious people to what God was doing. God was dealing PERSONALLY with people, and that was too close for comfort for those who wanted to keep God at a respectable distance.
Possibly Edwards was able to receive only a partial revelation of what the supernatural working of God’s Spirit could do in the lives of His people. God may have been GRADUALLY restoring key truths to His church rather than doing this all at once. For example, Edwards did not believe in the pre-tribulation rapture. Edwards held postmillennial views. He believed that the Gospel of Christ was so powerful it would kindle revival throughout the earth and usher in God’s Kingdom, with no role played by the Rapture, the Tribulation or the battle Christ would need to fight to subdue literal armies upon His return. The evangelistic efforts of God’s servants would result in godliness spreading worldwide, contrary to Scriptural teaching which warns of the rise of Antichrist and increasing sin before Christ’s coming (Matt.24:12; 2 Thes.2:3; 2 Tim.3:13). I think the reason end times theology is becoming clearer is because we’re actually approaching the time of Christ’s return.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that there was any great revival of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, manifested in speaking in tongues and the exercise of spiritual gifts. There was the Azuza Street Revival of the early part of the 20th century, and the Jesus Revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s. How I long for those good old days when young people brimmed over with the joy of Jesus and you could feel the love of God saturate the atmosphere. In the early days, the gifts of tongues, interpretation and prophecy were encouraged in Spirit-filled services, along with prayer for the sick. With the passage of time many Charismatic churches phased out the use of or teaching on the Gifts, and all you were left with were boisterous song services and name-it-and-claim-it preaching.
The Jesus Revolution, like earlier moves of God, faded away as the apostate Prosperity Doctrine (and its greedy televangelists) provided the main feeding station for hungry sheep. The rightly divided Word of God was replaced with ABC faith formulas and positive confession techniques resembling those used in secular motivational success seminars. Those who questioned the Word of Faith Seed Faith Doctrines were rebuked with “You get what you confess but doubt and do without”. And thus the holy faith of the First Century which turned the world upside down was replaced with a belief system turned upside down by the world.
Wasn’t long before I discovered it was difficult to find a Charismatic (this Greek word means gifts) church which didn’t center around faith formulas and “success” secrets. When the gifts and signs and wonders of the Spirit are missing, you must resort to other exciting things to draw the crowds.
I believe that in Edwards’ day, God was laying the foundation for greater moves of His Spirit of Power, to take place in our day. After so many centuries of dead ritual and no emphasis on the need for a personal relationship with Christ, churchgoers of Edwards’ time seemed to be taking baby steps toward that glorious day when Christians would once again allow themselves to be immersed fully in the stream of God’s Spirit of power.
The Holy Spirit distributes the nine spiritual gifts to each believer according to His own will (I Cor.12:11). Paul strongly indicates in I Cor.14:14-15 that praying in the Spirit is prayer in unknown tongues which can’t be understood by the natural mind. When Paul prayed this way, his spirit was praying, not his conscious mind. Who’s to say the spirit of a believer is no longer permitted to pray in its own heavenly language, and must now confine its prayers to what’s available in the person’s limited intellect? That’s nonsense to me. Our understanding of situations is imperfect, and even our understanding of our own needs. And, if satan’s activities have gotten worse and worse, then we NEED the comfort of knowing there’s certain prayers his demons can’t decipher and report back to their boss with.
Paul commanded believers to covet (strongly desire) the BEST gifts and covet to prophesy (I Cor.12:31;14:39). If these scriptures aren’t for us today, which of Paul’s other commandments aren’t for us either? I believe ALL Paul’s exhortations to believers are for us today. One possible exception is found in I Corinthians chapter 11 where Paul exhorts women to cover their heads in church. In his time and culture, it was scandalous for a woman to go out in public with her head uncovered, as it meant she might be a prostitute. That isn’t so in our culture. Still, in the absence of any definitive word about it in the NT, how can we tell which practices of the early church are to be restricted only to the apostolic era?
Jesus promised that supernatural signs would follow “them that believe” (Mark 16:17). Again, Jesus did not limit this promise only to the apostles of His era. If we’re believers, we qualify.
Edwards, in his writings, shows he believed death and illness to sometimes be God’s sovereign will, part of the outworking of His divine purposes. Edwards’ daughter Jerusha was engaged to David Brainerd. David became seriously ill after a period of physically taxing missionary work among the Indians. Instead of strongly rebuking the devil for attacking his body, David resigned himself to the idea of getting sicker and dying. He looked forward to death as a sweet release from the body which would let him go home to Christ. David spent his last days at Jonathan Edward’s home, being nursed by his fiancée.
Edwards most certainly must have prayed often for Jerusha’s patient. He probably prayed for David to recover, if God so willed. In that pre-antibiotic era there was no earthly cure for the “consumption” (TB) destroying David’s body. Oral Roberts, the famous evangelist, also lived before modern treatments for TB were available. Oral testified that he got deathly sick of the same illness but God raised him up and healed him. But because Edwards didn’t believe in the continuance of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit (which include miracles and healing), he could not more effectively resist satan, who wanted to put an end to this young evangelist’s ministry. Soldiers must be able to identify their enemy and not mistake a grenade for a goose egg. Jesus Himself said that all GOOD gifts come from the Father and if you ask Him for an egg He won’t offer you a scorpion (Luke 11:12). If you get a scorpion, why should you call it a good gift from the Father? Because Edwards focused on the glory of David Brainerd going home to heaven, he didn’t fully discern the tragedy of David’s life being prematurely cut short by sickness, one of the works of the devil (I John 3:8). Jesus came to DESTROY satan’s works, not transform them into a lovely gift.
David Brainerd was as humble a man as you could meet, so conscious of his own personal flaws that he willingly submitted to what he may have thought was God’s pruning of his character through suffering. David was one of America’s most shining examples of devotion and love for Christ and His Gospel. But even God’s best and brightest can fail to spot the snake lurking in the rose garden of deep spirituality.
David Brainerd used eloquent, almost romantic language to show how much he longed for the grave as a desirable destination for his “rotting carcass”. He was so conscious of his own unworthiness and the filthiness of his own flesh nature that he embraced death the way out of these problems. We should be humble in the sight of God. We ought never to forget that God redeemed us from the ugly pig pen of sin and we’d still be in sin today if Christ hadn’t died for us. Yet even while we live in this world, we’re still sons and daughters of God, made righteous through Christ’s precious blood and seated with Him in heavenly places (2 Cor.5:21; Eph.2:6).
Jesus did not say a certain sick woman was made that way by the will of God. He said SATAN had bound her (Luke 13:11-16). Jesus did not say this woman was such a wretched sinner it would be better for her to die and leave her sinful body behind. Jesus did not call the woman a miserable, unworthy worm. He called her a daughter of Abraham (verse 16). Godly humility can cross the line from simple reliance on Jesus into our being sin-conscious rather than Son-conscious. This throws the door open wide for satan to steal, kill and destroy in a Christian’s life.
Puritan writers tended to exhort their followers to submit to bodily afflictions as God’s way of purging them of their faults, but could they have been deceived by a religious spirit of infirmity? Shortly after Edwards’ daughter lost her fiancée, both she and her father died of complications from a smallpox inoculation. Not only that, the Edwards family was plagued with other tragedies and hardships for years afterward.
Death is called an ENEMY in Scripture, not a friend to be welcomed with open arms (I Cor.15:26). The devil has destroyed more people with flawed doctrine or outright heresy than you can imagine. By robbing the Bride of Christ of her gifts (our Heavenly Bridegroom’s engagement gifts to His Church) satan has robbed the church of glory and sapped away her ability to minister to a world in need of Christ’s delivering power.
Did Paul consider manifestations of the power of God just extra frills we can easily dispense with?
Rom.15:17: I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
18 For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
19 THROUGH MIGHTY SIGNS AND WONDERS, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
The Gentiles (unsaved heathen) preached to by Paul were made obedient to the Gospel, not by eloquent sermons, but by proofs of the power of God which they saw in the signs and wonders which followed Paul’s ministry. Paul didn’t think he’d fully presented the gospel of Christ unless the power of God was at work in the service.
I Cor.2:4-5: And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
That’s how Paul and other apostles got people saved back in Bible days. Despite warm and fuzzy icebreakers like “God has an awesome purpose for your life” and “God loves you unconditionally just the way you are”, hardened sinners remain skeptical. Sinners aren’t impressed by polished, powerless religious rhetoric. The real miracle is that anybody gets saved at all when the evangelist doesn’t even believe in a supernatural God!
The Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power (I Cor.4:20). When did this one pass away as being no longer valid?
You are most effective if you possess BOTH the fruits and whatever gifts the Holy Spirit sovereignly imparts to you as a believer. While you (probably) won’t manifest all nine supernatural gifts in your own life, every believer should possess all nine fruits, or character traits of Christ. The fruits of the Spirit grow richly on the vine of a consecrated believer’s life, perfuming it with the fragrance of the Christ life within. Love, joy, peace, forbearance with others, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self-control and faith are all deeply essential and define the true nature of Christ in you, the Hope of glory.
The fruits of the Spirit are beautiful. But do they cancel out the need for supernatural gifts which empower the believer in his war against satan? A soldier usually fights for his country because he/she wants to preserve the liberty and security of his/her own people. Such soldiers possess at least ordinary human love for their nation, even if the soldier is an unbeliever and is incapable of divine love. But just suppose a Christian lieutenant were to spot a jet bomber approaching to destroy his battalion. The Christian foolishly decides not to use his anti-aircraft weaponry to protect his unit, reasoning that LOVE is all a Christian needs, and everything else is “not for today”. Isn’t it enough to spread sweet emotions and goodwill all around you and just be patient toward the advancing enemy, and everything will turn out just fine? You can guess what would happen to any military unit where the commanding officer kept godly character traits but threw away all his weapons.
The sheer irony is those same believers who deny the gifts are for today will pull out all the stops in defeating earthly armies overseas. Patriotic preachers support taxpayers providing the army with the latest technology to blow up primitive foreigners armed with outdated rifles. Yet the threat posed by earthly enemies is NOTHING compared to the spiritual threat posed by satan and his demonic forces of darkness. Many “spiritually-minded” believe think high-tech bombers are badly needed to defend Christians while spiritual weapons are “done away”.
James says loving words isn’t enough (James 2:14). Love, the main fruit of the Spirit, is useless unless it’s backed up with action to meet the needs of a person. James says to feed or clothe a needy brother or sister, don’t just bless them with your mouth.
In Acts chapter 3, Peter and John went to the Temple to pray. They met a lame beggar who asked for alms. Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” Peter held this man by the hand, and before you know it, that lame man walked and jumped for joy, praising God.
Silver and gold have I none. The opposite is true today. The big institutional churches are loaded with wealth, but they are poor and blind and naked in the sight of Jesus (Rev.3:17). Ten thousand faithless preachers praying couldn’t even heal a headache! When did it become okay for satan to rob the Church of its treasure, the power of God? Peter and John didn’t just pat the lame man on the back and say, “Bless you, brother. We have nothing to give you, we’ll just pray you’ll have the grace to bear up under this trial.”
Love without power is lamer than the beggar healed by Peter and John.