Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in revival, by Michael A. G. Haykin,
Evangelical Press, 2005, 227pp.
Evangelical Press, 2005, 227pp.
I've been reading this book on Sunday evenings over the last couple of months and very good it is too. After a chapter discussing the life and legacy of Jonathan Edwards Haykin gets straight into an exposition of Edwards' teaching on the Holy Spirit and revival. For the New England preacher-theologian, the gift of the Spirit was purchased for believers by the atoning work of Christ. The Holy Spirit himself is the chief benefit bestowed upon the people of God. The threefold task of the Spirit is firstly to convict people of their sin and need of a Saviour, secondly to empower the church to preach the gospel and thirdly to make the gospel preaching effective in the salvation of sinners. In the light of this Edwards urges us to pray for the Spirit!
When it comes to the work of the Holy Spirit, Edwards was no theoretical theologian. He witnessed several outpourings of the Spirit in revival power during his ministry. Haykin describes these periods of revival and gives attention to Edwards' writings on the subject of revival. Edwards recognised the Great Awakening of the 1740's as a genuine work of the Spirit. But there were excesses, notably associated with the wild fanaticism of James Davenport. This caused some, such as Charles Chauncy to cast doubt on the genuineness of the revival. Edwards brought his clear biblical understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit and gifts of spiritual discernment to bear on the task of analysing and defending the revival. This he did in three major works, A Faithful Narrative, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God and The Religious Affections. Haykin admirably summarises the burden of Edwards' teaching. His great thesis was that a true experience of the Holy Spirit will lead to a Christ-exalting, God-centred life of holiness and love. Edwards was keen to promote prayer for revival and his Humble Attempt was used by God to awaken interest in prayer for an extraordinary work of the Spirit on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 19th century.
Jonathan Edwards is such a valuable writer on the subject of revival because he was a mighty theologian whose heart blazed with love for Christ. His positive view of the importance of spiritual emotions or "religious affections" reminds us that, "True religion is more than a notion/something must be known and felt". The aim of preaching must be to stir the heart, not just inform the mind. We need Edwards' emphasis on experimental Calvinism, which is the product of the life-transforming power of the Spirit. But we also need his caution and discernment when it comes to assessing recent phenomenon like the "Toronto blessing" and other outbreaks of Charismatic excess. The preacher warned his people against confusing subjective impressions on the mind and strange effects on the body with the genuine work of the Spirit. It's a great pity that the church in the 20th century neglected the New England theologian's contribution to our understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in revival. Hopefully Haykin's study will help the church of the 21st century to avoid making the same mistake.
It seems to me that Edwards' teaching on revival is needed now more than ever. The witness of the church in the West has been badly weakened by worldliness. Preaching lacks power and effectiveness. Conversions are few. Vital godliness is a rare thing. Isn't it time that the cry went up once more, "Revive your work, O Lord in the midst of the years!"?