Posted On November 30, 2020

How to Know the Holy Spirit is at Work — Part 3

by | Nov 30, 2020 | Theology

In 1741 Jonathan Edwards preached his sermon, The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, from 1 John 4 for the commencement ceremony at Yale. We’ve seen two of these distinguishing marks so far: esteeming Jesus and opposing Satan. In this blog post, we look at the third and fourth marks. Below are all Edwards’s words:

Loving Scripture

The spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God. This rule the apostle gives us in the 6th verse:. “We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us: hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” We are of God; that is, “We the apostles are sent forth of God, and appointed by him to teach the world, and to deliver those doctrine and instructions, which are to be their rule; he that knoweth God, heareth us,” &c.

The apostle’s argument here equally reaches all that in the same sense are of God; that is, all those that God has appointed and inspired to deliver to his church its rule of faith and practice; all the prophets and apostles, whose doctrine God has made the foundation on which he has built his church, as in Eph. ii. 20. in a word, all the penmen of the Holy Scriptures. The devil never would attempt to beget in persons a regard to that divine word which God has given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters, and all concerns of their souls, in all ages. A spirit of delusion will not incline persons to seek direction at the mouth of God.

To the law and to the testimony, is never the cry of those evil spirits that have no light in them; for it is God’s own direction to discover their delusions. Isa. viii. 19, 20. “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? For the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

The devil does not say the same as Abraham did, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them:” nor the same that the voice from heaven did concerning Christ, “Hear ye him.” Would the spirit of error, in order to deceive men, beget in them a high opinion of the infallible rule, and incline them to think much of it, and be very conversant with it? Would the prince of darkness, in order to promote his kingdom of darkness, lead men to the sun?

The devil has ever shown a mortal spite and hatred towards that holy book the Bible: he has done all in his power to extinguish that light; and to draw men off from it: he knows it to be that light by which his kingdom of darkness is to be overthrown. He has had for many ages experience of its power to defeat his purposes, and baffle his designs: it is his constant plague. It is the main weapon which Michael uses in his war with him: it is the sword of the Spirit, that pierces him and conquers him. It is that great and strong sword, with which God punishes Leviathan, that crooked serpent. It is that sharp sword that we read of, Rev. xix. 15. That proceeds out of the mouth of him that sat on the horse, with which he smites his enemies.

Every text is a dart to torment the old serpent. He has felt the stinging smart thousands of times; therefore he is engaged against the Bible, and hates every word in it: and we may be sure that he never will attempt to raise persons’ esteem of it, or affection to it. And accordingly we see it common in enthusiasts, that they depreciate this written rule, and set up the light within or some other rule above it.

Embracing Truth

Another rule to judge of spirits may be drawn from those compellations given to the opposite spirits, in the last words of the 6th verse,. “The spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” These words exhibit the two opposite characters of the Spirit of God, and other spirits that counterfeit his operations. And therefore, if by observing the manner of the operation of a spirit that is at work among a people, we see that it operates as a spirit of truth, leading persons to truth, convincing them of those things that are true, we may safely determine that it is a right and true spirit.

For instance, if we observe that the spirit at work makes men more sensible than they used to be, that there is a God, and that he is a great and sin-hating God; that life is short, and very uncertain; and that there is another world; that they have immortal souls, and must give account of themselves to God, that they are exceeding sinful by nature and practice; that they are helpless in themselves; and confirms them in other things that are agreeable to some sound doctrine; the spirit that works thus operates as a spirit of truth; he represents things as they truly are. He brings men to the light; for whatever makes truth manifest is light; as the apostle Paul observes, Eph. v. 13. “But all things that are reproved (or discovered, as it is in the margin) are made manifest by the light; for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.”

And therefore we may conclude, that it is not the spirit of darkness that doth thus discover and make manifest the truth. Christ tells us that Satan is a liar, and the father of lies; and his kingdom is a kingdom of darkness. It is upheld and promoted only by darkness and error.

Satan has all his power of dominion by darkness. Hence we read of the power of darkness. Luke xxii. 53. And Col. i. 13. And devils are called “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Whatever spirit removes our darkness, and brings us to the light, undeceives us, and, by convincing us of the truth, doth us a kindness. If I am brought to a sight of truth, and am made sensible of things as they really are, my duty is immediately to thank God for it, without standing first to inquire by what means I have such a benefit.


More parts of this series on The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God will appear here as we release them:

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