The high and intense affections of the Great Awakening often came with an assortment of bodily effects, including fainting, shaking, sweating, crying, and exhaustion (among others). Some found the displays unsettling and refused to accept any of them as works of God. Others welcomed them all as evidence of God’s work. Here again, Edwards took a middle path, affirming that affections affect us physically, but given that the origin of our affections can be natural or spiritual, so the cause of great physical affects can be natural or spiritual.
On the one hand, given that many earthly things unrelated to the work of the Holy Spirit can generate various physical effects in people, “Great effects on the body certainly are no sure evidences that affections are spiritual.” Indeed, “All affections…have in some respect or degree an effect on the body.” Therefore, if highly raised religious affections can be generated from a number of sources besides God, including satanic or human delusion, depravity, weakness of disposition, or foolishness, so great bodily effects can also be produced by the same affections. People faint, cry, or shake for all sorts of earthly reasons. I fainted when I first saw my wife.
On the other hand, intense religious affections generated by the work of the Holy Spirit within a person’s heart can generate great bodily effects. “I know of no reason why a being affected with a view of God’s glory should not cause the body to faint, as well as being affected with a view of Solomon’s glory.” Examples of physical responses to encounters with God or angels abound in Scripture. The Psalmist cries, “My flesh trembleth for fear of Thee” (Psalm 119:120). Habakkuk was greatly moved by consideration of God’s judgment: “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself” (Habakkuk 3:16). When the Apostle John saw Christ in His glory he “fell at His feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17). Daniel lost his strength and trembled at his vision of an angel (Daniel 10:6-9). It would be improper to dogmatically conclude that affections cannot be from God if they produce bodily effects.
Universal experience shows that the exercise of the affections has in a special manner a tendency to some sensible effect upon the body….and the more vigorous their exercise…the greater will be the effect on the body. Very great and strong exercises of the affections have great effects on the body. And therefore, seeing there are very great affections, both common and spiritual, it is not to be wondered at that great effects on the body should arise from both these kinds of affections. And consequently these effects are no signs that the affections they arise from are of one kind or the other.”
Therefore, great bodily effects flowing from highly raised affections—in a church service, prayer meeting, conference, or time alone in the wilderness—may or may not indicate that the affections producing the bodily effects are the fruit of God’s work in the heart. For Edwards, not all that faints, shakes, or cries is necessarily from God. Maybe, maybe not.
Next, we’ll examine why “fluent, fervent, and abundant” talk about God and spiritual things does not necessarily indicate that the affections producing such talk were generated by the Holy Spirit.
 BT, 59; Yale, 132.
 BT, 59, Yale, 131-2.
 BT, 60; Yale, 132.
 BT, 59; Yale, 132.
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