There may also be Genuine God-sent "Mystical" Experiences
At the very least, the fact that some people believe this, whether or not it is true, could work against the Strange Fire Conference's apparent achievement of completely demolishing the Charismatic Stronghold. I personally do believe there are genuine supernatural/spiritual experiences given directly by God, but I'm open to being persuaded out of this idea just as the Strange Fire Conference finally freed me from my lingering doubts about the authenticity of the Charismatic Movement.
So what I want to do here is make the best case I can for the authenticity of some "mystical" experiences.
There are two ways these come to us I think: in revivals and in the personal exercise of obedience and prayer.
Strictly speaking I don't think the Reformed movement is a revival as the term is usually used these days (though Jonathan Edwards' phrase "reviving of religion" fits it) but without it there would be no hope for a genuine Holy Spirit revival so I'm happy enough to consider it God's answer to the many prayers for revival that have gone up to Him for decades, from so many of His people who feel the miserable state of the Church and the world. This may certainly include many Charismatics, but a major need of the Church before we should even desire revival is that a great number of Charismatics would come to see the errors they've embraced, and that the bogus charismatic phenomena be widely recognized as bogus and abandoned with contrition and repentance. I started to write on this subject because of how I think the Conference, which because of its biblical thoroughness should by all rights have left the Charismatic Movement a smoking ruin, may have failed to finish it off because of some entrenched mistaken bias against "mysticism."
Genuine revivals are characterized by powerful supernatural effects of the Holy Spirit. Here's how Brian Edwards defines it in his book Revival! (written in 1990):
A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God's people, accomopanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of God, intensity of prayer and praise, a deep conviction of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers. [pp 28-29]A genuine revival is completely a work of God. It "effects an increase in the spiritual life" or sanctification of believers.
It may also be attended by counterfeits (such as the bogus "gifts of the Spirit" or the strange physical manifestations mentioned in the previous post), which according to Jonathan Edwards in the Preface to his book about the Great Awakening, The Religious Affections, it is crucial to discern if a true revival is to be successful and lasting:
It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ all along hitherto... And so it is ever likely to be in the church, whenever religion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shows and glistering appearances by which they are counterfeited; the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. By this means the devil ...[brings] it to pass that that should be offered to God by multitudes, under a notion of a pleasing acceptable service to him, that is indeed above all things abominable to him. By this means he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls ... and so eternally undoes them; and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who are in God's sight some of the vilest of hypocrites... Thereforeit greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavours clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist...[in order to know] clearly and distinctly what we ought to contend for.Sounds a lot like today's Charismatic Movement, doesn't it? And his advice describes what the Strange Fire Conference aimed to accomplish in exposing it as counterfeit.
So there he has described the counterfeit and the importance of discerning it from the genuine.
Back to Brian Edwards, who describes in the Introduction to his book revival as witnessed by Howel Harris who was visiting the revival under Daniel Rowland in March of 1743:
...Their singing and praying is indeed full of God! O! How did my soul burn with sacred love when I was among them! They fall almost as dead by the power of the Word, and continue weeping for joy, having found the Messiah, some mourning under a sense of their vileness, and some in the pangs of the new birth.!Then he gives a report of revival in Scotland in 1905 after hearing a report of the Welsh revival:
It was at a late prayer meeting, held in the evening at 9:30, that the fire of God fell. There was nothing, humanly speaking, to account for what happened. Quite suddenly, upon one and another came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of His presence and of eternal things... Prayer and weeping began, and gained in intensity every moment...Friends who were gathered sang on their knees. Each sermed to sing, and each seemed to pray, oblivious of one another. Then the prayer broke out again, waves and waves of prayer...One who was present says, 'I cannot tell you what Christ was to me last night. My heart was full to overflowing. If ever my Lord was near to me, it was last night.Burning with sacred love, falling under the power of the Word, (as opposed to the magic wave or shove of the charismatic leader's hand), mourning over their vileness, experiencing the pangs of the new birth. What does any of that have in common with a charismatic "revival?"
Howel Harris also comments that Rowland's preaching was unusually powerful:
O! Such power as generally attends the labours of brother Rowland, in particular, is indeed uncommon and almost incredible until one sees it himself.This would be where the idea of a special anointing on preaching comes from, that MacArthur said Lloyd-Jones was always hoping for, and Lloyd-Jones had steeped himself in descriptions of revivals.
Jonathan Edwards believes that Satan undid the great revival in his time by introducing destructive counterfeits, but he does regard the revival itself as an extraordinary move of the Holy Spirit:
So the same cunning serpent, that beguiled Eve through his subtilty, by perverting us from the simplicity that is in CHrist, hath sudfdenly prevailed to deprive us of that fair prospect we had a little while ago, of a kind of paradisaic state of the church of God in New England.Surely John MacArthur knows all this already, but how can he then speak as if there is no such thing as a special anointing on preaching, or special experiences of the Holy Spirit beyond His normal work in ordinary times?
Both of the books I've been quoting from discuss both the extraordinary effects of the Holy Spirit on individuals in revival, and the counterfeits that spoil it, such as the bogus phenomena of the charismatic movement. You can't just ignore the genuine or reduce it to "an emotional buzz" if you are trying to pull down the counterfeit.
But is there also a personal "mysticism" or heightened spiritual experience some individuals experience apart from Revival?
I think so, and I began my recent blog posts at Things of the Spirit to try to argue for it. There are too many doctrinal errors committed by some of those called "mystics" to recommend any of them unreservedly, especially the Catholic mystics, and I know that even the highly admired A.W. Tozer is sometimes suspect for his unabashed love of the mystics. I think it's clear that Tozer loved them because they convey such a powerful sense of the love of God. That's what drew me to them too, back before I had become a Christian, eventually a Protestant; in fact it was some of the Catholic mystics who turned me away from the Eastern religions to Christianity, though at that stage I thought that meant becoming a Catholic myself. Even coming to see that Catholicism is an antichrist system hasn't completely tarnished my memory of the mystics I read in that early period on my way to becoming a believer. They had heart-melting experiences of the exalted and majestic God and their descriptions are capable of creating a similar state of mind in the reader. Or they did then for me, I haven't read them since I got my own theology straightened out along Reformed Protestant lines. Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Fenelon, Blaise Pascal, Brother Lawrence, are all Catholics who inspired me with their high views of God and Christ, and often left me like the deer panting after the water brooks in Psalm 42:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.In those days I could also say "My soul doth magnify the Lord."
Those experiences of heightened worship are what got me into the charismatic movement, which at least seemed to appreciate personal spiritual experience. I eventually got "the gift of tongues" but it never felt right, never felt at all like worship or prayer. The experiences I valued and still value are those that fill me with an exalted view of God and how lovable He is, and convict me of sin. I don't see any of that in the charismatic movement, except in a couple of rare individuals I met there, but such experiences are common in revivals and in some of the mystics. I should have been driven out of the movement at least by the lack of what I most valued, but eventually the odd things I was encountering are what led me to pray for light on what was really going on. One thing, for instance, was a teaching by one of the "prophets" in the women's group I belonged to, about the twelve steps you needed to learn to come to the "throne of grace," whereas scripture teaches us to "come boldly to the throne of grace", never mentioning steps. Another was an account of a visit to "heaven" with the usual strange unbiblical imagery; another was a woman's story of how Christ set her free from drug addiction, which included allowing the demons that had possessed her to physically abuse her by throwing her against walls, for instance, so she said; another was a small taste of the "laughing revival" when one woman started laughing during a retreat and couldn't stop until the next morning. It didn't affect anyone else though. Where was my "mystical" exalting and magnifying and love of God in all that, which was where I had started out?
None of those experiences proves the validity of the "mystical experiences" I'm arguing for, but at least it should show that they have nothing in common.
I'm going to post links to my posts about mysticism on the other blog for now.
Mysticisms False and True -- or are they all False? The Emerging Church and Contemplative Prayer
Is There a True Christian Mysticism?
Is it "mysticism" or just deeply living the Christian life?
More could and probably should be said about all this so I may come back to it, but I want to close for now with some thoughts about how to experience these things.
First, our motives have to be right. We can't be seeking experience for experience's sake./ Lloyd-Jones wrote an article about the right motives for praying for revival: The real reason for revival, which comes down to seeking the glory of God. Considering how vilified our God is these days that's a motive we should be able to pray with easily enough.
Deeper personal experiences are given by God, in my experience, when we are seeking Him with all our heart, with more than usual prayer, possibly fasting, repentant for sin and praying to be cleansed, desiring God's glory in the church and the world. No gimmicks whatever, no mantra-style repetitions, nothing like that, just praying what we know from His word that God wants of us. The better we obey Him the closer we draw to Him. Moments of unusual presence of the Lord have come to me when I've obeyed Him best, such as earnestly desiring that His will be done, denying myself when it's most difficult and that sort of thing.
I wish there might be another conference like Strange Fire to address these questions I've been raising, to finish off the Charismatic counterfeits for good. Or maybe just some talks by people who spend time studying these things more carefully, study revival, study the mystics, work to differentiate what may be truly from God from the counterfeit. I'm going to reread Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections since he seems to think it's absolutely necessary for the success of revivals that we learn how to discern these things and how to keep the counterfeit from interfering with the genuine. He also seems to think it's possible. Because my hope for revival has been rekindled and I'm going to pray for it again.
This is all pretty sketchy, more of an outline than a discussion, but I'm going to leave it here for now.