Dr. Charles Hodge’s classic work, “Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the USA” provides extensive documentation that “The Great Awakening” was afflicted with serious outbreaks of neo-pentacostalism. Edwards, in spite of all his rationalist proclivities was not immune to the influence of these outbreaks. At the first he supported them as evidences of the working of God’s Spirit. Later, in his more mature judgment he took a more conservative view of these alleged manifestations of the Spirit. That he originally supported these “manifestations,” that frequently consisted of outcryings, convulsions, fits, faintings, rolling in the asiles, screams and other disorderly utterances and actions, was probably due to his mystical bent. This is evidenced by his view of his wife’s relationship with God, which was mystical in the extreme. The following quote from JosephTracy, “The Great Awakening” makes this evident.
“In 1723, when he was about twenty years of age, he wrote on a blank leaf of some book: ‘They say there is a young lady in ______ ,who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world; and that there are certain seasons, in which this Great Being, in some way or other, invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for any thing, except to meditate on him; that she expects after a while to be received up where he is; to be raised up out of the world, and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her conduct; and you could not persuade her to do any thing wrong or sinful, if you would give her all of the world, lest she should offend this Great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind; especially after this Great Being has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly, and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure, and no one knows for what. She loves to he alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her.’”
“This young lady was Sarah Pierrepont, and about four years after this was written, she became his wife.”
“Mrs. Edwards continued to enjoy, after her marriage, and at least till the time of this awakening, those occasional visits of the ‘Great Being, who made and rules the world.’ with which she had been favored in her childhood; especially near the close of 1738, in the summer of 1740, and again in January, 1742, of which last, at her husband’s request, she wrote a particular account. At these seasons, her views of spiritual objects appear to have been most delightful and absolutely overpowering. Of their ‘very great effects on the body,’ Edwards mentions, ‘nature often sinking under the weight of divine discoveries, the strength of the body being taken away, so as to deprive of all ability to stand or speak; sometimes the hands clenched, and the flesh cold, but the senses still remaining; animal nature often in a great emotion and agitation, and the soul very often, of late, so overcome with great admiration and a kind of omnipotent joy, as to cause the person, wholly unavoidable, to leap with all the might, with joy and mighty exultation of soul; the soul at the same time being so drawn towards God and Christ in heaven, that it seemed to the person as though soul and body would, as it were of themselves, of necessity mount up, leave the earth, and ascend thither.’ Edwards testifies expressly and minutely, that these visitations were followed by manifest improvement in practical holiness.”
“The influence of these things on his opinions is not a matter of mere conjecture. A great part of her account of her exercises In January, 1742, he transcribed, partially changing the phraseology, concealing the name and even the sex of the person, and adding some particulars from his own knowledge, into his ‘Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England;’ where he used it to prove that the influence which produced such bodily effects was good, and of salutary tendency. Thus, we have his own word for it, that what he saw in her, helped to give him, or at least to confirm him in, the views which he entertained concerning these ‘extraordinaries. ‘ What he saw in her, in connexion with her holiest and most improving exercises, he could not but view with some partiality, when he saw it occur as a result of his own most faithful labors, or heard of it as occurring under the labor of some of the best men in the land. He did not regard these outcries, faintings, and the like, ‘as certain evidences of a work of the Spirit of God on the hearts’ of men, nor esteem them ‘to be the work of God, as though the Spirit of God took hold of and agitated the bodies of men:’ nor did he know any who held such views. But he avowed his belief that they were ‘probable tokens of God’s presence, and arguments of the success of preaching. And therefore,’ he said, ‘when I see them excited by preaching the important truths of God’s word, urged and en forced by proper arguments and motives, or consequent on other means that are good. 1 do not scruple to speak of them, and to rejoice in them, and to bless God for them, as such.’”
(Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening, pp. 226-228.)
Tracy thus documents Edwards extreme neo-pentacostal/charismatic view of his wife’s religious state and clearly connects this to his endorsement of the charismatic excesses of the Great Awakening. For a thorough review of these excesses and their nature see Charles Hodge, “The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.” The relevant section can be read on this site at “The Evils Attending the Revival” Hodge clearly documents Edwards’ early approval of these excesses as well as his more cautious mature judgment where he openly condemned at least the more extreme abuses.