One of the objections Jonathan Edwards often heard during the course of the First Great Awakening was that if the “revival” in New England were real it would conform to revivals in the past. His response is instructive:
"What the church has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge; because there may be new and extraordinary works of God, and he has heretofore evidently wrought in an extraordinary manner. He has brought to pass new things, strange works; and has wrought in such a manner as to surprise both men and angels. And as God has done thus in times past, so we have no reason to think but that he will do so still. The prophecies of Scripture give us reason to think that God has things to accomplish, which have never yet been seen. No deviation from what has hitherto been usual, let it be never so great, is an argument that a work is not from the Spirit of God, if it be no deviation from his prescribed rule. The Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation; and we know that he uses a great variety; and we cannot tell how great a variety he may use, within the compass of the rules he himself has fixed. We ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself" (89).
In other words, if a criterion for determining the origin of a religious work is its conformity to past experience, i.e., if a work is to be excluded simply because it is unprecedented and strange, then we would be compelled to reject what occurred in the book of Acts. "The work of the Spirit then," writes Edwards, "was carried on in a manner that, in very many respects, was altogether new; such as never had been seen or heard since the world stood" (The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, 90).