Summary: Jonathan Edwards’ sermon is still relevant today.
A few days ago someone asked me why preachers never talked anymore about what was going to happen to you if you didn’t do what God said. I answered that I thought it was because we’d lost the whole concept of sin and judgment over the past 30 or 40 years because everybody’s been preaching that we’ve all been saved by the blood of Christ and all we have to do to receive eternal life is believe. People think there’s no longer any such thing as sin or judgment, and our loving, kind, fatherly God would never dream of punishing one of his beloved children.
This is pretty much all we heard at seminary, too. There weren’t any classes on sin and salvation; no one spoke about being judged or punished; and everybody seemed to have the same theology: Christ died for our sins, therefore, we’re going to heaven. And that’s true. Christ did indeed die for all of our sins, and Christ himself said that all we have to do is believe in him and we’ll be saved.
And that’s where the young people and the born-agains and the feel-good religions stop. The problem is, that’s not where God stopped. Sure, we’re saved by grace. Yes, all we have to do is believe in Jesus and accept him as our Lord and Savior. BUT, we can’t stop there. There’s still work to do.
God loved us. We were sinners. God sent His son to die for us. All our sins were atoned for, and the very instant we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, it’s as if we never sinned at all. We’re washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. A new birth. A new start. A clean slate.
The problem is that from the time we accept Christ to the time we start sinning again is sometimes pathetically short. And that’s where the problem comes in. The whole idea behind this salvation thing is that we STOP SINNING. We can’t accept Jesus as Lord, and then turn right around and go back to sinning. Jesus’ death freely atoned for all our sins up to the time we accepted him, but after that, we’re supposed to make an effort not to sin again. And when we fail, as we will surely do, we’re supposed to have the good grace to realize it, admit it, and repent. THEN Jesus’ death will continue to atone for us. But if we keep on sinning, brush it off as paid for by Christ, and don’t even bother to feel guilty or sorry, then we’re in big trouble.
One of the most famous sermons ever written about God’s judgment came from a preacher back in about 1741. Jonathan Edwards was a Puritan, and we all know how Puritans felt about God and sin and punishment. Theirs was a rather joyless religion, full of fear and threats, and when Edwards wrote Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, he was writing for his time.
I had to read this sermon in seminary, and my daughter actually had to study it for a literature class. I would love to read the entire sermon to you, but it’s about 40 pages long and would take more than an hour to read, so I figured you’d probably rather I didn’t. I do like his imagery, because it’s classic hellfire and damnation. I think we could use more sermons like this.
Back when Edwards was preaching, no one gave feel-good sermons. None of this "Jesus loves me and died for me and so I’m saved forever and ever, and I’m going to Heaven where I’m going to walk golden streets and pick pretty flowers and ride on clouds for all eternity." The sermons back in Puritan times were long, intense, and filled with threats about what was going to happen to the unrepentant sinners who failed to heed the words of the preacher. They were blunt and direct, with no innuendo or hints at what might happen. They were very specific about what would happen to sinners, and how bad it would hurt when you were tossed into the lake of fire for all eternity, to burn but not be consumed.
Most of what Edwards preached is still good material for today, if ministers were only brave enough to preach it. Sad to say, most ministers need their jobs badly enough that they’re afraid to tell their people what they need to hear, for fear of ending up homeless and jobless.
Edwards starts out by telling the audience that "There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God. By the MERE pleasure of God, I mean his SOVEREIGN pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty." Let me first explain that when Edwards refers to men, he means everyone, male and female alike. Keep in mind that this sermon was written long before political correctness became the norm.