Thursday, March 23, 2017

how far can we trust him?

"We have trusted in Jesus.  But how far can we trust him?  Just in this transitory life?  Just in this little speck that we call the earth?  If we can trust him only thus far we are of all men most miserable.  We are surrounded by stupendous forces; we are surrounded by the immensity of the unknown.  After our little span of life there is a shelving brink with the infinite beyond.  And still we are subject to fear--not only fear of destruction but a more dreadful fear of meeting with the infinite and holy God. 

"So we should be if we had but a human Christ.  But now is Christ our Savior, the one who says, 'Your sins are forgiven,' revealed as very God.  And we believe.  Such a faith is a mystery to us who possess it; it seems folly to those who have it not.  But if possessed it delivers us forever from fear.  The world to us is all unknown; it is engulfed in an ocean of infinity.  But it contains no mysteries to our Savior.  He is on the the throne.  He pervades the remotest bounds.  He inhabits infinity.  With such a Savior we are safe."
(J. Gresham Machen, The Person of Jesus)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

characteristics of edwards' sermons pt 4

See parts 1, 2, and 3 below...

Preaching for conversion.   JE makes a clear distinction between the converted and the unconverted.  He paints the two very different destinies of each.  He calls for self-examination:  “Let this put persons upon examining themselves whether or no they are not unbelievers.”  Perhaps he looks back wistfully on the “little” awakening of 1734-35.  He is aware of blessings in Europe through Whitefield, the Wesleys, and Hermann Francke (in Germany).  Whitefield would in fact arrive soon in New England (1740).   JE preached for conversion.  He longs for awakening, for revival, for a time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14)

We must ask ourselves:  We do not want to alienate our hearers; we want to identify with, relate to, and build bridges to unbelievers.  But in an effort to be relational, do we make enough of the distinction between believers and unbelievers?  Do we press home the seriousness of this?  What is the balance between affirming God’s universal grace to all and his special, saving grace in the converted?

One critique.  In my opinion one weakness in some of Edwards’ sermons is the absence of the cross of Christ in his call to the unconverted.  I would think that the opposite effects of the sun being a warming comfort and/or a burning oven would be resolved in the substitutionary atonement of Christ.  He himself bore the furnace of God’s wrath that we might experience the warmth of God’s grace.  The reason I can experience grace rather than wrath is not ultimately found in my conversion – though I must be converted – but rather that Jesus himself bore the furnace in my place so that I can experience an eternal springtime.  In preaching about the nature of God, his character, name, attributes, etc., we must always draw a line from the abstract truth to the concrete work of redemption, especially to the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord.  

Finally: If you preached on this passage (Malachi 4:1-2), what would you do differently than Edwards’ approach to the passage?  Which of the 7 characteristics identified above do you think are true of your own sermons, or need to be?  


Edwards, Jonathan.  Works: WJE Online 
Marsden, George M.  Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2003)
McClymond & McDermott.  The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford, 2012)
McDermott, Gerald. Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods. (Oxford, 2000)

characteristics of edwards' sermons pt 3

See parts 1 and 2 below...

It is typological preaching.  JE believed that God is a communicating Being who delights to reveal the beauty of his perfections in many ways.  He uses images from nature to adapt his teaching to us in a way that is enjoyable and pleasurable.  “Types, then, are a part of the divine aesthetic, the way in which God unites pedagogy and aesthetics.” (Theology, 122-24)  And Edwards himself confessed, “I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words” (WJE, Types, Vol. 11:152).  

His sermon is rich with the beauty of springtime.  He is preaching in May, and perhaps even as he spoke people looked out the windows.  I can imagine the congregation may have especially enjoyed this pause from his more didactic sermon series on the history of redemption.  His preaching is full of metaphors and word pictures.  

We must ask ourselves: Is our preaching full of divine imagery?  Do we make use of things God created as pointers to himself?  How do you go about finding metaphors and illustrations that effectively reveal truth about God rather than merely entertain or move the emotions?  

He was preaching to the affections.  Edwards was not satisfied in just presenting the beauty of images that God gives us.  He seeks to convict the hearts of his hearers.  Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunrise after a long and cold night?  In the appendix to his application section, he asks, “Have you [been] made sensible of your own blindness?  Have you seen the glory of this light that is shined into your heart?  Has it had a transforming influence upon you?  Has it given you new life?  Do you love this light?”

We must ask ourselves: Do we preach to the hearts of our hearers? “Preaching to the heart” is difficult -- it is more than engaging the emotions, but it does address our loves, our fears, our pleasures, our hopes, etc.  How do you do this in a sermon?  Or better, how do you do this well in a sermon?

the Bible on its own terms

"It seems far preferable to me to state the theology of the Bible on its own terms, and to reject it, if one must, than to conform it to alien principles that make scriptural truth something less than Moses, Isaiah or even Jesus recognized it to be.  The biblical insistence that the true and living God still speaks in universal general revelation, and that the fall of humanity requires special once-for-all revelation as well, illumines our world dilemmas, I believe, more consistently and coherently than any and all rival views.  Only the self-revealing God can lead us even now toward a future that preserves truth and love and justice unsullied; all other gods are either lame or walk backward."  

~ Carl F. H. Henry, Preface (Thanksgiving, 1982) of God, Revelation and Authority, Vol. VI. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

good intro to carl henry

characteristics of Edwards' sermons pt 2

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. (Malachi 4:2 ESV) 

Continuing the characteristics of Jonathan Edwards' sermons...

It is analytical preaching.  Edwards organizes his sermons with consistency:  passage, context, doctrine, outline, and application.  I find his carefulness a helpful example in making sure every angle of a particular doctrine is viewed and considered.  Reading JE’s sermons is a great antidote to fuzzy thinking.  One of the most difficult tasks I face in preparing a sermon is to get the final homiletic outline right -- that it is understandable, clear, uncluttered, and as comprehensive as possible to do justice to the truth being preached.

So we must ask ourselves: We want people to think, as well as feel.  Many people just want to feel well without having to think well.  How do we preach so as to engage the minds of our congregants, to “take every thought captive” for Christ?  How do we explain truth without a sense of dryness?    

It is historical preaching.  Edwards was currently preaching the series, “A History of the Work of Redemption,” from March to August of that year (1739).  In the preface to this sermon editor Harry Stout notes, “Even as he read voraciously in the history of heaven, earth, and hell, and sketched their interconnected narratives, Edwards eagerly scanned the horizons of his own world for signs of the revival and regeneration that would presage the new heavens and the new earth.”   Gerry McDermott writes in chapter 6 of Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods:

“All of history--not only what is called biblical history--is also ‘signification, marking the presence of something else.’  Each thing in nature and history can be understood only as the sign of the other to which it points.  Philosophically, then, all being is communicative...  Things are words, and creation is a book waiting to be read.”  (110; see also chap 8 in Theology, and WJE Online Vol. 11.)

For JE there were four distinctive periods (stages) regarding the rising of the Sun of Righteousness to comfort and to judge... a) the first advent of Christ (from the incarnation to judgment upon Jerusalem); b) growth of the church and judgment upon heathen Roman empire via Constantine; c) the beginning of millennial blessing and judgment on Antichrist [or, the twin antichrists: the papacy and Islam]; and d) Christ’s final return, with consummation and eternal judgment upon the wicked.  (See #321 Malachi 4:1–2 in Notes on Scripture WJE 15:302-4; and Theology, 574ff.)  Edwards says that it is the last of these four that is the “literal accomplishment of the words of the text.”  In his preaching moment he places his congregation, with all their petty problems, in context of a wide and grand historical drama.  

So we must ask ourselves: In our sermons how can we utilize the testimony of history to congregations largely uninterested in history?  How do we preach historically – not just biblical history and contemporary events, but the entirety of history – in such a way that we acknowledge Christ’s lordship over all of nature and history?  (Matt. 28:18; Isa. 41:4)  In our desire to be relevant in the here-and-now, do we avoid preaching eschatological topics?

To be continued...