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 @edwards.yale.edu 
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...

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

characteristics of Edwards' sermons pt 1

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. 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 4:1-2 ESV) 

I have been reading the sermons (and other works) of Jonathan Edwards for many years now.  Recently, a group I meet with discussed “Christ the Spiritual Sun” (preached by JE in May, 1739) from Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742 (WJE Online Vol. 22), ed. Harry S. Stout.  As presenter at the meeting I sought to summarize several characteristics of Edwards’ sermons that I think we as preachers should emulate. 

His preaching is Biblical preaching.  One thing I have learned from Jonathan Edwards, and others like him, is that a preacher has no authority apart from the Word of God.  And so he must lead with, proclaim, explain, and apply the Scriptures, rather than his own ideas.  I really have no authority, nothing eternal or ultimately meaningful to say, if I don’t begin with, and stand upon,  what God has revealed in his Word. His sermons are also replete with many other Scripture passages which support the points within his message. It is as Spurgeon spoke of John Bunyan, "Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him." 

It is doctrinal preaching.  He does not, however, quote Scripture in a superfluous way.  Edwards states his main idea as a succinct doctrine derived from the passage.  But it is more than a “main idea”, as we often use the phrase.  It is a truth to be examined and believed.  It is an authoritative statement.  And it is theological, because it leads us to think about God and our relationship to him.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Men and women are chasing worthless vanities because they do not know God, His being and His attributes." Edwards always worked carefully through all the angles of the doctrine he stated -- the who and what, the how and why, the so-what, etc. -- of the doctrine.  In this sermon JE brings the nature of Christ in one characteristic, that of “the Sun of righteousness,” (Mal. 4:1-2) to bear upon the two divergent destinies of believers and unbelievers. 

So we must ask ourselves:  Do we preach theologically?  Does our main idea have the weight of divine authority?  Are our sermons rich with insight about God? Do we preach on the attributes of God and their relation to each other and to God’s work of redemption? Do people sense, from our sermons, that life is about us, or about God? 

More to come...

Photo above by RCPlains from Weather Underground.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

marriage not a discipleship-free zone

"Marriage and family can easily become just a respectable form of selfishness... If we marry mainly to meet our own needs, then our marriages will be just that: good-looking masks for selfishness. It is a short step from 'loving you' to 'loving me and wanting you.' It is too easy for Christians to think of marriage as a discipleship-free zone. So that outside of marriage we talk about sacrifice, taking up our cross, and so on. But inside marriage we just talk about how to communicate better, how to be more intimate, how to have better sex, how to be happy."

~ Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be (Crossway, 2016).

a real need

"...that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us..." (Acts 17:27 ESV)

"They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts..."  (Romans 2:15 ESV)

"The alternative to the reality of deity is that people have made up the belief because their nature needs it. But this explanation contains within it a contradiction. For if people’s nature is solely the creation of their environment, as the atheist affirms, how does it come about that the real environment has created in humans a need which can only be satisfied by something which does not exist—a need so real and basic that no human race has existed without its fulfillment in religious belief? The environment has not done this for any other form of life. How are we to believe then that it should do so simply for human life?" 

~ Broughton Knox, The Everlasting God (Matthias Media, 2012)