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)