Tag Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. “fire and brimstone” preacher

Most Americans know very little about Jonathan Edwards, except for the 18th century sermon he preached, “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God.” I remember reading it, as it was an assigned reading for an English class, back in my public high school.

Yes, it is a classic “fire and brimstone” sermon, filled with talk of God’s treatment of the unrepentant sinner, as though God is holding “a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [who] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

Wow. I remember thinking, as I finished reading that high school homework assignment, that this guy Edwards must have woken up on the wrong side of bed, the day he preached this tirade. What a sourpuss!!

But such a judgment of Edwards is not deserving, as a more balanced understanding of Edward’s life shows. Contrary to popular opinion, Jonathan Edwards only preached a handful of sermons, on the disturbing topic of hell, during his multi-decade preaching career. By far, most of the hundreds of sermons that Edwards preached were about the love and beauty of God. One of his favorite topics included speaking about the “sweetness” of God, a theme that he returned to, over and over again.

If you want to read a helpful introduction to Jonathan Edwards, that corrects a lot of the gross misunderstandings in popular culture about his life, I would highly recommend A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden’s grand, academic biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (which is excellent, too, but a lot longer!). Rather, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is a fresh, revealing description of Edwards, showing him to be a profound advocate of the overwhelming love of God. Plus, it is short, at about 140 pages. I listened to A Short Life as an audiobook, in about 5 hours, and loved every minute of it.

What made “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God” so indelible in the American imagination was the effect this sermon had, during one particular Sunday morning, while filling in, for another preacher, at another church. Sometime prior to his famous preaching in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards had preached this sermon to his own congregation, where it had little impact on his flock of church-goers. Edwards was not known to be an exceptionally dynamic public speaker, as he was bookish, and noticeably shy. He rarely took his eye off of his sermon notes.

Justin Bieber he was not.

But when he was asked to step in that one particular Sunday, in the Enfield church, a wave of emotion took over the room, as he made his way through his prepared text. Despite Edwards’ un-theatrical delivery, wailing and weeping filled the assembled hall, as many were overcome by the weight over the grief of their own sin. The sounds of terror among the people became so great, Edwards had to cut his sermon short, and dismiss the crowd, preventing him from delivering a message of hope, that he had saved for the climax of his prepared text. Edwards’ sermon had sparked a revival, and many Connecticut colonists made professions of Christian faith, during the following weeks.

It was a profound moment, during the First Great Awakening in America, a phenomenon that shaped America as a nation.

Ralph Green is a re-enactor, who has delivered Jonathan Edwards’ most (in??)famous sermon, as a dramatic production. Below is a 45 minute recording of that sermon.

The Calvinist: A Poem by John Piper

In the popular mind, the thought of a “Calvinist” conjures up thoughts of “predestination”, “horrible decree”, “hellfire and brimstone”, “condemnation”, and “rigid”. Basically, what you get is a sourpuss. Not a lot of fun and happy thoughts here, as “Calvinism” for a number of folks today gives Christianity a bad name.

I never thought that the power of a poem on video could viably challenge such as assessment. But I think I have found something that might do just that.

John Piper served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota for 33 years, and he is currently the chancellor for Bethlehem College and Seminary, and founder of DesiringGod.org. John’s theological hero is the 18th century colonial preacher, Jonathan Edwards, probably the greatest American philosopher ever…. and a Calvinist.

What gets me about Jonathan Edwards is that he was able to have this awesome, even terrifying, view of God’s majestic sovereignty on the one hand, as well as a tender, joyous fondness for the “sweetness” of God on the other. How was he able to put these two things together?

John Piper’s most popular book is Desiring God, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, which is nothing more than a contemporary exploration of Jonathan Edward’s faith and thought. John wrote a poem recently, and he invited a few friends to add their voices to help him read the poem: D.A. Carson, R.C. Sproul, Alistair Begg, Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, and Sinclair Ferguson.

This really surprised me. It may not change your view of a “Calvinist”, but it might give you some pause to ponder. I would like to know what you think.

Additional Resources:

Just in case you thought that Calvinism was on the periphery of the evangelical church these days, you might want to rethink that and look into the recent CrossCon student missions conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky, the last week of 2013. The Gospel Coalition posted a number of videos from this new missions conference, an event designed to mobilize a new generation of young college students. I recently talked to one of the 4,000 students who attended. It was quite an experience from the report I received.

Jonathan Edwards on Charity Towards the Poor

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and .... advocate for a biblical social justice??

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. advocate for a biblical social justice??

Most people know of Jonathan Edwards as the colonial American preacher of hell-fire and brimstone. I remember reading the mandatory “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in high school and thinking that this guy had an unhealthy, morbid fascination with damnation. This narrow view of Edwards I had for years is a real tragedy, as this unfairly diminishes the extraordinary intellectual and spiritual contribution of perhaps America’s greatest philosopher.

Perry Miller, an influential Harvard historian and prominent atheist of the mid-20th century, practically rescued Jonathan Edwards from the dustbin of American cultural history. In an age when colonial American Puritans like Edwards were treated with “fundamentalist” disdain, Miller saw in Edwards perhaps one of the most perceptive and wide ranging thinkers America has ever produced. What was it about the 18th century Edwards the Christian that fascinated Miller the atheist?
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Son of Man and Prophecy

Perplexed by those making predictions in the economy?  Likewise, many are perplexed by prophecies in the Old Testament that are cited as being "fulfilled" in the New Testament.  Thankfully, there are useful ways of working through these difficulties.

Perplexed by those making predictions in the economy? Likewise, many are perplexed by prophecies in the Old Testament that are cited as being “fulfilled” in the New Testament. Thankfully, there is a useful way of working through these difficulties.

I don’t know about you, but I am terrible when it comes to understanding predictions, particularly when it comes to the stock market. Some say,  “buy gold, because it will double in price”. Some say to invest in the stock of company X, etc. All of this is based on supposedly predictive factors. It is like you need a “prophet” if you want to make a “profit”.

However, the best advice I have received is that you should stick with good, sound financial principles learned retrospectively over time and leave the rest to the speculators who have more money than sense in their heads: Diversify your portfolio instead of chasing the latest stock pick, get out of debt, etc., principles like that. Sometimes, the best way we can understand “prophecy” is only when we have the privilege of looking back.

The challenge can be no less different than when it comes to the prophecies of the Old Testament about what we see in the New Testament. Critics sometime charge that Christians misread prophesy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of Christ. As we continue to look at Jesus as the Son of Man (start here then go to here), we need to step back for a moment and first address the issue of prophecy. This can be a complex topic for sure, but a lot of our problems about Bible prophecy sometimes come from not understanding the importance of looking back for perspective.
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