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Jonathan Edwards and Preaching

February 7, 2007

Jonathan Edwards, in the Religious Affections, became the Great Awakening’s – a revival in New England during the 18th century – biggest defender, but also became its biggest critic in judging what true faith (or true religion) is and what it is not. His judgment is that true religion consists of religious affections (joy, love, and hating sin).

To stir these affections, Edwards persists that God appoints ordinances, like prayer, worship in singing, the sacraments, and preaching. Theses ordinances are designed as means to move the affections of the saints consistently towards God. One in particularly he focuses on is preaching. The main end in preaching, Edwards says, is to “press divine things on the hearts and affections of men.” The preacher falls short in his duty when he simply exposits the Word of God properly and not equally impress on the affections of man “their own misery and necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up in the minds of saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance, and setting them before them in their proper colours, though they know and have been fully instructed in them already.” Later Edwards writes, “Indeed there may be such means as may have great tendency to stir up the passions of weak and ignorant persons, and yet have no great tendency to benefit their souls: for though they may have a tendency to excite affections, they may have little or none to excite gracious affections, or any affections tending to grace.” While the focus of these quotes are certainly on the pastor, I do think they pertain to small group/bible study leaders, mentors, parents and worship pastors among others. Here are some implications I think that Edwards leaves us with:

  • Preach sin abhorring themes – Preaching, teaching, and even instructing our children should be filled with themes that bring to remembrance our ungodly state, our sinful nature, and our minds that quickly wander to things that will bring destruction on us. Our sin should ever be before us (Ps 51:3). If not, redemptive themes that provide remedy for our sinful nature will soon be forgot. If our sinful and needful state is not taught and reminded, and if we are not brought to humility through God’s Word to his people about their futile condition, then the ugly, cursed cross, to which all must go before glory, will never be beautiful, only trifling. Our sin will never be ugly enough to kill and Christ will not be beautiful enough to relish.
  • Stir up in the minds of saints beautiful and wonderful affections for Christ – For preachers and for worship leaders as well, stirring up affections for Christ is of heavy importance. We are to teach on divine things to stir excitement. Edwards describes this as “setting them (teachings on divine things) before them in their proper colours.” Meaning: if you teach Christ as beautiful and lovely as to stir up affections for him, then you are teaching Christ as he truly is. You are not fabricating a characteristic of Christ in order to stir up religious sentiments in vain. If Christ is not portrayed as lovely, glorious, as someone to be sought above all things, and as a treasure to be valued while everything else is to be forsaken, then Christ is certainly not being preached at all.
  • As long as today is called “today” remind them of glorious things – Edwards gives preachers, mentors, and certainly parents counsel that repetative encouragment to treasure Christ and hate sin is the best strategy for perseverence. As Hebrews 3:13 instructs us, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Teach them and encourage them in these things even “though they may know and have been fully instructed in them already,” as Edwards says.

Christ certainly does not need pastors, teachers, parents and worship leaders to display him as beautiful. He will be the highest treasure in all the universe whether we treasure him or not. However, in his wisdom, God has ordained that there be means in which he teaches his saints of these things. Pastors, teachers, small group/bible study leaders, elders, worship leaders, and parents should be sobered by the weight of this call and with earnesty stir affections for Jesus Christ, our God and Savior.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 9, 2007 2:18 pm

    I thought this was an awesome article, thank you! yw

  2. Anonymous permalink
    February 9, 2007 5:16 pm

    Thanks my brother… this is such an encouragement. jmb

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