Monday, August 02, 2004

Jonathan Edwards in the Hands of Angry Sinners

So I just happened to stumble upon some Christian message board the other day, and found some comments about the great Puritan Jonathan Edwards. I think the message board belonged to the website of some Christian rock group, so I am guessing that the speakers are "youth". Oh, and they were talking about school, too. So, uh, yeah, I guess they were probably teenagers. Anyway, here are some quotes:

"J. Edwards was not cool in my mind- i dont think God is sitting there waiting to drop us off a waterfall or something...and if we were all that bad, then we would all be drowning by now and no one would be here. And i guess that it does imply that God is merciful, but does Edwards have to make Him sound like such a meanie?"

"i dont like J. Edwards either. God is cool."

" He wrote Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God... projecting God as angry, mad, merciless, fire and brimstone, etc. This was in the first Great Awakening. The second Great Awakening was the reversal; it portrayed God as loving and full of mercy."

"Thank God for the Second Great Awakening!!"

Okay, where do we begin with how INCREDIBLY WRONG this all is? I guess we should say that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of three things: Edwards, God, and sin/man.

First, Edwards. Let's be very generous and assume that these people actually have read "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." If you read this one sermon without reading any other sermon by Edwards, you are going to develop a lopsided view of the man. The God of Jonathan Edwards is indeed very merciful. Edwards often preached of the mercy of God; perhaps even more than he wrote of God's anger. In the collection of sermons put out by Banner of Truth entitled Jonathan Edwards on Knowing Christ, the "Sinners" sermon is sandwiched right between two great sermons on the mercies and goodness of God. One speaks of Christ being a rock of shade for those in the hot desert, a river of cool water to the thirsty, etc. The second sermon lists the great benefits of being a part of God's people. If just these three sermons were read together, a much better understanding of Edwards' theology would result.

Also, we must note that Edwards always refers to the wrath of God as falling on impenitant sinners. Those who, in this life, repent of their sins and fall upon Christ will indeed receive God's mercy. It is those who die in their sins that do not receive mercy from God because they rejected Him.

But all this is less important. How "cool" Jonathan Edwards is doesn't really matter. How "cool" is God?

This leads to the second misunderstanding: the character of God. It is very sad how many professing Christians don't even have a basic kindergarten knowledge of Who God is. I don't mean to sound boastful and suggest that I am a genius on the character of God, but I am saying READ YOUR BIBLES! Read all of it! Remember that the Old Testament God is also the God of the New Testament because He never changes (Malachi 3:6)!

Now, if we are to believe what the Bible says about God, and if we are to call ourselves Christians we must do this, we should see what it says regarding God and wrath. The OT is full of examples of God's wrath burning against a rebellious mankind. See Isaiah 59:18, 63:3, 66:15; Ezekiel 8:18; etc. Now suppose you just can't get it out of your system that God never changes, and that somehow God is kinder in the NT, there are verses there to confound you. God is ready to dispose of the sinful, as seen in Luke 13:7. God is the One Who sends men to hell (Luke 12:4-5). He does possess wrath that will be poured at (Rev 19:15).

Logic also speaks of the reality of God's wrath. Think for a second--if God is just some lovey-dovey guy who wishes love and goodness on everybody, then why does anybody go to Hell? You may say that men send themselves to hell by their rejection of Christ. But, I say to you, who created hell? God did, for He created all things. He created all things for a purpose. He intended from eternity past to punish sinners. He did not intend this against His own will, a sad will that was sorry to see sinners burn, because God always executes His will. He created hell because he was angry with sinners.

Another logical problem: If God is not angry, then what is mercy? By definition mercy is that which we do NOT deserve. Mercy is non-justice. We all deserve justice. Justice demands damnation. As R.C. Sproul often has to argue, God is not obligated to deal out mercy because then it wouldn't be mercy. Mercy, by definition, is NOT required. Mercy is the absence of wrath, but for mercy to exist, wrath must exist before it.

Man is a sinner. We must understand this. And sin is ultimate rebellion. It is cosmic rebellion. God is unable to look at sin. That is why Jesus could cry out "My God why have you forsaken me?" He had all of the elect's sin put into His account, so much so that He is said to have become sin Himself. He was forsaken because God could not look upon Him. Hey, that's another thought--If God is not angry, then why did Jesus suffer? The crucifixion wasn't man's idea, it was God's--see Acts 2:23. We must ask ourselves, if God is holy, just, and perfect, how could He not be angry with sinners? If being holy, just, and perfect are part of what makes God God, then He must be angry with sinners, or else He wouldn't be God.

Let us look again at one of the quotes from a professing Christian: "if we were all that bad, then we would all be drowning by now and no one would be here." Here we see the denial of real sin. oh, I'm sure this person would admit to being a sinner, after all, "all have sinned". But this person fails to see how sinful sin is. The Bible says that men are continuously wicked (Gen. 6:5), that men are at enmity against God (Rom. 8:7). The truth is, natural man hates God. He may not think so, but by the fact that he even sins ONCE is proof of that. Any "bad" is "that bad". Any sin deserves hell. If not, then why do even the most upright need a saviour? If you're not "that bad", then why do you need Jesus Christ? Apparently God isn't concerned with those who aren't "that bad", so He can let you into heaven without you believing in His Son. The only problem with this idea is that it is unBiblical and unChristian. But why aren't we all "drowning by now"? The only reason is that God is merciful, and that is precisely one of Jonathan Edwards' points in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". That we aren't all crushed immediately is because of the mercy of God. We are "that bad" and we all deserve to have been destroyed. To deny this is to deny the Bible. But God is a merciful God who delays his wrath and bestows mercies upon those who do not deserve it. This is especially seen in the the fact that God saves people from eternal damnation, but also from the fact that even those who eventually are eternally punished receive blessings on earth.

So is God cool? Oh yes, He is very cool in that despite the fact that He ordinarily is wrathful towards sin, he nonetheless chose to love some and not feel wrath towards them and offer them the penultimate in mercy. Is He "cool" in that He lets sinners walk all over Him and He'd love to save them from their sins if they'd just let Him but He's just too darn impotent and weak and not possessed of the sovereign right and power that logically belongs to deity? Is God "cool" in the sense that, even though He's not mad at anybody, people still end up in hell for eternity? If that's God being sweet, then I'd hate to see what it would be like if He was really angry! Wow!

As I wind down my rantings, I thought I'd remark on the Second Great Awakening. Charles G. Finney was the main character in the Second Great Awakening, and he was an out-and-out heretic (see . He had many professions of faith, but most of those were not true conversions. He even admitted himself that most of his "converts" never followed up their profession. This is in contrast to the first Great Awakening featuring Jonathan Edwards, where most of those who professed Christ also lived out that profession. And not all Second Great Awakening evangelists differed from Edwards. Asahel Nettleton did not diverge from the Gospel that Edwards preached, and he also saw many professions of faith that proved true. Whereas the majority of those "converted" under Finney never attended church again, the opposite was true for Nettleton. And so it is with all preaching of the true Gospel, the Gospel of the Puritans. For the true Gospel falls on good soil that produces good fruit. The gospel of the likes of Finney is like the seed that fell on rocky, shallow soil.

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