Making a profession of Christian faith is simple. It is a matter of merely mouthing the words; it is a matter of making mental ascent to a set of doctrinal standards. However, one should never minimize the importance of professing one’s faith and embracing a body of doctrine. Indeed, Paul reminds us, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10). To make a profession of faith is to be converted.
Jonathan Edwards understands the importance and value of making a profession of faith. His concern in his piece, A Warning to Professors is that many profess faith, but practice wickedness in the final analysis. He sets forth the doctrine as follows:
Doctrine – When they that attend ordinances of divine worship allow themselves in known wickedness, they are guilty of dreadfully profaning and polluting those ordinances.
Edwards argues that the sacraments are ordinances: “So public prayer, singing of praise, the preaching of the word, and the hearing of the word preached, are divine ordinances.” It is the profaning of these ordinances that has the Puritan divine on “the edge of his seat.” He remarks, “Persons who come to the house of God, into the holy presence of God, attending the duties and ordinances of his public worship, pretending with others, according to divine institution, to call on the name of God, to praise him, to hear his word, and commemorate Christ’s death, and who yet, at the same time, are wittingly and allowedly going on in wicked courses, or in any practice contrary to the plain rules of the word of God, therein greatly profane the holy worship of God, defile the temple of God and those sacred ordinances on which they attend.”
Edwards responds to the hypocrite; he responds to the person who makes a profession of faith; and he lays bare the motives of such presumption: “But by their actions they all the while declare the contrary. They declare, that they have no high esteem of God, but that they despise him in their hearts. They declare, that they are so far from repenting of, that they intend to continue in, their sins.” Edwards is not serving up some legalistic standard that is so often wrong attributed to the Puritan mindset. He is deeply concerned with the false professor. He is concerned with the man who is sober on Sunday but is a drunkard the rest of the week. He is concerned with the man who practices homosexuality but claims to know God. He is concerned with the one who makes a public profession of faith, but is in the final analysis far from God.
“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord,” (Jeremiah 2:11–12, ESV)
Edwards ends his piece with a challenge to the false professor. He calls each one to examine himself: “You come into the holy presence of God, attending on those ordinances, which God, by sacred authority, hath hallowed and set apart, that in them we might have immediate intercourse with himself; that we might worship and adore him, and express to him a humble, holy, supreme respect; and that in them we might receive immediate communications from him.” God will not be mocked. Every sin will be exposed that is not covered by the precious blood of Christ. And every sin will be justly condemned and judged.
He concludes with a final warning: “It is a wonder that God suffers you to live upon earth, that he hath not, with a thunderbolt of his wrath, struck you down to the bottomless pit long ago. You that are allowedly and voluntarily living in sin, who have gone on hitherto in sin, are still going on, and do not design any other than to go on yet; it is a wonder that the Almighty’s thunder lies still, and suffers you to sit in his house, or to live upon the earth. It is a wonder that the earth will bear you, and that hell doth not swallow you up. It is a wonder that fire doth not come down from heaven, or come up from hell, and devour you; that hell-flames do not enlarge themselves to reach you, and that the bottomless pit hath not swallowed you up.”
Let us enter into the New Year by examining ourselves in light of God’s holy standards. May false professors turn from their evil ways and may God be glorified in granting salvation to each person who receives the gift of his Son by grace alone, through faith alone – all to the glory of God!