The preacher from Northampton is burdened in this sermon to warn sinners and root that warning in sacred Scripture. He sets forth his primary assertion as follows: “The warnings of God’s word are more fitted to obtain the ends of awakening sinners, and bringing them to repentance, than the rising of one form the dead to warn them.” Edwards maintains that while many unconverted people would appear ready to believe the gospel if Christ performed a miracle or walked among them like he did with his disciples – they would, in the final analysis remain hardened.
Six principles guide his primary argument:
First, God in many respects, knows better what belongs to the punishment of sinners than departed souls. Edwards responds to those who misread and misapply Jesus’ story about Lazarus who saw the rich man in hell. He writes, “God glorifies his justice in the punishment of ungodly men, in the view of the saints and angels, and thereby makes them the more admire the riches of his goodness in choosing life.” Edwards affirms God’s “all-seeing” eye: “He is in heaven and in hell, and in and through every part of the creation … He therefore is doubtless able to give us as clear and distinct, and as true, an account of hell, as the damned themselves, if they should rise from the dead.”
Second, we have the truth upon surer grounds from God’s testimony, than we could have it from the testimony of one rising from the dead. Edwards intention is to ground the attention of the reader to God’s truthfulness. While the testimony of a creature may be flawed, God’s testimony is always on target and can be relied upon with certainty.
Third, the warnings of God’s word have greatly the advantage, by reason of the greatness and majesty of him who speaks. Edwards speaks forcefully, “Now what can have a greater tendency to strike the mind and move the heart, than to be warned by this great and glorious being?” The question hangs in there air – a tool that Edwards often uses to alert the reader to the seriousness of the situation.
Fourth, it more evidently shows the importance of the affair, that God should immediately concern himself in it, than the coming of one from the dead would do.
Fifth, God warning us of our danger of damnation has a greater tendency to have influence upon us, because he is our Judge. Edwards weighs in, “Damnation is a punishment to which he condemns and which he inflicts. What he warns us of is his own wrath and vengeance.”
Sixth, God is infinitely wise, and knows better how to speak to us so as to persuade us, than one risen from the dead. Edwards makes it clear that theses are only some of the reasons why the warnings of God may bring people to repentance.
Edwards applies the doctrine in a straightforward manner. Ultimately, “the warnings of the word of God are, as you have heard, better and more powerful means than if one should rise from the dead to warn us, and tell us our danger, and the dreadfulness of the wrath of God.” Once again, Edwards is distinguished from scores of American pastors who rarely warn their congregations to flee from the wrath to come. He is set apart from a church which is all to often captivated by pragmatic methodology. His warning is not only for the unrepentant; it is plea for pastors to warn their congregations.
Faithful pastors must heed the challenge that Jonathan Edwards offers.
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28, ESV)