“All men of all nations all over the world must die,” writes Jonathan Edwards. He strikes an immediate chord as he preaches the Word of God to the Stockbridge Indians in March, 1752. Edwards not only appeals to commonsense experience; he appeals to his text, Hebrews 9:27.
After death comes the judgment: when men die, they go to appear before God to be judged.
Edwards makes it clear that God will call all men to account as the text indicates: “God is a just and righteous and holy God; and therefore, there certainly is another world where God will do right and will make good men happy, and will destroy the wicked … He will [hold] them to an account that have heard the gospel preached; [he will ask] whether or no they have repented of their sins and have in their hearts accepted of Jesus Christ as their Savior.”
The postmodern notion of annihilation is the farthest thing for Edwards mind: “And when men are thrown into that fire, there they must be forever and ever. They must never come out any more; they shall never die. The fire will torment ’em and [they] will always be all over full of pain, and they will wish for death, but shall never die.”
Those who turn to Christ, on the other hand, will go to heaven: “There they shall live in a world of light and happiness with God and Jesus Christ.”
Once the doctrine is established, Edwards turns immediately to the application. There is no transition to speak of. He urges the indians to trust in Christ for their eternal salvation: “Now, therefore, this is the counsel I give you: receive instruction, forsake all your sins, and turn from sin to God.”
There is a strong emphasis on repentance here that is missing from the modern pulpit: “And you must repent and be sorry for your sins … God is willing to save sinners no other way than by Christ. You must pray to God to take away your wicked hearts and give you new hearts that you may have clean hearts … Make haste; don’t put off religion, but now – without delay – forsake your sins and turn to God.”