BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

GOD THE BEST PORTION OF THE CHRISTIAN – Jonathan Edwards (1736)

Two hundred years after Calvin published his first edition of The jonathan-edwardsInstitutes, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon about being content in God.  The title of the sermon was God the Best Portion of the Christian.  Edwards’s text is Psalm 73:25:

Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.

The central truth is set forth at the beginning of the sermon, in deductive fashion: It is the spirit of a truly godly man, to prefer God before all other things, either in heaven or on earth.

Two propositions comprise this short sermon

1. A godly man prefers God before anything else in heaven.

Edwards presents the God-centered paradigm in this section by leading readers on the correct biblical path.  He notes, “Every godly man hath his heart in heaven; his affections are mainly set on what is to be had there.  Heaven is his chosen country and inheritance.”

The godly man sets his affection on beauty, which is to say his heart is oriented to God and the things of God.  “Now the main reason why the godly man hath his heart thus to heaven,” writes Edwards, “is because God is there; that is the palace of the Most High.  It is the place where God is gloriously present, where his love is gloriously manifested, where the godly may be with him, see him as he is, and love, serve, praise, and enjoy him perfectly.”

2. It is the temper of a godly man to prefer God before all other things on the earth.

The highest priority for the follower of Christ, according to Edwards is on the Triune God.  Three points highlight the heart of the Puritan preacher:

  1. The saint prefers that enjoyment of God, for which he hopes hereafter, to anything in the world.
  2. The saints prefer what of God may be obtained in this life before all things in the world.
  3. The saints prefer what he hath already of God before anything in this world.

Application

As usual, Edwards concludes his sermon with several points of application.  Five penetrating questions are posed:

  1. What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die?
  2. If you could avoid death and might have your free choice, would you choose to live always in this world without God, rather than in his time to leave the world, in order to be with him?
  3. Do you prefer Christ to all others as the way to heaven?
  4. If you might go to heaven in what course you please, would you prefer to all others the way of a strict walk with God?
  5. Were you to spend your eternity in this world, would you choose rather to live in mean and low circumstances with the gracious presence of God, to live forever in earthly prosperity without him?

Jonathan Edwards offers perspective and godly wisdom in a sermon that directed his 18th-century hearers heavenward and continues to beckon followers of Christ to the Celestial City.

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers – Jonathan Edwards (1750)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingImagine shepherding a congregation of people, only to find yourself
expelled from the church.  That is exactly what happened to Jonathan Edwards – America’s greatest intellectual.  Within a month of his dismissal, Edwards pens a series of sermons – one of which is entitled The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers.

The Text: John 14:27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

The Doctrine

That peace which Christ, when he died, left as a legacy to all his true saints, is very diverse from all those things which the men of this world bequeath to their children when they die.

It is not surprising that Edwards is inclined to turn to John 14:27, especially in light of the recent events that turned his world upside down.  Three central propositions support the doctrine.

1. Christ at his death, made over the blessings of the new covenant to believers, as it were in a will or testament.

Edwards clearly shows how Christ promised not only peace but joy and grace and victory over the world.  Indeed, we have a delightful inheritance.

2. A great blessing that Christ in his testament hath bequeathed to true followers, is his peace.

Two things are granted to believers in this monumental promise.  First, Christ bestows true peace and comfort on every believer.  Each believer experiences peace with God, peace with one another, and peace within themselves.    Edwards notes, “By these means true saints are brought into a state of freedom from condemnation and all the curses of the law of God” (Rom. 8:34).

Second, Christ bestows his peace to his followers: “So Christ’s true disciples, though in the world they have tribulations, yet in God they have peace.”

3. This legacy of Christ to his true disciples is very diverse from all that the men of the world ever leave to their children when they die.

Edwards assures believers that Christ’s peace differs from worldly pleasures in four specific ways.

  • Christ’s peace is a reasonable peace and rest of soul.
  • Christ’s peace is a virtuous and holy peace.
  • Christ’s peace infinitely differs from the world, in that it is unfailing and eternal peace.

Application

Edwards urges believers to cling to Christ and make good use of the peace he gives so freely.  He urges unbelievers to receive the free offer of Christ or suffer the temporal and eternal consequences: “As long as you continue to reject those offers and invitations of Christ, and continue in a Christless condition, you never will enjoy any true peace or comfort; but in whatever circumstances you are, you will be miserable.”

Edwards choice of John 14:27 is certainly no surprise.  His resolute handling of the text is no less bewildering, given his gospel-centered track-record as a pastor.  The remarkable thing about this sermon is that Edwards forges into the future, unhindered by life-altering circumstances.  This is an example of a Christ-exalting hope and a Christ-satisfied faith!

Hearken, therefore, to the friendly counsel that is given you this day: turn your feet into the way of peace; forsake the foolish and live.  Forsake those things which are no other than the devil’s baits, and seek after this excellent peace and rest of Jesus Christ, that peace of God which passes all understanding.

BOOK REVIEWS · Calvinism · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

True Grace, Distinguished From the Experience of Devils – Jonathan Edwards (1752)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingOn September 28, 1752, Jonathan Edwards was invited to preach a sermon before the Presbyterian Synod of New York.  His son-in-law, Aaron Burr (who had recently married his daughter Esther) was the president of the College of New Jersey and undoubtedly had an influence in the invitation that Edwards received.

James 2:19 is the text that Edwards utilizes – You believe that God is one; you do that well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder!

Doctrine

Nothing in the mind of man, that is of the same nature with what the devils experience, or are the subjects of, is any sure sign of saving grace.

Edwards essentially argues this: there is no sign of grace in demons.  Three propositions drive the doctrine which he presents.

  1. The devils have no degree of holiness: and therefore, those things, which are nothing beyond what they are the subjects of, cannot be holy experiences.
  2. The devils are not only absolutely without all true holiness, but they are not so much as the subjects of any common grace.
  3. It is unreasonable to suppose, that a person’s being in any respect as the devil is, should be a certain sign, that he is very unlike, and opposite to him; and hereafter, shall not have his part with him.

Edwards includes a series of improvements or inferences which assist his hearers and instruct them in the Christian faith.

First, Nothing that damned men do, or ever will experience, can be any sure sign of grace.

Second, No degree of speculative knowledge of things of religion, is any certain sign of saving grace.

Third, For persons merely to yield to a speculative assent to the doctrines of religion as true, is no certain evidence of a state of grace.

Fourth, [Converted men] have been the subjects of very great distress and terrors of mind, through apprehensions of God’s wrath, and fears of damnation.

Fifth, It may be further inferred from the doctrine, that no work of the law on men’s hearts, in conviction of guilt, and just desert of punishment, is a sure argument, that a person has been savingly converted. 

Sixth, It is no certain sign of grace, that persons have earnest desires and longings after salvation.

Seventh, Persons who have no grace may have a great apprehension of an external glory.

Edwards demonstrates in stroke after stroke how and why the devils lack saving grace.  He applies his thesis to the hearts of men as noted above.  Once again, the Puritan divine accurately diagnoses the human condition apart from grace.  But he concludes by contrasting the graceless state of devils with the gracious state of a person who trusts Christ: “By this, above all other things, do men glorify God.   By this, above all other things, do the saints shine as lights in the world, and are blessings to mankind.”    It is here where Edwards draws his readers and those who would listen to this sermon – to the fountain of grace which never ends!

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Preciousness of Time – Jonathan Edwards (1734)

Time is a precious commodity that must be treasured.  Such is the argument in jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edward’s piece entitled, The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It.

The subject of time was no stranger to Edwards.  He thought about the “improvement” of time often.  Even in his famous 70 resolutions, he addressed the matter of time.

Resolution # 5

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most

profitable way I possibly can.

It would serve us well, then, to consider the precious matter of time from Jonathan Edwards’ perspective.

Section 1: Why Time is Precious

Jonathan Edwards states four reasons why time is precious.

  1. Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.
  2. Time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious.
  3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance.
  4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

Edwards argues in respect to to time, “…When once that [time] is gone, it is gone for ever; no pains; no cost will recover it.”  So typical is this eternal perspective that flows so freely from the pen of the Northampton preacher.  Tragically, many Christ-followers are not following the counsel of this godly man as they squander their time with worldly pursuits.  He reminds us, “Eternity depends on the improvement of time; but when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it or another space in which to prepare for eternity.”

Section 2: Reflections of Time Past

In section 2, Edwards encourages believers to reflect on time which has been granted in order to prepare for eternity.  Indeed, the argument goes, “Your future eternity depends on the improvement of time.”  He challenges readers, “How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?”

Section 3: Who Are Chiefly Deserving of Reproof From the Subject of the Preciousness of Time

Edwards begins section three with a discussion of how people waste their time: “There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal.”  He demonstrates the kinds of people are who reproved for their negligence in this area.

  1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness.
  2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose but spend it to ill purposes.
  3. Those are reproved by this doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls.

Section 4: An Exhortation to Improve Time

“Time is money.”  So goes the conventional wisdom of the day.  Edwards essentially agrees as he argues, “If you have a right conception of these things, you will be more choice of your time than of the most fine gold.”  He exhorts readers with four  bold propositions:

  1. You are accountable to God for your time.
  2. Consider how much time you have lost already.
  3. Consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it.
  4. Consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

Section 5: Advice Respecting the Improvement of Time

Edwards concludes his piece by offering three encouragements with respect to time.

  1. Improve the present time without any delay.
  2. Be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious.
  3. Improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.

The notion of “improving” time is seen throughout the writings of Jonathan Edwards.  He gave a great deal of thought to it and chose to live wisely in light of his discoveries.  Indeed, Jonathan Edwards sought to “live with all his might unto the Lord.”  By God’s grace he accomplished resolution # 5: Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

“Therefore, spend not such opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good account thereof to God.  Waste them not away wholly in unprofitable visits, or useless diversions or amusements.”

– Jonathan Edwards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEWS

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards

edNathan A. Finn and Jeremy M. Kimble, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards Wheaton: Crossway, 2017, 240 pp. $14.88

He was the greatest mind America ever produced, a theologian/philosopher extraordinaire. He was one of the most well-known pastors to stand behind the “preacher’s desk.” And he was a prolific author, missionary, and college president. Despite his impressive pedigree, this man was fired and continues to be the object of much scorn and ridicule. The man under consideration is Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758). He is the subject of Nathan Finn and Jeremy Kimble’s recent book, A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards which takes readers on an unforgettable journey into the worldview of a remarkable pastor-theologian.

Drs. Finn and Kimble serve as general editors who enlist the help of several noteworthy scholars who make contributions to their project. Some of the contributors are pastors. Others are professors or publishers. Each one, however, is a proven scholar.

The various chapters cover the major works written by Jonathan Edwards. Readers will be blessed to survey key Edwardsean texts such as Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and A History of the Work of Redemption to name a few. The chapters also include sections that explore Edwards’s revival writings and his affectional ethics.

Dr. Dane Ortlund is tasked with the chapter entitled, How to Read Jonathan Edwards which stands out as a major highlight of the book. Ortlund has the pleasure of introducing Jonathan Edwards to newcomers, welcome back readers who left Edwards in the cold and nurture the faith of those currently immersed in the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

Ortlund argues, “You must be born again to read and profit spiritually from Jonathan Edwards.” This insight speaks volumes about the criticism that has been directed at Jonathan Edwards over the past two generations.

A Reader’s Guide to the Major Writings of Jonathan Edwards should be praised for its accessibility and readability. It successfully introduces the major works of Jonathan Edwards without watering down the content or overburdening the reader with unnecessary theological minutia. It is the perfect combination of scholarship and practical application which will clearly attract a diverse audience.

Dane Ortlund adds, “His writings are for tired Christians who on the one hand have tasted them sweetness of knowing Christ but on the other hand find this sweetness constantly getting fizzled out through boredom, weakness, failure, loneliness, disappointment, or weariness. There is simply no one like Jonathan Edwards when it comes to deoxygenating us back into the sweetness, the blanketing shalom, the sun-like nature of walking through life with Christ as our beautiful and beauty-nurturing friend.”

Jonathan Edwards deserves to be read and re-read. Finn and Kimble’s work acknowledges this fact on every page. Highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

Wrath Upon the Wicked To the Uttermost – Jonathan Edwards (1735)

The sermon is dated May, 1735.  Jonathan Edwards makes his way into the pulpit to Jonathan_Edwards_engravingread his manuscript – which was his consistent habit.  The full title of the sermon is When the Wicked Shall Have Filled Up the Measure of Their Sin, Wrath Will Come Upon Them to the Uttermost.  The text that the preacher from Northampton utilizes is 1 Thessalonians 2:16 – “To fill up their sins alway; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”

Before Edwards wrestles with the doctrinal implications, he makes two important observations:

1. To what effect was the heinous wickedness and obstinacy of the Jews, viz. to fill up their sins.

2. The punishment of their wickedness: “The wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.”  There is a connection between the measure of men’s sin, and the measure of punishment.  When they have filled up the measure of their sin, then is filled up the measure of God’s wrath.  Edwards observes, “God often punishes men very dreadfully in this world; but in hell “wrath comes on them to the uttermost.”  He alerts his congregation to the certainty of this punishment: “For though the punishment was then future, yet it is spoken of as present: ‘The wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.'”

Edwards repeats his doctrine and continues by setting forth 3 primary propositions.

Doctrine

When those that continue in sin shall have filled up the measure of their sin, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost.

Proposition #1:

There is a certain measure that God hath set to the sin of every wicked man.

Edwards explains, “But sometimes the reason why God lets them alone is, because they have not filled up the measure of their sins.  When they live in dreadful wickedness, they are but filling up the measure which God hath limited for them.”  In other words, each person shall live until they reach the tipping point.

Proposition # 2:

While men continue in sin, they are filling the measure set them.

Proposition # 3:

When once the measure of their sins is filled up, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost.  God will then wait no longer upon them.

Edwards notes, “Now is the day of grace, and the day of patience, which they spend in filling up their sins; but when their sins shall be full, then will come the day of wrath, the day of the fierce anger of God.”

God’s wrath is never fully exerted against wicked men while in this world but once they have filled up the measure of their sins, wrath will come upon them to the uttermost as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:16.  Edwards makes five important observations about God’s wrath which will be unleashed on unregenerate men when they reach what I call the “tipping point.”

1. Wrath will come upon them without any restraint or moderation in the degree of it.

“The wrath of God will be poured out like fire.  He will come forth, not only in anger, but in the fierceness of his anger; he will execute wrath with power, so as to show what his wrath is, and make his power known.  There will be nothing to alleviate his wrath; his heavy wrath will lie on them, without any thing to lighten the burden, or to keep off, in any measure, the full weight of it from pressing the soul.”

“Then shall wicked men know that God is the Lord; they shall know how great that majesty is which they have despised, and how dreadful that threatened wrath is which they have so little regarded.  Then shall come on wicked men that punishment which they deserve.”

2. Wrath will then be executed without any merciful circumstances.

Edwards is quick to point out that in this life, God shows forbearance with sinners; he is merciful.  “But in hell there will be no more exercises of divine patience.”

3. Wrath will be so executed, as to perfect the work to which wrath tends, viz. utterly to undo the subject of it.

“The soul will be, as it were utterly crushed; the wrath will be wholly intolerable.  It must sink, and will utterly sink, and will have no more strength to keep itself from sinking, than a worm would have to keep itself from being crushed under the weight of a mountain.”

4. When persons shall have filled up the measure of their sin, that wrath will come upon them which is eternal.

Edwards provides his congregation with divine perspective and adds, “Nothing can be longer than eternity.”

5. When persons shall have filled up the measure of their sin, then wrath will come upon them to the uttermost of what is threatened.  Sin is an infinite evil; and the punishment which God hath threatened against it is very dreadful.

Application

Jonathan Edwards jumps immediately to application and draws the attention of his congregation to three concluding points.  He is especially concerned to warn natural men to flee from sin!

1. Under what great means and advantages you continue in sin.

Edwards challenges adults who grew up in Northampton and were warned repeatedly to flee from sin.  Some have even had what Edwards refers to as “awakenings,” but they continue in sin.  He refers to some congregants who “narrowly escaped death by dangerous accidents” yet they continue to persist in their sin.

2. How dreadful the wrath of God is, when it is executed to the uttermost.  To make you in some measure sensible of that, I desire you to consider whose wrath it is.  The wrath of a king is the roaring of a lion; but this is the wrath of Jehovah, the Lord God Omnipotent.

3. Consider, you know not what wrath God may be about to execute upon wicked men in this world.

Edwards concludes with a stern warning: “Therefore it behooves all to haste and flee for their lives, to get into a safe condition, to get into Christ; then they need not fear, though the earth be removed, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof: for God will be their refuge and strength; they need not be afraid of evil tidings; their hearts may be fixed, trust in the Lord.”

Jonathan Edwards reminds us of the importance of faith in Christ and the dreadful consequences of anyone who refuses to turn from their sin and flee to him for forgiveness.  His preaching may sound strange to the postmodern ear.  His theology may be uncomfortable.  His tone may appear sharp and uninviting.  But these concerns only indicate the great height from which we have fallen.

BOOK REVIEWS

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God – Brian Zahnd (2017)

zhand

Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017, 210 pp. $10.19

COMMENDING JONATHAN EDWARDS

I will never forget a very special evening with a small group of Christ-followers at the McLean home.  My good friend, Don suggested that we read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards in one sitting – on our knees.  And so a group of middle-aged adults gathered in Don’s living room alongside several children (whose knees were much more nimble) – and we read Edward’s classic sermon – on our knees.  It is a moment I will not soon forget.  We were humbled.  We were drawn into the very presence of God.  And like the 18th-century congregation in Enfield – we were cut to the quick.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is not only one of the most well-known sermons in American history; it is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached on American soil.  In one sermon, the Puritan divine highlights both the awesome wrath of a holy God and the matchless grace and tenderhearted love of Jesus Christ.

The sermon is derived from Deuteronomy 32:35 – “Their foot shall slide in due time.”  The doctrine that Edwards sets forth is simple: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Edwards concludes with a strong application which is meant to awaken sinners and flee from the wrath of God.  Current readers (along with the original Enfield congregation) are faced with a momentous decision as Edwards warns them to the sobering reality of God’s wrath: “There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”

Readers are challenged to take advantage of “the door of mercy wide open” which beckons them to receive the grace of God in Christ. The concluding words of the sermon leave sinners with an important decision; the most decision they will ever make: “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.  The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation.  Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

CONDEMNING JONATHAN EDWARDS

The congregation in Enfield was humbled and mercifully drawn to the Savior as literally, thousands have since been Edwards first preached his sermon on July 8, 1741. But not everyone is eager to receive the biblical message that Edwards preaches. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God has received a fair amount of criticism over the years.  It has been and continues to be maligned and caricatured.  Often found on a list of required reading for college English courses, the sermon is mocked for its candid language and scary images.  Many readers simply cannot stomach the God that Edwards presents or submit to the God that Edwards loves and serves.

Brian Zahnd’s new book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News is the latest thunderbolt against the Edwardsean vision of God. Zahnd argues that Edwards depicts God as a “sadistic juvenile dangling spiders over a fire.”1 He likens Edwards’s vision of hell to “the Almighty’s eternal Auschwitz.”2 And Edwards’s vision of God is compared to a “sadistic monster.”3

Zahnd’s work is a best-selling release in the Christology category on Amazon. It has been highly touted by well-known authors. And it has received rave reviews on Amazon as readers are drawn to a softer version of God and a worldview which is miles away from Reformed theology. But does this popular book stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture? Does Mr. Zahnd’s critique of Reformed stalwarts like Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin have any merit? At least four major concerns surface in Mr. Zahnd’s book.

CONCERNS WITH SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A LOVING GOD

The Portrait of God

The first concern is regarding the portrait of God. Readers will quickly discover that the portrait of God in this book is painted with a different kind of brush which renders an altogether different portrayal of God. What we find is a God utterly devoid of wrath. To be fair, Mr. Zahnd affirms the existence of God’s wrath and divine anger in Scripture but maintains these biblical realities are only metaphors, none of which are designed to be taken literally. And “liberalizing a divine metaphor,” according to Zahnd “always leads to error. We easily acknowledge that God is not literally a rock and not literally a hen, but we have tended to literalize the metaphor of divine anger.”4 But Zahnd confuses anthropomorphic language that attributes body parts to God or compares him to a rock or a hen or an eagle with the reality of God’s wrath. Instead of affirming the plain teaching of Scripture, Zahnd simply says, “God is not wrath.”5

Once the author dispenses with any literal notion of God’s wrath, he is able to make the following sweeping statement about God’s character: “The revelation that God’s single disposition toward sinners remains one of unconditional love does not mean we are exempt from the consequences of going against the grain of love. When we live against the grain of love we suffer the cards of self-inflicted suffering. This is the ‘wrath of God.’”6

So instead of facing God’s all-consuming wrath, unrepentant sinners are merely enduring a season of “self-inflicted suffering.” Time does not permit a detailed examination of the myriad of passages that point to God’s wrath. But notice, for example, a holy God’s response to sin in Psalm 5:5-7.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

R.C. Sproul helps dismantle the idea that God loves all sinners unconditionally:

I can think of no more pernicious lie to destroy people’s souls than this, which some preachers are spreading around the world: God loves you unconditionally. No, he does not. If we do not meet the conditions that he established for us in creation, then God will send us to hell forever. That is what the Bible says, even though the culture does not. He requires perfect obedience. Unless that condition is met, none of us will ever step inside the courts of heaven. Unless the terms of the covenant of creation are kept perfectly, we will rendezvous in hell, where we justly belong because of our disobedience.7

God’s response to sin in Psalm 5:5-7 may sound severe to the typical postmodern ear. But the Scriptural reality of God’s wrath stands. Despite the overwhelming biblical evidence, though, Zahnd categorically rejects the wrath of God. He argues, “You have nothing to fear from God. God is not mad at you. God is never going to be mad at you.”8

“The true biblical test of any theology,” writes Stephen Wellum, “is whether it accounts for all of the biblical data.”9 While a few select passages that concern God’s wrath are selected from the Old Testament in Zahand’s work (and ultimately explained away as “metaphors”), the New Testament reality of God’s wrath is simply set aside. Passages such as Matthew 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 1:18-19; 2:5; 5:9 and Colossians 3:6 are strangely missing. One wonders how 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 would be explained in a book that discounts the wrath of God:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed because our testimony to you was believed.

A.W. Tozer was deeply concerned about views concerning God that failed to match the teaching of Scripture. He writes, “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.”10 The pattern that Tozer identified in those days continues in our day, even among people who bear the name of Christ. That pattern is repeated in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

The Prescription for Forgiveness

Like many other popular pastors and teachers, Zahnd repudiates penal substitutionary atonement. Influenced by Jürgen Moltmann’s, Crucified God, the author makes these general assertions:

  • “The cross is many things, but it is not a quid pro quo to mollify an angry God.”11
  • “Yes, it was a murder that God knew would happen – because of our addiction to sin and violence – but God’s foreknowledge of this killing doesn’t mean that it was God’s will for Jesus to be murdered.”12
  • “The cross is not a picture of payment; the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath; God Friday is about divine love.”13
  • “The cross is not the place where God vents his wrath on Jesus. The cross is the place where human fear and anger are absorbed into God’s eternal love and recycled into the saving mercy of Christ.”14

All these statements are clear indications that the author rejects penal substitutionary atonement. Zahnd echoes the rantings of Steve Chalke who has likened penal substitution to “cosmic child abuse.” Zahnd writes, “The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love. The only thing God will call justice is setting the world right, not punishing an innocent substitute for the petty sake of appeasement.”15

Zahnd agrees with the conclusion of Tony Jones’ book, Did God Kill Jesus? Both writers agree and emphatically declare that God did not kill Jesus. Zahnd continues, “Among the many problems with Calvin’s theory of the cross is that it turns God into a petty tyrant and a moral monster. Punishing the innocent in order to forgive the guilty is monstrous logic, atrocious theology, and a gross distortion of the idea of justice.”16 Zahnd continues, “A theory of the cross that says it was God who desired the torture and murder of Jesus on Good Friday turns the Father of Jesus into a cruel and sadistic monster. It’s salvation by divine sadism.” 17

What are we to make of these revealing statements which ridicule penal substitutionary atonement? To begin with, anyone who compares God to a “sadistic monster” should rethink their strategy and repent. The reality is this: “Penal substitution,” writes Roger Nicole, is the vital center of the atonement, the linchpin without which everything else loses its foundation.”18 Emil Brunner cuts through the theological fog and offers this timely advice: “… He who understands the Cross aright – this is the opinion of the Reformers – understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ.”19

Zahnd maintains that God knew about the cross but never “willed” the horrific events of the cross. However, two passages in the book of Acts show the sovereignty of God in salvation and demonstrate God’s involvement in the cross from start to finish:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:22–23, ESV).

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27–28, ESV).

Affirming the love and mercy of God at the cross but discounting his wrath is wrongheaded, dangerous, and unbiblical. R.C. Sproul laments, “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath is an idol.”

Finally, the reckless abandonment of penal substitutionary atonement undercuts the gospel of Jesus Christ. Penal substitutionary atonement is not an invention of Calvin – it is the plain teaching of Scripture. Christ bore the penalty for our sins. Christ was the substitute for every sinner that would ever believe.

We deserved wrath – yet Jesus stands in as our substitute (Heb. 9:26). We were the enemies of God and separated from him because of our sin – yet Jesus reconciled us to God (Isa. 59:2; Col. 1:20-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). We were slaves to sin, yet Jesus was our redeemer (John 8:34, 36; Mark 10:45; Col. 1:13; Eph. 1:7). We deserved the wrath of God – yet Jesus was our propitiation (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10) and satisfied the righteous demands of the law by absorbing the white-hot wrath of the Father.

We have an unshakable hope because we are saved from the wrath of God and saved through the Son of God. These realities give rise to a new way of living. These realities spark new motivation. These truths propel us into the future and enable us to live our lives to the glory of God!

The Paltry Nature of Scripture

The problems in Zahnd’s book intensify when one considers his view of Scripture. To be clear, the author claims to have a high view of Scripture. However, his view must be clarified:

When I point out that the Bible is the penultimate word of God that points us to the ultimate Word of God who is Jesus, I do so as a person with a high view of Scripture and a lifelong commitment to the Bible. When we speak of the Word of God, Christians should think of Jesus first and the Bible second. It’s Jesus who is the true Word of God, not the Bible.20

Earlier, in an attempt to strip the Bible from any kind of wrath, Zahnd writes emphatically, “The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is.” This convenient hermeneutic allows the author to bypass any form of divine wrath and bears a strange resemblance to the neo-orthodox notion that the Bible is not the Word of God; rather it contains the word of God.

“Jesus is greater than the Bible,” according to Zahnd. Indeed, “Jesus is the Savior of all that is to be saved … including the Bible. Jesus saves the Bible from itself! Jesus shows us how to read the Bible and not be harmed by it.”21 This unwarranted pitting of the Bible against Christ is a subtle move that opens a Pandora’s box which only invites doctrinal error and confusion. It is an unnecessary hermeneutical hurdle that trips the unsuspecting and ultimately undermines the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Paul clearly affirms that Scripture is “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16).

We believe, however, that the Bible is God’s absolute truth for all people, at all times; it is our final authority for discerning truth. And we reject any clever hermeneutical hurdles that minimize doctrinal propositions, even realities that make us uncomfortable.

The Preoccupation with Mystical Experience

The final concern in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God makes sense of the previous unsettling theological problems, namely, a preoccupation with mystical experience. Listen to the author as he explains the pathway that led him away from the biblical vision of God: “But it wasn’t primarily reading theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri Nouwen, and Stanley Hauerwas that led me away from an angry-God theology; it was mostly mystical experiences in prayer …”22 Zahnd continues, “… But having learned to sit with Jesus in contemplative prayer, I have discovered by my own experience (emphasis mine) that what John said is true: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. God is the eternal life of self-giving love. There is no darkness. No anger. No violence. No retribution. Only love.”23

But do we come to understand the purposes, plans, and attributes of God through contemplative prayer? Certainly not! There are only two clear routes to knowing God. First, we come to a knowledge of God through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-4). General revelation will not lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ but it makes them sufficiently accountable to God (Rom. 1:19-20).

Second, we come to a knowledge of God through special revelation. We know God through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We come to know him by becoming familiar with his attributes. Thomas Watson says, “God’s glory lies chiefly in his attributes, which are the several beams by which the divine nature shines forth.”24

And we come to know God through the Scriptures. It is the Bible that reveals an accurate portrait of God for us. One must never make human experience the starting point in theology. “To do so,” Louis Berkhof warns, “drags God to man’s level. It stresses God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence. The final result is God made in the image of man.”25 This is exactly what emerges in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. Whenever experiences trumps Scripture, the inevitable result is theological error.

HOW SHALL WE THINK ABOUT GOD?

A false representation of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is simply unacceptable. Yet, false views of the living God continue to be proclaimed and variations of the gospel continue to be propagated. A.W. Pink lamented, “How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the ‘god’ of the average pulpit!”26

I offer three important principles that will help shape the Christian mind and enable readers to approach God with reverence and worship him in a way that is consistent with Scripture.

1. Always distinguish between the Creator and the creature

Tozer writes, “To think of the creature and Creator alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature. It is, for instance, to rob Him of His infinitude: there cannot be two unlimited substances in the universe. It is to take away His sovereignty: there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.”27

2. Banish idolatrous thoughts of God

Tozer adds, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”28 We must strive to worship God rightly and maintain steadfast allegiance to his Word, which is our reliable guide for determining his plans, purposes, and attributes. For “among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin …”29

3. Commit to thinking biblically about God

Steven Lawson offers a fitting challenge that every person needs to hear: “I believe that the greatest issue facing the church in any century is a proper understanding of who God is. What is needed in the contemporary church today is a steady diet of the attributes and perfections of God. It is our high theology that produces high doxology … Until there is a right knowledge of God, there will never be the right knowledge of self, nor the proper remedy applied to our own inners lives.”30

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God will no doubt attract the attention of many people. It will be received by people who are unwilling to submit to the biblical portrait of God. My desire is not to be argumentative or divisive but to invite Brian Zahnd to reconsider his assertions concerning God. For Zahnd’s views lead the unsuspecting down a path that rejects a biblical portrait of God and repudiates penal substitutionary atonement. Such views lead readers on a trajectory that will, in the final analysis, lead to a spiritual wasteland. These views are bolstered by other popular writers. But truth is not a matter of majority rule – Truth is determined by God and his infallible Word.

CONCLUSION

God is still angry with sinners. His wrath is being revealed from heaven against ungodly people (Rom. 1:18). And the wrath of God will be unleashed on every person who refused to turn from sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ: “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Ps. 8:12-13).

The words of Jonathan Edwards were true on July 8, 1741. And Edwards’ words remain true today: “The bow of God’s wrath is bent and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart and strains the bow; and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”31

But Edwards was never content to leave his hearers without hope. He was always eager to draw the attention of people to the saving grace and mercy that flows freely from the cross: “God has magnified his free grace towards you, and not to others; because he has chosen you, and it pleased him to set his love upon you. O! what cause is here for praise! What obligations you are under to bless the Lord who hath dealt bountifully with you, and magnify his holy name! What cause for you to praise God in humility, to walk humbly before him.”32

The lament of A.W. Tozer gives us pause and instructs us in a day which is fraught with theological error: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”33 May be bow low in humility before this great and awesome God. May we delight in him and affirm each attribute that the Scriptures reveal. May our minds be ignited with zeal for his name. May our hearts be filled with joy as we contemplate his majesty. May our lips proclaim his goodness and his glory. And may our hands and feet be mobilized to share the saving message of the gospel for the joy of the nations!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

  1. Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017), 3.
  2. Ibid, 5.
  3. Ibid, 11-12.
  4. Ibid, 17.
  5. Ibid, 202.
  6. Ibid, 18.
  7. R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith – Volume One: The Triune God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 216-217.
  8. Ibid, 19.
  9. Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 228.
  10. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1961), 2.
  11. Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, 82.
  12. Ibid, 84.
  13. Ibid, 86.
  14. Ibid, 115.
  15. Ibid, 86.
  16. Ibid, 101.
  17. Ibid, 102.
  18. Roger Nicole, Cited in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior  (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 194.
  19. Emil Brunner, Cited in Ibid, 195.
  20. Ibid, 50.
  21. Ibid, 57.
  22. Ibid, 204.
  23. Ibid, 205.
  24. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, reprint 1692), 55.
  25. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 54.
  26. A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 11.
  27. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 8.
  28. Ibid, 3.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Steven J. Lawson, Expositor: A Conversation on Preaching – Preaching the Pastoral Epistles (May/June 2015), 39.
  31. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), 9.
  32. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), 679.
  33. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1961), 1.

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Most High A Prayer Hearing God – Jonathan Edwards (1735)

jonathan-edwardsPsalm 65:2 is Edwards text in the winter of 1735, January 8.

O you who hears prayer, to you shall all flesh come.

Doctrine – It is the character of the Most High, that he is a God who answers prayer.

Four headings drive the sermon.

1. The Most High is a God that Hears Prayer

Though he is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures; yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms in the dust.

Edwards argues that God not only accepts the supplications of all the saints; he does so willingly with favor.  He adds, “While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty; and enables them, with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness.”

2. He is Eminently Such a God

Edwards provides several examples of how God answers prayer:

  • In his giving such free access to him by prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears in his hearing prayer so readily.
  • That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by his giving so liberally in answer to prayer.
  • That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness of the things which he hath often done in answer to prayer.
  • This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer.

3. Reasons for the Doctrine

A crucial point that Edwards makes is that God answers prayer because “he is a God of infinite grace and mercy.”

  • He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass.
  • Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz, that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard.
  • Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven.

Application

Edwards draws out many practical applications, the chief of which alerts the saints to make good use of prayer; to be prayer warriors in this wicked age.

“Seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereuto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.”

 

BOOK REVIEWS · JONATHAN EDWARDS · Jonathan Edwards

The Preciousness of Time – Jonathan Edwards (1734)

Time is a precious commodity that must be treasured.  Such is the argument in jonathan-edwardsJonathan Edward’s piece entitled, The Preciousness of Time and the Importance of Redeeming It.

The subject of time was no stranger to Edwards.  He thought about the “improvement” of time often.  Even in his famous 70 resolutions, he addressed the matter of time.

Resolution # 5

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most

profitable way I possibly can.

It would serve us well, then, to consider the precious matter of time from Jonathan Edwards’ perspective.

Section 1: Why Time is Precious

Jonathan Edwards states four reasons why time is precious.

  1. Because a happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.
  2. Time is very short, which is another thing that renders it very precious.
  3. Time ought to be esteemed by us very precious, because we are uncertain of its continuance.
  4. Time is very precious, because when it is past, it cannot be recovered.

Edwards argues in respect to to time, “…When once that [time] is gone, it is gone for ever; no pains; no cost will recover it.”  So typical is this eternal perspective that flows so freely from the pen of the Northampton preacher.  Tragically, many Christ-followers are not following the counsel of this godly man as they squander their time with worldly pursuits.  He reminds us, “Eternity depends on the improvement of time; but when once the time of life is gone, when once death is come, we have no more to do with time; there is no possibility of obtaining the restoration of it, or another space in which to prepare for eternity.”

Section 2: Reflections of Time Past

In section 2, Edwards encourages believers to reflect on time which has been granted in order to prepare for eternity.  Indeed, the argument goes, “Your future eternity depends on the improvement of time.”  He challenges readers, “How have you let the precious golden sands of your glass run?”

Section 3: Who Are Chiefly Deserving of Reproof From the Subject of the Preciousness of Time

Edwards begins section three with a discussion of how people waste their time: “There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal.”  He demonstrates the kinds of people are who reproved for their negligence in this area.

  1. Those who spend a great part of their time in idleness.
  2. They are reproved by this doctrine who spend their time in wickedness, who do not merely spend their time in doing nothing to any good purpose, but spend it to ill purposes.
  3. Those are reproved by this doctrine, who spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls.

Section 4: An Exhortation to Improve Time

“Time is money.”  So goes the conventional wisdom of the day.  Edwards essentially agrees as he argues, “If you have a right conception of these things, you will be more choice of your time than of the most fine gold.”  He exhorts readers with four  bold propositions:

  1. You are accountable to God for your time.
  2. Consider how much time you have lost already.
  3. Consider how time is sometimes valued by those who are come near to the end of it.
  4. Consider what a value we may conclude is set upon time by those who are past the end of it.

Section 5: Advice Respecting the Improvement of Time

Edwards concludes his piece by offering three encouragements with respect to time.

  1. Improve the present time without any delay.
  2. Be especially careful to improve those parts of time which are most precious.
  3. Improve well your time of leisure from worldly business.

The notion of “improving” time is seen throughout the writings of Jonathan Edwards.  He gave a great deal of thought to it and chose to live wisely in light of his discoveries.  Indeed, Jonathan Edwards sought to “live with all his might unto the Lord.”  By God’s grace he accomplished resolution # 5: Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

“Therefore, spend not such opportunities unprofitably, nor in such a manner that you will not be able to give a good account thereof to God.  Waste them not away wholly in unprofitable visits, or useless diversions or amusements.”

– Jonathan Edwards