The irony was delicious. Over the weekend “Bam Bam” Bentley was preaching “another Gospel” to the snookered minions believing that they were attending an actual real revival, while 20 miles to the south, the sermon that actually brought about a true revival, The Great Awakening 267 years ago, was being read.
Taking my cue from Max McLean and his rendition of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, I chose to preach it with a calm intensity. (I had heard that Edwards read his text as a monotone; I didn’t do that.) Still, I didn’t want to be overly dramatic or theatrical, wanting to let God do the work in the hearts of the listeners without any manipulation on my part. My text was an easier to read version translated by John Jeffery Fanella.
What would the result be? I made no promises of healing. No assurances of wealth. Nor did I offer anything in this life that would make anyone happy, happy, happy—apart from forgiveness of sins through trust in the Savior. That’s all.
That’s all Jonathan Edwards promised in his sermon when he preached it. That, and the promise of Hell for anyone who would reject this truth.
“The wicked deserve to be thrown into hell. God is not unjust in using His power to destroy them. No, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins.”
At the first of our four services for the weekend, our Friday night service, I approached the pulpit with fear and trembling; I actually had to read for 45 straight minutes. Would there be anyone left to hear the call to repentance at the end? During the entire time, you could hear the proverbial pin drop. No one got up to go to the bathroom; no one left their seat for a cup of coffee. Unfortunately, after a near hour of fire and brimstone and threats and warnings—from the pen of Edwards—only two walked to the front to repent and trust in Christ. Salvation is of the Lord, I reminded myself. Maybe Saturday night would be better.
“Nothing keeps wicked people out of hell for a single moment except the mere pleasure of God. By the mere pleasure of God I mean His sovereign pleasure, which is not hindered or restrained by anything. It is only the sovereign will of God that preserves the life of a wicked person. Nothing else preserves the wicked for one moment except God’s mere will.”
Saturday night: Same stillness in the congregation. Same attention paid. Different results: No one came forward at the end to have their sins washed away. Maybe the 8am Sunday morning service would yield better results.
“The wrath of God is burning against them; their damnation is not sleeping; the pit is prepared; the fire is already made; the furnace is hot and ready to receive them. The flames, even now, rage and glow. The shiny sword is sharpened and held over them. The pit has opened its mouth under them.”
Sunday morning, 8am: I used a bit more inflection in my voice. I was now familiar enough with the text that I only had to glance down every now and then. I took pregnant pauses; I looked into people’s eyes at various intervals. Two more came forward and passed from death unto life. There was still one more service to go…
“There can be no other reason given why you have not gone to hell even while sitting here in this church provoking His pure eyes by your sinful, wicked manner of participating in His sacred worship. I declare to you, there can be no other reason why you do not fall into hell this very moment. O sinner! Think seriously about the fearful danger you are in.”
I know that God is in control of whoever comes to Him. I’m well aware that His words never return empty. I’m okay with the fact that I water and sow, but God causes His seed to grow, still…. Why weren’t people fleeing from the wrath to come? Those words of Edwards were immensely frightening and persuasive. His logic in the natural progression of thought concerning the justice of God were flawless. More than all that, these were the very words of God! These were His sober warnings to all those who would die in their sins.
What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
I changed nothing in my rendition of this classic piece of American literature for the 10:45am service; I entrusted myself to the One Who judges justly. It had nothing to do with me; it was all about Him. I made my appeal at the end of the sermon, explaining that all who broke God’s Commandments were culpable. I warned one more time about Judgment Day and Hell. Then I explained the provision that God had made through His Son Jesus, for all who come to him in humbleness of heart.
“Now, with all the lights on and everyone looking, if you want to repent and trust in the Savior, raise your hands and come forward,” I pleaded. “I know it’s embarrassing and a little uncomfortable, but I’d rather you be a little uncomfortable now than for all eternity.” I waited.
One hand, then two went up. They rose from their seats and came forward. The congregation started to applaud, but I asked them to stop and wait. Three hands, four hands… five… eight… twelve… fifteen… sixteen… Nineteen came down to the front of the aisle, some weeping loudly. Weeping?
“For now, God stands ready to have pity on you; this is a day of mercy. Now you may cry with the hope of obtaining mercy. But once the day of mercy is past, your most serious and desperate cries for mercy will be in vain. You will be forever lost, and God will throw you away, no longer giving thought to your welfare.”
God did this for me. He didn’t have to, of course, but in His kindness, and favor, He chose, for this time, to show me a little fruit. He knows that we all want to see something; that we all would like a little verification that what we do—by faith—for Him has merit. Although I know that the work I do for the Lord is not in vain, still, I want to see something, sometimes. But even if I don’t, even if I never did, I would still do what I’m doing, that is, preach the Gospel. I believe God did this for me.
And for His glory.
“Now let everyone who is still without Christ and hanging over the pit of hell—whether old men or women, middle aged people, young people, or children—answer to the loud calls of God’s word and providence. This acceptable year of the Lord, a time of such great blessing to some, will surely be a day of remarkable vengeance to others.”