Category Archives: Faith in Pulpit
In light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:
- Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?
- Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?
- In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?
These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.
Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,
“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).
God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,
“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.
What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.
As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.
I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!
My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.
… The quote you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!
Propitiation? What’s that all about? … This blend was hand picked from the mountain peaks of the 2006 Desiring God National Conference: The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World.
Thank you Mark Alderton (Sovereign Grace Fellowship, Minneapolis) for the following quote!
Pseudo faith always arranges a way out to serve in case God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second way or makeshift substitutes. For true faith, it is either God or total collapse. And not since Adam first stood up on earth has God failed a single man or woman who trusted Him.
The man of pseudo faith will fight for his verbal creed but refuse flatly to allow himself to get into a predicament where his future must depend upon that creed being true. He always provides himself with secondary ways of escape so he will have a way out if the roof caves in.
The faith of Paul or Luther was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It laid hold on the life and brought it under obedience to Christ. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it … It realigned all life’s actions and brought them into accord with the will of God.
What we need very badly these days is a company of Christians who are prepared to trust God as completely now, as they must do at the last day. For each of us the time is surely coming when we shall have nothing but God! Health and wealth and friends and hiding places will all be swept away and we shall have only God. To the man of pseudo faith that is a terrifying thought, but to real faith it is one of the most comforting thoughts the heart can entertain.
It would be a tragedy indeed to come to the place where we have no other but God and find that we had not really been trusting God during the days or our earthly sojourn. It would be better to invite God now to remove every false trust, to disengage our hearts from all secret hiding places and to bring us out into the open where we can discover for ourselves whether we actually trust Him. This is a harsh cure for our troubles, it is a sure one! Gentler cures may be too weak to do the work. And time is running out on us.
- A.W. Tozer (source unknown)
Every time I go to the Together for the Gospel blog I am reminded of the wonderful time in Louisville, KY at T4G 2006 and my time meeting so many of you and getting some great time with my fellow shepherd-in-training, Charlie Jackson. The following quote from the blog was recently mentioned by Joshua Harris at New Attitude 2006. It is a great reminder of the preachers relationship to the Word of God.
"What we need is humble theology — theology which submits itself to the truth of God's Word. 'Liberal' theology — theology which does not view Scripture as finally trustworthy and authoritative — is not humble before the Word. Churches which are tentative and decry dogmatism may sound humble, but it is not truly humble to do anything other than to submit to God's Word. Christian humility is to simply accept whatever God has revealed in His Word. Humility is following God's Word wherever it goes, as far as it goes, not either going beyond it or stopping short of it."
"Bertrand Russell, the late, well-known, British philosopher wrote in 1950 that 'The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.' These days, I guess many are holding theological conclusions in such a 'scientific' manner. But such hestitancy is not humility. The humility we want in our churches is to read the Bible and believe it — everything God has said, dogmatically, and humbly! It is not humble to be hesitant where God has been clear and plain."
- Mark Dever, Together for the Gospel blog (2/8/06)