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characteristics of Edwards' sermons pt 1

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  (Malachi 4:1-2 ESV) 

I have been reading the sermons (and other works) of Jonathan Edwards for many years now.  Recently, a group I meet with discussed “Christ the Spiritual Sun” (preached by JE in May, 1739) from Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742 (WJE Online Vol. 22), ed. Harry S. Stout.  As presenter at the meeting I sought to summarize several characteristics of Edwards’ sermons that I think we as preachers should emulate. 

His preaching is Biblical preaching.  One thing I have learned from Jonathan Edwards, and others like him, is that a preacher has no authority apart from the Word of God.  And so he must lead with, proclaim, explain, and apply the Scriptures, rather than his own ideas.  I really have no authority, nothing eternal or ultimately meaningful to say, if I don’t begin with, and stand upon,  what God has revealed in his Word. His sermons are also replete with many other Scripture passages which support the points within his message. It is as Spurgeon spoke of John Bunyan, "Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him." 

It is doctrinal preaching.  He does not, however, quote Scripture in a superfluous way.  Edwards states his main idea as a succinct doctrine derived from the passage.  But it is more than a “main idea”, as we often use the phrase.  It is a truth to be examined and believed.  It is an authoritative statement.  And it is theological, because it leads us to think about God and our relationship to him.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Men and women are chasing worthless vanities because they do not know God, His being and His attributes." Edwards always worked carefully through all the angles of the doctrine he stated -- the who and what, the how and why, the so-what, etc. -- of the doctrine.  In this sermon JE brings the nature of Christ in one characteristic, that of “the Sun of righteousness,” (Mal. 4:1-2) to bear upon the two divergent destinies of believers and unbelievers. 

So we must ask ourselves:  Do we preach theologically?  Does our main idea have the weight of divine authority?  Are our sermons rich with insight about God? Do we preach on the attributes of God and their relation to each other and to God’s work of redemption? Do people sense, from our sermons, that life is about us, or about God? 

More to come...

Photo above by RCPlains from Weather Underground.


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