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characteristics of Edwards' sermons pt 2

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 4:2 ESV) 

Continuing the characteristics of Jonathan Edwards' sermons...

It is analytical preaching.  Edwards organizes his sermons with consistency:  passage, context, doctrine, outline, and application.  I find his carefulness a helpful example in making sure every angle of a particular doctrine is viewed and considered.  Reading JE’s sermons is a great antidote to fuzzy thinking.  One of the most difficult tasks I face in preparing a sermon is to get the final homiletic outline right -- that it is understandable, clear, uncluttered, and as comprehensive as possible to do justice to the truth being preached.

So we must ask ourselves: We want people to think, as well as feel.  Many people just want to feel well without having to think well.  How do we preach so as to engage the minds of our congregants, to “take every thought captive” for Christ?  How do we explain truth without a sense of dryness?    

It is historical preaching.  Edwards was currently preaching the series, “A History of the Work of Redemption,” from March to August of that year (1739).  In the preface to this sermon editor Harry Stout notes, “Even as he read voraciously in the history of heaven, earth, and hell, and sketched their interconnected narratives, Edwards eagerly scanned the horizons of his own world for signs of the revival and regeneration that would presage the new heavens and the new earth.”   Gerry McDermott writes in chapter 6 of Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods:

“All of history--not only what is called biblical history--is also ‘signification, marking the presence of something else.’  Each thing in nature and history can be understood only as the sign of the other to which it points.  Philosophically, then, all being is communicative...  Things are words, and creation is a book waiting to be read.”  (110; see also chap 8 in Theology, and WJE Online Vol. 11.)

For JE there were four distinctive periods (stages) regarding the rising of the Sun of Righteousness to comfort and to judge... a) the first advent of Christ (from the incarnation to judgment upon Jerusalem); b) growth of the church and judgment upon heathen Roman empire via Constantine; c) the beginning of millennial blessing and judgment on Antichrist [or, the twin antichrists: the papacy and Islam]; and d) Christ’s final return, with consummation and eternal judgment upon the wicked.  (See #321 Malachi 4:1–2 in Notes on Scripture WJE 15:302-4; and Theology, 574ff.)  Edwards says that it is the last of these four that is the “literal accomplishment of the words of the text.”  In his preaching moment he places his congregation, with all their petty problems, in context of a wide and grand historical drama.  

So we must ask ourselves: In our sermons how can we utilize the testimony of history to congregations largely uninterested in history?  How do we preach historically – not just biblical history and contemporary events, but the entirety of history – in such a way that we acknowledge Christ’s lordship over all of nature and history?  (Matt. 28:18; Isa. 41:4)  In our desire to be relevant in the here-and-now, do we avoid preaching eschatological topics?

To be continued...


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