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why you should read the sermons of Jonathan Edwards

I have read and profited immensely from reading Jonathan Edwards (1703--1758) over the past 20-some years.  Before you jump into some of his longer works like A Treatise on Religious Affections (1746) or The End For Which God Created the World (1755), you may enjoy reading some of his sermons first.  

You may find reading these sermons a bit difficult at first, but keep at it.  Just remember, colonial New Englanders -- even shop-keepers and farmers in his church -- understood and followed him very well.  Your thinking and powers of concentration may be challenged, and they certainly will be enlarged!





Here are five reasons you should read the sermons of Jonathan Edwards:   

1)  His preaching is Biblical.  One thing I have learned from Jonathan Edwards is that no preacher has any authority apart from the Word of God and the reasoned inferences and applications which come from it.  Edwards proclaimed, explained, and applied the Scriptures.  There is really no authority, nothing of eternal certainty, or ultimately meaningful to say, if we don’t begin with and stand upon what God has revealed. Edwards' sermons are replete with many 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."

2) It is doctrinal preaching.  He does not quote Scripture in a superfluous manner.  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.  It is theological in the best sense, because it leads us to think about God and our relationship to him.  I believe Edwards would agree with the assessment of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who later said, "Men and women are chasing worthless vanities because they do not know God, His being and His attributes." 

3) He was analytical in his preaching.  Edwards always worked carefully through all the angles of the doctrine he stated -- the who and what, the how and why, and the so-what of that truth.  He organized his sermons with consistency:  passage, context, doctrine, outline, and application.  However, this does not mean he was tedious or pedantic, but rather, he was thorough in understanding the meaning of each truth, relating it to the whole of God's revelation.  He was clear and comprehensive in doing justice to the truths he was preaching.  Reading Edwards' sermons is a great antidote to the fuzzy thinking which prevails in our world.  

4) He preached with a view to God's sovereignty over all of history. He knew that the church was part of a divine, cosmic drama of redemption that 
encompasses all of history and creation. In the preface to a sermon in the series, "A History of the Work of Redemption" (1739), 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.”  Reading Edwards' sermons is a wonderful way to gain insight, as well, into the Great Awakening of the 18th century.  

5)  He preached for conversion.  Edwards made a clear distinction between the converted and the unconverted.  He was concerned for the souls of his listeners, and he vividly painted the different destinies of each.  He often called for self-examination from his hearers.  He preached for conversion, but not a bare conversion untouched by the beauty of God, because he longed for true awakening, for Spirit-given revival, and for the time when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14)  His sermons are a kind of spiritual MRI on our hearts.  But he leads us from there to see and taste the glory of God, which he called the beauty or "excellence" of God.  

If you want to read some of Jonathan Edwards' sermons, I would recommend that you begin by visiting the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University  online and browse the Works of Jonathan Edwards (WJE).  Specifically, look up and read these two sermons for starters:  

  • "A Divine and Supernatural Light" (1734) [WJE Online Vol. 17]
  • "Heaven is a World of Love" (1738) [WJE Online Vol. 8: Sermon 15]

Enjoy!





Comments

Encouraging words: I especially benefitted from your 5 reasons for reading Jonathan Edwards. And thanks for sending suggestions and sources for reading Edwards.

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