Friday, 22 April 2011

That Terrible Voice

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousands times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours....
Surely it's not difficult for Christians to recognize where the above quote came from. And surely you won't hear a sermon that contains anything close to that these days. Why? The pastor will be crucified by the congregation!

Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan pastor-theologian wrote and preached the sermon Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God during the first Great Awakening, and this was considered the most well-known sermon in the history of America. This highly controversial sermon was considered offensive and certainly not for the faint-hearted. When it was first delivered in July 8, 1741, many who heard it trembled and cried for mercy. Some fainted. But multitudes ran to the front and were saved that famous day.

But what do the historians and the general Americans know about Edwards? The American textbook referred to him and the great revival in such a way: "The Great Awakening was a brief period of intense religious feeling in the 1730's and '40's which caused many churches to split."

In many books, they gave impressions that Edwards was a troubler of the church and had this gloomy and sullen character, who would preach condemnation to his listeners as God's enemies. But did they ever ask why did Edwards preach like that?

Pastor John Piper wrote a commentary on Pastor Jonathan Edwards and his God-entranced worldview:

Most of us don't know that he knew his heaven even better than his hell, and that his vision of glory was just as appealing as his vision of judgment was repulsive. 
What high school student is ever asked to come to grips with what really is at issue here? If the Bible is true, and if it says that someday Christ will tread his enemies like a winepress with anger that is fierce and almighty, and if you are a pastor charged with applying Biblical truth to your people so that they will flee the wrath to come, then what would your language be? What would you say to make people feel the reality of texts like these?
Edwards labored over language and over images and metaphors because he was so stunned and awed at the realities he saw in the Bible. Did you hear that one line in the quote I just read: "Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?" Edwards believed that it was impossible to exaggerate the horror of the reality of hell.
High school teachers would do well to ask their students the really probing question, "Why is it that Jonathan Edwards struggled to find images for wrath and hell that shock and frighten, while contemporary preachers try to find abstractions and circumlocutions that move away from concrete, touchable Biblical pictures of unquenchable fire and undying worms and gnashing of teeth?" If our students were posed with this simple, historical question, my guess is that some of the brighter ones would answer: "Because Jonathan Edwards really believed in hell, but most preachers today don't."
Just last month, while in the middle of our sleep, a sudden loud, deafening sound tore through the dark, silent night. We have never saw the sky so white and so terrible. It was like our bedroom was invaded by a 1,000,000 watt camera flash coupled with the furious roar of giant loudspeakers! My eyes were closed and yet I could feel the blinding effect it had on my vision! My wife and I instantly jumped up from my bed, and experienced the awesomeness of the lightning and thunder. That lightning struke the house opposite ours and made a hole on the marble floor. That night, we were quite afraid, as we've never been so close to a major thunder and lightning strike.

I had a glimpse of what it means to experience the ancient prophet's cry, "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down" (Isaiah 64:1). That whole day after I awoke, I thought how terrible the Day of the Lord is going to be, when He tears open the sky and come back. Not just that, the Scripture spoke of the voice of the Lord like this, "At the thunder of your voice, the people flee; when you rise up, the nations scatter" (Isaiah 33:3).

How many believers today have the same whole God-entranced worldview like Jonathan Edwards did?

If we Christians believe in all the goodness of heaven, then we must equally believe the horrors of hell. If we love the meekness of the Lamb, then we must equally embrace the majesty of the Lion. If we desire to hear the still small voice, then we must also be ready to behold the awesomeness of His terrible voice.

I always wonder how can people who say they heard the voice of God remain the same, unchanged. How can someone who encountered with the Awesome One ever go back the same way he came from? Really?

I don't know why, but in this Easter season, I long to hear sermons similar to those from Jonathan Edwards, someone who would preach the truth with courage and conviction. I'm not fond of old-fashion preaching, unless it is old all the way back to the time when preachers weren't trained to cloak the truth. Let someone who knows the truth that is sharper than any two-edged sword, wield it like how it's meant to be wielded.

Do I still long for the Day of His coming, when the Bible said His glorious re-appearance would not be missed nor mistaken? One thing I know: it'll be a day of many shocks, that's for sure. Deep inside, I long for everything in the dark to be uncovered, and there shall be no more hiding for the wicked. They can flee all they want like dirty cockroaches, but there's no more escaping, no more dark corners to find refuge in.

How terrible that Day will be for those who don't know Him and those who think they know. Everything will be laid bare, and we shall all see the wonderful and terrible truth. All forgotten and buried deeds and motives will be resurrected. Justice has been delayed, but that doesn't mean it isn't coming. It's better to seek His sweet voice and to hear Him now, than to hear Him at the Judgment throne.

Oh, have a blessed celebration of the Lord Jesus' death and resurrection.

You can hear the sermon audio of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God here. But I prefer the rendition by Max Mclean which many imagine to be the closest to how Jonathon Edwards would preach it. It can be found at Audible.

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