Published under the title, The Salvation of Souls, Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A. Wills, edited nine sermons of Jonathan Edwards on Christian ministry. One of the sermons entitled, “The Kind of Preaching People Want” considers the text:
Micah 2:11 (ESV)
11 If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
he would be the preacher for this people!
From this text, Edwards notes that this is the sort of preaching which will attract people (I one time heard John MacArthur say, you can gather a lot goats in one place and that doesn’t make them sheep). He posits this doctrine:
If the business of ministers was to further the gratification of men’s lusts, they would be much better received by many than they are now.
He then gives a series of examples of how such preaching would sound. And in reading this, it often seems as if Edwards was looking into the “church” of the country which was coming into being while he lived (he died prior to the Revolution):
If ministers were sent to tell people that they might gratify their lusts without danger; if they were sent to them that it was lawful for them to gratify their lusts …..
He then proceeds to set out a series of desires: drunkenness, sexual immorality, abusive business dealings, revenge. Or rather than openly claim such things were no sins — they were of little importance.
Or perhaps rather than deny that sin would merit hell; what if the minister presented:
Christ only in one of his offices and not in others; if they were to preach Christ only in his priestly office and as a savior from the punishment of sin, and not also in his kingly office as a savior from the power and dominion of sin, and that being a King and a Lord to rule in us and over us, they would by many be much better received than they are now.
Edwards then proceeds through other potential faults in a minister — all designed to lead men to believe that Christ saved us to indulge in sin and be rewarded with a future of sinful pleasures. But these first two fault seems particularly to mark the broader so-called “evangelical” ministry in North America: preachers who lessen the severity of sin; and who, in the name of “grace” and “love” speak as if Christ would overlook — or even delight in sin.
Think of the bitter, often even slanderous speech, which marks social media. Or the envy and covetousness of our culture — not to mention intoxication and sexual immorality. Congregations are falling over themselves to accommodate the sexual revolution (as Al Mohler terms it) in the name of love. A well-known supposed evangelical writes a book which advocates a universal salvation in the name of “love”.
Edwards’ warning, which must have sounded bizarre to even the unbelievers in his congregation (remember, everyone went to church in Edwards’ day), seems to have been taken up as a how-to by the public Christian church.
What then must we do with this observation? Edwards first provides questions of self-examination. How do you receive true preaching of the Scripture? When the Word is rightly proclaimed, do you listen attentively? When your sin is reproved, do you receive and repent — or do you ignore it, or chafe?
What do you do if a preacher speaks smooth words which encourage your sins? Or if it is not a preacher, what if a friend or neighbor speaks in a way that encourages your lusts? Do you receive it eagerly? Do you find entertainment from “an impure story or a lascivious song?”
There is then reproof:
What horrid contempt you cast on God and Christ and heaven, in that you should prefer the gratification of your vile lusts before them, that you would be more pleased and entertained and give better attention to hear that by which your lusts might be gratified than that by which you may obtain an interest in Christ, in his precious blood and glorious benefits, and may have God for your portion; that to have all the glories and perfections of God and a Redeemer set before you is not so pleasing and entertaining to you as to hear of the objects of a carnal appetite; that worldly profit or sensual pleasures or the gratifications of your envy revenge is better to you than heaven.
Then as a final matter, Edwards ends with what it is to be a preacher who rightly brings the Word:
But how grievous may it be well be, when a minster does his utmost to see a congregation seeming to be regardless of what he says, and many of them sleeping a great part of the time, and other plainly manifesting a careless, regardless spirit. With what a complaint may such ministers that have been so treated rise up on the day of judgment before their Master that sent them and set them to work, declaring what pains they took and how they labored to their utmost to speak so as to influence and affect their minds and yet how regardless they were of the message they delivered.
This sermon at length and the entire book is well worth your time. The book is well edited. Each sermon is prefaced by an introduction that sets the time and place. The sermons are marked with notes which help explain the text. Very highly recommended.