Affections, Exegeting the Heart, George Whitefield, illustration, Jonathan Edwards, Preaching, Sermons, Whitefield's Preaching, Whitefield's Sermons
Continued, from here
Whitefield then sets forth the outline for the remainder of the sermons
First, What the phrase “walked with God” implies.
Second, The means to “walk with God”.
Third, Encouragement to “walk with God.”
He breaks down the concept of walking with God into four parts: (1) The enmity with God is taken away; (2) positive reconciliation has replaced that enmity; (3) there is communion with God; (4) progress is being made in relationship with God.
Walking With God Means that the Enmity With God has Been Taken Away
he Enmity With God has Been Taken AwayThe doctrine of original sin, or total depravity, or enmity between God and human beings has not been an easily received doctrine. When Whitefield says, “Perhaps it may seem a hard doctrine to some”, he is not merely making a rhetorical flourish. There was an active conflict on this matter during his lifetime.* Even if there were not an active theological controversy, there would be the matter of the natural human recoiling at the proposition that I am an enemy of God. Therefore, to get a hearing Whitefield has some serious work to do with his sermon.
First, Whitefield both admits that it s a hard doctrine and at the same time states this fact is unavoidable:
And First, walking with God implies, that the prevailing power of the enmity of a person’s heart be taken away by the blessed Spirit of God. Perhaps it may seem a hard saying to some, but our own experience daily proves what the scriptures in many places assert, that the carnal mind, the mind of the unconverted natural man, nay, the mind of the regenerate, so far as any part of him remains unrenewed, is enmity, not only an enemy, but enmity itself, against God; so that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. Indeed, one may well wonder that any creature, especially that lovely creature man, made after his Maker’s own image, should ever have any enmity, much less a prevailing enmity, against that very God in whom he lives, and moves, and hath his being. But alas! so it is.
Whitefield’s argument is based upon the passage in Romans 8:5–7 (ESV):
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Throughout the sermon, Whitefield naturally quotes Scripture, even when he does not stop and say, “turn to Romans 8, I will begin reading in verse 5”. There are two ways to think about this. On one hand, a preacher’s language should naturally flow out in Scripture. On the other, it is a sad fact that even in the most dedicated churches the congregation has less biblical literacy than Whitefield could assume for his hearers. (I will admit that I don’t have a precise source for this fact.) Therefore, the stop and turn instruction has the effect of at least teaching congregants their way around the Bible.
Another issue here would be likelihood that most people in attendance would not have a Bible with them while they stood in a field and listened to Whitefield preach (I would be interested to discover when the habit of bringing a Bible with one to church and following along with the sermon began.)
Now Whitefield, having made his point, needs to bring the hearers to accept his point. Many sermons fail in effect because the preacher thinks that it is enough to merely state a proposition. It is essential that the necessary propositions be stated plainly, but that is not enough. In addition to the proposition being made clear, the proposition must be digestible. You will never move a hearer to act by providing information alone; the affections must be engaged of there will be no action.
Whitefield brings his hearers to understand his point by telling the story of Adam’s family. Whitefield was a genius of story telling. He uses the story to move from the abstract proposition to the tangible motions of life:
Our first parents contracted it when they fell from God by eating the forbidden fruit, and the bitter and malignant contagion of it hath descended to, and quite overspread, their whole posterity. This enmity discovered itself in Adam’s endeavoring to hide himself in the trees of the garden. When he heard the voice of the Lord God, instead of running with an open heart, saying Here I am; alas! he now wanted no communion with God; and still more discovered his lately contracted enmity, by the excuse he made to the Most High: ‘The woman (or, this woman) thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat’. By saying thus, he in effect lays all the fault upon God; as though he had said, If thou hadst not given me this woman, I had not sinned against thee, so thou mayest thank thyself for my transgression. In the same manner this enmity works in the hearts of Adam’s children. They now and again find something rising against God, and saying even unto God, What doest thou? ‘It scorns any meaner competitor (says the learned Dr. Owen, in his excellent treatise on indwelling sin) than God himself.’ Its command is like that of the Assyrians in respect to Ahab—shoot only at the king. And it strikes against every thing that has the appearance of real piety, as the Assyrians shot at Jehoshaphat in his royal clothes. But the opposition ceases when it finds that it is only an appearance, as the Assyrians left off shooting at Jehoshaphat, when they perceived it was not Ahab they were shooting at. This enmity discovered itself in accursed Cain; he hated and slew his brother Abel, because Abel loved, and was peculiarly favored by, his God. And this same enmity rules and prevails in every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam.
At this point, Whitefield turns the story to his hearers: Whitefield does not merely exegete the text, he begins to exegete the heart of those who can hear him:
Hence that a averseness to prayer and holy duties which we find in children, and very often in grown persons, who have notwithstanding been blessed with a religious education. And all that open sin and wickedness, which like a deluge has overflowed the world, are only so many streams running from this dreadful contagious fountain; I mean a enmity of man’s desperately wicked and deceitful heart. He that cannot set his seal to this, knows nothing yet, in a saving manner, of the Holy Scriptures, or of the power of God.
Having brought the point home, Whitefield returns to his main proposition which he restates and expounds. When I was a young lawyer, the very successful attorney who first trained explained that in a brief one must, Tell them what you going to tell them, Tell them, Tell them what you told them. Whitefield uses the same technique by returning and restating his original proposition:
And all that do know this, will readily acknowledge, that before a person can be said to walk with God, the prevailing power of this heart-enmity must be destroyed: for persons do not use to walk and keep company together, who entertain an irreconcilable enmity and hatred against one another. Observe me, I say, the prevailing power of this enmity must be taken away; for the in-being of it will never be totally removed, till we bow down our heads, and give up the ghost. The apostle Paul, no doubt, speaks of himself, and that, too, not when he was a Pharisee, but a real Christian; when he complains, ‘that when he would do good, evil was present with him’; not having dominion over him, but opposing and resisting his good intentions and actions, so that he could not do the things which he would, in that perfection which the new man desired. This is what he calls sin dwelling in him. ‘And this is that phronhma sarko”, which (to use the words of the ninth article of our church,) some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affectation, some the desire, of the flesh, which doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated.’ But as for its prevailing power, it is destroyed in every soul that is truly born of God, and gradually more and more weakened as the believer grows in grace, and the Spirit of God gains a greater and greater ascendancy in the heart.
*An excellent discussion on the disputes surrounding the doctrine of original sin can be found in the introduction to the Yale Press edition of Edwards’ work “Original Sin” found here