Edwards sermons were God-centered in nature and pointed the listener to find their joy in God alone. However, preaching in evangelicalism has drifted towards being man-centred. Western culture, in general, is “therapeutic not religious” which leads people to not “…hunger for personal salvation” but “…well-being, health and psychic security" (Christopher Lasch).
And this culture has seeped into churches and pulpits—especially in poor places. It has led, in part, to the rise of prosperity preaching, seeker-sensitive churches and sermons that aim at ‘felt needs,’ where God and His priorities are relegated to the background. As Fernando writes: “Truth has been replaced by pragmatism.”
Edwards’ Plea with Preachers
This is a far cry from biblical preaching and is damaging many people in poor places. Edwards would urge leaders who preach, I think, in three directions.
Firstly, he would urge leaders to preach a gospel that leads sinners to find their boast in God alone. Evangelical culture these days minimises sin and teaches that man can make a contribution to his salvation. On the other hand, Edwards, building on the reformers, taught that humans are born in bondage to sin, death and Satan. He taught that only the sovereign grace and mercy of God can lead them to regeneration. He taught the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone; that we are not made righteous by our own good works, but through Christ’s efficacious work on our behalf. And he taught that only the Spirit of God can make us alive in Christ.
In other words, all the good a Christian has is a result of the Triune God’s sovereign work in their lives. He writes: “We are dependent on Christ the Son of God, as he is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We are dependent on the Father, who has given us Christ, and made him to be these things to us. We are dependent on the Holy Ghost, for it is of him that we are in Christ Jesus; it is the Spirit of God that gives faith in him, whereby we receive him, and close with him.” God is the one who predestines, elects, calls, regenerates, justifies and sanctifies the believer. Therefore, the Christian’s salvation, from beginning to end, is a work of God, so that He might receive the glory.
This is the gospel of grace that Edwards would urge leaders to preach and teach, because it leads believers away from themselves to God. Christians must see that any good they have is a result of God’s mercy, and this should move them, to boast only in God and glorify Him. Any theology that “detracts somewhat from God’s glory” is not the theology of the Bible. In fact, when we think that we contribute to any part of our salvation we “cast a shadow upon His glory.”
Secondly, Edwards would challenge preachers to make much of Christ. For Edwards, the apex of God’s glory is displayed and manifested through the person and work of Christ in redemption. He writes: “The gospel is by far the most glorious manifestation of God’s glory that ever was made to man.” However, this does not mean he ignored the other members of the Trinity in his preaching. He preached Christ because it is through Him that the Christian enjoys fellowship with our Triune God.
Edwards taught that the glory of God is “displayed and communicated among the persons of the Trinity” and then “displayed in the person and redeeming work of Christ, and in the giving of the Holy Spirit to believers by whom they love and rejoice in the excellence of the Son and the Father.” In other words, the person and work of Jesus Christ displays and manifests the inter-Trinitarian glory, for He is the glory of the Father, and then believers are invited into the life of the Triune God through Christ, as the Holy Spirit is poured out into their lives. Jesus Christ is simply the medium through which believers see and experience the glory of the Triune-God. Edwards summarises: “Jesus Christ, and that as God-man, is the ground medium by which God attains his end, both in communicating himself to the creatures and (in) glorying himself by the creation.” Therefore, leaders must preach a Christocentric gospel that moves believers to see and savour Christ, and find that, He is the means through which they enter the joy of the Triune-God.
Thirdly, and closely linked, Edwards would encourage preachers to point their hearers to find their joy in God. Edwards writes, “God, in seeking their glory and happiness, seeks himself: and in seeking himself, i.e. himself diffused and expressed, (which he delights in, as he delights in his own beauty and fullness,) he seeks their glory and happiness.” As Piper comments, “The rejoicing of all peoples in God, and the magnifying of God’s glory are one end, not two…The exhibition of God’s glory and deepest joy of human souls are one thing.” In other words, God’s glory and our joy are interconnected. As Piper says regularly: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
It’s important, therefore, for preachers to hold out the infinite riches of God to their hearers. They must see He is glorious and that He alone can satisfy their souls. This is important for hearers to grasp, because as Edwards argues, this is the only way permanent change will be wrought in a believer’s life. Only the overwhelming beauty and glory of God “reaches to the bottom of the heart, and changes its nature.” In other words, sin will not simply be banished by telling people that it’s wrong. Christians must understand that choosing sin is “joy suicide,” because they are swapping the eternal for the temporal. The problem isn’t their desires; it’s the object of their desires. As C.S. Lewis writes, the problem is not that people’s desires are “too strong, but too weak”; they are promised “infinite joy” and yet they are messing around with “mud pies in a slum.” The aim of the preacher is to magnify God by pointing people to the pleasures found in Him.
Further, the end of the gospel is not the forgiveness of sins, but God Himself. It’s not simply that believers have their sins forgiven, but that they know the Triune-God, the infinite source of joy and love. As Edwards writes, “God himself is the great good which they are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good, and the sum of all that good which Christ purchased.”
The poor places of the world desperately need deep, spiritual food that helps them exalt in the glory of God. Therefore, make sure your sermons lead sinners to find their boast in God by preaching Christ-crucified and the delights of knowing our Triune-God.