Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Jonathan Edwards)

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Jonathan Edwards)
CrossWay Community Church
October 31st, 2021

Podcast link.

Among others, two thoughts I’ve had while spending time in this sermon:

It would be easy to see how so many in our context will have misunderstood this sermon, and Edwards, if they didn’t attend to its actual meaning carefully. The expression “being in an angry God’s hands” is actually meant as something positive for the sinner, as Edwards uses it. Why? Because it is the very “hands” of this God who otherwise has every right to damn the unregenerate person that keeps them from immediately entering that fate. It is the very God who rightfully abhors you in your sin that nonetheless is forebearing with you to this very hour. As Edwards argues in the sermon (his thesis, if you will), “There is nothing that keeps wicked people at any given moment out of hell except the mere pleasure of God.” For all the talk of God’s anger towards sin, it’s meant to point us to God’s forbearance and his offer of mercy in Christ.

Secondly, Edwards’ descriptions of God’s wrath undoubtedly will rub against our current contemporary sentiments, where we don’t like to think that God is angry with sinners; or if God were to be angry towards the unsaved, that would be reflective of some sort of defect in him. (This probably has something also to do with our loss of the doctrine of divine simplicity, which results in us thinking of certain of God’s attributes pitted against others–but that’s another topic.) However, Edwards doesn’t care about our contemporary sentiments. He presents God’s righteous indignation with sin in unbridled, blunt terms–language I imagine many of us will question or find abrasive, but which is only indicative of the fact that we need to hear it. We’re apt to soften the holiness of God. Edwards’ isn’t. But for as stark as Edwards gets, even he admits: it’s probably not stark enough; he’s really only scratching the surface of God’s ineffable holy hatred of sin.

“Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:3-4)

Romans 2:4-5

The Helvetic Confession’s High View of Preaching

“The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God. Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached … we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful … and that now the Word itself which is preached is to be regarded, not the minister that preaches….”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter I)

“Concerning the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven which the Lord gave to the apostles … all properly called ministers possess and exercise the keys or the use of them when they proclaim the Gospel; that is, when they teach, exhort, comfort, rebuke, and keep in discipline the people committed to their trust. For in this way they open the Kingdom of Heaven to the obedient and shut it to the disobedient. … Christ’s ministers discharge the office of an ambassador in Christ’s name, as if God himself through ministers exhorted the people to be reconciled to God. … Therefore, they excercise the keys when they persuade [men] to believe and repent. Thus they reconcile men to God. Thus they remit sins.”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter XIV)

“Ministers, therefore, rightly and effectually absolve when they preach the Gospel of Christ and thereby the remission of sins, which is promised to each one who believes, … and when they testify that it pertains to each one peculiarly. … The remission of sins in the blood of Christ is to be diligently proclaimed, and that each one is to be admonished that the forgiveness of sins pertains to him.”

—The Second Helvetic Confession (Chapter XIV)

Denominations & Traditions Chart

Below is a basic denominations & traditions chart I made for the residents while working at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. I’m hesitant to share this here because, admittedly, its overly simplistic and I suspect many will find it unsatisfying or maybe even at times misleading for that reason. Nonetheless, for someone who is less familiar and looking simply to get a basic acquaintance with the general landscape, I hope this can provide a helpful starting place, notwithstanding the understandable short comings of something as brief as this.

Early Christian Marginalization & Friction with the Roman Empire (Bruce Shelley)

The following is from Bruce L. Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language. It’s an account of early Christian ostracization and marginalization within the Roman Empire.

Christians today, even in our own contemporary context, may find growing similarities to our predicaments as our society becomes increasingly post-Christian, unembracing (even hostily) to our convictions and values, and may even view our beliefs as unpatriotic when they step out of line with civic and militaristic expectations.

Once the Romans discovered what the Christians were up to they were confronted by the problem of toleration in a more exasperating form than even the Jews had presented. The Jews, after all, were “a sort of closed corporation, a people set apart from others by the mark of circumcision, who lived and worshiped largely by themselves, and did no active proselyting.” The Christians, on the other hand, were always talking about their Jesus. They were out to make Christians of the entire population of the empire, and the rapidity of their spread showed that this was no idle dream. Not only did they, like the Jews, refuse to worship the emperor as a living god, but they were doing their utmost to convince every subject of the emperor to join them in their refusal. From time to time, then, Christians felt the wrath of the empire and its people.

Fundamental to the Christian life-style and the cause of endless hostility was the Christian’s rejection of the pagan gods. The Greeks and Romans had deities for every aspect of living—for sowing and reaping, for rain and wind, for volcanoes and rivers, for birth and death. But to the Christians these gods were nothing, and their denial of them marked the followers of Jesus as “enemies of the human race.”

One simply could not reject the gods without arousing scorn as a social misfit. For the pagan every meal began with a liquid offering and a prayer to the pagan gods. A Christian could not share in that. Most heathen feasts and social parties were held in the precincts of a temple after sacrifice had been made, and the invitation was usually to dine “at the table” of some god. A Christian could not go to such a feast. Inevitably, when he refused the invitation to some social occasion, the Christian seemed rude, boorish, and discourteous.

Other social events Christians rejected because they found them wrong in themselves. Gladiatorial combats, for example, were to the Christian inhuman. In amphitheaters all across the empire, the Romans forced prisoners of war and slaves to fight with each other to the death, just for the amusement of the crowd. The excitement was seductive. As late as the early fifth century, Augustine tells the story of his friend Alypius, who agreed to attend a spectacle to please a friend, but resolved to keep his eyes shut. When the shouting began, his eyes popped open, and he was yelling above the rest.

The Christian fear of idolatry also led to difficulties in making a living. A mason might be involved in building the walls of a heathen temple, a tailor in making robes for a heathen priest, an incense-maker in making incense for the heathen sacrifices. Tertullian even forbade a Christian to be a schoolteacher, because such teaching involved using textbooks that told the ancient stories of the gods and called for observing the religious festivals of the pagan year.

We might think that working with the sick would be a simple act of kindness. But even here early Christians found the pagan hospitals under the protection of the heathen god Aesculapius, and while a sick friend lay in his bed, the priest went down the aisle chanting to the god.

In short, the early Christian was almost bound to divorce himself from the social and economic life of his time—if he wanted to be true to his Lord. This meant that everywhere the Christian turned his life and faith were on display because the gospel introduced a revolutionary new attitude toward human life. It could be seen in Christian views of slaves, children, and sex.

There is no unifying force like the force of a common religion; and Caesar worship lay ready at hand. None of the local and ancestral faiths had any hope of ever becoming universal, but Rome was universal. As a result Caesar worship became “the keystone” of imperial policy. It was deliberately organized in every province in the empire. Everywhere temples to the godhead of the emperor appeared.

Little by little people within the empire came to believe that any allegiance in conflict with loyalty to the emperor, and therefore to the empire, could only lead to the disintegration of order. Worship of another Lord could only open the floodgates of chaos.

On a certain day in the year every Roman citizen had to come to the Temple of Caesar and had to burn a pinch of incense there, and say: “Caesar is Lord.” When he had done that, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had done so. After a man had burned his pinch of incense and had acknowledged Caesar as Lord, he could go away and worship any god he liked, so long as the worship did not affect public decency and order.

Thus, we see that Caesar worship was primarily a test of political loyalty; it was a test of whether or not a man was a good citizen. If a man refused to carry out the ceremony of acknowledging Caesar, he was automatically branded as a traitor and a revolutionary.

To the Roman the Christian seemed utterly intolerant and insanely stubborn; worse, he was a self-confessed disloyal citizen. Had the Christians been willing to burn that pinch of incense and to say formally, “Caesar is Lord,” they could have gone on worshiping Christ to their heart’s content; but the Christians would not compromise. That is why Rome regarded them as a band of potential revolutionaries threatening the very existence of the empire.