Preaching with power

[Above: Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” 1741—Library of Congress / Public domain, Wikimedia]

Like a thief in the night

Your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you. You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell. It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you. . . . 

Their case is past all hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here you are in the land of the living and in the house of God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation. What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give for one day’s opportunity such as you now enjoy! 

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming . . . that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. 

How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition?—Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741)

Blind leading the blind

The ministry of natural men is for the most part unprofitable; which is confirmed by a threefold evidence of Scripture, reason, and experience. Such as the Lord send not, He Himself assures us, shall not profit the people at all. . . . 

And right reason will inform us, how unfit instruments they are to negotiate that work they pretend to. Is a blind man fit to be a guide in a very dangerous place? Is a dead man fit to bring others to life? A mad man fit to give counsel in a matter of life and death? Is a possessed man fit to cast out devils? A rebel, an enemy to God, fit to be sent on an embassy of peace, to bring rebels into a state of friendship with God? A captive bound in the massy chains of darkness and guilt, a proper person to set others at liberty? A leper, or one that has plague-sores upon him, fit to be a good physician? 

Isn’t an unconverted minister like a man who would teach others to swim before he has learned himself, and so is drowned in the act, and dies like a fool?—Gilbert Tennent, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry” (1740)

Lord, convert me!

If any of you are graceless, Christless, unconverted creatures, I charge you not to touch it [Communion], I fence it in the name of God; here is a flaming sword turning every way to keep you from this bread of life, till ye are turned to Jesus Christ. 

And therefore, as I suppose many of you are unconverted, and graceless, go home! And away to your closets, and down with your stubborn hearts before God; if ye have not done it before, let this be the night. Or, do not stay till ye go home; begin now, while standing here; pray to God, and let the language of thy heart be, “Lord convert me! Lord make me a little child, Lord Jesus let me not be banished from thy kingdom!” 

My dear friends, there is a great deal more implied in the words, than is expressed: when Christ says, “Ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,” it is as much to say, “ye shall certainly go to hell, ye shall certainly be damned, and dwell in the blackness of darkness forever, ye shall go where the worm dies not, and where the fire is not quenched.” The Lord God impress it upon your souls! 

May an arrow (as one lately wrote me in a letter) dipped in the blood of Christ, reach every unconverted sinner’s heart! May God fulfill the text to every one of your souls! It is he alone that can do it. If ye confess your sins, and leave them, and lay hold on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God shall be given you; if you will go and say, “turn me, O my God! Thou knowest not, O man, what the return of God may be to thee.”—George Whitefield, “Marks of a True Conversion” (date unknown)

By Three 18th-century evangelists

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #151 in 2024]

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