The text is Acts 11:12-13 which describes an episode in the life of Cornelius. Edwards describes Cornelius as he preaches to the Mohawk indians at Stockbridge as a man who was a non-Jew, a man who came from the stock of a heathen nation; a man who came from a nation that had beaten down the Jews. This man had heard rumblings about God – but he knew nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This man had a teachable heart and prayed that God might instruct him. God listened to his prayer and sent an angel “to tell him how he should come into greater light.” When he heard Peter proclaim the message of the gospel, he surrendered; he trusted Christ for his eternal salvation.
Edwards tells Mohawk friends that his intent is to preach this same message: “Now I am come to preach the true religion to you and to your children, as Peter did to Cornelius and his family, that you and all your children may be saved.”
He describes the essence of true religion. As such he condemns the teaching of French Roman Catholics who must have gained a hearing among the indians: “True religion [does not] consist in praying to the Virgin Mary and to saints and angels. It [does not] consist in crossing themselves, in confessing sins to the priest, and worshipping images of Christ and of the saints, and other things that the French do.”
But these things which I am now going to tell you of belong to true religion.
Edwards wastes no time in getting to the core of his message: “In order to men’s being truly religious, they must see how they have sinned against God and made God angry: [they must see] what wicked creatures they [are], must see what wicked hearts they have, and [that they] are all over wicked … [They must see that they] deserve that God should hate ’em and should take ’em into hell and show ’em no mercy. He proceeds to proclaim the necessity of knowing about and understanding the person and work of Christ and turning to him for salvation. He adds, “[They must have] new hearts given to ’em.
In simple terms, Edwards describes the essence of saving faith which involves a turning from sin and a turning to Christ.
Edwards encourages his readers that his commitment is to preach the message of the gospel – faithfully. He says, “Such as have this religion are happy men; they need not be afraid to die: death can do ’em no harm.”
The shift in the homiletical style of Edwards is evident in his move to the Stockbridge mission. He is a perfect example of contextualization. The message is more simple. The sentences are shorter. He is ministering to a people with very little education. As such, he contextualizes the message so they might understand and embrace the gospel.
Edwards was concerned that the Mohawks understood veritas et lux. His desire was that his new friends who embrace truth and light. For “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).