THE ETERNITY OF HELL TORMENTS – Jonathan Edwards (1739)

Jonathan_Edwards_engravingThe doctrine of hell is under attack.  The opposition to eternal punishment is more diverse than one might expect as unbelieving philosophers and some pastors in the emergent church seek to extinguish this doctrine once and for all.

In the 18th century, people opposed hell as well.  Yet it was taught with more faithfulness and fervency than most pulpits in these days.  Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, The Eternity of Hell Torments is a fitting example of this faithfulness and fervency.

The text is Matthew 25:46 – These shall go away into everlasting punishment.  Two initial observations are advanced:

  1. The duration of the punishment on which they are here said to enter: it is called everlasting punishment.
  2. The time of their entrance on this everlasting punishment.

The doctrine as also set forth:

The misery of the wicked in hell will be absolutely eternal.

With the presuppositions and doctrine in place, Edwards moves forward by advancing four key points.

1. It is not contrary to the divine perfections to inflict on wicked men a punishment that is absolutely eternal.

Edwards argues that sin deserves such a punishment, namely, “that sin is heinous enough to deserve such a punishment, and such a punishment is no more than proportionable to the evil or demerit of sin.”

It is not contrary to God’s mercy to inflict eternal punishment on sinful men. Indeed, “It would be a great defect, and not a perfection, in the sovereign and supreme Judge of the world, to be merciful in such a sense that he could not bear to have penal justice executed.”

2. The eternal death which God threatens, is not annihilation, but an abiding sensible punishment or misery.

The Scripture never hints at the God-dishonoring doctrine of annihilation – a doctrine that surfaces in Edwards day and is even more popular now.  The argument against annihilation is clearly articulated here.

3. This misery will not only continue for a very long time, but will be absolutely without end.

Edwards utilizes several exegetical, grammatical, and biblical  arguments to point readers to the reality of eternal punishment.  “Such expressions,” says the Puritan divine, “are used to set forth the duration of the punishment of the wicked, as are never used in the scriptures of the New Testament to signify any thing but a proper eternity.”

4. Various good ends will be obtained by the eternal punishment of the wicked.

Edwards presents four good ends of eternal punishment:

  • Hereby God vindicates his injured majesty.
  • God glorifies his justice.
  • God hereby indirectly glorifies his grace on the vessels of mercy.
  • The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.

He notes, “The sight of the wonderful power, the great and dreadful majesty, and awful justice and holiness of God, manifested in the eternal punishment of ungodly men, will make them prize his favor and love vastly the more; and they will be so much the more happy in the enjoyment of it.”

Application

In typical Edwardsean fashion, the author concludes by setting forth three important points of application:

  1. Be entreated to consider attentively how great and awful a thing eternity is.
  2. Do but consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment.
  3. That you may effectually escape these dreadful and eternal torments, be entreated to flee and embrace him who came into the world for the very end of saving sinners from these torments, who has paid the whole debt due to the divine law, and exhausted eternal in temporal sufferings.

And Edwards directs the attention of every reader to Christ and his gospel:

Justice therefore never can be actually satisfied in your damnation; but it is actually satisfied in Christ.  Therefore he is accepted of the Father, and therefore all who believe are accepted and justified in him.  Therefore believe in him, come to him, commit your souls to him to be saved by him.  In him you shall be safe from the eternal torments of hell.

 

GOD’S PASSION FOR HIS GLORY – John Piper (1998)

Some books are worth reading again and again.  John Piper’s excellent work is such a book.  God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards is composed of two parts.  Part One is a Personal Encounter with Jonathan Edwards.  Part Two is a republication of Jonathan Edwards magisterial work, The End for Which God Created the World.

The Personal Encounter with Edwards includes the rationale behind Piper’s book, a brief but powerful biography of the Puritan divine, a survey of Edwards’s inner life as it relates the life of the mind, and the relationship between Edwards and culture.

Central to the thought of Part One is the Piper’s assertion (that he credits to the hard work of Edwards) is this: “the exhibition of God’s glory and the deepest joy of human souls are one thing.”  Or to state it another way, “God’s passion for his own glory and his passion for my joy are not at odds.”  Piper builds on this reality by presenting fifteen critical implications that he has drawn for Edwards’s life and writing.  The final Edwardsean insight is in reality that thesis of Part Two, namely – that “God created the world to exhibit the fullness of his glory in the God-centered joy of his people.”

Part Two, then, is the complete text from Edwards book, The End for Which God Created the World.  The complex argument may be summarized in one critical sentence: “Hence it will follow, that the moral rectitude of the disposition, inclination, or affection of God CHIEFLY consists in a regard to HIMSELF, infinitely above his regard to all other beings; in other words, his holiness consists in this.”  Readers should struggle through the text to see the weight of biblical evidence that Edwards provides.  It is a humbling, earth-shattering, Christ-exalting stick of dynamite.  I first read this tremendous book over fifteen years ago in seminary at Starbucks – in one sitting.  It continues to affect me the same way it did so many years ago.  Readers will be struck with the depth of insight that emerges from the pen of the Puritan divine.  But readers will mostly be in awe at the glory which belongs to God and God alone!

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36, ESV)

THE CHRISTIAN IN COMPLETE ARMOR: Volume 2 – William Gurnall (1655)

Many works on spiritual warfare these days are laden with extraordinary tales that tug at the heart and manipulate the will.  Some of these works offer very little biblical help.  William Gurnall’s The Christian in Complete Armor towers above most of what passes for spiritual warfare literature.

Originally published in 1655, Gurnall offers the typical insight we expect from the Puritans. In volume two, this Puritan divine guides readers through the armor that Paul describes in Ephesians 6.

His exposition begins and ends with Scripture.  He leaves no stone unturned as he examines and explains the armor.  His exposition reminds the reader of a pastor on a quest for buried treasure.  He digs as deep as his shovel will take him.  And readers are rewarded with valuable insight; insight that may be immediately applied to the Christian life.

4 stars

A QUEST FOR GODLINESS: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life – J.I. Packer (1990)

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J.I. Packer is a superb introduction to the English Puritans.  For too long, the Puritans have been marginalized, unfairly caricatured, and relegated dusty boxes of books in the garage.  Packer intends to bring the Puritans to the forefront of Christian thought, precisely where they belong.

Part One: The Puritans in Profile

J.I. Packer begins by arguing (and rightly so) that current day Christians need the Puritans.  Indeed, “the Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t.  We are spiritual dwarfs.”  The author reminds us that “Puritanism was at heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness … Puritanism was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival; and in addition – indeed, as a direct expression of its zeal for God’s honor – it was a world-view, a total Christian philosophy …”

Packer discusses Puritanism as a particular movement of revival.  It is true that revival strikes at the core of who the Puritans were and what they sought to accomplish.  Packer’s definition, then, is appropriate and accurate.  “Puritanism I define as that movement in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England which sought further reformation and renewal in the Church of England than the Elizabethan settlement allowed.”

The author includes a helpful section on the practical writings of the Puritans.  Central to Puritan thought was a God-centered education.  They were in the strict sense of the word, “mind-educators.”  Packer writes, “The starting-point was their certainty that the must must be instructed and enlightened before faith and obedience became possible … Heat without light, pulpit passion without pedagogic precision, would be no use to anyone.”

The Puritans are often painted into the corner as cold and emotionless, dry and boring.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Packer rightly adds, “All the Puritans regarded religious feeling and pious emotion without knowledge as worse than useless.  Only when truth was being felt was emotion in any way desirable … So the teaching of truth was the pastor’s first task, as the learning of it was the layman’s.”

Additionally, Puritans are often charged with teaching doctrine and neglecting application.  Again, this is an inaccurate caricature.  Rather, the Puritans were famous for preaching and teaching doctrine and always proceeding to the point of application.

Part Two: The Puritans and the Bible

John Owen is the primary Puritan discusses in this section.  Owen is regarded by most to be the among the greatest of all the Puritans.  He wielded and continues to wield enormous influence among Reformed theologians.

Packer zero’s in on Owen’s approach to God’s revelation.  First, he describes how Owen would have reacted to the “irrationalism of the neo-orthodox idea of a ‘knowledge’ of God derived from non-communicative ‘encounters’ with him.”  But he moves  forward to describe the essence of Owen’s approach: “Mere rational instruction thus proves ineffective; only the illumination of the Holy Spirit, opening our heart to God’s word and God’s word to our hearts, can bring understanding of, conviction about, and consent to, the things that God declares.”

The author continues to guide the reader in understanding Owen’s understanding of the giving of revelation, the inspiration of Scripture, the authentication of Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture.

At this point, Packer moves into deeper waters as he surveys the general attitude of Puritans as interpreters of Scripture.  He cites Thomas Watson: “Think in every line you read that God is speaking to you – for in truth he is.  What Scripture says, God is saying.”

Part Three: The Puritans and the Gospel

In chapter eight, Packer includes his introduction to John Owen’s, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” and is perhaps the best chapter in the book.  Packer demonstrates that “universal redemption is unscriptural and destructive to the gospel” a notion that is very unpopular in the church.

“Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for his own chosen people.  His precious blood really does ‘save us all’; the intended effects of his self-0ffering do in fact follow, just because the cross was what it was.  Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it.  The cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died.”

While Packer (and Owen) argue against universal redemption; i.e. unlimited atonement, they both believe strongly in universal invitations.  They reject the erroneous hyper-Calvinist notion that the gospel should only be proclaimed to the elect.  Packer adds, “The question of the extent of the atonement does not arise in evangelistic preaching; the message to be delivered is simply this – that Christ Jesus, the sovereign Lord, who died for sinners, now invites sinners freely to himself.  God commands all to repent and believe; Christ promises life and peace to all who do so.”

Often the preaching task is described as “bringing men to Christ.”  Packer is quick to note, however: “The task of preaching the old gospel could more properly be described as bringing Christ to men (emphasis mine), for those who preach it know that as they do their work of setting Christ before men’s eyes, the mighty Savior whom they proclaim is busy doing his work through their words, visiting sinners with salvation, awakening them to faith, drawing them in mercy to himself.”

Packer’s chapter on the Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel is also excellent.  “The Puritan view was that preaching gospel sermons means teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace.  To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this.  Preach less, they would tell us, and what you do preach will not be properly grasped.”

Part Four: The Puritans and the Holy Spirit

Part four summarizes the witness of the Spirit in Puritan thought, the spirituality of John Owen, and Owen’s view on spiritual gifts.  Owen’s work, Communion With God is a classic and should be required reading for all Christians.  Packer writes, “Communion with Christ then becomes a matter of acknowledging his presence in the power of his reconciling sacrifice and of observing the ordinance with reverent confidence that in it Christ comes to pledge his saving love to each one personally, so that ‘we sit down at God’s table as those that are the Lord’s friends … there being now no difference [contention] between him and us.'”

Part Five: The Puritans and the Christian Life

Part five summarizes the Puritan approach to the Lord’s Day, worship, and marriage/family.

Part Six: The Puritans in Ministry

Finally, Packer outlines the Puritan vision of the Word preached.  He cites Richard Baxter: “Labor to awaken your own hearts, before you go into the pulpit, that you may be fit to awaken the hearts of sinners … When I let my heart go cold, my preaching is cold … and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too.”

Packer is quick to point out in the Puritan belief in the “primacy of the intellect.”  He adds, “It follows that every man’s first duty in relation to the word of God is to understand it; and every preacher’s first duty is to explain it.  The only way to the heart that he is authorized to take runs via the head.”

The Puritans also believed in the primacy of preaching – a message that should not go unheeded today.  “Reverence for revealed truth and faith in its entire adequacy for human needs, should mark all preaching.”  John Owen is emphatic, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word.”

The Puritans had a strong belief in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.  Packer writes, “The Puritans insisted that the ultimate effectiveness of preaching is out of man’s hands.  Man’s task is simply to be faithful in teaching the word; it is God’s work to convince of its truth and write it in the heart.  The Puritans would have criticised the modern evangelistic appeal, with its wheedling for ‘decisions’, as an unfortunate attempt by man to intrude into the Holy Spirit’s province.  It is for God, not man, to fix the time of conversion.”

The Puritans were expository preachers.  Their preaching was doctrinal.  “To the question, ‘Should one preach doctrine?’ the Puritan answer would have been, ‘Why, what else is there to preach?”  Packer adds, “Doctrinal preaching certainly bores the hypocrites; but it is only doctrinal preaching that will save Christ’s sheep.  The preachers job is to proclaim the faith, not to provide entertainment for unbelievers – in other words, to feed the sheep rather than amuse the goats.”

CONCLUSION

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life is an important book.  It unpacks the most important components of Puritan thought and introduces readers to the essence of Puritan theology.  It is true that we live in a different day.  However, the message that the Puritans proclaimed has not changed, not will it ever change.  The Puritans remind us of the importance of being faithful and refusing to capitulate to the winds of pragmatism.  The Puritans remind us to faithfully preach the Word of God and share the message of God’s grace to our dying generation.

5 stars

THE PURITAN VIEW OF PREACHING

“The Puritan view was that preaching ‘gospel sermons’ means teaching the whole Christian system – the character of God, the Trinity, the plan of salvation, the entire work of grace.  To preach Christ, they held, involved preaching all this.  Preach less, they would tell us, and what you do preach will not be properly grasped.”

– J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (p. 169)

JONATHAN EDWARDS, EVANGELIST – John Gerstner (1960)

Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist unlike many of the other books that entertain the subject of evangelism, is not a “how-to” book.  It describes Edward’s mindset toward evangelism, his theological presuppositions, and inner battles.

Dr. John Gerstner painstakingly poured over dozens of Edward’s sermons and writings.  The result has yielded an extremely readable rendition of Jonathan Edwards and his unique approach to doing the work of an evangelist.

Gerstner discusses Edwards’ view on the divine initiative, namely the first step in man’s salvation is taken by God.  “There is a ‘divine initiative’ not only in regeneration, but long before that when the dead and sleeping soul is first disturbed . . . And this divine initiative, or this first divine call, which must always begin the process that may issue in salvation, is the Word of God.”  So Scripture is at the forefront of Edward’s evangelistic scheme.  Further, one must recognize that the invitation of God is universal and genuine (Matt. 11:28; 22:14).  Men are therefore responsible to respond to the gospel call.  He clearly distinguishes himself from the dreaded hyper-Calvinist.

Next, Gerstner seeks to justify the so-called “scare theology” of Jonathan Edwards.  Indeed this Puritanical genius sought to paint vivid pictures of hell that would prompt sinful men to seek the Savior.  One well-known line, “It would be just and righteous with God eternally to reject and destroy you” surely got the attention of the eighteenth century audience.  However, an additional point must be clarified.  Edwards never sought to merely scare people into heaven.  Rather, he taught that one must have a deep affection for Christ.  Gerstner rightly portrays the teaching of Edwards: “True faith in Christ is not a mere desperate or nominal acceptance of him, as a ticket out of hell, but a genuine affectionate trust in him for the very loveliness and excellency of his being.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is Jonathan Edwards view on seeking, which Gerstner calls the “keystone” of Edwards.  The New England preacher’s view on seeking was much different than the so-called seeker sensitive approach.  The modern-day approach wrongly assumes that men truly seek God.  Jonathan Edwards view is as follows: “When men have been convicted by the Spirit of God, and are not hardened, nor neutral, nor holding back at one point or another, they are true seekers.  They are those who are determined to find the God who has stirred them up to seek him.”  For Edwards, men are able to seek though they are not able to believe apart from grace.  “The Calvinistic doctrine of inability refers not to men’s inability to seek, but their inability to believe and/or to do any good.”  It is interesting to note that directions for seeking salvation are found in almost every sermon Edwards ever preached.

Gerstner discusses further elements of Jonathan Edwards such as preaching the gospel to children, back-sliding and assurance of salvation, all subjects that are beyond the scope of this review.

Many positive features permeate this helpful book.  First, it is helpful to see the biblical Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards set in motion.  Too many wrongly assume that Calvinism is all about abstract theology that results in an apathetic attitude toward the lost (Indeed some Calvinists wrongly carry this attitude, which clearly needs adjusting!)  However, these critics do not really grasp the doctrines of grace for as Edwards teaches us in this work, a thorough grasp of these precious doctrines results in a love for the lost and a passion to preach Christ crucified.  Second and equally helpful is Edwards view on soteriology that views God as the ultimate initiator of salvation.  He alone draws the sinner to himself (John 6:44).  However as Edwards points out, man is still a responsible agent and is responsible to believe.  Further, Edwards discusses the fact that regeneration precedes faith.  This truth, in dispute among many evangelicals needs to be rediscovered as we contemplate the evangelistic endeavor.  Finally, this work gives modern-day evangelists a framework and a biblical system to carry out the evangelistic task.  It is a breath of fresh air in a culture that is immersed with Pelagian thought.

This book is a helpful addition to anyone who strives to evangelize lost people and understand the mind of America’s greatest theologian.  It will certainly strengthen Calvinistic pastors  and challenge pastors who fall in the Arminian camp.  The biggest way this book will help me in the ministry can be state in one word: passion. The unbridled passion of Jonathan Edwards can be felt in almost every sentence he writes.  He stirs my heart for evangelism and motivates me to obey the command of Christ.

4.5 stars


THE TEN COMMANDMENTS – Thomas Watson (1692)

Jonathan Edwards has always been and will always be my favorite Puritan pastor and theologian.  But Thomas Watson comes in as a close second.  Though he did not pump out the material that Edwards produced, his work is always readable, inspiring, poetic, biblical and God-centered to the core. The Ten Commandments is no exception.  Thomas Watson’s prose is typically Puritan in style.  He masterfully mines a given passage and thoughtfully applies God’s truth to the reader.

After a lengthy introduction, the author digs deeply into the ten commandments.  Each commandment is served up, much like a five course meal.  Each exposition is filled with insight and pithy commentary.  For instance, Watson contrasts the first and second commandments: “In the first commandment worshipping a false god is forbidden; in this (namely, the second commandment), worshipping the true God in a false manner.”  “God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye.”  Watson draws the reader toward true worship and warns of false, idolatrous worship:  “Take heed of all occasions of idolatry, for idolatry is devil-worship.”

Clearly, Thomas Watson was a student of John Calvin and was well aware of his famous dictum: “The heart is an idol-factory.”  No doubt Watson was grieved by the rampant idolatry that was being churned out of the Roman Catholic Church.  But he was also grieved with his own propensity toward idolatry.  So he writes with zeal.  He writes with passion.  And he spurs readers toward the glory of God and prompts them to worship him alone!

Watson, though writing to a 17th century audience, speaks directly to the heart of America as he unfolds the meaning behind the third commandment: “[God] is not to be spoken of but with a holy awe upon our hearts.  To bring his name in at every turn, when we are not thinking of him, to say, ‘O God!’ or ‘O Christ!’ is to take God’s name in vain.  How many are guilty here … It is a wonder that fire does not come out from the Lord to consume them, as it did Nadab and Abihu.”

Watson clearly articulates the utter inability for sinful men to  keep the moral law.  Indeed, “though man has lost his power of obeying, God has not lost his right in commanding.”  Watson indirectly confronts the heretic, Pelagius who believed that all men have the ability to carry out God’s commands.  His view concerning freewill is clear: “The will is not only full of weakness, but obstinacy …The will hangs forth a flag of defiance against God.”

The author is quick to point sinners to the cross of Christ: “Though a Christian cannot, in his own person, perform all God’s commandments; yet Christ, as his Surety, and in his stead, has fulfilled the law for him: and God accepts of Christ’s obedience, which is perfect, to satisfy for that obedience which is imperfect.”  Here is where Watson shines brightly.  He constantly emphasizes the lost condition and utter hopelessness of sinners apart from grace.  And he consistently stresses the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on behalf of God’s elect.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 stars