Those Contrary

Turn us again, O LORD God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?
~ Psalm 80:19, Psalm 85:6

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
~ Isaiah 57:15

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.
~ John 6:29

Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.
~ 1 Peter 2:12, Titus 2:8

Showing, In Many Instances, Wherein the Subjects, or Zealous Promoters, of This Work Have Been Injuriously Blamed, by Jonathan Edwards. This is an excerpt from his work, “Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, Way in Which It Ought to be Acknowledged and Promoted. Humbly Offered to the Public, In a Treatise On That Subject”. Section IV. Part III. Northampton, 1736.

This work, which has lately been carried on in the land, is the work of God, and not the work of man. Its beginning has not been of man’s power or device, and its being carried on depends no on our strength or wisdom; but yet God expects of all, that they should use their utmost endeavours to promote it, and that the hearts of all should be greatly engaged in this affair. We should improve our utmost strength in it, however vain human strength is without the power of god; and so he no less requires that we should improve our utmost care, wisdom, and prudence, though human wisdom, of itself, be as vain as human strength. Though God is wont to carry on such a work, in such a manner as many ways to show the weakness and vanity of means and human endeavours in themselves; yet, at the same time, he carries it on in such a manner as to encourage diligence and vigilance in the use of proper means and endeavours, and to punish the neglect of them. Therefore, in our endeavours to promote this great work, we ought to use the utmost caution, vigilance, and skill, in the measures we take in order to it. A great affair should be managed with great prudence. This is the most important affair that ever New England was called to be concerned in. When a people are engaged in war with a powerful and crafty nation, it concerns them to manage an affair of such consequence with the utmost discretion. Of what vast importance then must it be, that we should be vigilant and prudent in the management of this great war with so great a host of subtle and cruel enemies. We must either conquer or be conquered; and the consequence of the victory, on one side, will be our eternal destruction in both soul and body in hell, and on the other side, our obtaining the kingdom of heaven, and reigning in it in eternal glory! We had need always to stand on our watch, and to be well versed in the art of war, and not be ignorant of the devices of our enemies, and to take heed lest by any means we be beguiled through their subtlety.

Though the devil be strong, yet, in such a war as this, he depends more on his craft than his strength. The course he has chiefly taken, from time to time, to clog, hinder, and overthrow revivals of religion in the church of God, has been by his subtle, deceitful management, to beguile and mislead those that have been engaged therein; and in such a course God has been pleased, in his holy and sovereign providence, to suffer him to succeed, oftentimes, in a great measure, to overthrow that which in its beginning appeared most hopeful and glorious. The work now begun, as I have shown, is eminently glorious, and, if it should go on and prevail, it would make New England a kind of heaven upon earth. Is it not therefore a thousand pities that it should be overthrown, through wrong and improper management, which we are led into by our subtle adversary, in our endeavours to promote it?—My present design is to take notice of some things at which offence has been taken beyond just bounds.

I. One thing that has been complained of is, ministers addressing themselves rather to the affections of their hearers than to their understandings, and striving to raise their passions to the utmost height, rather by a very affectionate manner of speaking, and a great appearance of earnestness in voice and gesture, than by clear reasoning, and informing their judgment: by which means it is objected that the affections are moved, without a proportionable enlightening of the understanding.

To which I would say, I am far from thinking that it is not very profitable for ministers, in their preaching, to endeavour clearly and distinctly to explain the doctrines of religion, and unravel the difficulties that attend them, and to confirm them with strength of reason and argumentation, and also to observe some easy and clear method in their discourses, for the help of the understanding and memory; and it is very probable that these things have been of late too much neglected by many ministers. Yet I believe that the objection made, of affections raised without enlightening the understanding, is in a great measure built on a mistake, and confused notions that some have about the nature and cause of the affections, and the manner in which they depend on the understanding. All affections are raised either by light in the understanding, or by some error and delusion in the understanding: for all affections do certainly arise from some apprehension in the understanding; and that apprehension must either be agreeable to truth, or else be some mistake or delusion; if it be an apprehension or notion that is agreeable to truth, then it is light in the understanding. Therefore the thing to be inquired into is, whether the apprehensions or notions of divine and eternal things, that are raised in people’s minds by these affectionate preachers, whence their affections are excited, be apprehensions agreeable to truth, or whether they are mistakes. If the former, then the affections are raised the way they should be, viz. by informing the mind, or conveying light to the understanding. They go away with a wrong notion, who think that those preachers cannot affect their hearers by enlightening their understandings, except by such a distinct and learned handling of the doctrinal points of religion, as depends on human discipline, or the strength of natural reason, and tends to enlarge their hearers’ learning, and speculative knowledge in divinity. The manner of preaching without this, may be such as shall tend very much to set divine and eternal things in a right view, and to give the hearers such ideas and apprehensions of them as are agreeable to truth, and such impressions on their hearts as are answerable to the real nature of things. And beside the words that are spoken, the manner of speaking has a great tendency to this. I think an exceeding affectionate way of preaching about the great things of religion, has in itself no tendency to beget false apprehensions of them; but on the contrary, a much greater tendency to beget true apprehensions of them, than a moderate, dull, indifferent way of speaking of them. An appearance of affection and earnestness in the manner of delivery, though very great indeed, if it be agreeable to the nature of the subject—and be not beyond a proportion to its importance, and worthiness of affection, and if there be no appearance of its being feigned or forced—has so much the greater tendency to beget true ideas or apprehensions in the minds of the hearers concerning the subject spoken of, and so to enlighten the understanding: and that for this reason, That such a way or manner of speaking of these things does, in fact, more truly represent them, than a more cold and indifferent way of speaking of them. If the subject be in its own nature worthy of very great affection, then speaking of it with very great affection is most agreeable to the nature of that subject, or is the truest representation of it, and therefore has most of a tendency to beget true ideas o fit in the minds of those to whom the representation is made. And I do not think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond a proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of the subject. I know it has long been fashionable to despise a very earnest and pathetical way of preaching; and they only have been valued as preachers, who have shown the greatest extent of learning, strength of reason, and correctness of method and language. But I humbly conceive it has been for want of understanding or duly considering human nature, that such preaching has been thought to have the greatest tendency to answer the ends of preaching; and the experience of the present and past ages abundantly confirms the same. Though, as I said before, clearness of distinction and illustration, and strength of reason, and a good method, in the doctrinal handling of the truths of religion, is many ways needful and profitable, and not to be neglected; yet an increase in speculative knowledge in divinity is not what is so much needed by our people as something else. Men may abound in this sort of light, and have no heat. How much has there been of this sort of knowledge, in the Christian world, in this age! Was there ever an age, wherein strength and penetration of reason, extent of learning, exactness of distinction, correctness of style, and clearness of expression, did so abound? And yet, was there ever an age, wherein there has been so little sense of the evil of sin, so little love to God, heavenly-mindedness, and holiness of life, among the professors of the true religion? Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in the greatest need of that sort of preaching, which has the greatest tendency to do this.

Those texts, Isa. lviii. 1. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up they voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” And, Ezek. vi. 11. “Thus saith the Lord God, Smite with thine hand, and stamp with thy foot, and say, Alas, for all the evil abominations of the house of Israel!” I say, these texts (however the use that some have made of them has been laughed at) will fully justify a great degree of pathos, and manifestation of zeal and fervency in preaching the word of God. They may indeed be abused, so as to countenance that which would be odd and unnatural amongst us, not making due allowance for difference of manners and customs in different ages and nations; but, let us interpret them how we will, they at least imply, that a most affectionate and earnest manner of delivery, in many cases, becomes a preacher of God’s word.

Preaching of the word of God is commonly spoken of in Scripture, in such expressions as seem to import a loud and earnest speaking; as in Isa. xl. 2. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her iniquity is pardoned.” And ver. 3. “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord,”— ver. 6. “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.” Jer. ii. 2. “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, ” &c. Jonah i. 2. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it.” Isa. lxi. 1,2. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek—to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isa. lxii. 11. “Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh,” &c. Rom. x. 18. “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Jer. xi. 6. “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them.” So, chap. xix. 2. and vii. 2. “Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?” ver. 3, 4. “She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.” and chap. i. 20. “Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets.” chap. ix. 3. “She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the high places of the city.” John vii. 37. “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.”

It seems to be foretold that the gospel should be especially preached in a loud and earnest manner, at the introduction of the prosperous state of religion in the latter days. Isa. xl. 9. “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain! O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength! Lift it up, and be not afraid! Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” Isa. lii. 7, 8. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings!—Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice.” Isa. xxvii. 13. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish.”—And this will be one way by which the church of God will cry at that time like a travailing woman, when Christ mystical is going to be brought forth; as Rev. xii. At the beginning, It will be by ministers, as her mouth, that Christ will then cry like a travailing woman, as in Isa. xlii. 14. “I have long time holden my peace, I have been still and refrained myself: now will I cry like a travailing woman.” Christ cries by his ministers, and the church cries by her officers. And it is to be noted, that the word commonly used in the New Testament which we translate preach, properly signifies to proclaim aloud like a crier.

II. Another thing that some ministers have been greatly blamed for, and I think unjustly, is speaking terror to them who are already under great terrors, instead of comforting them. Indeed, if ministers in such a case go about to terrify persons with that which is not true, or to affright them by representing their case worse than it is, or in any respect otherwise than it is, they are to be condemned; but if they terrify them only by still holding forth more light to them, and giving them to understand more of the truth of their case, they are altogether to be justified. When consciences are greatly awakened by the Spirit of God, it is but light imparted, enabling men to see their case, in some measure, as it is; and, if more light be let in, it will terrify them still more. But ministers are not therefore to be blamed, that they endeavour to hold forth more light to the conscience, and do not rather alleviate the pain they are under, by intercepting and obstructing the light that shines already. To say any thing to those who have never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, to represent their case any otherwise than exceeding terrible, is not to preach the word of God to them; for the word of God reveals nothing but truth; but this is to delude them. Why should we be afraid to let persons, who are in an infinitely miserable condition, know the truth, or bring them into the light, for fear it should terrify them? It is light that must convert them, if ever they are converted. The more we bring sinners into the light, while they are miserable, and the light is terrible to them, the more likely it is that afterward the light will be joyful to them. The ease, peace, and comfort, which natural men enjoy, have their foundation in darkness and blindness; therefore as that darkness vanishes, and light comes in, their peace vanishes, and they are terrified. But that is no good argument why we should endeavour to hold their darkness, that we may uphold their comfort. The truth is, that as long as men reject Christ, and do not savingly believe in him, however they may be awakened, and however strict, and conscientious, and laborious they may be in religion, they have the wrath of God abiding on them, they are his enemies, and the children of the devil; (as the Scripture calls all who are not savingly converted, Matt. xiii. 38. 1 John iii. 10.) and it is uncertain whether they shall ever obtain mercy. God is under no obligation to show them mercy, nor will he, if they fast and pray and cry never so much: and they are then especially provoking to God, under those terrors, that they stand it out against Christ, and will not accept of an offered Saviour, though they see so much need of him. And seeing this is the truth, they should be told so, that they may be sensible what their case indeed is.

To blame a minister for thus declaring the truth to those who are under awakenings, and not immediately administering comfort to them, is like blaming a surgeon, because when he has begun to thrust his lance, whereby he has already put his patient to great pain, and he shrinks and cries out with anguish, he is so cruel that he will not stay his hand, but goes on to thrust it in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand, and go about immediately to apply a plaster, to skin over the wound, and leave the core untouched, would heal the hurt slightly, crying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.

Indeed something besides terror is to be preached to them whose consciences are awakened. They are to be told that there is a Saviour provided, who is excellent and glorious; who has shed his precious blood for sinners, and is every way sufficient to save them; who stands ready to receive them, if they will heartily embrace him; for this is also the truth, as well as that they now are in an infinitely dreadful condition. This is the word of God. Sinners, at the same time that they are told how miserable their case is, should be earnestly invited to come and accept of a Saviour, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments, that the gospel affords. But this is to induce them to escape from the misery of their condition, not to make them think their present condition to be less miserable than it is, or to abate their uneasiness and distress, while they are in it. That would be the way to quiet the, and fasten them there, and not to excite them to flee from it. Comfort in one sense, is to be held forth to sinners under awakenings of conscience, i.e. comfort is to be offered to them in Christ, on their fleeing from their present miserable state to him. But comfort is not to be administered to them, in their present state, or while out of Christ. No comfort is to be administered to them, from any thing in them, any of their qualifications, prayers, or other performances, past, present, or future; but ministers should in such cases, strive to their utmost to take all such comforts from them, though it greatly increases their terror. A person who sees himself ready to sink into hell, is prone to strive, some way or other, to lay God under some obligation to him; but he is to be beat off from every thing of that nature, though it greatly increases his terror, to see himself wholly destitute of any refuge, or any thing of his own to lay hold of; as a man that sees himself in danger of drowning, is in terror, and endeavours to catch hold on every twig within his reach, and he that pulls away those twigs from him increases his terror; yet if they are insufficient to save him, and by being in his way prevents his looking to that which will save him, to pull away them is necessary to save his life.

If sinners are in distress from any error they embrace, or mistake they are under, that is to be removed. For instance, if they are in terror, from an apprehension that they have committed the unpardonable sin, or that those things have happened to them which are certain signs of reprobation, or any other delusion, such terrors have no tendency to do them any good; for these terrors are from temptation, and not from conviction. But that terror which arises from conviction, or a sight of truth, is to be increased; for those who are most awakened, have great remaining stupidity. It is from remaining blindness and darkness that they see no more, and that remaining blindness is a disease which we should endeavour to remove. I am not afraid to tell sinners who are most sensible of their misery, that their case is indeed as miserable as they think it to be, and a thousand times more so; for this is the truth. Some may be ready to say, that though it be the truth, yet the truth is not to be spoken at all times, and seems not to be seasonable then. But it seems to me, such truth is never more seasonable than at such at time, when Christ is beginning to open the eyes of conscience. Ministers ought to act as co-workers with him; to take that opportunity, and to the utmost to improve that advantage, and strike while the iron is hot. When the light has begun to shine, then they should remove all obstacles, and use all proper means, that it may come in more fully. And experience abundantly shows, that to take this course is not of a hurtful tendency, but very much the contrary. I have seen, in very many instances, the happy effects of it, and oftentimes a very speedy happy issue; and never knew any ill consequence, in case of real conviction, and when distress has been only from thence.

I know of but one case, wherein the truth ought to be withheld from sinners in distress of conscience, and that is the case of melancholy: and it is not to be withheld from them, as if the truth tends to do them hurt; but because, if we speak the truth to them, sometimes they will be deceived, and led into error by it, thought that strange disposition there is in them to take things wrong. So that, though what is spoken is truth, yet as it is heard, received, and applied by them, it is falsehood; as it will be, unless the truth be spoken with abundance of caution and prudence, and consideration of their disposition and circumstances. But the most awful truths of God’s word ought not to be withheld from public congregations, because it may happen that some such melancholic persons may be in it: any more than the Bible is to be withheld from the Christian world, because it is manifest that there are a great many melancholic persons in Christendom that exceedingly abuse the awful things contained in the Scripture, to their own wounding. Nor do I think that to be of weight, which is made use of by some, as a great and dreadful objection against the terrifying preaching that has of late been in New England, viz. That there have been some instances of melancholic persons who have so abused it, that the issue has been the murder of themselves. The objection from hence is no stronger against awakening preaching, than it is against the Bible itself. There are hundreds, and probably thousands, of instances, of persons who have murdered themselves under religious melancholy. These murders probably never would have been, if the world had remained in a state of heathenish darkness. The Bible has not only been the occasion of these sad effects, but of thousands, and I suppose millions, of other cruel murders committed in the persecutions that have been raised, which never would have been if it had not been for the Bible. Many whole countries have been as it were deluged with innocent blood, which would not have been if the gospel never had been preached in the world. It is not a good objection against any kind of preaching that some men abuse it greatly to their hurt. It has been acknowledged by all divines, as a thing common in all ages, and all Christian countries, that a very great part of those who sit under the gospel abuse it. It proves an occasion of their far more aggravated damnation, and so of eternally murdering their souls; which is an effect infinitely more terrible than the murder of their bodies. It is as unjust to lay the blame of these self-murders to those ministers who have declared the awful truths of God’s word in the most lively and affecting manner, as it would be to lay the blame of hardening men’s hearts, and blinding their eyes, and their more dreadful eternal damnation, to the prophet Isaiah or Jesus Christ, because this was the consequence of their preaching with respect to many of their hearers; Isa. vi. 10. John ix. 39. Matt. xiii. 14. Though a few have abused the awakening preaching to their own temporal death; yet it may be to one such instance, there have been hundreds, yea thousands, who have been saved, by this means, from eternal death.

What has more especially given offence to many, and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their conduct were intolerable, is their frightening poor innocent children with talk of hell-fire, and eternal damnation. But if those who complain so loudly of this, really believe what is the general profession of the country, viz. That all are by nature the children of wrath, and heirs of hell—and that every one that has not been born again, whether he be young or old, is exposed every moment to eternal destruction—then such a complaint and cry as this betrays a great deal of weakness and inconsideration. Innocent as children seem to us, yet, if they are out of Christ, they are not so in the sight of God; but are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown up persons: and they are naturally ver senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass’s colt, and need much to awaken them. Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children who have been dealt tenderly with in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery till they come to feel it in hell, ever thank parents and others or their tenderness, in not letting them know their danger? If parents’ love towards their children were not blind, it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings, and yet senseless, than to see them suffer the distress of that awakening which is necessary in order to their escape, and that tends to their being eternally happy as the children of God. A child that has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance, as well as grown persons; and that would be a foolish pity, in such a case, that should hold back the lance, and throw away the life—I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls, without sparing them at all, in many instances; and never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance.