I’d been reading this for a while in between dipping into other books but I have now finished it. It is absolutely brilliant! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And I do recommend reading it, not just for the plot itself but to understand the times. I’m not sure who said it but before reading anything from the past you should chant to yourself this phrase: ‘The past is another country, they do things differently there.’ Or do they?
To the book. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot by (Lady) Antonia Fraser. I have it in paperback. I bought it used via Amazon. The print is small and dense. There are two sections of pictures – that are great. There’s a detailed index, endnotes (I do not like endnotes), and a list of Reference Books (quite a few). There are also helpful footnotes (thumbs up) throughout the chapters. To be fair, the endnotes are mostly references with only the occasional note, and I scanned through them first so I didn’t need to refer to them while reading. The book is very detailed. She gives a great overview of the earlier reigns to set the scene for the arrival of James 1. In setting the scene though she doesn’t tell us about the St Bartholomew’s day massacre (1572) and I don’t remember any mention of the people Queen Mary (Bloody Mary, Queen in 1552) burnt at the stake. Fifty years or so isn’t that long, so it isn’t surprising sympathy for Catholics from some quarters is lacking.
Antonia Fraser wrote the book in 1996. This is significant. She wrote the book before 9/11 but I’m reading it post 9/11. Reading the book with that in mind the parallels are quite incredible. The author is obviously unaware when of writing and this makes it very interesting to read. I should mention the author is a Catholic. I’ve no idea how committed she is to her faith, but the bias I think is there. I knew this before reading so I wasn’t put off by this at all. She is a brilliant writer. And I think for the most part gives a fair account.
Robert Catesby and his band of terrorists wanted to blow up a mostly Protestant Parliament. That included the King and Queen and their children. Had they pulled it off this would have been a catastrophe for the country. There were to be Catholic Lords in ‘The House’ at the time, friends of his, but this was no deterrent to him. But it would have been uncharted territory and from that perspective, we are left with a lot of ‘what if’s.’ He was a fanatic. Not just any fanatic. He was a Catholic fanatic. He didn’t bring the Houses of Parliament down but he did bring down the wrath of the government and the ire of the King upon the Catholics in the country. The Toleration that Catholics wanted probably would have happened in time. As it eventually did in fact. But their cause had a huge setback.
What did the Government know? In the last chapter, she goes through a few views ranging from a Government plot instigated by Salisbury to complete ignorance. For me, Salisbury knew a lot, but it wasn’t a Government plot. They did need to catch them in the act. And so they caught Guido Fawkes preparing to set the thing off. It seems the powder had separated and might have been useless anyway but who knows.
Some of the questions the book raises are; The Power of The State, Freedom of Religion, Torture, Capital Punishment, and Fanaticism. All the conspirators that were caught were put to death in a horrible way. Father Garnet, the Jesuit leader in England was also put to death but mercifully died at the hanging stage. But here’s the thing about Father Garnet, he did know about the plot. He hid behind the confessional and kept quiet. But he definitely knew beforehand. Here’s something else to think about, should a Priest (or counselor) upon finding out about a crime, or possible crime report it to the authorities? She (the author) dwells upon the Catholic doctrine of Equivocation. (There’s a similar Islamic doctrine – do you get the parallels?) So initially when Father Garnet was being questioned he continued to equivocate. That is, he made it seem he knew nothing. When it finally comes out that he knew, the council rightly ask ‘why did you leave it till now to tell us?’ A fair question. We don’t know if he was tortured. Was Father Garnet, a Jesuit, the instigator of the plot. It was convenient to lay it all at the Jesuit door, but we don’t know. Robert Catesby was (conveniently some say) killed at Holbeach House and so was never questioned.
In the first three pages of the ‘Author’s Note,’ she provides a framework for the book, her aims and some questions she would like to see answered. Assuming the episode is a tragedy (it is) ‘Who was it a tragedy for?’ she asks. Other themes she cites are ‘Terror’ and ‘Terrorism’ thinking primarily of Northern Ireland and the Palestine / Israel conflict with no idea, as I said before, of what was to come. And by terror, she includes the terror of The State. She’s also keen to give a prominent place to women and so, for example, we read a lot about Ann Vaux.
Assuming then, a plot at all, she is ‘… concerned to convey actuality: that is to say, a sense of what an extraordinarily dramatic story it was, with all its elements of tragedy, brutality, [and] heroism …’ You may not, of course, agree with her answers, but whatever point of view you take on The Plot it’s still a brilliant book and a great read – I thought so anyway.
It’s quite a story and full of intrigue. I’m familiar with some of the places which made it more exciting to read. I was in Dunchurch and Ashby St Ledgers last November so I’ll try to post a few pictures.
Now I have visited Ireland (RoI and NI) I wanted to read about Patrick (Circa 390-Circa 460 AD). So I decided to read Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact by Michael A. G. Haykin. For such a small book there is an awful lot packed into it yet avoids being a dense read. Probably too short at 102 pages (total) for an index but each of the chapters has easy to follow headings. There are quite extensive footnotes throughout each chapter, mainly references to other works with the occasional helpful comment. The text is small but not difficult to read. There are a few pages at the end of the book with recommended further reading with helpful summaries of each work should you wish to research further into the life and times of Patrick.
The book is easy to read and not overly concerned about the historical difficulties: although at first, I thought it might overshadow Patrick Himself. However, Dr Haykin doesn’t shy away from the problems so the book isn’t a hagiography. The two primary sources are his ‘Confession’ and ‘Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus.’
The explanatory boxes throughout the book, I thought, are a nice touch and help the context. For example: ‘The fall of the Roman Empire’, ‘On The Teaching of Arius’ and ‘Celtic Paganism.’ Not all the pages are so full of page notes (see example below) but if notes are not your thing you can easily read through without referencing them. Unfortunately, I like to read them so it can break the flow a bit. Very helpful if I wanted to look into the life of Patrick in more detail. His Confession and Letter are referenced throughout.
After being captured by a party of Irish raiders Patrick is taken to Ireland. Patrick interprets this as a judgment for ignoring the Word of God. After coming to know Christ he escapes back to Britain and some 20 years later (after theological training) returns full of missionary zeal to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the very same people who kidnapped him!
There are quotes from his Confession and Letter throughout – all referenced. Embedded in the test the words of Patrick really brings the man alive. There were huge controversies in Patrick’s day, not the least of these was the Trinity. What comes over very clearly is a man committed theologically to The Triune God, The Gospel of Christ and a fearless missionary burden to bring the Gospel to the unreached no matter what the cost to himself. Patrick’s life challenges us in these areas: Theological commitment, Love for Christ and the Gospel and Missionary Zeal.
After a brief chronology and preface there are five chapters:
‘I Am Patrick’: The Life and Historical Context of Patrick.
‘One God in the Trinity of the Holy Name’: The divine foundation of Patrick’s theology
‘I am bound by the Spirit’: Patrick and his Irish Mission
‘God has spoken’: Word and Spirit in Patrick’s piety
An Evangelical reflects on Patrick – Very brief
This a great introduction to Patrick. It gives a flavour of the man and his time. I enjoyed it very much and thoroughly recommend it. I bought it for a £1.00 with another book plus postage on 10 of Those (still £1). It normally sells for £7.99. Buy it anyway, you won’t be disappointed.
My second (of three now) book on the Gunpowder Plot has the catchy title of A History of the Gunpowder Plot by Philip Sydney. If I have it right this was published in 1905 – 300 years after the plot – by Protestants Today. I bought it for £5.95. There are few illustrations and no sub-headings to speak of and so the reader is confronted with page after page of dense text. Mercifully the text type is easily readable and most of the chapters are short. Every chapter has quite a few endnotes which need to be read. There is no index and no bibliography. Not a particularly inviting book – so probably a book of its time. Very plain.
Perhaps mistakenly, I read a few reviews on Amazon that said it was dry and difficult reading. One ‘reviewer’ didn’t finish it. If I’d taken any notice of their reviews it would have stayed on a shelf in the Christian Bookshop. I obviously took no notice of them and bought it anyway. But given my comments above and the reviews I can see what they mean.
But, I really enjoyed it. I think I must be weird! The book has no Evangelistic emphasis (as the previous book) and has no real context other than a few meager references as you move through the book. What I’m enjoying though is all the detail – another thing the ‘reviewers’ didn’t like. There are a lot of quotes from the original case and a number of letters are included.
Sydney is quite upfront about his own belief that ‘it was a put up job.’ The Government (that is, Robert Cecil – Secretary of State) it seems had all the main players on a ‘watch list’. It’s extraordinary the plotters thought they could get away with it, and even when the game was up they still thought they could stage an uprising in the Midlands. There are a few references to Dunchurch, Rugby (where I grew up), and several other places I know well. Dunchurch is built around a crossroads with a couple of historic Coaching Inns and a house (then The Red Lion Inn) that apparently was where some of the plotters met. I knew a guy some years ago that lived there and have been in the house. Sadly, at the time I had no interest in any of this – a shame that. Next time I’m in Dunchurch I’ll get a few pictures.
The propaganda value of gruesome public executions seems quite obvious – especially if the authorities knew all the time. Some things don’t change. Although, the plot itself, had they actually pulled it off, would have changed the country. It was of epic proportions. But it failed. Thank God.
The historic controversies (so I have learned) concern when the authorities (Cecil) knew of The Plot, the delivery of a mysterious letter to Lord Monteagle (or Mounteagle) warning him to stay away from Parliament on November 5th and whether the Jesuit hierarchy also knew of The Plot. Sydney deals with these and drops in his disagreement with other views as he goes along. The book seems quite thorough and as far as I can tell he argues his case.
The whole thing is an incredible story. I suppose there is always going to be room for conjecture on some of the issues but Sydney quotes from primary sources – letters, trial transcripts and secret transcripts between prisoners in The Tower (that is, The Tower of London). I need another visit to the Tower myself now after reading about The Plot.
Do I recommend the book? If you get hooked on the subject, then yes. If you are a history buff, yes. Otherwise, I think you’ll survive without reading it. But:
‘Please to remember
The Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot;
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.’ (On the inside page)
The whole episode raises enormous questions, especially about propaganda, freedom of religion, security and torture as a means to elicit information. And so in that sense reading of The Plot is ever relevant as we face those very same questions in our own day.
So I have another book to read on The Plot that will be a bit more demanding. I’ll do a post in due time.
‘What do Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity? Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey helps uncover the answers. Every two years, we take the theological temperature of the United States to help Christians better understand today’s culture and equip the church with better insights for discipleship. Read some of our key findings from 2018 below and explore the data for yourself.’
Thanks for the information and the invitation to explore the data. There are some worrying results. The two that immediately stands out is the question on the Trinity and the follow-up question on who Christ is. These are for Evangelicals – so called.
The question on the Trinity is stated thus: ‘There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’ The response is overwhelmingly orthodox with 94% agreeing Strongly. Excellent you might think. But the next survey question is this: ‘Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.’ The response is quite startling. 73% Strongly agree! The survey of 2016 was 64% Strongly agree. But the total agreement with that Heretical Statement finds this:
2018: 78% agree vs. 18% disagree. 2016: 71% agree vs. 23% disagree.
It’s figures like that that give strength to Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Muslims. I’m sure these groups will find the survey quite encouraging.
It’s just extraordinary that on the one hand there’s such a high percentage agreeing with a Trinitarian statement and the contradictory finding on the person of Christ. It’s actually worse this year!! What would a survey here (UK) reveal? Honestly, I dread to think!
I tried to sit and think about it for a while as I’m sure many reading the results will have done. And with a great deal of soul-searching and dismay, I shouldn’t wonder. What is going on?
Churches that I have been a member of teach unreservedly that The Lord Jesus Christ is exactly that, LORD. That is, Jesus is God. He is the second person of The Trinity and is co-equal with God The Holy Spirit and God the Father. Read The Athanasian Creed for a fuller statement. I’m thankful for these Churches.
And yet, to my knowledge, these doctrines have never been taught in a systematic way. There is so much high-quality material available that we really have no excuse at all. Much of it coming from America – the same America of these results! History plays a major role in this. Why do I say that? The battle over the person of Christ was hammered out centuries ago. Yet the writing of those men is not only relevant to today but vital. Dr Nick Needham has edited a wonderful book of Daily Readings from The Church Fathers. The persons of the Trinity take centre stage. And rightly so. I have heard it said that what the Church needs is an understanding of the humanity of Christ. And I understand that. But it cannot be to the detriment of His Deity.
It occurred to me that there is a mighty gulf between being regularly and even passionately told these truths from the pulpit, and being systematically taught these same truths – not necessarily from the pulpit. Do Ministers and Pastors, and Elders know what their people are reading? I’m not advocating an Evangelical version of the Thought Police but the Ligonier Survey is shouting out that ‘Something is not working.’
You are in a Church where good teaching takes place. Thank God for it. Friends, especially those brought up in even a good Church, have had to ask themselves if they believe what they believe because that’s what they are told or because that’s what they believe for themselves. Believing these fundamental truths needs the operation of The Holy Spirit. There’s no denying this. But on the other hand, to believe them for oneself needs the opportunity to engage with those truths. What better way to engage than through Church History or The Reformed Confessions. Well, I would say that wouldn’t I. Yes, it’s a hobby-horse that I ride occasionally but the results, I think, of this survey, justify a good gallop!
I’ll leave it to others to analyse the data but it isn’t good.
The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? by F. F. Bruce. IVP. 6th Edition, 2009.
It’s taken me till now to read this book. And what an excellent book it is. I was very encouraged by reading it. It does have a downside. So let’s get that out of the way first.
The latest reference to any work is 1990. To me, because I’m older, that sounds quite recent – modern even. But when I think it through, that’s 28 years ago! Many of the reference works are much older, even though the research may still stand up. It’s an obvious point of criticism. I’m sure there are more recent books that build on and enhance the work in this book. A more recent book to recommend is Michael Kruger’s ‘Canon Revisited‘ Nov 2013.
Given that, it’s a great read. It’s very helpful. It isn’t long. Just 141 pages. It has page footnotes which I like, a scripture index, suggested further reading for each chapter, and an index which I also like. If you’ve never read anything on this subject before, this is a great place to start.
In the opening paragraph to his preface (p.7) Bruce writes:
‘Reliable as what?’ asked a discerning reviewer of the first edition of this little work, by way of a comment on the title. His point, I think, was that we should be concerned with the reliability of the New Testament as a witness to God’s self-revelation in Christ rather than with its reliability as a record of historical fact. True; but the two questions are closely related. For, since Christianity claims to be a historical revelation, it is not irrelevant (or irreverent, my comment) to look at its foundation documents from the standpoint of historical criticism’.
He doesn’t shy away from the problems but shows how in terms of their historicity the New Testament documents fair very well. In fact, they fair much better than other ancient texts (ch 2, pp 21-23). He mentions the Chester Beatty (Library) Biblical Papyri. I was able to see some of these on a recent trip to Dublin. I’m not quite sure which ones are referred to in the book but see one of the pictures below I took of the manuscripts.
He takes some time looking at the miracles (ch 5) but points clearly to the resurrection of The Lord Jesus Christ.
‘This response of faith does not absolve us from the duty of understanding the special significance of the several miracle-stories and considering each in the light of available knowledge, historical research and otherwise, which can be brought to bear upon it. But these are secondary duties; the primary one is to see the whole question in its proper context as revealed by the significance of the greatest miracle of all, the resurrection of Christ’ (p.82).
The chapter on Lukes Gospel (ch 7) was really excellent. Especially so when it came to the accuracy of places, names, and titles. Very encouraging. An obvious point, which I hadn’t thought about, was how there were many writings out there that Luke was able to use in order to write his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles.
Luk 1:1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, Luk 1:2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, Luk 1:3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, Luk 1:4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
The most important aspect of the book wasn’t his proof of the NT Documents historicity, which he does admirably, but his confession that it takes a work of the Holy Spirit to make a person alive to Christ. In the final analysis, even if they are accepted as completely reliable, which they are, it’s only the Holy Spirit that can grant repentance and give life. The question Christ asks of us all is ‘Who do you say that I am?’.
Mat 16:13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Mat 16:14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Mat 16:15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Mat 16:16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Mat 16:17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.
I should have taken notes or made comments and underlining in the book. I didn’t. Nevertheless, I thoroughly recommend this book to any believer or unbeliever for that matter. If your church has a library, put this book in it.
Here are the Chapter Titles:
Does it matter?
The New Testament documents: their date and attestation.
Last evening we watched Logic on Fire – A documentary film about Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Just incredible! It showed very powerfully what is lacking today. If you haven’t you seen it, you need to see it! Especially if you are a preacher. It was a privilege and a blessing to watch it. I need to watch it again.
(Watch trailer below)
Almost everything that was said is antithetical to the direction of the Church today. I dread where it will be in 20 years. It always seems to be looking for something new, something relevant that will be attractive to people today. When will we understand that people are DEAD in trespasses and sins. Nothing, NOTHING but the power of God can give a sinner life. That is message that is reiterated over and over and over again in the Documentary and is what Dr Lloyd-Jones emphasised through his ministry because it is the message of the Bible itself.
We (my wife and I) came to faith on the coat-tails of that period. MLJ was still alive when I became a believer and his influence was still very powerful in the Church. In fact the Church I attended was heavily influenced by him. One of the founding members and his wife were personal friends of The Dr. I think he preached the opening sermon. The first minister of the Church (REFC) was Rev Kenneth Howard (more of him another time) and came highly recommended by Dr Lloyd-Jones. And I believe Peter Jeffery was also recommended or at least known by him – one of ‘Lloyd-Jones boys’ (will check facts for this).
There are some great contributions by many that knew him. And it was encouraging to see younger preachers being blessed and encouraged through his life and ministry.
If you have never heard him preach go to The MLJ Trust and download some of his sermons. They are timeless because The Gospel is timeless and still very powerful. I listened to one of the sermons recently and it could have been preached today even though it was preached 50 years ago.
The Belgic Confession – Article 23: About Our Justification, by Which We Stand Fast in God’s Presence.
“Certainly it is proper that if we were to stand in the presence of God, relying ever so little upon ourselves or any other creature, it is certain that we would be instantly engulfed in wrath. For this reason, it is preferable for each of us, in turn, to call out with David: “Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servant, because any living thing will not be justified in your gaze.” (Extract)
Where it says ‘ever so little’ is a quaint way – that I quite like – of saying we cannot trust in anything at all, nothing, no good works, no secret small island of our own righteousness, not our church (however good and faithful it is) or our attendance, even our praying or our Bible reading, but we stand solely on the righteousness of Christ Alone for our Justification. Trusting to any of these other things will engulf us in the Wrath of God.
I’m slowly reading through some of the historic confessions. Very profitable – I recommend it.
I can’t believe this has sat in my ‘Drafts’ box for almost a year. It’s true. So with a few edits and additions it should still make sense as this year I aim to hit the deadline!
July 8th is the anniversary of the most famous – or infamous – sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards at Enfield, Connecticut July 8, 1741 on the text ‘Their foot shall slide in due time’ Deut. 32:35 with the title; ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’.
On July 7th (2014) I was talking to a Christian work colleague about this sermon though completely unaware of the date. They had never heard of it. The very next day I discovered ‘Issues etc’ had reviewed the sermon on July 7th (2014) in ‘celebration’ of the following historic day. I related this the following day at work. Then on that Sunday evening (2014) it was mentioned again (unaware of the date I think) as part of the introduction to the ministry at our Church. So as the sermon is ‘still’ on my mind I’ll get to it..
It’s been some while since reading the sermon and because I suspect a good number of people will be completely unaware of the sermon by Edwards I mention it here. Before saying much I needed to re-read the sermon. The sermon text is formatted very well for reading or printing HERE.
You will find the sermon text appearing in anthologies in many University departments, and not just in Departments of Religion but in English & History departments and will probably find it in Psychology as well. Check out your University Library catalogue. It will mostly be an object of wonder and incredulity that such a great mind was able to produce something so utterly horrific – so would say the secular mind and sadly I suspect many Christians. The fact that Edwards was one of the greatest minds America has ever produced was a source of amazement to Perry Miller. Miller thought Edwards religion ‘a waste of an intellect’. I think this quote is in Millers’s volume on Edwards. Funny how it didn’t stop Miller spending most of his life studying him and The Puritans though!
I was surprised to find Issues etc both critiquing and criticising the sermon, especially for its lack of Gospel content. It was an eye opener for me (my naivety) regarding Lutheranism – at least that section of it. I completely disagree. Set in the context of Edwards target parishioners, the sermon and the fact that it wasn’t his regular topic should make us cautious in analysing the sermon. Back in Edwards day there was an acceptance that God hates and judges sin. I also disagree as to its Gospel content or application. It blazes out against the backdrop of God’s wrath. The context of the sermon is that in the midst of a ‘Revival’ where many sinners are turning to Christ for salvation the people in Enfield are careless about the things of God, careless for their souls and are not embracing the Saviour by responding to the Gracious invitation of The Gospel. This is stated in the very first sentence of the sermon – ‘…. God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as in verse 28) void of counsel, having no understanding in them’.
‘When Isaac Watts received the printed version of the sermon he wrote on his copy: “A most terrible sermon, which should have had a word of Gospel at the end [of] it, though I think ’tis all true”. Edwards had offered this one brief Gospel word, but if one had taken this sermon as characteristic of his preaching, it would have been dreadfully out of balance. Edwards could take it for granted, however, that a New England audience knew well that Gospel remedy. The problem was to get them to seek it.’
Also see Iain Murray’s book ‘Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography’ page 169 ff.
The sermon is mentioned on page 87 in ‘America: A Narrative History’ by George Brown Tindall & David Emory Still (1997, 4th Edition) as ‘his most famous sermon’. ‘America’ was a course textbook for A History of America course that I took while studying for a BA at Warwick University.
The sermon was preached by Edwards several times, at least twice anyway. According to Harry S. Stout it was preached at Edwards church in Northampton with little effect (The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, Hart, Lucas, Nichols, Eds. p.43). But when it was preached at Enfield ‘the effects were extraordinary’. An eye-witness account by the Reverend Stephen Williams tells that, ‘before ye sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying out throughout ye whole House. What shall I do to be saved-oh I am going to Hell-oh what shall I do for a christ etc. etc.-so that ye minister was obliged to desist. [The] shrieks and crys were piercing and Amazing. (p.43)’. It seems then, Edwards was unable to finish the sermon due to cries of the affected people crying out for mercy.
I’ll just make a few observations with appropriate quotes from the sermon. Followed by a closing application.
Before moving on however, let’s note the title. Three words that do not sit well with our modern world – Sinners, Angry & God.
Once the meaning is grasped and even if it isn’t, people do not like the idea of being called a ‘sinner’. Never have, and never will. Why do people take umbrage and think there is something special about them that entitles a free pass? It’s our pride that is offended; though there is nothing to be proud of before Almighty God. We are all in the same boat. The Bible plainly tells us ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God’. Apart from the Grace of God we are all condemned. It’s a great leveler.
Being angry these days is not an option. Anybody that is angry is in danger of receiving at the very least a bad press or even the sack. But we should be very careful and never think that God’s anger is like ours. God’s anger is always a Righteous & Holy anger. The object of His anger is anything that doesn’t conform to His Glorious character – that’s us. We are rebel sinners, shaking our fists at God – either consciously or unconsciously. And we don’t like anyone pointing that out to us. Frankly, if we had any sense and were in our right mind, this sermon should scare the pants off us and drive us to Christ in repentance and faith.
Note Edwards God (The God of The Bible) is not the modern manifestation of God – a whimsical fluffy deity able to be manipulated by His creatures. Typically, recent discussions in the CofE and the ‘Gay’ marriage debate vision a God that moves with the times without a care for what He has said in His Word (The Bible).
Note the following passages that should disabuse sinful pretentious men of a fluffy view of The Almighty in their rebellion against God:
‘The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell,
but the mere pleasure of God.” By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his
sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation…’
Edwards moves on setting out several ‘considerations’ that back up this truth about God:
‘…. There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up. The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands.-He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defense from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. ….’
God stands as the Potter. We are but clay. Rebellious clay at that. These are terrible truths. In the last paragraph of the section where he lays out our plight before God, he writes:
‘…. thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, ….’
Edwards moves into his application and tells us again the purpose of the message. ‘The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.’ Sometimes we hear sermons and it can be difficult to know just who the preacher is addressing. Not so with Edwards. It’s those people in the congregation that are rejecting the Gospel and yet still presume come the day of wrath God will welcome them into heaven. This is a sermon of compassion, of love for the people and love for the honour of God and His truth as found in the Gospel of Christ.
To hear sermons on this topic today are relatively rare. Are they rare because as people, including preachers, we are not so conscious or aware of God’s Holiness and His burning purity or hatred of sin. That’s a bad thing. The fault is in us, not with Edwards. And yet probably like you I’ve sat under so-called Hell-Fire’ preaching where the people are completely unmoved. Some years ago I had the opportunity of preaching to a congregation of elderly people. This meeting would happen once a month. As you stand at the end and they file past to have their cup of tea they say something along the lines of ‘lovely sermon’. You have just preached to them the dreadful consequences of being lost, of not repenting, of rejecting Christ and they say ‘lovely sermon’. They are unmoved – at least outwardly. O how we need the Spirit of God to move in the hearts of the unregenerate, to awaken them (maybe you) to their need. I do not criticised these things, but it’s not our polished delivery, it’s not our pulpit eloquence or our deep learning that raises the dead – it’s the Spirit of God.
Edwards in the final sections of the sermon urges his hearers;
‘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 from the east, west, north and south; many 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? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?’
‘And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now harken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence’.
‘Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”‘
Observations & Comments
It’s true, it is a terrifying sermon. And yet, it will continue to be dissected, critiqued and criticised. It will also be ignored. Did they not do this with Jesus too when upon the earth.
Even many Christians have never heard of it. Are we embarrassed by it? By its plainness of speech. Does not Edwards accurately describe our condition before a Holy God. Does not Edwards rightly expose us all to the God of the Bible? This is no whimsical deity that can be manipulated by our supposed good deeds. There is only one remedy for our hopeless estate – the blood of Christ!
An Application for Today
Just as Edwards people were not embracing the Gospel, we in the West take for granted the love of God and are just as careless for the things of the true and living God. There’s a lot of talk about God’s love today, but not a lot of talk about it being a Holy & Righteous love. It’s spoken of as if we somehow are doing God a favour by allowing Him to love us. The attitude is that God will love us anyway no matter how much we reject and twist His Word. We re-define marriage, we murder children in the womb, we abuse His good gifts of male & female and yet expect Him to just roll over, ignore His Word and love us anyway. We expect to Him love us with no repentance and without The Gospel. Politicians – like David Cameron & Barrack Obama – speak loosely of ‘The Christian Faith’ or of the love of God but utterly reject His Word and treat The Lord Christ as if He was just one option out a plethora of religions. There are no options. They are presumptuous, in many ways the worst kind of sinner. Christ is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth and the ONLY life. To reject Him is to reject God’s way, God’s truth and God’s life as offered in the Gospel. The are only two options – it’s either repent & believe the Gospel or expect to be cast into hell. The sermon by Edwards is criticised, rejected as abhorrent, as Politically Incorrect, as divisive, as Hate Speech, but is it loving to tell people, sinners, that all will be well when the truth is their Christ rejecting ideologies will sweep them into Hell & Judgement. I say no.
Those of us that by the grace of God have been brought to repentance faith – we know our hearts are wicked and depraved and without the grace of God would be swept into hell. Our hearts too are ‘idol factories’ and are no better than the worst of sinners. Like Paul we know in some measure the terror of the Lord and so persuade men to repent and believe the Gospel of the grace of God.
We perhaps work with people or have family members that have heard ‘the joyful sound that Jesus saves’ but say it isn’t for them. They assume all will be well – whatever that means. But all will not be well. The judgement upon those that have been surrounded by Christians will be truly awful. It isn’t just a case of passing over Christianity in preference for another religion, or even no religion, but they have in fact rejected the grace of God. They are in the world but without hope. They will be lost to the torments of hell.
May we as God’s people be challenged to consider just how gracious and merciful God has been to us. Will you, O lost sinner not see your danger and flee to Christ.