Saints in the Hands of a Merciful God

By Jim Allen

In my previous article about Jonathan Edwards having preached a message so disturbing that it led to the First Great Awakening in America, there is another side to the evagelist less known. While Edwards' colleagues branded his boundless enthusiastic preaching style as hellfire and brimstone, it was not entirely so. There are only seven known sermons in Edwards' library that pour out God's anger on humanity. The vast majority of his sermons were about saints in the hands of a merciful God. Edwards unapologetically and consistently preached the whole truth (Acts 20:26, 27).

Of this evangelist J F Foster writes:
Edwards was not a constant fire and brimstone preacher. The writings of Edwards reveal a man who spoke much more on the grace and mercy of God then of His wrath. But really, the two go hand-in-hand. There's no need for God to be merciful if there's no eternal wrath to fear. There's no need for God to show grace…if there's nothing bad …to warrant divine punishment.
Today, we seldom hear about wrath and divine punishment because charlatans preach human transgression as nothing more than innocent mistakes. One popular example is Mark Burnett's latest miniseries entitle the Son of God. The movie (like its televised predecessor — The Bible) glosses over sin like skipping a rock on water. Sin is seen as nothing more than a bad cold that will go away with the medicine of good works and a purpose driven life. The Son of God movie portrayed Jesus as a world-changer without letting the audiences know Jesus came to atone for sin.

Burnett's productions mimic today's high-profile preachers who say people are fundamentally good while ignoring Romans 1 and other parts of the Bible. These wayward preachers argue people act badly because of social-political repression, inescapable poverty, innocent mistakes, and wrong choices. While all of these arguments may sound reasonable and even credible and partly true, it is hardly the truth.

By allowing heretics to label sin as minor breaches in behavior, they have effectively altered the gospel into how to have your best life now. Imagine the thief on the cross next to Jesus hearing Him say,
You are His prized possession. No matter what you go through in life, no matter how many disappointments you suffer, your value in God's eyes always remains the same. You will always be the apple of His eye. He will never give up on you, so don't give up on yourself. [1]
Upon hearing these uplifting words of affirmation, the thief would know it not true. He would not feel like a prized possession. He would not feel valued in God's eyes. Nor would he see his immediate quandary as his best life now. The thief would see himself as convicted and dying. He would see his end as imminent. He would know that for him there was no hope, no escape, and no tomorrow. He would gaze upon Jesus as his only hope of escape (Luke 23:42; Romans 10:13).

While this is the convicting message Christ has for the sinner before salvation (Luke 18:11-14), it is not the affirmative message God has for believers after salvation (Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1: 3-6). If Jonathan Edwards could be transported to the 21st century and speak grace and mercy as he did then, what would he say to us? Well, we may well imagine him to say something like the following:
Because of the sovereignty of God and your faith in Christ, the earth blesses you with its abundance in boundless wonder, vast beauty, and endless provision. You are a burden to none and a blessing to all. Creation rejoices in your kindheartedness to its many living things and fellow sojourners on earth. The sun glows more warmly and radiantly in your presence giving abundant light for you to see, appreciate, and serve God and others.

The earth willingly yields its wealth to satisfy your needs, becoming a forum for your goodness and righteousness to play out as a witness before all men. The fresh air of heaven flows freely into your lungs while you spend your days abiding in Christ and honoring the Almighty God in all you do. Surely, the angelic host in heaven rejoices about your life in Christ because as a new creature you are highly favored. (Ephesians 1:3-9)
In closing:
While an earthbound worm can never know the heights of a soaring butterfly, an unbeliever can never know the beauty and wonder of God's truth sown in the heart. Change is God's work in us from beginning to end (Hebrews 12:2). God inspires us to read the Bible, pray, and walk in His holy ways with the understanding there will be struggle. (Ephesians 6:12) [2]
God inspired Jeremiah to write "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). Resolve in your heart today that these things are indeed true for you!

1. Joel Osteen - Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential
2. "The Butterfly Effect"

Image Credit: Kristian Niemi; "Breaking all chains"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  False-Teaching

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Published 9-17-2014