“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them a warning from me.” --Ez 3:17
In the dim light of predawn, Jonathan Edwards kneels heavily, and prays. Even as his entreaties rise, his mind lingers over the manuscript lying on his desk, fierce pages of the sermon he must give today. Hot tears come; for lost men, for hard hearts, for false hope. He weeps for God’s reflective image gone bad. He mourns for what he must say to an unsuspecting congregation. He pleads for courage. At last, he pushes himself up off aching knees, steadying himself on the desk with both hands, waiting for equilibrium. He slowly lifts the manuscript, sighs, and walks into the sanctuary.
He cannot see their faces, cannot even see his own written words until he holds them closer to his failing eyes. He knows, however, that the men and women seated here smell of smug comfort, even in this place. Especially in this place. He knows their doom when they do not.
“He that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall. When he does fall, he falls as once, without warning, needing nothing but his own weight to throw him down.”
They shift in their seats, murmuring, throwing stolen, cowering glances.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”
Hell. He tastes sudden fear where usually only misguided security and deceptive comfort reside. Confidence denies their Savior’s shed blood, their own pooled shame, but confidence does not cover their sin; it condemns them. Even now, God’s anger burns against them.
“The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.”
The heat builds. Flames gather and flash. Faces pale. Coppery panic slithers in.
“God has laid himself under no obligation by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to earnest seeking and knocking, whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ.”
Listeners gasp and grow damp with the new sweat of a fate hitherto ignored. Children shiver and cling. Women weaken, half fainting. Men take hold of families in fruitless gestures of protection.
“God hath it on His heart to show angels and men both how excellent His love is and also how terrible His wrath. Nothing shall be withheld because it is too hard for you to bear. He will inflict wrath without pity. Then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it.”
Are they already sunk to perdition? From the pews, they scream, cry, writhe and moan. Edwards’ words drown in a cacophony of repentance’s misery. Is it already too late? Do eternal flames already engulf them?
“Let everyone that is yet out of Christ and hanging over the pit of hell now hearken to the loud calls of God’s worth and providence. Fly from the wrath to come. Escape for your lives. Look not behind you.”
Even God’s hope brings no relief while the heat of wrath still burns fresh and sin’s conviction fuels it. Let it burn. Eventually, repentance will bank the flame, but it should not go out.
Edwards lets the last of the pages fall and walks away, slow and alone. The watchman gets no thanks for opening the gates of hell. As he leaves, only the Spirit of God remains.
“Now”, says the Lord, “they are ready.”
--From “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, Jonathan Edwards, July 8, 1741.
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