The Cross in the Preaching of Jonathan Edwards

“The great eighteenth-century New England preacher was no preacher of moralism—he was no peddler of ethics without the gospel. He was a preacher of the gospel of Christ; and it is his powerful and undeniably beautiful Christocentricity that both establishes his evangelical orthodoxy and distinguishes him from the moralists of Rome and (more significantly still) from the moralists of the eighteenth century.

It is, therefore, very important to note that the New England preacher, whose reputation rests so powerfully on the minatory, also excelled in the consolatory. It is, moreover, precisely because of the recalcitrant issue of the general perception of Edwards as a preacher of judgment, and even of terror, that it is so important to note the sweetness and the beauty of his descriptions of Christ. It was clearly a fundamental part of his homiletical philosophy that he should not only provide what might be described as ‘the element of attack’, but that he should also administer the healing ‘balm of Gilead’ to the soul. Indeed, his sermons, considered in toto, reveal what might be described as a kind of homiletical pincer movement. ‘For by the law is the knowledge of sin, insists the Apostle; and Edwards’ great concern in preaching the law of God was that men should ‘flee from the wrath to come’ into the open arms of Christ. Thus, if in his sermons there is often great emphasis upon the terrors of Mount Sinai, there is also great emphasis upon the wonder and the glory of Calvary’s hill. This balance may not always be evident in the same sermon; it is, however, evident in his preaching ministry as a whole. The sweetness of his preaching at this point is, of course, no saccharine sentimentalism about the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. The New England preacher never says, ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace’; he never ‘heals the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly’.

The encouragement, the consolation, and the peace that Edwards offers in his preaching are always on the basis of the gospel of Christ. It is important to note that he has no encouragement or consolation to offer apart from Christ; he has, therefore, no hope to offer to those who persist in remaining outside of Christ. The encouragement and the consolation that he repeatedly holds forth in his sermons are rooted and grounded in ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.

Moreover, it is this rare ability to depict the beauty and the glory of Christ that many have found to be so attractive and so winsome in Edwards’ preaching. In 1825, on the morning of his sudden death, John Williams, the first pastor of the Oliver Street Baptist Church in New York City, made this observation to a friend: ‘I love President Edwards; he always speaks so sweetly of Christ.’”

–John Carrick, The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth, 2008) pp. 111-112.

Related: Edwards, Cross-Centeredness, and Application (7/16/08)
Related: Was Jonathan Edwards Cross-Centered? (7/11/08)
Related: A Sense of Christ’s Sufficiency (7/9/08)

2 thoughts on “The Cross in the Preaching of Jonathan Edwards

  1. Your blog was listed in “Top Recommended Sites” on my Google Reader home page this morning. The name of your blog and post blurb was intriguing, so I thought I’d click over! I love the theme of your blog, “a blog serving sinners who seek their daily food in the Cross of Christ.” Oh yes, I am that sinner needing (but not always seeking) the daily food I need indeed! Thank you for posting in light of our need and Christ’s Sufficiency.
    In His grip of grace, Laurie

  2. Thank you for the very meaningful encouragement, Laurie. I am certainly not as consistent to my purpose as I would like, but I pray in some little way I can use this little blog to set my fleeting attention to the cross!

    Tony

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