..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Heart Turned Inside Out: The Farewell Sermon of Jonathan Edwards

A Heart Turned Inside Out:
The Farewell Sermon of Jonathan Edwards

Some things really get to me. The farewell
sermon of Jonathan Edwards is one of them.
It ought to get to you, too.

In the early 1730's, in Northampton, Massachusetts,
there was a significant revival called, "The
Great Awakening." Much of the preaching that
brought this about was from the pulpit of
Jonathan Edwards. His passion was for God
and he cared about the souls of his congregation.
He said,

"We ought to seek the spiritual good of
others; and if we have a Christian spirit, we
shall desire and seek their spiritual welfare and
happiness, their salvation from Hell, and that
they may glorify and enjoy God forever

He lived with this view, and he died with it.
He had the archetypal soul of a pastor. He cared
more about the souls of his congregants then he
did about pleasing them. This would cause him much

As the revival fires died down, life proceeded
as life does. The year was now 1750. Change was
inevitable, as change always is, and people
wanted the safety of the church, its benefits
and blessings, but did not necessarily want a
serious commitment to Christ.

Trouble was brewing, and spiritual storm clouds
were settling over the Pioneer Valley. Up until now,
the Congregational Church was the only church
in town, and in order to be fully received
into the church you had to make a public
confession of your sins, and you had
to show evidence of godliness unto salvation.

As standards diminished, people wanted
to have an easier time of it, and so,
sought to lower the standards for church
memberships. To make a long story short,
this produced much controversy and
made its unashamed announcement in public as
"the Halfway Covenant." It means exactly
what you think it means: "The church
will still accept you even if you
only go 'halfway' in the things of God."

The question was AND IS: "Is God going to
accept you?" It was this
question that would cause
Jonathan Edwards many an anguished
and sleepless night. What does a pastor
do when his flock wants the easy way?
What must a pastor feel when those
he has been given to shepherd turn
their back on the great Shepherd?

Jonathan Edwards was about to
personally and painfully find out.

No compromiser, Edwards knew the
scriptures backwards and forwards.
He would often spend 13 to 14 hours
a day studying. And there was no way
that he would find a "halfway doctrine"
in his bible or anyone else's.

His path was clear. He could not
agree to the current winds of change.
He could not give in to what his
heart knew was wrong. He must stand
for the truth, the whole truth,
for the spiritual stakes were high:
the eternal welfare of his flock
and his own standing before God.

His firm and complete opposition to
the "Halfway Doctrine" was not
well-received. So "not well received"
that he was voted out as pastor and
asked to leave the church he had
served for twenty three years.
I wish I could say I could
not imagine what he felt like, but I
am afraid that I can.

His farewell sermon to his congregation
(and I implore you to read the entire thing)
could simply be called, "the heartbreaking
pain of a faithful pastor."

Edwards reminded them relentlessly that although
they were parting company, there would be One
Day that they would all once again be re-assembled:
in front of the judgment seat of Christ.
On that day, they would not have to answer to him,
but to Christ. Would they be ready?

Even as he warned and warned them, his own
broken heart was breaking through. He, the
man who read his sermons in a monotone
from a notecard, must have felt his insides
melting down:

"The deep and serious consideration of our
future most solemn meeting, is certainly most
suitable at such a time as this. There having
so lately been that done, which, in all
probability, will (as to the relation we have
heretofore stood in) be followed with an
everlasting separation.

How often have we met together in the house
of God in this relation! How often have I
spoke to you, instructed, counseled, warned,
directed, and fed you, and administered
ordinances among you, as the people which
were committed to my care, and of whose
precious souls I had the charge! But in all
probability this never will be again.

The prophet Jeremiah, chap. 25:3, puts the
people in mind how long he had labored among
them in the work of the ministry: “From the
thirteenth year of Josiah, the son of Amon,
king of Judah, even unto this day (that is,
the three and twentieth year), the word of
the Lord came unto me, and I have spoken unto
you, rising early and speaking.”

I am not about to compare myself with the prophet
Jeremiah, but in this respect I can say as he
did that “I have spoken the Word of God to you,
unto the three and twentieth year, rising early
and speaking.” It was three and twenty years,
the 15th day of last February, since I have labored
in the work of the ministry, in the relation of a
pastor to this church and congregation. And though
my strength has been weakness, having always labored
under great infirmity of body, besides my
insufficiency for so great a charge in other respects,
yet I have not spared my feeble strength, but have
exerted it for the good of your souls. I can appeal to
you, as the apostle does to his hearers, Gal. 4:13,
“Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh,
I preached the gospel unto you.”

I have spent the prime of my life and strength in
labors for your eternal welfare. You are my witnesses
that what strength I have had I have not neglected in
idleness, nor laid out in prosecuting worldly schemes,
and managing temporal affairs, for the advancement
of my outward estate, and aggrandizing myself
and family.

But [I] have given myself to the work of the
ministry, laboring in it night and day, rising
early and applying myself to this great business
to which Christ appointed me. I have found the
work of the ministry among you to be a great work
indeed, a work of exceeding care, labor and
difficulty. Many have been the heavy burdens
that I have borne in it, to which my strength
has been very unequal.

God called me to bear these burdens; and I bless
his name that he has so supported me as to keep me
from sinking under them, and that his power herein
has been manifested in my weakness. So that
although I have often been troubled on every side,
yet I have not been distressed; perplexed, but not
in despair; cast down, but not destroyed. But now
I have reason to think my work is finished which
I had to do as your minister: you have publicly
rejected me, and my opportunities cease.

How highly therefore does it now become us to
consider of that time when we must meet one
another before the chief Shepherd! When I must
give an account of my stewardship, of the service
I have done for, and the reception and treatment
I have had among the people to whom he sent me.
And you must give an account of your own conduct
towards me, and the improvement you have made of
these three and twenty years of my ministry.

For then both you and I must appear together,
and we both must give an account, in order to an
infallible, righteous and eternal sentence to be
passed upon us, by him who will judge us with
respect to all that we have said or done in our
meeting here, and all our conduct one towards
another in the house of God and elsewhere.

[He] will try our hearts, and manifest our
thoughts, and the principles and frames
of our minds. He will judge us with respect to all
the controversies which have subsisted between us,
with the strictest impartiality, and will examine
our treatment of each other in those controversies.

There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed,
nor hid which shall not be known. All will be
examined in the searching, penetrating light of
God’s omniscience and glory, and by him whose eyes
are as a flame of fire. Truth and right shall be
made plainly to appear, being stripped of every
veil. And all error, falsehood, unrighteousness,
and injury shall be laid open, stripped of every
disguise. Every specious pretense, every cavil,
and all false reasoning shall vanish in a moment,
as not being able to bear the light of that day.

And then our hearts will be turned inside out,
and the secrets of them will be made more
plainly to appear than our outward actions
do now. Then it shall appear what the ends
are which we have aimed at, what have been
the governing principles which we have acted
from, and what have been the dispositions we
have exercised in our ecclesiastical disputes
and contests. Then it will appear whether
I acted uprightly, and from a truly
conscientious, careful regard to my duty to
my great Lord and Master, in some former
ecclesiastical controversies, which
have been attended with exceeding unhappy
circumstances and consequences. It will
appear whether there was any just cause for
the resentment which was manifested on those

And then our late grand controversy, concerning
the qualifications necessary for admission to the
privileges of members, in complete standing, in the
visible church of Christ, will be examined and judged
in all its parts and circumstances, and the whole
set forth in a clear, certain, and perfect light...

And then it will appear whether, in declaring this
doctrine, and acting agreeable to it, and in my
general conduct in the affair, I have been
influenced from any regard to my own temporal
interest, or honor, or desire to appear wiser
than others, or have acted from any sinister,
secular views whatsoever, and whether what I
have done has not been from a careful, strict,
and tender regard to the will of my Lord and
Master, and because I dare not offend him,
being satisfied what his will was, after
a long, diligent, impartial, and prayerful

Then it will be seen whether I had this constantly
in view and prospect, to engage me to great solicitude
not rashly to determine the question, that such a
determination would not be for my temporal interest,
but every way against it, bringing a long series of
extreme difficulties, and plunging me into
an abyss of trouble and sorrow

And then it will appear whether my people have
done their duty to their pastor with respect to
this matter; whether they have shown a right
temper and spirit on this occasion; whether
they have done me justice in hearing, attending
to and considering what I had to say in evidence
of what I believed and taught as part of the
counsel of God; whether I have been treated with
that impartiality, candor, and regard which the
just Judge esteemed due; and whether, in the
many steps which have been taken, and the
many things that have been said and done in
the course of this controversy, righteousness,
and charity, and Christian decorum have been
maintained; or, if otherwise, to how great a
degree these things have been violated.

Then every step of the conduct of each of us in
this affair, from first to last, and the spirit
we have exercised in all, shall be examined and
manifested, and our own consciences shall speak
plain and loud, and each of us shall be convinced,
and the world shall know; and never shall there
be any more mistake, misrepresentation, or
misapprehension of the affair to eternity.

I cease quoting the sermon not for time's sake,
for we certainly need to get used to longer sermons,
but because my heart cannot stand any more of the
pain I hear coming through it.

Recently I spoke of the pain of the prophet,
and now I speak of the pain of the pastor. It is
the same pain, just divided in a different way, but
bearing the same hallmarks.

The pain of the shepherd is the pain of the Great
Shepherd: it is Jesus, calling, calling, calling,
"O Jerusalem, you who stones the prophets, I so
longed to gather you as a hen would gather her
chicks, but you would not!" (Matthew 23:37).

Edwards knew full well that there were "pastors"
out there who would give people what they wanted
to hear. What must have melted his bones from
anguish was the idea of one of those kind of
men taking his place.

This sermon is his last chance to implore
his flock to return fully to Christ. I wonder
with what kind of response it was met with?
Judgments. Bitterness. Relief. "Don't let
the door hit you on the way out."

And so here is the call of a pastor in
all its glory. And if you think you read
even the smallest note of sarcasm in that
last statement, you have read it completely
wrong. Here is the call of a pastor in all
its painful glory: to stand with He who was
Himself rejected of men in order that He
might bring many to life.

For of such pastors, the world is not worthy.

Dear Ones, life is short. Christ appoints
undershepherds to call us back to Him, to
teach us of Him, to rightly discern the
scriptures, to rebuke, to call us back to
truth, to speak for Him. Do we want a
compromised Christ? Do we want a Lord
with a gag in His mouth? Then we should
not expect a pastor who is giving us
anything less than the full counsel of
God. If we do, then it is we who are going
to stand before the judgment seat of
Christ, unprepared and in danger of hellfire.
If we tempt our pastor into giving us
less than what Christ would have him
say, then we dishonor Christ and are
living in rebellion. Yet this happens
subtly or blatantly in churches all
across our land.

The pain of being a pastor should
not be so great. If there are rejections,
it should be necessarily at the hands
of the unconverted. "If it were my
enemy I could have born it" says
the Psalmist, "but it was you, my dear
friend, who I walked to the house of
God with, who has reproached me" (Psalm 55:12-14).

And yet it is in bearing the pain
of unspeakable rejection that a
pastor experiences an indissoluble
identification and indestructible
union with the Great Shepherd.
How high are the ways of God
above man? By what fusion, born
of the heat of untold tribulation, are
we united with our Lord? It is often
by the furnace of rejection, betrayal,
and abandonment at the hands of those
we thought were closest to us.

I wish I could tell you another story.
Another way. A less difficult path.
But that would be a compromise.

I can tell you this: that this was
not the end of Jonathan Edwards.
By no means! Exiled to Stockbridge
to serve the Indians, Edwards had the
time to write voluminously. He became
America's pre-eminent theologian
and his words went on to affect untold
people, even you and I here today.
No-one could say that his influence
or diminished one bit. A seed fallen
into the ground sprouted up to a
field of great harvest.

What if this painful event had never
happened? Only God knows how things
would have transpired. What we do
know is that God redeemed this faithful
pastor, not just in heaven, but on
earth: his testimony stands as a
blazing torch to faithful pastors
everywhere. Of such, this world is
not worthy.

Times being what they are,
not much has changed. The modern church
is falling into apostasy and compromise
both blatantly and subtly. It is imperative
that we hear the truth and obey it.
Pray for your pastor. Encourage
him to preach the whole counsel
of God.

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