During the First Great Awakening, many people were criticizing Jonathan Edwards and the other preachers for “speaking terror to them who are already under great terrors, instead of comforting them.” In other words, why don’t you put a big smile on your face, tell people how much God loves them, and tell them everything’s alright?
The critics are right if the ministers are scaring people with things that are not true. But if the things they say are true, they should continue to speak them since this is the most loving thing to do. That is, when we preach things that are true we are helping people understand the seriousness of eternity. We desperately need to see the utter hopelessness of our estate. We have settled for pats on the back when what we need is a kick in the pants. There is not one person reading this right now who thinks that they are alright. When you are honest with yourself when you lay down at night, you know that you should not have said that biting word or thought that horrible thought or looked at that thing or done myriad of other sin.
This is not just a little problem. This sin issue pervades your being. You can’t escape it. It is the monkey on your back that promises sweet pleasures, delivers nothing but cackles, and latches on tighter. As Edwards said, “The truth is, that as long as men reject Christ, and do not savingly believe in him, [however religious they may be], they have the wrath of God abiding on them, they are his enemies, and the children of the devil (Matt 8.38; 1 Jn 3.10)…”
The truth is: no matter how good your external actions are (going to church, giving to disaster relief, taking a meal to someone, etc.) your heart must be converted. You must be born again, to use Jesus’ words.
The truth is: you need to realize your miserable estate and treasure Jesus as your only hope of being acceptable to God. You are required to obey God completely…from the heart. It is not enough to not steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. You must love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND your neighbor as your already love yourself. You can’t do this. But Christ has. That is what it means to embrace Jesus as he has been offered to us in the Good News of God.
To blame a minister for thus declaring the truth to those who are under awakenings, and not immediately administering comfort to them, is like blaming a surgeon, because when he has begun to thrust in his lance, whereby he has already put his patient to great pain, and he shrinks and cries out with anguish, he is so cruel that he will not stay his hand, but goes on to trust it in further, till he comes to the core of the wound. Such a compassionate physician, who as soon as his patient began to flinch, should withdraw his hand, and go about immediately to apply a plaister, to skin over the wound, and leave the core untouched, would heal the hurt slightly, crying ‘Peace, peace, when there is no peace.’ (Thoughts on the Revival, Part III).
Let us not forget that Scripture is very clear about the seriousness of life: It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10.31).
Do not think that God will just look over your sin. Every time you sin you join the soldiers who mocking the Christ, spit in his face. Think this is too much? Sin is denying that God’s way is the best. What more, it declares that God has no place in your living. You proclaim that he is a fool and you are the wise one. You know best. Truth be told: Sin is a lie.