A Calvinist’s Appreciation of Lewis and Tozer

I’m a Calvinist. Not only that, but I appreciate the writings of C.S. Lewis and (especially) A.W. Tozer. But I also know very well that neither author completely shares my views on soteriology. And that’s O.K.

What saddens me most, though, is when those from both sides of the soteriology debate focus too much on the differences and not enough on the unity we share among brothers. Now don’t get me wrong here. We should never seek to be “united” with those who hold to heretical teaching. No one should seek unity merely for unity’s sake. I’m referring to unity among brothers who are held together by the common bond of faith in Jesus Christ. Brothers who agree that Christ is the only way to the Father and believe that His death and resurrection is the only means of salvation, that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

As a Calvinist, a rock-solid focus on Christ and the Scriptures is very important to me. It is the bedrock of all I believe. And may I say, that is precisely why I like reading Lewis and Tozer, because even if we don’t see eye to eye on one issue, I find in their writings a common love for Christ and His Word.

For instance, in his famous book Mere Christianity, Lewis leaves no doubt as to who Christ is:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

And with regard to Lewis’ view on keeping a Christ-centered heart through all of life, he writes:

“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

A.W. Tozer was a prophetic voice in modern days, especially to the church. He penned some of the most powerful words written in his day. Of Christ’s redemption he wrote:

“If man had his way, the plan of redemption would be an endless and bloody conflict. In reality, salvation was bought not by Jesus’ fist, but by His nail-pierced hands; not by muscle but by love; not by vengeance but by forgiveness; not by force but by sacrifice. Jesus Christ our Lord surrendered in order that He might win; He destroyed His enemies by dying for them and conquered death by allowing death to conquer Him.”
― A.W. Tozer, Preparing for Jesus’ Return: Daily Live the Blessed Hope

One of my all-time favorite quotes by Tozer, however, is one we can stand to learn from today regarding unity.

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

The Apostle Paul admonishes us in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 –

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of the theological tradition that I hold to and I honor the theological heroes of the faith throughout Church history that have preached these doctrines. I love studying them and reading their books. But John Calvin didn’t die for me. Jonathan Edwards wasn’t raised for me. I wasn’t baptized in the name of Augustine. There is only one who holds that honor. That one is Jesus Christ!

I’m pretty sure Lewis and Tozer would agree.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pastors and Politics?

Being a pastor comes with many very important responsibilities. Of top concern is the good of the sheep in the congregation God has placed him in. I recognize this responsibility and I want you to know that I take it very seriously. I also know that I will one day have to stand before the Lord and I will be held to an even greater standard as a teacher of God’s Word. This reality bears heavily on my mind in each and every decision I make and each and every time I stand up to minister.

There are differing opinions from good and Godly men as to whether or not a pastor should be involved in the political process. Some say that the risk of alienating some of your congregation is too great so pastors should not get entangled with politics. Others disagree and say that pastors should lead the way in engaging the political realm, while of course never forcing a political position on anybody.

I am sensitive to both sides of this debate. There is nothing that I would ever do to purposely alienate any member of my congregation, no matter how different our views were. To me, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the central, most important thing that we must focus on like a laser beam. Christ is THE answer to this world’s ills, and there is no other. I also believe that the way to NOT alienate people is to honestly communicate with them, as I am doing here.

Having said that, I also recognize from Scripture an imperative that we not only should take seriously, but I believe has been sorely neglected today due to the controversial nature of politics in general. The imperative I speak of here is our call to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). It is because of this call, and because I know that God does, indeed, care about government and has given it an ordained place in our society (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-4) that I disagree with the notion that pastors should not be engaged in the political process. Politics is a part of our culture, and we are called to affect our culture in each of it realms. If believers don’t influence the political realm of our culture for whatever reason, then who does that leave that influence to? The ungodly. And the church will have shirked its calling to be salt and light in that realm of culture.

Now let me be abundantly clear. I do not now, nor will I ever, advocate for partisan politics. For many years I have been registered Unaffiliated. I do not support any party, and you have never, nor will you ever, see me advocating for any party. As a matter of fact, and this might shock you, I am not a so-called “political” person. What I am concerned with is righteousness and the believers’ call to obey Jesus Christ in our world. I am also very concerned with truth and I feel a heavy call to proclaim truth to the world.

Now in this election cycle, I have endorsed a candidate. There’s no secret there. The choice is mine and mine alone and does NOT in any way necessarily reflect any position, stated or implied, of the local church that I serve. The church I serve does not and should not be in the business of endorsing candidates. Nor should it allow anyone to preach anything but the sacred Word of God from the pulpit. But I want you to know that while I did do my homework and put in my due diligence toward my choice in who to vote for, I do NOT expect you to necessarily agree with me. However, I DO expect you as a Christian to obey Christ, do your own homework, look at each candidate, and choose for yourself. You and I don’t have to agree, but we can and we should still love one another and still be persuaded by our own convictions of how we view each candidate according to the Bible.

As a pastor, I do challenge you to vote Biblically, though. While issues such as economics and gun control and even government’s role
in immigration aren’t as clearly laid out in Scripture, other issues such as the sanctity of all human life and God’s design for marriage and sexuality are abundantly clear. These are issues which I believe we need to care about and to add our voice in the public square and seek to elect candidates that solidly represent those Biblical values. Beyond that, however, I will not engage publicly.

I will close with these thoughts from God’s Word:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with
brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in
spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans
Let all that you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What’s Behind My Passion For This Political Race

I want to take the time to talk about why I have an interest in this year’s political race and why I think it is important. Many would just suspect I’m a political person and I guess that’s partly true. It has always interested me since I was a kid. But that’s not what is behind my passion this time around.
You see, I know full well that our problems won’t be fixed by just getting the right man or woman elected. I also know that whoever we have in office was put there by God and reflects the heart of the American people. In other words, if we have an unrighteous person in office, then it is because unrighteous people wanted him there, and God gave them what they wanted as their judgment. Such is, in my estimation, what we have today.
However, no one can argue that the rate at which the unrighteous, evil agenda has been growing and taking over public opinion is, in a word, alarming. More has happened in the last two years that we never would have seen ten years ago. One need not think too hard to find many examples: homosexual marriage and the corresponding devaluation and crumbling of the sacred institution of marriage, the abortion industry and its sick business of murdering human lives and selling their body parts, and on and on. What is worse, these things don’t seem to bother many people and the media covers them up like they never happened.
On the other side of things, those people who take a stand for righteousness and truth (not to mention common human decency), are vilified, demonized, and even sued in court in order to force them to take part in other people’s lives of unrighteousness. It doesn’t matter whether it is against your faith or conscience. They’re out to make you do it. And in the process, religious liberty has all but gone out the window.
And people stand by and let it happen.
Now I’m smart enough to know that these people are sinners, and that’s what sinners will do. That’s why they need Jesus. I’m also smart enough to know that you really can’t regulate morality because it’s people’s hearts that need to change. In other words, just making a law won’t change the person’s heart.
But…and this is a big but…as we have seen, the one who sits in the oval office can use his influence to affect popular opinion. See, people tend just to accept whatever the masses accept. The next big “civil rights” push comes along, for example, where activists purposely color their rhetoric to make it sound undeniably moral, and people just follow along. “Makes perfect sense to me,” they say. Then they adopt the talking points of the activists without even thinking or doing a little homework. They don’t even think through what the eventual consequences would be for society, let alone think about their own spiritual destination.
This election is a matter of salt and light. It is a matter of having a leader who will either stand up for what is right according to God’s standards and at least be a standard bearer for righteousness, or else he will be a person who leads the charge for the further degradation of society. In the meantime, millions more babies die at the hands of murder factories and have their faces cut open with scissors while their hearts are still beating, all for the almighty dollar. And also in the meantime, the sin of homosexuality becomes embraced and by more and more people because it has been made commonplace and O.K. by our society’s leaders, and we fall deeper and deeper into sin and alarming rates of speed.
And that is why I am so passionate about this election. I am looking for a leader who will stand for righteousness and godliness and never compromise. I am looking for someone who isn’t afraid to be unpopular for doing the right thing. I’m looking for a leader who has a genuine faith in Jesus Christ and is comfortable talking about it without it being forced. I’m looking for a leader who won’t just say whatever is expedient at the time to win an election, only to drop it like a hot potato when he or she gets to Washington. It should be someone with a proven record of doing just that as well. I’m looking for a leader who will stand up for religious liberties and stop the persecution of people of faith when they choose not to participate in other people’s sin. I’m looking for a leader who will tirelessly and uncompromisingly stand up for the rights of the unborn because that is the righteous and biblical thing to do. And I’m looking for a leader who will unashamedly stand for the traditional, biblical definition of marriage and defend it unyieldingly.
There are a few candidates in the Republican race that I believe would do a pretty good job at these things. But one candidate has risen to the top of my estimation who, because of his record of standing up to the Washington establishment of both parties in order to do what is right, and because of the genuineness of his faith in Christ which is evident not only in the ease in which he talks about it, but also in the deeds which he has done and continues to do, I believe has shown himself to be the absolute best candidate. That candidate is Ted Cruz.
But don’t take my word for it. Investigate for yourself. Go to tedcruz.org. Get his book, “A Time for Truth.” Look up his record in Congress and as a public servant in Texas. Look at his resume. Go to one of his rallies. Listen carefully for yourself. Read through the book of Proverbs and see which candidate best fits God’s definition of a man that has godly wisdom.
As I said before, our country’s ills will not be fixed by getting the right person in office. We need to pray. We need to repent of our sins. We need God to turn our hearts back to Himself once again. But such a goal would be much more quickly accomplished maybe if our nation’s leader is not purposely leading the American people into deeper and deeper degradation and unrighteousness at break-neck speed, but instead was a man who would humbly lead our country with godly, biblical wisdom. We need a Daniel. We need an Esther. And we need to take this seriously.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Does ‘Christ-centered’ Mean and Why is it Important?

Words tend to become meaningless over time, especially when used often. There are several words in our English language that have all but lost their meaning and thus their full impact in communication. Probably one of the most obvious is the word ‘love.’ And how overused is the word ‘awesome’ these days?
In Christian circles it is no different. I can think of several words – glory, worship, and anointing to name a few – that have suffered much in their use over time. We would do well to take these words off the shelf and examine them once again and attempt to reclaim the full weight of their meaning. One term I would like to focus on here is ‘Christ-centered.’
When used in the context of ministry, everyone would like to think that their ministry is Christ-centered. After all, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be? Isn’t it just a given that if we’re ministering supposedly in Jesus’ name that our ministry is Christ-centered? To answer those questions, we have to take a look at just what ‘Christ-centered’ really means and then we need to think about what that implies when applied to specific areas of ministry. In other words we want to take this phrase out of the realm of the abstract, define it sufficiently, and make it practical.
The Antithesis
One often effective way to define a term is to show its antithesis. The use of contrast helps us to wrap our minds around an idea much better than if we simply rely on a flat definition. In the case of the term ‘Christ-centered,’ then, the obvious antithesis in a theological context would be ‘man-centered.’ The term ‘man-centered’ is exactly what it sounds like: focused on man. If someone is ‘self-centered’ then everything he does seems to be for and all about himself. Likewise, if a philosophy is ‘man-centered,’ then everything that is done seems to be for and all about man.
The term ‘Christ-centered,” then, describes something that has its focus on Christ. Everything that is done is for and all about Christ. This is easy to see and, for many, obvious. However, the definition alone falls woefully short in painting a full picture of what ‘Christ-centered’ means and how it applies practically to ministry.
Going Deeper
It is important for us to realize here that these terms are expressions of motivation and philosophy. In other words, these terms deal with the why and the how of ministry. Indeed, the why usually determines the how and ends up driving the whole philosophy of our ministry. But even this gets fuzzy in meaning sometimes because there are underlying, foundational presuppositions involved that need to be uncovered for us to understand what different people mean when they use terms like ‘Christ-centered.’
At the very heart of this issue is one’s fundamental assumptions concerning man’s free will, God’s sovereignty, whether conversion is monergistic or synergistic, and the function of the Word of God in ministry. Where one stands on these issues will determine how that person defines ‘Christ-centeredness’ as well as their philosophy of doing ministry. In other words, it determines for them the why and the how of doing ministry.
The Function of the Word of God
All of the fundamental assumptions mentioned above are actually interrelated and interdependent. For instance, if one sees salvation as being a cooperative work between God and man where God makes it possible to be saved but it is incumbent upon man to make the final choice, then that person’s how of doing ministry will naturally focus upon doing whatever is necessary to sufficiently persuade people to make that decision. This then immediately raises the question of whether the person who simply “makes a decision” is really converted or not, but that is another issue for another blog post.
Conversely, if one sees salvation as being a monergistic work of God, that is, that God performs the whole work, even to the point of changing the will of the sinner from being against Him (Romans 3:11) to being willing to turn from their sins and to Christ (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:30), then that person will have a whole different philosophy of ministry. This is because this person also has at the heart of their presupposition the function of the Word of God in ministry. This person sees the following passages as extremely fundamental to their philosophy:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… (Romans 1:16 ESV)
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?…So then faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14, 17 NASB)
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB)
…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB)
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 NASB)
Christ-Centered Ministry
So then the person who sees salvation as a monergistic work of God also sees that the Word of God in general, and the gospel in particular, as the means or the conduit through which God’s power and grace come to people in order to perform that monergistic work of salvation. They also see that, as in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2, we also stand by the power of that same gospel after we have believed.
Since the gospel is all about the person and work of Christ, then it is no wonder that Paul says to the Corinthians, “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). The reason for his focus on Christ is spelled out in verse 5, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
The meaning of ‘Christ-centered,’ then, is the purposeful focus upon the gospel, and more specifically the Christ of the gospel, in all areas of ministry. In this we see that the gospel is the tool and method that God has chosen for His people to use for the purpose of ministering His power and grace to the world and to His church. The antithesis of this would be a man-centered, pragmatic approach which seeks to employ whatever means necessary to get people to make a decision. Since the Word of God specifically says that through the world’s wisdom no one comes to know God (1 Cor, 1:21), the Christ-centered method of ministry is the only one given to us by God and the only one that assures that true conversion and true ministry will take place in people’s hearts.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justification by Faith

Undoubtedly the greatest of all biblical doctrines is that of justification by faith. Martin Luther insisted that justification by faith alone is “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” In the midst of the hopeless, fallen condition of mankind, God’s mercy and grace in justifying sinners rises as the shining pinnacle of hope for all of creation. In it God’s perfect justice and His boundless love and grace meet to redeem mankind from the law’s condemning verdict, and thus declares the guilty sinner just. Martin Luther also claimed that Romans 3:21-26, the premier section of Romans which introduces the truth of justification by faith, was “the chief point, and the very central place of the Epistle, and of the whole Bible.” Donald Barnhouse echoed similar words concerning this section of Romans. He says unmistakably that the act of God in providing righteousness apart from the law “is the theme of the Epistle to the Romans, and in reality it is the theme of the New Testament and of the whole Bible.”
This declaration by God is not arbitrary, however. If it was, then God would not be righteous in declaring sinners to be something other than guilty, and He would not have the ground legally, according to His own law, to do so. What is shown in Romans 3:21 – 5:21, however, is how God was able to justly pardon ungodly people and still remain righteousness. The justification of sinners manifests God’s righteousness in that it is based solely upon the faithfulness and perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, being counted to the sinner through faith alone. In this way, God is revealed to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
Most Protestant scholars are united on the basic definition of justification. Douglas Moo writes that justification “is what a judge does when he declares innocent the defendant in a trial.” Likewise, Francis Schaeffer points out that justification “comes to sinful men and women when God declares that their guilt is paid for.” Schaeffer clarifies this definition ever further by saying that God does not “infuse” us with righteousness, rather He makes a legal declaration.
The Roman Catholic Church established their doctrine of justification which they still to this day hold to, that “God will never declare a person just until that person actually, under divine scrutiny, is found to be just.” The reason for this belief is based on the fact that in the early centuries of church history, Latin became the dominant language instead of Greek. The Latin word for justification is iustificare. The Latin word fiacre means “to make” or “to shape.” Thus, the Roman Church believes that in justification, God “makes” a person righteous, and that it mostly happens in purgatory after death.
The original Greek word for justification, however, is dikaioo and dikaiosune, which does not mean “to make righteous,” but rather “to declare righteous.” This distinguishes justification from sanctification. In justification God “declares” people to be righteous, whereas in the process of sanctification God “makes” them righteous.
J.I. Packer gives a fuller definition of justification. He states, “The biblical meaning of ‘justify’ (Hebrew, sadeq; Greek, LXX and NT, dikaioo) is to pronounce, accept, and treat as just, i.e., on the one hand, not penally liable, and, on the other, entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law.” The term “justification,” then, is a forensic term which indicates a judicial act by God, in this case, by “declaring a verdict of acquittal and so excluding all possibility of condemnation.”
These definitions are supported by Scripture. The first time the word is directly used in this sense in Romans is in verse 24 of Romans 3. After stating that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (verse 23), which is, of course, the human predicament, Paul states that people, “are justified by his (God’s) grace as a gift…” (3:24 ESV). This tells us that justification is somehow a gift of God’s grace and that it is therefore not earned. Verse 26 says of God that He is the “justifier,” which denotes God as the supreme judge who has the final word in the case.
Paul switches analogies somewhat in chapter 4 by using the language of accounting. Picking up on the idea that justification is a gift from God, Paul points to Abraham whom God used to begin His whole work of redemption to begin with. The apostle uses the phrase, “counted to him as righteousness” and the word “counted” throughout this section, nearly every verse in verses 3–10 containing them. It is affirmed that God justifies the ungodly (verse 5) and that He does so by counting them righteous apart from works (verse 6). The word “counted” appears in other translations as “credited” (NIV, NASB, HCSB, NET) and “accounted” or “imputed” (NKJV). The Greek word is logizomai and means “to impute; to regard, deem, consider, conclude, presume.” Moo also provides a helpful definition of this crediting. Crediting Abraham’s faith as righteousness means “to account to him a righteousness that does not inherently belong to him.” This shows, then, that God is making a conclusion regarding the sinner. He regards them as righteous.

Justification, then, can be said to be the free act and gift of God whereby He concludes that a person is considered righteous in His sight, even when that person is indeed guilty of sin.
This definition, however, says nothing about the basis upon which this justification is counted. In the sixteenth century, both the Roman Catholic Church and the newly formed Protestant Church both agreed that justification was something that God does. They also agreed that is was a judicial declaration and that no one can be justified until God declared that a person was righteous. The main issue that separated them then was the question of what basis or grounds God declared a person to be righteous.
On what basis would God declare that a sinner is just when, in fact, he is guilty of sin? One can clearly see that God’s own righteousness is at stake here. A judge who lets a person off as innocent when he is guilty can hardly be considered righteous or just. Paul goes to great lengths in Romans 1:18 – 3:20 to establish the guilt of all human beings, both Jews and Gentiles, because all are “under sin” (Romans 3:9 ESV).
The answer to this dilemma of basis or grounds is found all through Romans 3:21 – 4:25, and is expounded upon in 5:12-21. Over and over Paul makes it clear that justification is based upon, not the works of the Law, but upon Jesus Christ. This is seen in all its glory, once again, in verse 24 of chapter 3. Paul declares that people are “justified by (God’s) grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ESV).
What is it about Jesus Christ that becomes the basis of man’s justification? The answer comes by way of comparison between man’s sin and Jesus’ righteousness; between man’s unfaithfulness to God and Christ’s faithfulness; between man’s inability to keep the righteous demands of the Law and Christ’s perfection in keeping it. God’s righteousness is gifted to sinners based not on man’s ability, but “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22 NET).
This faithfulness of Jesus Christ is expounded upon in Romans 5:12-19 where Paul makes a distinction between Adam whereby man received his guilt, and Christ whereby believers receive righteousness. John Piper comments that this passage “brings Paul’s exposition of justification in Romans 3-5 to a climax with a stunning comparison between the effect of Adam’s disobedience on those who are in him and the effect of Christ’s obedience on those who are in him.” Paul makes clear that “sin came into the world” through one man, and that sin and death spread to all men (5:12). This one man is without question Adam (verse 14). “That sin entered through one man is an integral element of the comparison or parallel upon which is to be built Paul’s doctrine of justification.” When Paul says that sin “entered the world,” he is referring to the entrance of sin into the human race. It is not the case, therefore, that people are guilty simply because all people committed their own sins. Paul is clear here that through Adam’s sin, all people are guilty, even those who did not sin in the same way Adam did (verses 13-14).
The comparison is completed when Paul says that “much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (5:15 ESV). If it still wasn’t clear whether justification was in view here, Paul brings the microscope in even closer by saying, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (5:17 ESV). According to John Calvin, this means “that God graciously communicates righteousness to the unrighteous creature in order to restore that creature to fullness of life.”
So then it is made clear that the free gift of righteousness comes to people through Jesus Christ. But why? Paul’s answer is as clear as it is direct. “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (5:18-19 ESV). As Thomas Schreiner comments on these verses, “Paul adds the thought of Christ’s righteous conduct as the means of righteousness for believers.”
It is important at this juncture to point out the truth that Paul pointed out to his Roman readers that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in (God’s) sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). As Paul shows later in chapter 8, this is true because of the sinfulness of man’s flesh (8:3). Therefore, the righteous requirement of the law cannot be fulfilled in sinful man. However, Paul reveals that God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (8:3-4 ESV). In other words, Christ was perfectly obedient to the law, thus earning by His faithfulness the righteousness that would be counted to sinful men.
It is vital to note here that Jesus’ obedience led him all the way to the cross where his death made atonement for sins. Elsewhere, Paul states that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). God put Christ forward as a propitiation (3:25). “This clause contains the basis of our deliverance from the curse of the law, and our acceptance with God.” Thomas Schreiner makes this clear. “This justification is accomplished through the ransoming work of Jesus Christ on the cross.” John Murray brings the obedience of Christ together with the death of Christ very nicely. “It is through Christ’s sacrificial and redemptive work (Rom. 3:24; 5:9; 8:33-34). We are justified in Jesus’ blood. The particular significance of this truth in this connection is that it is the once-for-all redemptive accomplishment of Christ that is brought into the centre of attention when we are thinking of justification.”
According to Sproul, the Bible makes a distinction between Jesus’ active obedience and His passive obedience. “Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law of God was such that he earned by his own merit eternal felicity with the Father in the Father’s kingdom. He fulfilled all the terms of God’s covenant with man, the promise for which was blessedness.” That blessedness, says Sproul, is the eternal reward for His perfect obedience which He then trades for our sin. This perfect active obedience leads up to His perfect passive obedience, which is “submitting himself to the curse of the law and the wrath of the Father by willingly bearing our sins upon the cross.” It is both Christ’s active obedience and His passive obedience which are essential for the justification of a sinner.
Therefore, the righteousness that is given to sinners is God’s own righteousness through the obedience of Christ. “Justification is an act which proceeds from God’s free grace. It is an act of God and God alone. And the righteousness which supplies its ground or basis is the righteousness of God.” This, in turn, “vindicates” God, showing that He is faithful to keep His promises (Genesis 12:1-3) and that He can do so justly. Moo makes this point by saying, “God’s ‘righteousness’ carries the legal connotation of ‘vindication.’ When he intervenes in Christ, he is vindicating his name and displaying his faithfulness to the ‘contract’ he entered into with the world.”
This leads to the consideration of the means by which this justification is acquired. Although Paul said in 5:18 that “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men,” Paul is not advocating universalism. Rather, he is saying that there is no other way for men to be saved. There remains, therefore, the need to uncover what the means is by which men may obtain this righteousness.
Paul goes to great length in Romans to inform his readers that justification cannot be obtained through keeping the law. He sums up his previous argument in the opening chapters of the letter by saying, “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20 ESV). The following verse is the pivotal verse which begins the good news that God provided a way to be justified without the works of the law. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…” (3:21 ESV). It has been established that it is through the finished work and complete faithfulness of Jesus Christ that our justification rests, but how does one go about obtaining this justification?
Paul’s answer is clear. Justification goes to all who believe (verse 22). “Because Christ paid the price for all our sin, ‘all that believe’ in Him (3:22) stand justified in God’s sight.” He further clarifies this by stating that it is to be received by faith. Sinners are “justified by grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:24-25 ESV).
In returning to chapter 4 of Romans, Paul shows his readers that there is solid foundation for justification through faith and that since it is by faith, no one has any grounds to boast. “Throughout this chapter, Paul grounds his exposition in the key verse, cited in 4:3, of Genesis 15:6: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ The focus is especially on the nature and meaning of Abraham’s believing.”
It is vital to make a distinction between ground and means, however. Faith is not the cause of our righteousness. Schaeffer explains, “It doesn’t mean that faith makes you righteous. This would be contrary to the entire teaching of Paul, indeed the entire teaching of the Bible. Rather, righteousness comes as you are linked…to the promises of God that have been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. By faith, you are entered into this righteousness.” Hodge also concludes, “Faith is not the basis of our justification. Faith is not the righteousness which makes us righteous before God…This righteousness is through faith, as it is received and appropriated by faith.”
This faith that Paul speaks of is a trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises just as Abraham believed God would be faithful to His promises. Paul Achtemeier says this clearly. “We have therefore in Abraham an example of how trust in God’s faithfulness is to be exercised.”
This trust in God’s promises is in complete opposition to works of the law. “To want to depend on such works means to want to depend on ourselves, rather than on God.” But as Paul points out, if justification was given to man by works, “his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due” (4:4 ESV). It is clear, however, that justification is not received by works because it is by God’s grace through faith. “Paul makes this clear in the very next verse by saying, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (4:5 ESV). The reason for this is because the law brings wrath, not salvation (4:15). “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (4:16 ESV).
Why, then, does Paul also say, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who are justified” (2:13)? Paul is not speaking here of the method of justification available for sinners, but rather the principle by which all will be judged finally. Sproul summed up this issue by saying, “In the final analysis, we are justified by works – but not our works.”
Time Factors
Since justification is a judicial declaration by God that a person is righteous in His sight based on the finished work of Christ, then it is a one-time act. Paul shows this in Romans 5:1 when he declares, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…” R.C. Sproul points out the difference between the biblical view and the Roman Catholic view. “The great truth of the ‘therefore’ is that we can be justified now, contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church claims. Those who put their faith in Jesus Christ do not have a prolonged wait for their justification. The moment they believe in Jesus and put their trust in him, God declares them just, once and for all.” The “have been justified” refers to an act in the past. It is something that God accomplished through the finished work of Christ. Note that Christ’s work is finished. Our justification is a past action and we receive it when we believe. Sproul goes on to explain, “We see that our justification is a fait accompli. It took place the moment we believed—it is not something that we must wait to accomplish in purgatory.”
Not only is our justification accomplished once and for all time, but there are results from it. In the same verse, Paul goes on to declare that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that this peace comes through Jesus Christ, the agent of peace. Justification solves sinners’ problem of being under God’s wrath as outlined in 1:18 – 2:29. Paul makes clear that those who are in the flesh are hostile to God and cannot please Him (Romans 8:7). Through Christ, however, we have been made at peace with God.
The second result of justification is that believers have access to God. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (5:2). This means that we have access to the Father. In a believer’s previous state of sin, with sin not being covered and guilt not being removed, the sinner is cast out from the presence of God and has become a fugitive. But because of Christ, believers may now enter God’s presence. Literally, this verse means that the believer has access into a life of grace whereby God continues to pour out His grace upon him.
Thirdly, because of justification, believers have hope. “…and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (5:2 ESV). This solves man’s dilemma that Paul outlined in 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV). This also means that believers can rejoice in the midst of their sufferings while they are still on earth (5:3). This doesn’t mean that God promises believers a trouble-free life, but it does mean that God will use even the sufferings to bring about even greater blessing.
As Christians persevere in this life which often includes suffering, justification provides an assurance of a future glory which God has prepared for his people. Paul states, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us” (8:18 ESV). Because justification is a once-for-all act by God which is not dependent upon any works that the person did, believers can be assured that their justification “will not disappoint” (5:5) and will translate into glorification on the day when Christ returns.
Paul leaves no room for doubt on this. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (5:9-10 ESV). As Moo says, The parallel ‘how much more’ arguments of verse 9-10 reiterate the hope that Paul has introduced earlier in the passage….And our hope is certain not only because it is based in God’s work for us (5:9-10) but also because it is rooted in God’s love for us (5:5-8).
This love that God has for believers is recounted by Paul in a major way in chapter 8, solidifying the assurance Christians have of their final glorification, and reassuring that since God justified us, no one can undo what He has done. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (8:32-34 ESV). Francis Schaeffer elaborates, “When Jesus died for us, He said, ‘It is finished.’ The debt for our sin was fully paid. But then, ‘much more,’ He rose again.” This is what is meant in 4:25 when Paul says, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. So then faith rests not just on Jesus’ death, but also on His resurrection, whereby our justification and future glorification is made sure. “Through Jesus’ resurrection, the same opportunity (resurrection) is now afforded us.”
Paul concludes his argument by declaring in the strongest possible terms that, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39 ESV).
The conclusion to the matter, then, is that “the only righteousness sufficient for us to stand before the judgment of God is the righteousness of Christ.” Justification by faith alone means that justification is by Christ alone, by His righteousness, which is received by faith.

Achtemeier, Paul J. Interpretation: Romans. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1985.

Barnhouse, Donald Grey. Romans: Chapters 1:1 – 5:11. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers,

Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,

Lowe, Bruce A. “Oh dia! How is Romans 4:25 to be Understood?” Journal of Theological
Studies 57, no. 1 (2006).

Moo, Douglas J. The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Murray, John. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1959.

—-. Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955.

Piper, John. Counted Righteous in Christ. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2002.

Santmire, H. Paul. “Justification in Calvin’s 1540 Commentary” in Church History 33, no.3

Schaeffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ. Wheaton: Crossway, 1998.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Romans. Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Sproul, R.C. St. Andrews Expositional Commentary: Romans. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009.

—-. “The Christological Crisis.” Lecture, Ligonier Fall Conference from Ligonier Ministries,
Sanford, FL, September 19, 2014.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romans and the Christian Worldview


Both the contemporary secular culture and the world’s many religions offer an array of options on how people view the world around them. They all offer their own way of seeing how life ought to be lived. In the midst of this culture Christians need to know how God has purposed for His creatures to see the world and to live in obedience to Him. The Word of God in general and the letter to the Romans in particular reveals the foundation to the worldview that God’s people are to possess. Romans addresses the main issues that stand in stark contrast to the worldview of this secular age and the world’s religions. Such issues include how the world was created, sin, salvation, eschatology, ethics, and theology.
The letter to the Romans, a letter that focuses on the gospel, begins by informing us about the foundational event that is necessary for our understanding of the gospel: creation.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20 ESV)

Couched within the language of God’s wrath upon man’s unrighteousness, Paul reveals the reason for God’s wrath, namely the fact that people have failed to see Him as their Creator and sovereign Lord. Paul Achtemeier says, “To imagine that God is something other than he is, the sovereign Lord and sole Creator of all that exists, brings in its train terrible consequences…to refuse to acknowledge him as divine Creator and Lord is to remove oneself from any possibility of fellowship with him.”
In these verses we see that natural creation reveals to all men clearly that God not only exists, but also reveals His “eternal power and divine nature” (v. 19). This agrees with Psalm 19:1 which states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (ESV). This knowledge of God is not a saving knowledge, but leaves people without excuse for their unrighteousness. “Paul’s purpose is to show that the knowledge of God that all people have through observing the created order is suppressed (v.18) and distorted (vv. 21-23), so that all without exception have no excuse.”
Paul goes on to show that humanity is wholly turned against God. He says in 1:21 that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (ESV). He then proceeds to list in 1:22-32 an overview of their sinful lifestyles that reveals a Godless worldview. This is seen also in 3:18 which declares, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is a condition which is clearly seen in today’s culture through the continual increase and boldness of people’s sinful lifestyles.
What does Romans reveal to us that lets us know the consequences of such a lifestyle? Since God is Creator, and since His creatures have sinned against Him, there is a penalty for that sin, and yet people continue to live in unbelief as if they answer only to themselves. Beginning in chapter 2, Paul tells of God’s righteous judgment on mankind’s sin. Being a Jew doesn’t get one off the hook, either, since even the Jews have shown that they are unable to keep God’s righteous laws (2:17-29). The consequences of this sin is God’s wrath (1:18; 2:5-11).
Since the problem for man is their being “under sin” and because of that sin they are unable to live according to God’s righteous standards, man is in need of rescue. Paul declares boldly in 3:21 that God has made a way for mankind to be made right with God apart from the law. Verse 22 reveals this way as being through faith in Jesus Christ. Why is this so? Paul unfolds the details in verses 23-26. All people have sinned (v. 23), but God brought about the justification of all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, and this is by grace which is a gift (v. 24). Through His death and the shedding of His blood, Jesus became our propitiation (v. 25) which was God’s way of justly being able to turn away His wrath from sinners who place their faith in Jesus Christ (v. 26) and to declare them righteous. This was the mission that Jesus Christ came to fulfill. In Christ, believers, then, have peace with God (5:1).
While justification is a judicial declaration whereby God counts a sinner righteous by faith in Christ, sanctification is a process whereby we become more like Christ. It is the process by which we realize and work out the truth that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (6:18). But this process still is not something we do on our own. We are given the Holy Spirit to give us the power to walk according to His ways and not the ways of the flesh. Through the Spirit we are to “put to death” the deeds of the flesh (8:5-13). As Moo points out, “We must recognize that the grace and power of God that justified us continue to be at work to sanctify us. God expects us to obey him, but our very obedience is the product of his grace.” Our part in this is to “present our members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (6:19 ESV).
Although we may see our current journey of sanctification as a struggle, we are given assurance that one day our struggle will cease. In Romans 8, Paul begins to delineate between the present age and the age to come. In light of all that Christ has done for us, and in light of the fact that we now are radically identified with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:5-11), we look forward to a day when we will be resurrected like Christ. Romans 8:18-30 talks about the present suffering which will one day give way to a future glory. Verse 19 states that the creation itself even groans, as it were, eagerly awaiting for the revealing of the sons of God. Here we see Paul revealing God’s plan not only to redeem people, but also the whole of God’s creation. Paul spells this out clearly in 8:29-31 with what is commonly called “the golden chain” of redemption – believers are foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. This brings assurance of final salvation as is laid out in 8:31-39, namely that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39 ESV).
Our eschatology, then, should affect our ethics. Since “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (13:11), our ethical conduct should reflect that belief. As Christians, we are to live in obedience to God and not walk in the lusts of our flesh (8:5). We are not to be conformed to this world (12:2). We are called to love one another, show honor to one another, pray, and show hospitality toward one another (12:9-13; 13:8-10). We are commanded to do what is honorable in the sight of all, and to live at peace with everyone so long as it depends on us (12:17-18). We are to live properly and make no provision for the flesh (13:13-14).
Romans also addresses ethical worldview issues that speak to the current culture. A true ethical worldview must be based on some standard. It cannot arbitrarily exist. As we have seen in Romans 1:18-20, that standard is God. We also see in 2:15 that all people have the moral law of God written on their hearts and in their conscience. “The conscience in Gentiles proves that they are keenly aware of moral norms that accord with the Mosaic law.” Schreiner continues, “Here the purpose is to show that Gentiles who do not have the written law have a twofold witness to the moral norms of the law. First, the commands of the law are written in their hearts, and second, the conscience also testifies to the validity of those norms, in that it condemns or approves of the behavior practiced.” Paul also tells us that all people know God’s decree and that those who practice unrighteousness know that what they do is wrong (1:32). It is the Mosaic law of God, however, that gives mankind special revelation of what God’s standard of morality is (2:12-24; 12:1-2).
This all leads us to an overarching subject that is part of every person’s worldview, and one which affects all the other parts. Everyone has some view of God (1:21). Even atheists have a view of God, albeit one that believes that He doesn’t exist. This means that theology is a part of everyone’s worldview.
Throughout the letter to the Romans we see God’s nature and many of His attributes on full display. God is powerful and holy (1:4), and He is a God of grace and peace (1:7). He is a righteous God and a God of wrath (1:17-18), an eternal and all-powerful God who created all things (1:20), a God who decrees (1:32), and a God of judgment (2:1-24), yet He is a God who shows no partiality (2:11). God’s righteousness also reveals that He is a God of mercy and grace (3:21 – 11:36).
In chapter 5 we see God’s great love on full display, while chapters 6 and 7 remind us again of God’s holiness. From there we see God as a great liberator (8:1-25), and we also see God’s great providence in the lives of His people (8:26-30). This all comes together to show a God of matchless love who ably keeps His children in His care until the very end (8:31-39).
God is a completely sovereign God who does whatever He wills (9:1-29), and unfolds His perfect plan of redemption throughout all of history, a plan which includes people from the whole world (9:30 – 11:32).
Finally, we get a glimpse of God’s perfect knowledge and wisdom (11:34; 16:27) and the God who holds all riches (11:35). All this is summed up in acknowledging God as a God who is supreme in glory (11:35; 16:27).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The First Great Awakening

Jonathan Edwards

     The Great Awakening is a name used to describe a period of time in the early to middle part of the eighteenth century in colonial America when God’s Spirit moved in a mighty and unusual way bringing renewal to churches and new birth to thousands of unbelievers. It was actually made up of a series of local revivals which were part of a larger movement of spiritual renewal that affected a large geographic area and many dimensions of colonial life in America. This awakening not only affected the religious affections of the population, but also transformed its cultural and political landscape as well. The history can be traced clearly by studying the accounts of its two most influential Christian figures of the time, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.
      The spiritual climate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century was far from pious. The spiritual ideals of the original Pilgrims had been forgotten and “serious theological and moral decline had set in.” Spiritual devotion gave way to indifference, drunkenness, and debauchery. In 1704, one of the more prominent pastors of that day, Cotton Mather, described the situation well by saying, “It is confessed by all who know anything of the matter…that there is a general and horrible decay of Christianity among the professors of it…the modern Christianity is too generally but a…shadow of the ancient.”
      During this same period of time, there were some small seasons of revival, or “harvests,” under the ministry of Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), grandfather of Jonathan Edwards and pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Stoddard was instrumental in developing what came to be the accepted method of revivals in his and future generations. Although he did believe that it was the Holy Spirit who ultimately drew people to salvation, he employed the use of powerful preaching which focused first on the threat of damnation, followed by the offer of hope in the grace of Jesus Christ. This later became the method in which his grandson, Jonathan Edwards, employed with his own preaching.
      Ironically, Stoddard, along with other pastors of the late seventeenth century such as Increase Mather, also added to the problematic situation with regard to church degradation. Mather, on the one hand, had allowed a loose set of requirements for baptism which led to “halfway” members which were congregants who were baptized but not converted. On the other hand, Stoddard, whose sole focus was converting souls for Christ, employed the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance,” hoping that the unbeliever would eventually be converted by including them.
      In spite of these ecclesiastical misgivings, it was Stoddard who paved the way for what would come to be known as the evangelical theology of conversion which would be employed for many years to come. Later, in his memoir called A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737), Jonathan Edwards said of Stoddard that he was “renowned for his gifts and grace; so he was blessed, from the beginning, with extraordinary success in his ministry in the conversion of many souls.”
      While Edwards and Whitefield would later become the superstars of the Great Awakening, one cannot neglect to mention the contribution of two other very influential people in the period. T.J. Frelinghuysen (1691-1747) was a Dutch Reformed pastor in Brunswick, New Jersey, and is generally credited as being one of the primary instruments of the beginning of the First Great Awakening. Frelinghuysen was known for fearlessly preaching the new birth, often amidst ridicule and attack. He is quoted as saying, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than not to preach the truth.” The other famous revivalist was Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764) who had been encouraged by Frelinghuysen’s success. As an extremely strong orator, Tennent spoke up against ministers who were themselves unconverted. His most famous sermon was entitled, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.”
      It was Jonathan Edwards, however, who became the brightest light in New England during the time. Much like John Calvin in the sixteenth century, Edwards was a scholar and had aspirations of studying and writing. His path took a much different turn, however, when his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, called him to be assistant pastor at his church in Northampton in 1727. When his grandfather died two years later, Edwards took over his pulpit.
      Edwards had great concern for his flock, and despaired for their lack of piety and spiritual ignorance. He preached frequently on such themes as original sin, justification by faith, and the sovereignty of God. Edwards was simple and reserved and while he wasn’t known for his oratorical prowess, his sermons we theologically rich and carried the power of God in them.
      Beginning in the winter of 1734-1735, the Spirit of God began to move mightily in his church as he preached a series of sermons on justification by faith. Revival had already been lit by Frelinghuysen and Tennent down in New Jersey, but it was Edwards who became the lightning rod for its explosion. Because of the prevailing culture of the time, the revival centered around the message that “outward morality is not enough for salvation, an inward change is necessary.”
      Although Edwards was cautious about definitely pronouncing someone as “saved,” he estimated that around three hundred people were converted in the first six month period of the revival. He described the revival as truly “universal” because, in contrast to Stoddard’s smaller “harvests” which seemed to affect many more women than men, this revival affected all ages of men, women, and children. It had also crossed racial boundaries as well, as Edwards accounted, when “several Negroes…appear(ed) to have been truly born again.”
      Two of Edwards’ most famous sermons were “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” Ironically, these sermons represented a minority of the themes on which he preached, yet their impact was felt tremendously. The latter was a sermon which was based on God’s absolute sovereignty, and even though Edwards delivered it in his usual unemotional manner, the congregation responded with weeping and crying out to God for mercy.
      The revival eventually spread to other neighboring towns in the region. Edwards wrote a detailed account of it in his famous work A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God which eventually was published in 1737 and was widely disseminated and read. The account is credited for contributing to the growing revival in Great Britain in 1738 and made a deep impression on the newly converted John Wesley.
      Someone else who had heard of the Northampton awakening of 1734-1735 is English evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770). Although the awakening in Northampton had waned by 1736, the people of New England had hopes for a greater revival and had heard of Whitefield’s exploits in Great Britain.
      In contrast to Edwards, George Whitefield was a fiery and theatrical preacher. He had no desire to be a pastor such as Edwards, but was known for his itinerant ministry. He was a man of zeal and intense spiritual passion as well as being a brilliant orator. Due to his loud and clear voice which could be heard at a great distance, he more often preferred to preach in the open air and in fields which could accommodate the sometimes tens of thousands that would come to hear him preach.
      Whitefield’s fame as a preacher spread all over Britain and even to the American colonies. His preaching became extremely popular in London, Bristol, Gloucester, and Bath. In 1738 he first came to the Colonies while laboring at an orphanage in Georgia which had been abandoned by John and Charles Wesley due to their lack of success there. After exchanging letters with Edwards in 1739, Whitefield set out on a preaching tour of the Colonies, eventually making his way to New England. His tour took him to many cities throughout colonial America including Philadelphia where he drew such large crowds that Benjamin Franklin, whom he considered a personal friend, would often simply enjoy listening to his powerful oratory skills, although remaining unconverted by his message.
      Wherever Whitefield traveled, revival fires re-ignited. Accompanied by William Tennant, Sr. and his son, Gilbert Tennant, Whitefield became the catalyst for the spread of the awakening to all the Middle Colonies and eventually to New England. Whitefield traveled all over New England including Boston, Roxbury, Marblehead, Newbury, Portsmouth, and as far north as York, Maine.
Eventually Whitefield made his way over to Northampton, making good on his promise to Edwards that he would visit the area. Whitefield preached against the backslidings of the people there and many came under conviction, including Edwards’ own children. Although Edwards was very moved by his preaching, when Whitefield departed Edwards preached on the need for lasting fruit and warned his congregation that Whitefield’s brand of revivalism could lead to hypocrisy.
      Whitefield’s tour of the colonies continued until the fall of 1740. By the time he left for England, tens of thousands of people had been affected by his ministry. “His method of theatrical field preaching rejuvenated New England’s substantial revival tradition and captivated tens of thousands of listeners.” His preaching against unconverted ministers left no small controversy behind, however, which left the local preachers such as Gilbert Tennant to continue their work in that area.
      The results of the Great Awakening were numerous. First and foremost was the number of souls that were converted to Christ which was estimated at being between 25,000 and 50,000 in New England alone. Churches of many denominations enjoyed a large increase in membership and several hundred new churches were born.
      Education was also greatly affected by the Awakening. William Gilbert’s Log College eventually became Princeton University, and other major universities were also birthed in this era such as Dartmouth, Brown University, and Rutgers University. Benjamin Franklin built a hall for George Whitefield to preach in when he was in Philadelphia, and that hall eventually became the University of Pennsylvania.
      The Awakening was responsible also for creating unity between the colonies since it transcended geographical and denominational barriers. This unity was instrumental in fostering suspicion of influences from Europe in general and Great Britain in particular. These feelings are believed by many to have indirectly led to the American Revolution. At the very least, they fostered the unity that was necessary for the development of a new nation.
      Not all the results of the Great Awakening were positive, however. The accompanying emotionalism and excess that some pastors allowed to run rampant created schisms that to this day are not healed. One of the ways that Jonathan Edwards’ influence is felt even to this day is his literary contributions that addressed these matters. Edwards was responsible for producing the first theology for revival in works such as Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1734), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742), and most notably, Religious Affections (1746). Through these works he helped his contemporary generation as well as future generations be able to better discern the difference between carnal religious emotionalism and the true work of the Spirit.
      The United States is still experiencing the effect of the Great Awakening to this day, especially in the evangelical movement which was birthed from this move of God’s Spirit. Most of all, however, we have the history of the Great Awakening, along with the wisdom and experience that came from it, to look back on and learn from. We can compare the degradation of our own society with that of colonial New England and be moved to prayer that God would once again move in power in our day as He did then in order that many may be brought into the kingdom of God.



Dallimore, Arnold. George Whitefield. (London: The Banner of Truth, 1970).

Edwards, Jonathan. Sermons of Jonathan Edwards. (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005).

Hardman, Keith J. Seasons of Refreshing: Evangelism and Revivals in America. (Grand Rapids:
Baker Books, 1994).

Kidd, Thomas S. The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial
America. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

Lescelius, Robert H. “The Great Awakening: A Pattern Revival.” Reformation and Revival 04:3
(Summer 1995).

Thornbury, John F. “Another Look at the First Great Awakening.” Reformation and Revival 04:3
(Summer 1995).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment