“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”
What do the words of an 18th century theologian and pastor have to do with our nation’s birthday? Well, you might just say that through this one man, Jonathan Edwards, America renewed her soul before she won her independence. Edwards was named pastor of the Congregational Church of Northampton, Mass., in 1726. He later was kicked out of that church because of his fiery convictions. In the 25 years that followed, he planted a church and was the president of Princeton University. Jonathan Edwards is rightly called the greatest theologian America every produced.
Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones encouraged his congregation at Westminster Chapel in London, during World War II, to read Edwards’ writings. Why? He understood that Edwards combined the head and the heart in a way that imitated Christ and was thus used powerfully by God to bring genuine revival.
People in difficult times need to see how God has worked in times past, when hope seemed distant. Edwards, in 1746, after a mighty move of God that awakened an emerging nation, wrote his Treatise on the Religious Affections, in which he said that “true religion, in large part, consist of holy affections.” What were “holy affections” to Edwards? He wrote, “The affections are the more vigorous and practical exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.”
Edwards believed that undiluted doctrine, the truths of the Word of God preached and urged upon our minds, thus transforming our souls, produces hearts alive with the glory of God. This produces the deep awareness of our sin and God’s glorious salvation in Jesus Christ. This, in turn, produces new life and new ways of living. Someone once said “there are 12 inches between heaven and Hell-the distance from the head to the heart.” Edwards would have agreed. This core value of his was blessed by God. The Lord also blessed his strong preaching of Bible truths with a wind of revival that sent wave after wave of refreshing grace and the love for Christ and the truths of His Word through the colonies. Sinners were converted to Christ and began to bring the gospel to bear in every area of their lives. Believers, for so long tired and suffering from the effects of strange new doctrines coming from Europe, were renewed with a desire to glorify God with all of their being. Within a few years, America, as an independent nation, was born. We were literally born out of a revival of doctrinal preaching. That is not just this preacher’s opinion. Read the British historian Paul Johnson. Johnson’s unparalleled History of the American People is the best one-volume American history I have ever read. Johnson sees America as a nation born out of revival.
But so what? Why would a pastor today want his people to think about these things of the past? Here is my answer: We are a nation, a people, a church, who need to be awakened by the divine outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our generation. As believers living through these years and called by God to be His witness in our time, we need a divine work of the Spirit. As we head deeper, year after year, into this 21st century, we must pray that God will send forth His Spirit in a powerful way. We can learn from how He chose to work in Edwards’ day. We learn that He did it by blessing His Word and the undiluted and unadorned truths of His Word. That Word ignited souls. The souls burned with love for God and for man.
Everything we need in our day is found in the sweet work of the Spirit of God in revival. Everything we fear about our generation-the unbridled lust, the lack of love of God and lack of concern for human life-will be conquered by His power displayed in revival. We learn that we need both heads and hearts. As Edwards put it, we must have “holy affections.”
Would you pray with me that God would send revival? Will you pray that this Fourth of July, the Lord will send fireworks of renewed faith and love and sound minds that will light the skies of our nation? For it was through such a move of God, long ago, that those fireworks got up off of the ground in the first place.