Monday, June 13, 2005

Sinners in the hands of an angry God?

Christian Counter Culture has sadly just published an extract from Steve Chalke's The Lost Message of Jesus (more like "losing the message of Jesus"). Chalke again quotes from Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten I thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else that you did not go to hell the last night; that you suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell."
A sermon which also contains this great appeal for repentance and encounter with the Saving God...
"And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God"
Whether Chalke likes it or not the Bible issues both appeal and warning. Chalke's starting point seems to be that since judgement is unpopular we best avoid it. But he fails to see why it is unpopular.

People hate talk of judgement like criminals hate the law of the land. Judgement-talk rams up against human sinful pride with a verdict of guilty. Only the humble can embrace talk of God's just judgement. Knowing the depth of sin but also the breadth of God's mercy to which we fly. Sin is no social condition it is offence against the Creator God. Its serious.

Edwards knew much of scriptures warnings and talk of hell. But he knew also of heaven's mercies and joys. And you can't have talk of one without talk of the other when in the company of sinners.
"God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is"

Chalke asks:
"Why does the Church believe that it is preaching "good news", while the public invariably thinks its message is "bad news"?"
The answer is that as a community of redeemed sinners the church encounters the gospel as good news. It is good news because the death of Jesus offers escape from judgement and entry into the riches of heaven. Jesus gives himself to those who will recieve him.

But for those who are still perishing the gospel is bad news. The same message that speaks life to one, speaks death to another. The cross speaks great offense to proud hearts. The cross says game over to those who will not humble themselves. Christ is offered to the repentant - the greatest of treasures. Those who decline the offer remain guilty and facing judgement. The appeal is turn from sin to Christ, your situation is more perilous that you realise, the prize is greater than you can imagine. You are more sinful than you know, and God's grace and love to you is more than you can comprehend.


  1. Mmmm. If you ever want to feel convicted, read 'The justice of God in the damnation of sinners'. It has a similar effect. God's grace shines so brightly next to warnings of his coming judgement.

  2. Thanks, I'm working my way through the Sermons. I'll make that my next one.

  3. To be fair to Chalke, I think that he has good reason to wonder why the Christian Gospel is perceived as bad news by most people, and it's not just because people are sinners.

    In any case, surely the Gospel is Good News for sinners?

    Edwards' sermons are good and sobering but I think a problem with the way he presents God's justice is that he makes it sound like the opposite of God's love.

    I think when we talk about God and sin we nearly always forget to mention Jesus and his attitude towards sinners and how he brought God's justice to them, otherwise our theologies can become a bit lopsided.

    Also I think Edwards said that God derived equal pleasure from both the screams of the damned in hell and the singing of the righteous in heaven, which seems to me to suggest that God is ultimately indifferent to us, and contrary to a lot of what scripture actually teaches about God.

    Nevertheless Edwards is a great preacher and we would all do well to learn from him.

  4. Hey Sven,

    Yeah I agree the gospel is good news to non-Christians, but only actually if they become Christians... for those who wont/dont it declares judgement as much as it declares the way to life.

    Chalkes questions are good, I just think he finds the wrong answers. I

    In terms of Edwards I guess we want to have every sermon totally balanced - over his whole preaching to a regular audience I think he gets a good balance,... one off quotes don't do anyone any favours! Though even in SITHOAG Edwards talks plenty about mercy - and it is an appeal to those who persistently sat in his church without repenting.

    My suspicion is that Edwards knew a whole lot more about hell and about heaven than I do.

  5. It's a shame seeing the way that CC has gone after its excellent beginning. I still nip in sometimes to see what's happeing, and I saw the Chalke article and blogged on it as well (more verbose and probably less pertinently! Christian Conterculture Confusion). In the same issue they published Chalke's essay, they published a pretty positive review of Carson's Becoming Conversent with the Emergent, which seemed strange! Sadly, they post a pretty glowing review of Chalke's book at DR, which is peculiar considering the positive review of Carson who harsly criticises Chalke (rightly so).

    Anyway, appreciate the blog, and the Beginning with Moses site (it's excellent!). Keep up the good work.

    In Christ,