The Boring Jonathan Edwards

Some preachers have to wonder, in those moments of exhaustion after delivering a sermon, if the listeners’ response was due to the Word of God or to the entertainment value of the sermon, or maybe the compelling nature of the delivery.  Jonathan Edwards did not likely ever have to ask this question.  I could say that Edwards’ sermons probably did not flirt with anything entertaining, but it may be better for you to hear them for yourself.  Take a few moments to visit features Edwards’ sermons read by talented readers.  “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” probably Edwards’ most famous sermon, is available in a number of renditions, recorded by multiple readers with a variety different approaches.  All of them follow the exact same manuscript, which would be better situated in the pages of a theology book.  One reader works extremely hard to add flare to this sermon but is still unsuccessful.  But it's not his fault.  

Justo Gonzalez says, “[Edwards'] sermons were not exceptionally emotive” (1985, 228).  However, these same dry, academic sermons were eliciting a physical, emotional response in the hearers. And there were lots of hearers responding.  The response was so great in fact, that when we think of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards is usually the first name to come to mind.  Revival was happening mostly because of Edwards’ unentertaining sermons. 

This is an outstanding example of the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  As a person listens, his or her heart is not stirred by powerful oration, smoke, and lights, but by the very hand of God.  Today’s preachers can learn a great deal from Edwards.  He was true to God’s Word and he did his best to teach it.  Listening to, or reading Edwards’ sermons will show that he deviated little from Scripture, always keeping the text in close proximity, allowing it to guide the direction of the sermon.  It is apparent that a great deal of study and attention to each word choice went into the sermon preparation; although it was not the work that was moving the hearer.  Edwards should give hope to the monotone, boring preacher.  And Edwards should serve as a reminder that with the Holy Spirit, the flattest sermon will have life, but without the Holy Spirit, the most exciting sermon will fall flat. 

González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day, Vol 2. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985. 

* The picture of Edwards is in the public domain.