From: Jonathan Edwards, (1705-1758).Edwards, Whitfield, the Wesleys were but a few of the "instruments" God used during the times of revival known as the Great Awakening, just prior to our War of Independence. A time that stirred and affected both England and America.
Conviction, which precedes conversion, is in regard to our sin and misery. But men are not thoroughly sensible of their sin or guilt, till they are sensible they deserve hell; nor thoroughly sensible of their misery, till they are sensible they are helpless.
NOTE: Conviction may come to all sorts of people, but it does not always have the same response from the one so convinced and convicted. For proof, you have but to look at the ministry of the Lord and the Apostles to see this. Some cried out for mercy and forgiveness, others "gnashed on Him with their teeth", in other words they were angry and made strong accusations against Him; even to the point of killing some. (i.e. our Lord and Stephen). Some even provoke God to withhold the strivings and convincing influences of His Spirit. Some provoke God to give them hardness of heart. "Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone." (Hos.4:16); "My people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would (have) none of Me. So I gave them up to their own hearts' lust; and they walked in their own counsels." (Ps.81:11,12) "I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face..." (Hosea 5:15)
DOCTRINE: It is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before He appears to them in His mercy and love.
APPLICATION AND WARNINGS:
1. If you have some convictions of sin and danger, be so very careful that you do not lose them. If you have the strivings of God's Spirit, God has met with you, led you to reflect upon your sins, and put a sensibility upon you that you are in danger of hell; made you sensible about your soul, and put you upon seeking salvation. Take heed that you do not lose your convictions, and grow senseless of eternal things, and negligent of your soul's concern, that you do not return to your former careless way.
2. There is grave danger in such a way. It is not all who are under some concern for their souls, and who have known some strivings of God's Spirit that "keep on". Many do not finish the race set before them in seeking after the Lord. There are many, who seem to be under strong convictions, and to be very earnest in seeking, whose convictions are but short-lived. They return to the way of neglect and carelessness. And Satan is doubtless diligently watching over you, to take you off your convictions. And the world is full of objects, which tend to take your mind from the soul's concern, and take possession of your mind, and to drive out the concerns of another world.
3. Consider, if your lose your convictions, it will be no advantage to you that ever you had them. They may even have led you to strive against sin, you felt the pain of the word that pierces, even tried to labor in some duty, and proceeded a considerable distance. When once you have lost your convictions, you will be as far from salvation as you were before you began; you will lost all the ground you have gained; you will go quite down to the bottom of the hill; the stream will immediately carry you back, All will be lost; you would have been better off never to have had those convictions.
4. You do not know that you shall ever have such an opportunity again. God is now striving with you by His Spirit. If you are under convictions, you have a precious opportunity, which, if you knew the worth of it, you would esteem as better than any temporal advantages. You have a price in your hands to get wisdom, which is more valuable than gold or silver. It is a great advantage to live under the means of grace, to enjoy the word and ordinances of God, and brought to know the way of salvation. It is a greater thing still to live under a powerful dispensation of the means of grace under a very instructive, convincing ministry. But it is a much greater privilege still to be the subject of the convincing influences of the Spirit of God. And if you lose it, it is questionable whether you will ever have the like advantage again. We are counseled to "seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near." (Is.55:6) A time in which God's Spirit is striving with a man by convictions of his sin and danger, is especially such a time, that is a sinner's best opportunity. It is especially a day of salvation, when God is pouring out His Spirit in immediately convincing and awakening in a man's own soul. Take heed that you do not by any means let it slip away.
5. If you "let it slip"; the way to heaven is now blocked up with greater difficulties than ever it was. Their hearts become harder for light, and convictions once quenched, create a new hardness of heart than it was before. You greatly offend God by quenching His Spirit, and returning to "your own way" again.
CONSIDER THE ENCOURAGEMENTS IN SEEKING HIS SALVATION:
Such assurance is given to those who go on to "seek Him with the whole heart". To seek to know Him, so we might believe on Him. Such assurance is given as: Those that come unto the Father by Me, I will in no wise cast them out." "Though your sins be as scarlet, you shall be made white as snow." "I will remember (your sins) no more."
But this all starts with conviction of sin. If the Holy Spirit has begun this good work, take courage, for so much of the world's multitude is permitted to just simply go on their way. Remember, God's redeeming grace and love in Christ is free and sovereign (i.e. God is not obliged in any way to give it); and it is altogether without any worthiness in those who are objects of it. But they cannot be made sensible of this redeeming grace until they are sensible of both their unworthiness and God's eternal wrath.
We would not be so bold to say, that if this time of conviction passes, there is NO HOPE. But we do say with the Word, you have NO PROMISE OF ANY OTHER TIME OF HOPE. Behold NOW is the day of salvation. That is why the prophet says, "Call upon Him while He is near."
Set yourself, not to hinder and quench the Spirit's work, but to that which would further and enhance it and lead to your salvation. Give yourself to prayer, bare your breast to further convicting work that the Spirit might be pleased to give. Place yourself under such preaching that would further that good work and bring you to cry out to the Savior like the blind man: "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." When He has so done, sight has come, sin is forgiven, do as Paul says in Eph. 2:10 "Walk in those good works which God has before ordained that you should walk in them."
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Who will deny that true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercises of the heart?
That religion which God requires, and will accept, DOES NOT consist in a weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little ABOVE A STATE OF INDIFFERENCE. God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, "fervent in spirit."
He spoke of old to Israel,"What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in ALL His ways, and to love Him with ALL THY HEART, AND WITH ALL THY SOUL?" This is the fruit of true regeneration.
If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigour in the actings of our inclinations so required as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious (hateful). True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it. Hence true religion is called the power of godliness, in distinction from the external appearances of it, that are only the form of it. II Tim. 3:5
The world continues from age to age in a pursuit of THINGS; but take away affections, and the spring of all this motion would be gone, and the motion itself would cease. And as in worldly things, worldly affections are very much the spring of men's action; so in religious matters the spring of their actions is very much religious affections: he that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of true religion.
Nothing is more manifest in fact, than that the things of religion take hold of men's souls no further than they affect them. There are multitudes that often hear the word of God, and therein hear of those things that are infinitely great and important, and that most concern them, and all that is heard seems to be wholly ineffectual upon them, and to make no alteration in their disposition or behaviour, and the reason is, they are NOT AFFECTED WITH WHAT THEY HEAR. I am bold to assert that there never was any considerable change wrought in the mind or conduct of any person, by anything of a religious nature that ever he read, heard, or saw, that HAD NOT HIS AFFECTIONS MOVED. Never was a natural man engaged earnestly to seek his salvation; never were any such brought to cry after wisdom, and lift up his voice for understanding, and to wrestle with God in prayer for mercy; nor was one ever induced to fly for refuge to Christ, while his heart REMAINED UNAFFECTED. Nor was there ever a saint awakened out of a cold, lifeless frame, or recovered from a declining state of religion, and brought back from a lamentable departure from God, WITHOUT HAVING HIS HEART AFFECTED.
And the impressing divine things on the hearts and the affections of men is evidently one great and main end for which God has ordained that His Word delivered in the holy Scriptures should be opened, applied, and set home upon men, in preaching. And there-fore it does not answer the aim which God had in this institution, merely for men to have good commentaries and books of divinity; because these may tend as well as preaching to give men a good doctrinal or speculative understanding of the things of the Word of God; yet they have not and equal tendency to impress them on men's hearts and affections. GOD HATH APPOINTED A PARTICULAR AND LIVELY APPLICATION OF HIS WORD TO MEN IN THE PREACHING OF IT, as a fit means to affect sinners with their own misery and the necessity of a remedy, and the glory and sufficiency of a remedy provided; and to stir up the pure minds of the saints, and quicken their affections, by often bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance.
Remember, God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel about "taking out of the stony heart, and putting in a heart of flesh." Now by a hard heart is plainly meant an UNAFFECTED heart, or a heart not easy to be moved with virtuous affections, like a stone, insensible, stupid, unmoved, and hard to be impressed. Hence the hard heart is called a STONY HEART, as opposed to a HEART OF FLESH,
that has feeling, and is sensibly touched and moved. We read in Scripture of a HARD HEART and a TENDER HEART; and these doubtless are contrary to one another. But what is a TENDER HEART BUT A HEART WHICH IS EASILY IMPRESSED WITH WHAT OUGHT TO AFFECT IT.?
He who has no religious affection is in a state of spiritual death, and is wholly destitute of the powerful, quickening, saving influences of the Spirit of God upon his heart. There can be a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a COLD AND UNAFFECTED HEART, there can be nothing divine in that light; that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of Divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will AFFECT THE HEART. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.
The prevailing prejudice against religious affections has the effect of hardening the hearts of sinners, and dampen the graces of the saints, and to stun the life and power of religion, and to hold us down in a state of dulness and apathy. There are false affections, and there are true. A man's having much affection, does not prove that he has any true religion: but if he has no affection, it proves that he has no true religion. If true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may learn what great cause we have to be ashamed and confounded before God, that we are no more affected with the great things of religion. It appears from what has been said that this arises from our having so little true religion.
(These words from a message on "trials" from I Peter 1:8
'...these trials are of further benefit of true religion, they not only manifest the truth of it, but make its beauty to appear...")
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