08 January 2009

Edwards: Sleeping Parishioners

I couldn't help but smile and wonder and yet be saddened and chastened by the close of an Edwards' sermon called "When the Spirit of God Has Been Remarkably Poured Out on a People, a Thorough Reformation of Those Things that Before Were Amiss Ought to Be the Effect of It." He notes the problem of "sleeping at meeting" and concludes:

Let me therefore entreat that this practice may be thoroughly reformed amongst us. I would desire that persons would avoid laying down their bodies in their seats in the midst of public worship. 'Tis a very indecent practice. . . . Let neighbors show kindness to one another as to wake each other when asleep. (The Blessing of God, p. 270).

This was 1736--a year after true revival came to Northampton, and a few years before the Great Awakening. Jonathan Edwards' concluding exhortation is neither "pray for two hours a day" nor "violently enter the kingdom" nor "labor that God might fall upon us" nor "spend 13 hours a day studying" nor "resolve to give all you are to God as if he were returning within the hour" but: stay awake. Edwards looked out and preached to a recently revived but fast declining people, seeing them sleeping during his sermons and actually having to exhort them to stay awake and wake each other up if need be. How discouraged he must have been to see this and have to address it from the pulpit.

Yet I find a strange encouragement. For is this not the way of God? That those who seem to themselves so inconsequential are the ones God most loves using? I doubt many people are sleeping through our smiling preachers who speak to thousands from converted athletic stadiums about how to feel good about ourselves--but we won't be reading their sermons in 300 years.

Things are not as they seem. God's value system is upside down from the world's--no, from mine. I find encouragement.

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