In describing Edwards approach towards preaching, one scholar writes, “Edwards’s notion of preaching rested on a ‘rhetoric of sensation’ (Perry Miller) that presumed that spiritual things did not seem real to most people. The preacher was not only to inform the understanding but to awaken hearers’ hearts and imaginations an encounter with spiritual realities.”
His vision of a minister, then, as many have noted, was as a “burning and shining light.” The preacher in other words, must not simply preach to provide light but also must pray that God uses his message to produce heat.
He must be both a burning and shining light.
I find this helpful. By that, I mean, I like to think of preaching like this.
But I suppose perhaps the question is, what responsibility does the preacher actually have toward producing this kind of response? It seems easier to understand how a preacher labors to inform than how he works to awaken. To ask it another way, isn’t the way a preacher awakens through enlightening? Is it possible then to pursue informing without at the same time pursuing awakening?
I suppose however, in terms of the preacher’s desires though, this much is clear. He should want to see people walk away with an intellectual understanding of the text. But he should want more than that. After all, we want more for our congregations than that they be on par with the devil, and even the devil as Edwards once noted ‘had theoretical knowledge of many spiritual realities.”
God’s people need to grasp God’s Word with their whole hearts. They need to respond to it! The preacher should seek to show congregation the excellency of God in the person of Jesus Christ and respond to that great reality with love, joy, faith, and hope.
Edwards, I think, speaks of this kind of response as affections.
Certainly, if one is familiar with Edwards at all, he is familiar with his work on religious affections. In this work, he emphasizes that “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.”
By affections, he means, ones inclinations or loves.
“An affection,” John E. Smith writes, “is first of all an inclination of the will, a response, not a reaction, made by the whole person to a reality – God, Scripture, neighbor – whose nature and ‘excellency’ have been properly understood by that person through the Bible, reason, and experience, or what he called a ‘spiritual understanding.”
This, I think is what we are after. Preachers want to help their congregations love and enjoy God and that soil in which that love and enjoyment grows is a deeper understanding of His Word.
Again, Smith explains, “There can be no love without knowledge, for it is contrary to the nature of the soul to love an object entirely unknown. Nor can the heart be fixed on an object of which there is no idea in the understanding. ‘The reasons, ‘he writes, ‘which induce the soul to love, must first be understood, before they can have a reasonable influence on the heart…nothing can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding’ and it is for this reason that, for Edwards, there can be no spiritual (i.e. ‘practical’ knowledge of that of which there is not first a rational knowledge.”
Understanding the connection between knowledge and affections, helps us, I think beware of anyone who minimizes the importance of sound doctrine in their attempts to maximize the importance of emotions in the Christian life. At the same time, it causes those of us who are serious about sound doctrine to ask ourselves, whether or not that sound doctrine is actually producing what the Scriptures clearly say it should, transformed affections?
To find joy in Jesus, He must be announced and explained and discussed. But one of the primary reasons he is announced and explained and discussed is so that we would find our joy in Him.
After all as Dr. Smith once remarked,”the Christmas angel … said, ‘Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy'” and not simply, “behold, I bring you a topic for discussion.’”