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GOD MAKES PEOPLE AWARE OF THEIR
MISERY AND UNWORTHINESS - PART II,
ADAPTED FROM JONATHAN EDWARDS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, December 8, 2002


"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).


Jonathan Edwards lived from 1703 until 1758. I never appreciated him until quite recently, in the last eight years or so. Two reasons for this were (1) I am not a five-point Calvinist, and (2) I felt that Edwards was too morbid, that he focused too much on negative themes. I have come around to a quite different position in my thinking about him in the last few years. Don't get me wrong. I'm still not a five-point Calvinist. My theological position has not changed. But what I find important in Edwards' sermons is not his theological system, but his applied understanding of the Biblical psychology of conversion. Richard Baxter was not a complete Calvinist either, but these two men, Baxter and Edwards, had a profound understanding of what happens in the human mind during awakening and conversion.

I now believe that the insights of men like these rise above systems of theology. They are basic Biblical insights regarding conversion.

Take, for instance, Edwards' belief "That it is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before He appears in His mercy and love to them." Isn't this exactly what happened in classical conversions throughout human history? Our first parents became very aware of their sins, and very troubled by them, before God came and clothed them with skin. The children of Israel had to go through the wilderness before they came into the Promised Land. The men Peter preached to on the Day of Pentecost had to be pricked in their hearts before they were converted. Paul trembled, was astonished, and was in great distress before his conversion. The Philippian jailor was in terror before he got saved.

Then look at the conversion testimonies of famous Christians throughout history. Augustine experienced a tortured conscience before his conversion. Martin Luther was tormented by his sin before he trusted Christ savingly. The greatest Baptist author, John Bunyan, went through a horrible experience of guilt and fear before he was saved. So did George Whitefield and John Wesley. So did C. H. Spurgeon and R. A. Torrey.

So, we find that what Jonathan Edwards said is true to the conversions in the Bible, and true to the famous conversions of Christians across hundreds of years of history. Edwards was right to say, "It is God's method to make people aware of their misery and unworthiness before He appears in mercy and love to them."

Isn't this what Christ Himself meant when He said,

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28)?

Today it is common for preachers to attempt to lead people to Christ before they "labour and are heavy laden." This results in uncounted thousands of false conversions.

How many today have an experience like Paul, the Philippian jailor, Augustine, Luther, Bunyan, Whitefield, Wesley, Luther, or Torrey? How many are "made aware of their misery and unworthiness" before Christ gives them rest? The false evangelism made popular by Charles G. Finney short-circuited the need for awakening to sin and guilt as a preparation for conversion. Dr. Stoddard made this statement over two hundred years ago:

There are some who deny any necessity of the preparatory work of the Spirit of God [before conversion]. This is a very dark cloud, both as it is an evidence that men do not have the experience of that work in their own souls, and it is a sign that such men are utterly unskillful in guiding others who are under this work. If such opinion should prevail in this land, it would give a deadly wound to religion.

But that opinion did prevail, through Finney and his kind, and true religion has received a deadly wound. The human heart must be broken, and the lost must be "heavy laden," or they will not savingly trust Jesus Christ. Jesus gave this promise only to those who "labour and are heavy laden":

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Yes, Jonathan Edwards was right when he said, "It is God's manner to make men sensible of their misery and unworthiness, before He appears in His mercy and love to them."

I say that the words "labour and are heavy laden" refer to a person who is awakened to the misery of their sin and unworthiness. If they don't refer to that, what do they mean? They cannot be a description of physical work and labor, because Christ does not deliver us from that. These words cannot refer to the anxieties and labors that people normally feel under the stress of life, because Christ does not deliver us from these. If you think I'm wrong, read about the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 11:24-28,

"Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep [ocean]; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without [apart from such external things], that which cometh upon me daily, the care [the daily pressure] of all the churches" (II Corinthians 11:24-28).

Paul had certainly come to Christ, but coming to the Saviour did not bring him "rest" from the ordeals, tortures, and daily pressures of Christian ministry. Those who preach a "prosperity and freedom from care" gospel have not thought deeply about Paul's words in II Corinthians 11:24-28. No, "labour and heavy laden" cannot refer to the anxieties and labors of the Christian life as Paul lived it, and as self-sacrificing Christians live it today in places like China, Sudan, Indonesia, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, and many other places.

So, what does Christ mean when He says these words?

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

The great Bible commentator Matthew Henry gives us the answer. He tells us what the words "all ye that labour and are heavy laden" mean:

Jesus Christ will give assured rest to those weary souls, that by a lively [living] faith come to him for it: rest from the terror of sin…" (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson reprint, 1996, volume 5, p. 130).

Henry points out that the main reference is to those who labor and are heavy laden "from the terror of sin." Unless a person has been awakened to his sin, and labours and is heavy under the burden of sin, there is no promise in Matthew 11:28 for him.

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden [under the burden of your sin], and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

There is no promise in this verse that a person who goes through a superficial presentation of the gospel and a quick "sinner's prayer" will find rest in Christ! That is the main reason "decisionism" produces so few real converts. The pastors and decisionist workers are simply not willing to let the people they are witnessing to go through a preparation of their hearts, until they are awakened, and are laboring and under the heavy weight of the awareness of their sin and miserably hopeless condition. The modern "decisionist" preacher wants to get the whole process over with quickly at the altar, and not let the person go "unsaved." They leave out the important part - letting the Holy Spirit awaken the person to his misery and sin.

This awakening may happen in a few moments of time, but usually it lasts for a much longer period. Augustine, Luther, Whitefield, Wesley, Bunyan, Spurgeon, and the others went through many days being under labour and being heavy laden.

If you want a real conversion, instead of a false "decisionist" quick fix, you must be willing to go through a preparatory period (long or short) of awakening to your misery and sin. One woman I know went through about seventeen years of the agony of "awakening" before she came to Christ and found rest. She has been a marvelous, dedicated Christian for several years now. A young Chinese girl, a college student, went through a truly horrible period of fear and trembling before she found rest in Jesus. She, too, is now a stedfast Christian woman. These are real people who are members of our church today.

Yes, I am convinced that Jonathan Edwards was right when he said, "It is God's manner [His way] to make men sensible [aware] of their misery and unworthiness, before He appears in His mercy and love to them." How does God bring about such an awakening to sin and unworthiness? Edwards gives us the answer.

I. This is God's ordinary way before great expressions of
His mercy and favor [see part I of this sermon].

II. God uses particular means to awaken people
to their misery and unworthiness.

1. He awakens them to think about the sins they are guilty of committing.

2. He convinces them of the dreadful danger they are in [see part I of this sermon].

III. God makes them aware of what they deserve for their sin,
that their sin deserves His wrath.

They become aware of the dreadfulness of God's anger. They also become aware that their sins deserve His judgment. Before they are awakened, they think that God is hard and cruel. But when they are awakened they realize that they deserve God's punishment.

Very often when people first learn what the Bible says about Hell their hearts are full of murmuring and disagreement. But it is God's method to make them shut up and admit their guilt, before He shows mercy to them. The Bible says,

"Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God…for by the law is the knowledge of sin"
      (Romans 3:19-20).

God convinces people of their guilt before He brings them to Christ to be forgiven. Now a person cannot be completely awakened to his guilt until he is aware that he deserves to go to Hell. A person cannot be clearly aware of his guilt until he is aware that he deserves to go to Hell.

God makes people aware that they are guilty and deserve Hell through their consciences, "…their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another" (Romans 2:15). If a person has done things which his conscience tells him are wrong, his conscience will then tell him that he deserves to be punished for it. Thus the conscience does two things: it accuses, and it condemns. When his conscience accuses and condemns him, a man will be convinced that he deserves eternal punishment in Hell.

How does God convince a human conscience that it deserves Hell? In general, it is by giving a person light regarding his sins. Particularly, it is the discovery of God's awful and terrible greatness. A wicked person, before conversion, is capable of being made aware of the terrible majesty and greatness of God. This awareness comes through the law of God. In all of His work on the souls of men, the Holy Spirit uses His word. The work of the conviction of sin is mainly through that part of the Bible which is called "the law." It is the law that makes people aware of their sin.

"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ" (Galatians 3:24).

"Now we know that whatsoever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19).

Conviction, which comes before conversion, is conviction of sin and misery. But people are not thoroughly aware of their sin and guilt until they are aware that they deserve Hell. They are not thoroughly aware of their misery until they are aware of their helplessness.

God makes people aware of their helplessness in their own strength. Usually sinners try to escape from Hell by trying to save themselves, or by trying to make themselves better. They attempt to do this in their own strength. They attempt to trust Christ in their own strength. But before Christ appears to them as their Deliverer, they must become aware that they are utterly helpless in themselves. God must make them give up all hope of helping themselves.

God often uses people's own experience to convince them that they are helpless. They thought they could easily bring themselves to repent and believe in Christ, and so they strove with all their strength, but they were disappointed. And so God allows them to go on striving for a long time, yet they are as blind as ever, and can see nothing. They are as bad as ever. It seems to them that instead of growing better they grow worse and worse. God allows them to strive in their own strength until they are completely discouraged. The prodigal son strove to fill his stomach with the husks that the pigs ate. But when he gave up all hope of being helped in this way, he came to himself, and thought about returning to his father's house.

God sometimes enables people to see their own hearts so clearly that they give up trying to help themselves right away. Sometimes He allows them to try to bring about their own salvation for a long time, until they are discouraged. But sometimes God convinces people very quickly, as in the case of sudden conversions. They see quickly that they are far from loving God. They see that their souls are full of darkness. They see that they are dead, and unable to do anything to merit God's favor.

Thus we have shown that God ordinarily makes people aware of their sin, the danger they are in, and their own helplessness, before He brings them to Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, which Christ foretold:

"When he is come, he will [convince] the world of sin…" (John 16:8).

It is God's way to convince people of sin before He draws them to Jesus.


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Hosea 5:4-15.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Depth of Mercy"

(by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

THE OUTLINE OF

GOD MAKES PEOPLE AWARE OF THEIR
MISERY AND UNWORTHINESS - PART II,
ADAPTED FROM JONATHAN EDWARDS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

(II Corinthians 11:24-28)

I.   This is God's ordinary way before great expressions of
His mercy and favor [see part I of this sermon].

II.  God uses particular means to awaken people to their misery
and unworthiness.

1. He awakens them to think about the sins
they are guilty of committing.

2. He convinces them of the dreadful danger
they are in [see part I of this sermon].

III. God makes them aware of what they deserve for their sin, that
their sin deserves His wrath, Romans 3:19-20; Romans 2:15;
Galatians 3:24; John 16:8.

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at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."