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COMMENTS ON THE FIRST GREAT AWAKENING #3

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, May 3, 2009

“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:29-30).


Last night (Saturday evening, May 2, 2009) I began reading Jonathan Edwards’ “A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions.” I will continue reading parts of it this morning. I have edited it and adapted it to modern English. I have done my best to give you Jonathan Edwards’ own thoughts in words more understandable today. As I said last night,

In many instances conviction of sin and conversion were attended with intense physical excitement. Numbers [of people] fell prostrate [to] the ground, and cried aloud for mercy. The bodies of others were convulsed and [rendered unconscious]…men literally cried for mercy…sinners trembled; but not more than the philosophers of the present day would do, if they had equally vivid views of the torments of the damned [in Hell] to which sin exposes them. There were groanings and faintings…thoughtless sinners were unmistakenly converted, and were made new creatures in Christ Jesus (Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, Tentmaker Publications, 2003 reprint, pp. 218-219; comments on the Awakening in New England under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards).

I said, in the first of these lectures, that these excitements were very different from today’s charismatic and Pentecostal meetings. In the modern meetings there are fallings and cries, but they are associated with so-called “fillings of the Spirit,” and “healings.” None of that took place in the meetings of Jonathan Edwards. In Edwards’ meetings they fell under extreme conviction of sin. They trembled and cried over their sins with “vivid views of the torments of the damned to which sin [exposed] them.” So the charismatic excitements today are not at all the same. They do not come with “conviction of sin.” That is the difference between counterfeit revivals and real revivals. Where deep conviction of sin is absent, we must discount any such “physical excitement.” Real conviction and real conversion, followed by a real Christian life, cannot be counterfeited.

Then, too, the sermons Edwards preached were totally different from what is heard in charismatic circles, or anywhere else, today. A mere listing of some of his sermon titles reveals this to be true: “Men Naturally God’s Enemies,” “Wrath Upon the Wicked to the Utmost,” “Future Punishment of the Wicked,” “True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils,” “The Necessity of Self-Examination,” “Man’s Natural Blindness,” “Natural Man in a Dreadful Condition,” “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and so forth. Things like this are not preached in charismatic meetings today, or in non-charismatic meetings for that matter.

Furthermore, Edwards gave no invitations of any kind. No one “came forward.” No one prayed a “sinner’s prayer.” No one made a “decision.” People were just left as they were, to be dealt with by God Himself, until their hearts were changed,

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness”
      (Romans 10:10).

Now I will give a reading from Jonathan Edwards’ “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton and the Neighbouring Towns and Villages of New Hampshire, in New England” (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992 edition, volume one, pp. 344-364).

      And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to work among us. Very suddenly, one after the other, five or six people, to all appearances were savingly converted, and some of them were worked on in a very remarkable way.
       Particularly, I was surprised when a young woman, who had spent a lot of time hanging around with the young men in the town, came to me, and it appeared that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified. She has lived the Christian life ever since.
       Although her conversion was glorious, I was concerned how it might affect others. I thought some would be hardened and not believe she was converted. But the exact opposite happened. Her hopeful conversion was a means of awakening others. The news of it seemed almost like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town. Those who used to be the farthest from seriousness seemed to be greatly awakened by it.
       Right after this, a great concern about the things of God, and the eternal world, became universal throughout the town. The noise among the dry bones [the unconverted young people] grew louder and louder; all talk, except of spiritual things, was given up. Everyone was talking about the things of God. They began to spend much time reading and praying, and in other Christian exercises.
       Christianity became the only thing they were interested in. They hardly talked about anything else. It became a dreadful thing to them to be unconverted, in danger every day of dropping into hell; and what people’s minds were intent on was to escape for their lives, and to flee from the wrath to come (ibid. p. 348).

To close this service, I want you to turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 33:14. Please stand and read that verse aloud.

“The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
      (Isaiah 33:14).

Indeed, who among us this morning will, in eternity, “dwell with everlasting burnings?”

(END OF SERMON)
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Prayer Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Depth of Mercy” (by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).