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A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
and given by Jack Ngann, Pastor
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Afternoon, June 30, 2024

“I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hosea 5:15; p. 924 Scofield).

Jonathan Edwards said, “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 deeply tormented by his sin, and filled with horror at the thought of Hell, before he was converted. The greatest Baptist author of all time, John Bunyan, went through a horrible period 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…to them.”

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? Have you ever had an experience like theirs? 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. Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, made this statement:

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 followers, and true religion received a deadly wound from their “decisional” preaching. 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; p. 1011).

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…to them.”

The words “labour and are heavy laden” refer to a person who is awakened to the horror 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. Everyone must work hard, whether they are converted or not. Also, 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; p. 1238).

Paul had certainly been converted, but trusting in 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: [they find] 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 under “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 to him in Matthew 11:28.

“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 listens to a superficial presentation of the gospel and then prays 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 evangelists 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 under the terror of sin and the fear of Hell, 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 horrible fear of his sin, and the burning Hell that awaits him, to punish him for his 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, fearing they would go to Hell for sinning.

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 sin and the fire of Hell that awaits you. One woman I know went through about seventeen years of this agony 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 terrible 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 [aware] of their” sin and the terrors of Hell, “before He appears in His mercy…to them.” How does God bring about such an awakening to sin and Hell? Edwards gives us the answer.

I. This is the ordinary way God works in a human soul before great
expressions of His mercy and favor are given

[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. And He awakens them to the totally corrupted and sinful nature of their own hearts.

2. He convinces them of the dreadful danger they are in if they go on unawakened to die in their sins and go to the lake of fire [see part I of this sermon].

III. God makes them aware of what they deserve for their sin,
that their sin deserves His wrath and anger for ever in Hell.

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, or that God is soft and will not punish them. But when they are awakened they realize that they deserve God’s punishment in Hell. All excuses are taken away from them when they are awakened.

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 shut their mouths up, and admit their guilt, before He shows mercy to them. The Bible says,

“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; p. 1194).

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 [them]” (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 a deep awareness of 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; p. 1244).

“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 Hell. 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, that they can do nothing themselves to escape God’s fearful judgment.

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 reform themselves in their own strength. They attempt to trust Christ in their own strength. But before Christ appears to them as their Saviour, they must become aware that they are utterly helpless in themselves. God must make them give up all hope of helping themselves, or reforming themselves to gain His favor.

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 of the truth of the Gospel. 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. 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. In sudden conversions they see very 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 earn 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; p. 1138).

It is God’s way to convince people of sin before He draws them to Christ.