4. Employ Analogies and Images: Edwards believed that abstract words rarely kindled deep affections. As a result, “Edwards strained to make the glories of heaven irresistibly beautiful and the torments of hell look intolerably horrible.” Sermons that are rich in imagery often leave deep impressions upon the mind, and a lasting warmth to the heart. Not every preacher or teacher is gifted at creative imagery, but Edwards made it a laborious practice to find meaningful analogies. He observed life and nature so thoroughly that he was often able to find images and analogies that served to produce impressions comparable to reality. Most people, especially in our current media generation, struggle to understand abstract theories and need a concrete image to drive reality home to them. An effective teacher or preacher will consider ways to paint an image with words in order to help the hearers grasp God’s truth.
5. Use Threat and Warning: “Edwards did know his hell, but he knew his heaven even better.” When one has a genuine understanding of the glories of heaven and the horrors of hell, there will be a blood-earnest desire to warn those who are apathetic about such realities. “Those who have the largest hearts for heaven shudder most deeply at the horrors of hell.” Jesus was not hesitant to threaten those who were headed for an eternity of destruction (Matthew 5:22; 5:30; 10:28). How can a preacher or teacher remain so silent about a topic that Jesus was so vocal? “Hell awaits every unconverted person. Love must warn them with the threats of the Lord.” The guilt and fear that are stirred up are appropriate when they correspond to the reality of things. There is nothing more loving than to expose the danger awaiting those who are unprepared and to call them to prepare themselves by embracing Christ. Ultimately, the goal is to draw people to the loveliness of Christ. His loveliness will have an enduring attractiveness where “fire insurance” received out of an avoidance of hell will not compel the heart to radical obedience. “Holy love and hope are principles vastly more efficacious upon the heart, to make it tender, and to fill it with a dread of sin… than [is] a slavish fear of hell.” Our purpose as preachers and teachers ought to be “to show the immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
6. Plead for a response: When confronting people with the realities of heaven and hell, we should call them to examine their heart and respond to the gospel call. This is a decision of the heart, not a physical decision to walk down an aisle during an altar call. Edwards writes, “Sinners… should be earnestly invited to come and accept a Savior, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments for them… that the Gospel affords.” However, no sinner can come to God except God first draw him near (John 6:44). When the preacher preaches, it is God alone who effects the results for which preachers long. Salvation and life change can come only through the work of the Spirit upon the heart of man. However, that divine necessity does not rule out the preacher or teacher making an eager appel for sinners to respond. God uses means to inspire faith (Rom. 10:17).
Edwards writes, “God is the only proper author and fountain; we only are the proper actors… God is said to convert [2 Tim. 2:25], and men are said to convert and turn [Acts 2:38]. God makes a new heart [Ezek. 36:26], and we are commanded to make us a new heart [Ezek. 18:31]. God circumcises the heart [Deut. 30:6], and we are commanded to circumcise our own hearts [Deut. 10:16]… These things are agreeable to that text, ‘God worketh in you both to will and to do.'” Since the Spirit of God works within us for conversion and growth in godliness, the fruit of our salvation is that our lives are increasingly characterized by the fruit of that faith. Piper concludes with, “Good preaching pleads with people to respond to the Word of God.” Man can do nothing more than humbly respond to the Holy Spirit when confronted with the powerful word of God.
May the God of all grace give us a courageous spirit of power and love as He uses us to point others to Christ.