Open Book Forum: “Jonathan Edwards on Heaven & Hell” by Strachan and Sweeney
Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan Preacher during the Great Awakening, is known for the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” his powerful teachings on revivals, and for his famous set of Resolutions.
Instead of having to paw through 2,000+ pages of his works to compile his thoughts on heaven and hell, Edwards scholars Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney nicely summarize his work into a brief, yet powerful 141 pages, adding their own commentary and exhortations.
The idea behind this book is simple, “to present Edwards’s material on the reality of the afterlife, the terror of hell, the glories of heaven, and the shape life must take in light of these truths.”
This book was specifically written for pastors, students, church leaders, small groups, and others, and is a great resource for those sick of watered down preaching that glosses over important Biblical truths.
The book opens discussing how society’s view of the afterlife has changed since Edwards’s day and how an unbiblical view has infiltrated our society and the church.
Strachan and Sweeney explain that the church as a whole has lost the hatred towards sin and judgment which has led to a weaker Christian life, a weaker Gospel, and ultimately a weaker Savior. Many worldly-minded Christians only like to use language like “hell,” “judgment,” and “eternity” in lighthearted cliché ways because they do not actually believe what Scripture plainly teaches.
But that was not Jonathan Edwards. Edwards lived a life with eternity and death in mind which is reflected in a personal letter he wrote his daughter:
“…Always set God before your eyes, and live in his fear, and seek him every day with all diligence: for ‘tis he, and he only can make you happy or miserable, as he pleases; and your life and health, and the eternal salvation of your soul, and your all in this life and that which is to come, depends on his will and pleasure.” (page 49)
Known by some to be a “Fire and Brimstone” preacher, Edwards and his understanding of the doctrine of hell share how a proper Biblical view of sin, judgment, and hell are integral in the Christian life. He does not do this in order to judge or tear down, but instead “trying to cultivate a biblically informed ‘just fear’ of the reality of the afterlife” (65). He knew that to truly reach lost souls, they needed to know they were lost and headed to an eternity of pain and suffering. Edwards compares preaching hell to passionately calling for a family member to exit a burning building before it is too late.
God’s wrath is compared to a mighty dammed river waiting to be unleashed and we are like spiders being held over the fire. His holiness is also magnified in Edwards theology and is brought forth through God’s wrath.
The chapter on heaven looks at the different angles Scripture gives us and goes on to explain the glorious city of heaven, the mansions promised to believers, the increasing joy of serving God in heaven, the different levels of heaven, and the great love to be experienced in our heavenly home.
One of Edwards most interesting ideas about heaven is his explanation about how there will be no jealously or envy from a believer to another believer who has “a higher station in heaven.” Since we will be completely holy, we will have great love and respect for the people higher than us as well as lower. Edwards explains that “when there is perfect satisfaction, there is no room for envy” (page 110).
Eyes on Eternity:
The book closes out with practical implications and suggestions of how to fix your gaze more on eternity. Edwards understood that a proper eternal perspective pervades and impacts every area of life and helps the Christian be most useful and faithful here on earth. We are exalted to put our eyes on our heavenly home like the faithful mentioned in Hebrews 11 did and seek to keep from being too deeply invested in worldly matters.
Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell is available at the Unlocking the Bible Bookstore and is the featured book in this May’s “Open Book Forum”.
This book will help you:
- See life from a more eternal perspective
- Hold earthly things more loosely
- Have a deeper hunger to reach the lost
Two-Part Sermon Series on Heaven and Hell by Colin Smith
Video: What is Hell? Does it Exist?
Author: Kevin Halloran
Date Posted: May 10th, 2012