Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Sweetness in preaching

As intimated previously, I read recently Douglas Sweeney's book on the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. I have been challenged as I have reflected on some of Edwards' words: 'There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man can't have the latter, unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mouth.'

At one level, Edwards is saying that a true Christian has genuine experiences of God's grace that include emotional responses as well as intellectual understanding. Yet taking his illustration, I suppose it is possible to have experienced what honey tastes like without knowing how to define in accurate terms what has been eaten. I have met some who can speak about the Christian faith and yet don't convey, at least to me, a sense of its sweetness; I have also met some who were unable to explain theologically what they were enjoying, but whose delight in God's mercy was so obvious that, at that moment, I would have exchanged my theological knowledge for their experience.

I know that the best solution is to have both. What concerns me about myself is that while I have not yet lost any theological understanding I attained, I cannot claim to be always enjoying its sweetness. When prompted, out can come an explanation that answers any misunderstanding in the person asking the question. Yet the individual is not always thrilled to bits at having received a correct answer. I suspect that the problem with him is that my answer, while theologically correct, has not indicated a sense of sweetness in my heart or conveyed that sense to him.

Obviously Edward's intellect was such that he could answer any problem posed to him. His genius must have carried the continual possibility that his answers would be beyond the abilities of most listeners to understand him. No doubt, many a person would have found it hard to grasp all that Edwards said in a sermon, but I suspect they would also have been attracted to the God in whom he delighted as he preached. Was one secret of his ministry his freedom to preach in such a way that told his listeners that the doctrine he was speaking about was sweet in his own heart and that it would be good for them to have that sweetness too?

No comments: