We may remember Jonathan Edwards as the preacher of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” but we may not remember the powerful practical effect of Edwards’ vision of hell. What becomes of a person who has seen it and fled to the arms of Jesus for rescue? Edwards answers,
A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desire of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is an humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.
A broken, leaping heart will love like Jesus. And the power of the love will be proportionate to the felt fearfulness of our nearness to destruction. The keener the memory of our awful rescue, the more naturally we pity those in a similar plight. The more deeply we feel how undeserved and free was the grace that plucked us from the flames, the freer will be our benevolence to sinners.
We do not love as passionately as we ought because our belief in these things is not real. So our pride is not broken and our demeanor not lowly. And we do not look with aching and longing on the crowds that pass us in the airport or the straying members of our flock. John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” is a model of such compassion:
Whoever… has tasted of the love of Christ, and has known, by his own experience, the need and the worth of redemption, is enabled, Yea, he is constrained, to love his fellow creatures. He loves them at first sight; and, if the providence of God commits a dispensation of the gospel, and care of souls to him, he will feel the warmest emotions of friendship and tenderness, while he beseeches them by the tender mercies of God, and even while he warns them by his terrors.
Brothers, we need to feel the truth of hell and the nearness of our own escape. Otherwise the gospel will be vapid, and we will be unable to count others better than ourselves in all lowliness (Phil. 2:3). Then who will tell our people of these things? Who else in their lives will love them enough to warn them with tenderness and tears?
Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry.