I began my day in the subzero temperatures of a frozen Canadian winter and ended it in balmy, eighty degree California. It has been almost twenty four hours since I woke up and my eyes are starting to do some weird twitchy thing that happens when I get over tired. I need to get to bed. But first a few reflections on the opening session of the Resolved Conference.
First off, I am sitting at the front of the room at this conference. This is a new experience for me as I typically find myself in the bleachers. This time, though, I am way at the front and can actually see the speakers and the musicians. I kind of like it. I can actually get some good photographs from this vantage point but, sadly, forgot the cable that would allow me to extract the photos from my camera. I’ll try to post some when I get back home (or when I find another way of getting them onto my computer and then onto the internet).
The evening began with almost 3,000 people filing into the conference venue. Unfortunately quite a few people were missing as many flights from exotic locales such as New York and Chicago were canceled due to inclement weather. This is hardly unusual for this time of year but must still be disappointing for those who got left behind. Hopefully they’ll be able to make their way here before the weekend is through. When the crowd had finally filed in, filling the entire downstairs, the entire first balcony and exactly half of the upper balcony, the conference began with a time of worship. Songs included Be Thou My Vision, Let the Kingdom Come, The Glories of Calvary, How Great is Our God, Son of God and The Power of the Cross. This was followed by a short video biography of Edwards narrated by Rick Holland and shot at the campus of Princeton University. He discussed the vision of Resolved in connection with the life and teachings of Jonathan Edwards, his historical hero. He made it clear that what we do this weekend is not the local church and is not a replacement for it. Everything done and taught this weekend is to launch people back to faithfulness in their local assemblies.
He then encourages us to turn our attention to the most important topic (the gospel itself) and the person (Jesus Christ). As his text for the evening, he took Romans 5:6-11.
He began by discussing the historical context of Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon (and, indeed, the most famous sermon since the closing of the canon), “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was preached in 1741 in New England. God had moved cities and counties and people were coming to the Lord in droves. Whitefield was preaching, people were being converted, and people were filling the churches. But this revival somehow passed over an entire town. Edwards and his friends decided to gather a group of men to preach at this town and they preached a series of revival meetings. Edwards’ turn came and he went to preach this revival sermon. On July 8, 1741, on a Wednesday evening, he took the pulpit and began to preach this sermon. Though it takes only forty minutes to read this sermon, it took him ninety. He had to constantly beg for silence and demand that people return to their seats. Throughout portions of the sermon there was a great moaning and crying. Why was there such a reaction? Edwards was preaching about sinners in the hands of an angry God. His point was that life was full of uncertainties and that God is justifiably angry at those who reject His gift of salvation. The sermon was full of imagery to describe the sinful and horrific condition of the sinful human soul.
Holland posed the questions: What do we make of this kind of preaching? This kind of preacher? This kind of God? Is this really true? Is God really this way? Is God really and truly and passionately angry at me?
The theme of Resolved this year is the gospel itself. We are going back to the basics, to the gospel truth. All of the speakers are organizing their thoughts around the gospel itself. This passage, Romans 5, and indeed the whole book, answers one question: what’s so great about the gospel? How can someone stand righteous before a holy God? For six verses Paul stops and enjoys the view. And that’s what we’re doing this week – taking a deep breath of gospel fresh air.
So what’s so great about the gospel?
The gospel satisfies the greatest need (verse 6). This verse doesn’t make any human sense. Everything about the gospel is counter-intuitive, going against the wisdom of all we would think. No one would think of such things. If you think you deserve God’s love, you will never be secure in this love because there will always exist the constant threat of trying or doing something to earn God’s favor. The truth is, the only thing we contribute is our sin. God does the rest. He does it all. Only those who have settled their confidence in God, that He loves them despite their sin, these are the only people who can live in light of His favor. The key issue of assurance is that it is all of God. Your greatest need is defined by your sin, by your sinful soul. Our greatest need is to be righteous in the hands of an angry God.
The gospel demonstrates the greatest love (verses 7-8). Lloyd-Jones calls these verses the commentary on the whole Bible and these small words “but God” are so critically important to the Christian faith. Paul now discusses the vast difference between men and God. God loves differently than us. He demonstrates his special, saving love. There is a universal difference between the way God loves and the way men love.
The gospel extinguishes the greatest threat. Paul wants us to see that the cross is amazing and then to be amazed by it. The wrath of God is simply this: it means that sinners are sentenced to eternal hell. God’s judgment is hell and this is no myth but a real place. There can be no salvation, no grace, no glory, no mercy, unless it is set against the dark side of God’s vengeance in hell. There is no Christianity without absolving God’s righteous wrath. Warning people of the wrath of God was at the center of Edwards’ famous sermon.
The gospel mediates the greatest conflict. If God reconciles us as enemies, He will surely save us as His friends. This is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If He can do this, then surely He can do the other. Of all the terms used to describe our salvation, reconciliation is one of the greatest. The only person who reconciled was God because we desired no reconciliation.
The gospel provokes the greatest response. We now exult (overflow with gladness, to jump up and down with happiness, to spew forth joy) in God. We can only truly exult when we know what we have been saved from. Can you, will you, do you exult in God? The focus of our joy is in God.
Holland led us to the basics of the gospel and led us to stand amazed, to be amazed anew, at the beauty and wonder of God’s wisdom. It was an opportunity for Christians to marvel at the gospel and for those in the audience who are not saved, to see and know that they are sinners in the hands of an angry God and to turn to Him and be reconciled to Him. This message set the stage for what is sure to be a challenging weekend focused on the gospel in all its beauty and all its simplicity.
Favorite quote: “We’re all born with a stiff-arm in God’s face.”
I do hope these ramblings made sense. I’ll be back tomorrow with updates from the morning session which will feature Steve Lawson. Hopefully I’ll get some good sleep between now and then!