Posted by: Billy Marsh | November 15, 2007

Heaven On Earth: But To Act Justly

Jonathan Edwards

It has been a few weeks since I posted on Stephen J. Nichols’ Heaven On Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision Of Living In Between, so if you’re out of the loop concerning this series of blogs, click here to look at the older ones in order to catch up. However, reading this post by itself will not be in vain since the lesson has meaning on its own without having to know the back story.

The previous chapter that we looked at was called, “Being Good Citizens,” which focused more so on the privileges of our heavenly citizenship. But, in chapter 4 entitled, “But To Act Justly,” Nichols teaches us from a Jonathan Edwards sermon named, “Much in Deeds of Charity,” on how to live out the responsibilities of our heavenly citizenship (62-3). In this sermon, Edwards deals with the “Second Table” of the Ten Commandments which are viewed to be instructive in relation to the horizontal relationship between man and man.

Often times you hear people arguing about whether or not it is more important to feed someone dying of hunger, or if that hungry person is lost, share with them the gospel. But, why should we have to choose? Are good deeds only good insofar as they are stapled to a gospel presentation? Nichols writes:

Engaging social concerns can eclipse the proclamation of the gospel, but it doesn’t have to. We can avoid running aground of such dangers. But we also need to steer clear of a myopic vision of Christian discipleship that keeps our hands clean (65).

The main sermon text for Edwards sermon was Acts 10:4-6. The story of Cornelius and his works of love are an example of God showing favor upon someone for reaching out to others, yet this man was not a believer. Next, Edwards launched into illustrations from August Hermann Franke and George Whitefield, who both built orphanages. Amazingly, Whitefield not only traveled relentlessly through the colonies preaching the gospel, but also simultaneously raised continual funds for the orphanages he started in Georgia (66).

Nichols comments as to why Christians are obligated to be “much in the deeds of charity”:

First of all, we understand that humanity is made in the image of God. There is an inherent dignity abiding in all humanity that demands that we deal with people differently than our culture might have us deal with them (67).

Edwards modeled the type of Christian who fights for justice for his fellow mankind. He was often involved with legal matters concerning Native American Indian trades. On one occasion, when he was asked to speak at the signing of a peace-treaty with the Mohawk tribe, Edwards preached,

Many of the English and Dutch are against your being instructed. They choose to keep you in the dark for the sake of making a gain of you. For as long as they keep you in ignorance, tis more easy to cheat you in trading with you (71).

According to Edwards, the refusal to show love to others greatly hindered the proclamation of the gospel and also revealed that the person truly did not grasp what it meant to be a disciple of Christ (John 13:35). Concerning the OT and NT’s empahsis on tending to the orphans and widows, Nichols observes that in the Bible, “How well God’s people cared for them and gave them a voice consistently functioned as a barometer of their relationship with and love for God (72).”

What I have preceived to be the foundational claim for both Edwards and Nichols in this chapter is that, though fallen, man as an image-bearer of God still has value, still has dignity, that merits Christ-like love from believers whether that person is saved or lost. For those of you familiar with Francis Schaeffer’s writings, you will recognize this concept as a major point in his books. Too often we’ve treated lost people as if they have no worth, and therefore, the only thing we have to offer them is the gospel. Should we always preach the gospel to them? Of course. But, is it permissable to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, house the orphan, and support the widow simply by means of doing good works? Absolutely, and to think otherwise does not exemplify the kindness and love that God showed us even that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Nichols closes out the chapter with the sojourner theme in mind:

To be a citizen of heaven is to bring heaven to earth . . . . This means bringing a bit of justice to an unjust world. . . . It means that we shelve our personal agendas for the sake of our neighbors. It means that we speak and demonstrate love even, or perhaps especially, when it’s costly and uncomfortable. We can’t be pretend Christians. We must live as real Christians (74).

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

~ James 1:26-27 ~

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