Plowing the Ground Through Preaching God’s Law
March 21, 2018
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The Wood Duck

Gilbert Tennent

The First Great Awakening of the 1720s to the 1760s, which greatly affected America and England, was characterized by powerful preaching that plowed the soil of man’s heart deeply by God’s law to awaken souls from the slumber of self-righteousness and worldliness, to bring conviction of sin and knowledge of God’s holiness and wrath in order to lead to true repentance and saving faith in Jesus Christ.

In this age of shallow evangelism in which the mere head-nodding agreement of one or two verses about sin are thought to suffice to produce saving faith, we would do well to study messages such as the following by Gilbert Tennent. It should be noted that Tennent, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and other prominent preachers of the Awakening were Calvinists (though others such as the Wesleys weren’t), and the error of sovereign election was a real hindrance to the revival, in our estimation. But they were right about the type of preaching that awakens sinners in such a manner that they will be brought under Spirit-wrought conviction so that they flee from the wrath to come to take hold of Christ.

Note the depth of the teaching. Note the plainness of speech. Note the severity of reproof.

Of course, Western society has been dumbed down greatly since the 18th century, and the average person today--yea, probably the average preacher--cannot understand the language of the Awakening preaching, and the very dumbing down of literacy is the product of the rejection of God’s Word and the fact that the Bible is no longer used in public education as it was 400 years ago. Vaunted, arrogant Humanism does not exalt; it degrades.


Gilbert Tennent, The Justice of God, c. 1740

That God had authority to enact laws appears evidently from His creating all. As His infinite and eternal excellency makes Him worthy of absolute sovereignty and dominion, so His producing all by His almightiness gives Him an irrefragable right thereto. Human power is derived, delegated and limited, but His is original and absolute. And, Almighty God having annexed the sanction of rewards and punishment to the law he has given His creatures, His truth stands engaged to execute the same upon suitable objects; which is likewise necessary to answer the designs of government. This execution therefore, of the sanction of the law, or conformity thereto, in dealings of God with His creatures, is His declarative justice, and with this even all His acts of sovereignty do really harmonize, which appears by considering the properties of divine justice, which are these following, i.e.:

Divine justice is impartial; with Him is no respect of persons in judgment ... Justice will not spare for the sake of the multitude, greatness, or nearness of the guilty. Did not Sodom and Gomorrah perish by fire, and was not the whole antediluvian world drowned with water? And what vast multitudes of people may we suppose did the aforesaid cities, together with Zeboim and Admah, contain? And how much more the whole world before the flood? And yet all were destroyed by a sudden and terrible stroke of divine justice. And when the angels, those spirits of excelling dignity, sinned, did not divine justice cast them into an abyss of woe? And does it not still confine them in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day? When Adam, our federal head, had transgressed the covenant, was he not banished from that paradise of pleasure he before possessed and kept out of it by a flaming sword? ...

Divine justice is universal, so that not one sin can escape severe punishment, either in the sinner or surety: Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them (Galatians 3:10).

Divine justice is inexorable, no importunities can alter its course. When once a sinner’s season of mercy expires, Jehovah refuses to be entreated. Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness (Ezekiel 14:20). This is twice repeated in that chapter to show the infallible certainty and unspeakable importance of the truth delivered. The Almighty cannot be corrupted or bribed. ...

This subject speaks terror to all ungodly and Christless sinners of every kind. How deplorable is their case who must drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation (Revelation 14:10)!

O! let the secure and impenitent transgressor think on the following particulars:

1. That God, upon the account of His justice and judgments, is called the great and dreadful God (Daniel 9:4). Likewise, mighty and terrible (Deuteronomy 7:21). With God, says Job, is terrible majesty (Job 37:22).

2. That the wages of every sin is death, and that you have been guilty of a prodigious multitude, attended with awful aggravations: sins against light and love, against law and Gospel, mercy and judgments; your iniquities, for number, rival the stars, and for aggravation, are red as crimson.

3. That the justice of God will not, cannot pass by one of them, except you repent, but will surely proportion pains equal to all their number and heinousness. For as has been observed, it is impartial, universal, inexorable. And now, seeing every imagination of the thoughts of your hearts has been since your birth until now, only evil continually, and all your words and actions evil; for a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, neither can he that is in the flesh please God, how dreadful must that wrath be which is proportioned to them all! Surely it is,

1st, Incomprehensible wrath; the most fearful imagination cannot fully represent it by its most gloomy ideas. Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath (Psalm 90:11).

2d. It is unavoidable wrath. If we take the morning wings and flee to the uttermost ends of the earth, lo, there God’s all-seeing eye will discern us, and His righteous arm arrest us. If we ascend to the top of Carmel, or descend into the deeps of the ocean, or seek to conceal ourselves with the curtain of obscurity, darkness and retirement, even there our persons and purposes will be open to the all-penetrating eye of God. For the darkness is as the light to Him, and the night shines as the day (Psalm 139:1-12). Sinners, you cannot escape by policy, for God is infinite in wisdom; nor by power, for He is infinite in strength, as Job observes, He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against Him, and hath prospered? (Job 9:4). Nor can you escape by flight, for Jehovah is omnipresent.

3d. It is eternal wrath (Mt. 25:46); it will continue as long as God endures; never, never, never shall it know a period. O! this gives it a dreadful and heart-rending accent!

And 4th, It is intolerable wrath. If the Redeemer, who was personally innocent and supported by the Godhead, cried so dolorously under this wrath, how can your hands be strong or your hearts endure when a jealous God deals with you, who are full of real and crimson guilt, and shall have none to succor you? And do you think that that just God, who spared not His own beloved Son, when He but stood in sinners’ place, but smote Him dead by the sword of His justice and made all the waves of His almighty vengeance beat upon Him and roll over Him, will spare you who are covered all over with real and scarlet guilt? No, friends, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption (Galatians 6:7-8).


Gilbert Tennent, “Solemn Warning,” 1735

Awake, Awake Sinners, stand up and look where you are hastning, least you drink of the Hand of the Lord, the Dregs of the Cup of his Fury; the Cup of trembling, and wring them out, Isai. 51.17. 

Awake ye Drunkards, and weep and howl, Joel 1.5. For what can ye expect (so continuing) but to drink of that Cup of Trembling I but now mention’d. Awake ye profane Swearers, and remember ye will not get a drop of Water to cool your cursing cursed Tongues in Hell, when they and you shall flame in the broad burning Lake, Luke 16.24. God has said he will not hold you Guiltless, that take his Name in vain, Exod 20.7. 

Awake ye unclean Adulterers, and Whoremongers, and remember that without a speedy Repentance, your dismal abode shall be ever with unclean Devils, the Soul of a God shall be avenged upon you, Jer. 5.8, 29. 

Awake ye Sabbath-Breakers, and reform; or God will break you upon the Wheels of his Vengeance, and torture you eternally upon the Rack of his Justice, Neham. 13.16, 17, 18. And let all other sorts of profane Sinners be entreated to awake out of Sleep and consider their Danger. 

Awake ye covetous griping Nabals, and read what the Apostle James says to you, Chap 5. 1 to 6. Go to now, ye rich Men, weep and howl for the Miseries that shall come upon you. The Rust of your Gold and Silver shall be a Witness against you. Ye have lived in Pleasure upon Earth, and been wanton, you have nourished your Hearts as in a Day of Slaughter. Here we may Note by the Way, that those who live like Beasts here, and will not be induc’d by any Perswasive to repent, reform and act like Men, shall howl like Beasts hereafter, without being heard or pitied, 1 Cor. 16.13. Prov. 1.26. 

Awake ye secure Moralists, and lifeless, sapless Formalists, who are Strangers to the Power of experimental Religion: Remember your shadowy Appearances, can’t deceive the Rein trying God, Gal. 6.7. Nor your dry Leaves of husky spiritless Duties, secure your guilty Souls, from an astonishing overwhelming Inundation of his high and terrible Displeasure, Mat. 5.20.

Awake every of you that are yet in a Christless unconvinced State! Are you not asham’d to sleep all the Day in Sloth, while some are trembling, troubled and distress’d about their Souls, who are not greater Sinners than your selves? Nay, perhaps not near so great; what sleep? while others are crying Night and Day with Tears, and heavy Groans to God, for pardoning Mercy, who have no more precious Souls than you. Sleep! While others are labouring hard and taking Heaven by Storm! What sleep! While some are travelling fast to the heavenly Jerusalem, and rejoicing in the Way with Joy unspeakable and glorious. What will ye draw the Curtains of a carnal Security, and false Hope about you, and sleep to Death and Hell, even when the meridian Sun of the Gospel shines full in your Face, and Life and Immortality is brought to Light, and God, and Christ, his Ministers, Word, Providences, and your own Consciences, are ringing a loud Alarm, a Peal of Thunder in your Ears to awake you: That you may consider your Ways, and turn your Feet to God’s Testimonies. Will you sleep with Fire in your Bosoms? (the unpardon’d Guilt of Sin) with the Curse of God upon your Souls, the Heavens frowning upon you, and shut against you, the burden’d Earth travelling under you, and Hell yawning wide to devour and consume you I Mayn’t I say to you as Moses to Israel, Deut. 29.4. Yet the Lord hath not given you a Heart to perceive, and Eyes to see, and Ears to hear, unto this Day. O! Is it not to be fear’d that God in Justice has left you to a Spirit of Slumber? Because you shut your Eyes against the Light, John 3. That you should sleep and never awake. Jer. 51.57. And I will make drunk her Princes, and her wise Men, and her Rulers, and her mighty Men; and they shall sleep a perpetual Sleep, and not awake, saith the King, whose Name is the Lord of Hosts. Prov. 6. 9. How long wilt thou sleep, O Sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy Sleep?

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