A Hammer And A Fire
George Whitefield was one of the primary instruments God used in the First Great Awakening. This revival and renewal of religion swept portions of Europe as well as parts of the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. He often preached outside in the fields and wherever a crowd would gather. Many church officials were greatly displeased that a preacher would do such a thing.
Whitefield crossed the Atlantic numerous times in order to preach in Europe and the colonies. July of 1764 found him in Charleston, South Carolina. After preaching he wrote these words in his journal, “Many moral, or good sort of men, who before were settled on their lees (The lee is the sheltered or protected area or side. So he is probably speaking of men who felt safe and secure in their morality) have been gloriously awakened to seek after Jesus Christ; and many a Lydia’s heart hath been opened to receive the things that were spoken. Indeed, the word came like a hammer and a fire”(Emphasis added.).
These words jumped off the page at me when I read them. Indeed, I have not been able to get them out of my head. As I considered their implications I was led to a passage of Scripture where the same words are used. So undoubtedly Whitefield had this passage in mind when he entered them into his journal.
The words are found in Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” The context for understanding these words begins in verse 9. As you read these verses you find that the false prophets are constantly saying that God has given them a vision or a dream. So they proclaim it to the people and what happens? Ungodliness spreads through the land. The worship of false gods takes place. Adultery and wicked acts increase and the people end up with a false hope because they are told everything is okay.
In verses 21 and 22 God declares these are not his prophets. What is the evidence for his statement? God asserts, “If they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” Why is this so? The answer is given in verses 28 and 29. God’s Word breaks sin into pieces. It doesn’t let us cling to sin in our lives. The Holy Word of God and the darkness of sin cannot abide in the same place. Furthermore, the Word burns the chaff or straw out of our lives. The search light of the Word exposes worthless things and trash that are leading us astray. It forces us to deal with them. We could summarize these verses as follows: You cannot mistake the true Word because of its inevitable effects.
As I considered these things I was reading Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle. This book was published in England in 1878. So Ryle lived and ministered in England a little over 100 years after Whitefield wrote these words in his journal. This connection is important because Ryle is writing because of the lack of “practical religion” or a relationship with God that affects our daily lives. He, like Jeremiah the prophet, is heartbroken by the vast number of people he sees that just have formal religion. They have not experienced a heart relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Ryle had the same concern that gripped Whitefield. The generation that came up after Whitefield in England had lost a great truth. They needed a spiritual awakening. So Ryle focuses on the Word of God. His “papers”, as he calls his chapters, are each built around a passage of Scripture. Each chapter is a convicting call to hear and obey the Word.
He begins with a brief account of the many “spiritual privileges” that abound in his society. He says, “There never were so many signs of religion in the land, so many sermons preached, so many services held in churches and chapels, so many Bibles sold, so many religious books and tracts printed, so many Societies for evangelizing mankind supported.”
If this was true in 1878, what about today? Just think of how easy it is to get a Bible or hear a sermon or get a good Christian book. We have smart phones, laptops, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nooks and all kinds of eBooks. We also have all the normal publishing of books and Bibles at our fingertips with Amazon and other services like them. We have apps and all kinds of software available to help us study the Bible. There have never been so many tools and helps available.
So as we come to the end of 2014 and look toward 2015, there are several questions I would like each of us at New Covenant Bible Church to consider: Is the Word of God like a hammer and a fire in our lives? Is the Word breaking up the sin and burning up the worthless things in our lives? Is the Word penetrating to the very core of our being and taking away those “old loves” and replacing them with a love for and delight in God?
If you must answer “No” to these questions, I then encourage you to get into the Word so it can get into you and do its work. May 2015 become a Year in the Word for you for the good of your soul.