Friday, June 10, 2016

Holding "Sinners" In My Hands

There it
 was, Box 1, Folder 61.  The expectation was building indeed.  I had passed through the security and registration process at the door, and was handed the box with only 15 minutes before the library would close.  I opened the box and was greeted by dozens of small satchels, almost the size of what the old late 80's floppy disks would have been.  I found it: #61.  I confirmed the date and text on the label, and slowly began to open the folder satchel.  There, I was greeted with old, yellowish paper with handwriting (challenging to read at times) and two noticeable sections.  One was a packet of paper that seem to go together, and then two individual, small pieces of paper that were clearly separate.  I pulled up the sermon on my iPhone, and confirmed briefly as I read that I was indeed thumbing through, in my very hands, Jonathan Edwards' original manuscript of "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God".  I learned later that this was his original 1741 manuscript that he preached from in Northampton.  The two small pieces of paper that stood by themselves were the two smaller pages of an outline that he developed later as he re-preached this sermon over and over again.  So many thoughts.  "Am I actually holding what he held?"  "Was this tucked away in his Bible as he ascended the pulpit?"  "Who was converted as Edwards preached from these pieces of paper--the Lord using the ordinary means of grace of preached as a converting ordinance in the life of an 18th century pagan and drawing them to Himself?"

I was absolutely astounded that I could thumb through it---the original, there in the Yale Library collections!  I heard the warning from the attendant "the library will close in 5 minutes".  I knew I needed to delicately pack it back up.  I began the process, but I feverishly looked for a few familiar words I remembered from the sermon:

 "And now you have an extraordinary Oppor- tunity, a Day wherein Christ has flung the Door of Mercy wide open, and stands in the Door call- ing and crying with a loud Voice to poor Sinners; a Day wherein many are flocking to him, and press- ing into the Kingdom of God; many are daily com- ing from the East, West, North and South; many that were very lately in the same miserable Con- dition that you are in, are in now an happy State, with their Hearts filled with Love to Him that has loved them and washed them for their Sins in his own Blood, and rejoycing in Hope of the Glory of God."

I couldn't find those words amid the handwriting, and had to close my time (not to mention that my dear wife and 4 kids weren't allowed to enter with me as I entered due to the kids ages).  I folded it back up, and had a quick reflection of thanks to God for a simple, yet brilliant Philosopher, Pastor, Theologian and churchman of a bygone era.  The box was now closed, and I began the walk to the counter to return the materials to the docent. I later was able to talk to the editor of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale about my experience and learn a bit more about the sermon, and the Edwards' collection.  I was holding "Sinners" in my hands.  The very manuscript he had preached from several times.  Were these pages christened with tears, or sweat of a preacher pleading (not in a vigorous style)? This was possibly America's most famous gospel sermon ever, and I held it.  What a privilege.  (Yes, I realize the humor for readers who will remember that on last year's family vacation, our little troop trudged through the Princeton Cemetery to find Edwards' grave--and did.  We don't have an Edwards addiction, just rejoice in the history of the church).  

I held it in my hands, and yet, the weightiness of the entire episode is that what makes this so personal an event for me is the reality that God does hold sinners in His hands...and of all people, He hasn't cast me out, but drawn me through the "Door of mercy, flung open by Christ..."  I held "Sinners", but our God holds all sinners, and like Edwards says has made His covenant people to have "their Hearts filled with Love to Him that has loved them and washed them for their Sins in his own Blood, and rejoycing in Hope of the Glory of God."