Preaching from Luke 16:31, Jonathan Edwards urges believers to trust in the truth conveyed by the Word of God to bring the lost to a place of conviction and repentance.
The warnings of God’s word are more fitted to obtain the ends of awakening sinners, and bringing them to repentance, than the rising of one from the dead to warn them….
It is a natural inference from this doctrine, that if these means which God hath appointed do not answer to lead men to repentance and reformation, no others would. Although this be not an absolutely necessary consequence from the words of the doctrine; yet it seems to be Christ’s aim to teach us, that if God’s means will not answer, none will. Our own means, those which we can devise, however they may seem more likely at a distance to be effectual, if brought to the trial, will not prove to be better. The rich man thought that if his brethren were warned by one rising from the dead, they would surely repent. But Abraham tells him, he is mistaken.
If one rising from the dead would not answer the purpose, we may rationally conclude that no other kind of means, different from those appointed by God, would. For what can we think of, which seems to have more tendency to awaken men, and lead to repentance, than one coming from the dead to them; except those means which we enjoy. Indeed men can think of many means, which they may imagine, if they enjoyed them, would make them believe and repent: but they deceive themselves….
Would it be sufficient if you could hear God speak from heaven? How was it in Moses’s time, when they heard God speak out of the midst of the fire, and heard the voice of words exceeding loud and full of majesty, so that they exceedingly trembled; when they saw mount Sinai all covered with smoke, and shaking exceedingly? How did they behave themselves? Did they all turn from their sins, and after that walk in the ways of God? It is true, they were very much affected at first, while it was a new and strange thing to them; but how hard-hearted and rebellious were they soon after! They did not scruple to rebel against this same great and glorious God. Yea, they made a golden calf while Moses was in the mount conversing with God, just after they had seen those dreadful appearances of divine majesty….
Men are apt to think, that if they had lived in Christ’s time, and had seen and heard him, and had seen his miracles, that they would have effectually convinced and turned them from sin. But how was it in fact? How few were there brought to repentance by all his discourses and miracles! How hard-hearted were they! Some were very much affected for a little while; but how few constant steady followers had he! He was, notwithstanding his miracles, rejected, despised, and even murdered by the people among whom he dwelt. And they were men of the same natures as sinners in these days.
The Scripture is full of instances, sufficient to convince us, that if the word of God will not awaken and convert sinners, nothing will. And we see enough in these days to convince us of it….
Sometimes sinners themselves are laid upon beds of sickness, and their lives hang in doubt before them. They are brought to the sides of the grave, and to the very mouth of hell, and their hearts are full of terror and amazement. Yet if they recover, they soon forget it, and return to the ways of folly and wickedness. Sometimes this is repeated; they are taken sick again, are again in extreme peril of death, their hearts are full of amazement, and they make many promises and vows; yet being recovered, they again soon forget all, and return to sin and folly. Such things are enough to convince us, that if the Word of God be not sufficient to convince men, and make them break off their sins, no external means would be sufficient….
Therefore the means which God hath instituted for us, are doubtless the best, and most conducive to lead men to repentance and salvation. They are doubtless far better than any other which we can devise….
Let all make use of the means which God hath instituted. They are the best and only means by which we may expect to obtain salvation. We shall be most inexcusable therefore if we neglect them. Let us attend to the word of God, read and hear it carefully, consider it thoroughly and daily walk by it. Let us be diligent in this work. The word of God is a great price put into our hands to get wisdom and eternal salvation; let us therefore improve it while we have it, as we know not how soon we may be deprived of it; lest Christ say to us, as in Luke 19:42, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”
Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, (B&R Samizdat Express, Kindle Edition: 2009).