In a sermon preached during the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield laid bare the four archaeological layers always uncovered in true repentance. Preaching on “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), Whitefield said that before we can speak peace to our hearts:
One, “You must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the law of God.” The dawning of realism. Honesty. Brokenhearted self-awareness. “Was ever the remembrance of your sins grievous to you? Was the burden of your sins intolerable to your thoughts? Did ever any such thing as this pass between God and your soul? If not, for Jesus Christ’s sake, do not call yourselves Christians.”
Two, “You must be convinced of the foundation of all your transgressions. And what is that? I mean original sin.” We realize that, even when we haven’t acted on our impulses, the very fact that our hearts rise up against God undermines our glib self-assurance. “When the sinner is first awakened, he begins to wonder, ‘How came I to be so wicked?’ The Spirit of God then strikes in and shows that he has no good thing in him by nature.”
Three, “You must be troubled for the sins of your best duties and performances.” Our self-images unravel, our excuses, our rationalizations, our entitlements, our superiority. Every self-invented refuge collapses. “You must be brought to see that God may damn you for the best prayer you ever put up. Our best duties are so many splendid sins. Your self-righteousness . . . is the last idol taken out of the heart.”
Four, “There is one particular sin you must be greatly troubled for, and yet I fear there are few of you think what it is. It is the reigning, the damning sin of the Christian world, and yet the Christian world seldom or never thinks of it. And pray what is that? It is what most of you think you are not guilty of, and that is the sin of unbelief.” Treating God as unreal, at a functional level, in our hearts and lives and churches and strategies. “I am persuaded the devil believes more of the Bible than most of you do.”
“Before you can speak peace to your heart, you must not only be convinced of your actual and original sin, the sins of your own righteousness, the sin of unbelief, but you must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then you shall have peace.”
Taken from Select Sermons of George Whitefield (Edinburgh, 1958), pages 75-95.
Real Christianity inevitably digs down into our deeper layers of complication within, which we would otherwise leave comfortably undisturbed. It is down there that Jesus awaits us with his greater grace.