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Concerning Jonathan Edwards: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” – Romans 3:3 – Geneva Bible

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Concerning Jonathan Edwards:

“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 – Geneva Bible

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“The amazing thing to me is why anyone of this generation or any other should want to be traced to Jonathan Edwards.  Why should a eugenist resort to the devious ways that have been used . . . for the purpose of linking even his worst enemies to Jonathan?  Who was Jonathan Edwards?  Except for his weird and horrible theology, he would have filled no place in American life.  His main business was scaring silly women and children and blaspheming the God he professed to adore.  Nothing but a distorted or diseased mind could have produced his Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”

-Clarence Darrow- [1]

 

“This is not the spirit of sadism.  Ironically, if Edwards, believing as he did, had been a sadist, he would never have said a word about perdition.”

-John Gerstner- [2]

 

CO-9-1-13

“America’s First Philosopher”

The man whom Will Grant in his Story of Philosophy dubbed “America’s first philosopher” was New England’s famous pastoral leader in the Great Awakening.  Born October 5, 1703, this precocious son of a New England pastor entered Yale at the age of thirteen and graduated valedictorian.

While at Yale Jonathan Edwards underwent a profound conversion to Christ whereby he came to terms with God’s absolute sovereignty with respect to the eternal destinies of men.  The doctrines of God’s election and reprobation which had been so troublesome for him became matters, not only of intellectual acceptance, but of intense spiritual delight.

After serving as pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City he returned to Yale to work as a tutor and complete a master’s degree.  In 1727, Edwards joined his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, the aged “pope of the Connecticut Valley” and pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Upon Stoddard’s death two years later, Edwards became the pastor at the Northampton church.  He married Sarah Pierrepont, the daughter of one of Yale’s founders who was descended from the founder of New Haven.

A Most Remarkable Tribute

Concerning Sarah Pierrepont, Edwards had written,

They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him–that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always.  There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight for ever.  Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction.  She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her conduct, and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her the whole world, lest she should offend this Great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; specially after this great God has manifested himself to her mind.  She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what.  She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her. [3]

“The First Colonial Event” [4]

In 1734, while Edwards was preaching a series of messages on “justification by faith alone,” a most remarkable event occurred in the Northampton parish.  People of all ages began to cry out in desperation to God.  Suddenly the parish house replaced the tavern as the most frequented building in town. The revival at Northampton soon spread to many neighboring parishes and towns and throughout New England.  Revival fires spread into what historians call America’s “Great Awakening” when  Anglican evangelist George Whitefield, an associate of John Wesley, conducted his preaching tour beginning in Philadelphia in 1739 and climaxing with a tour of New England where he preached to 30,000 people on the Boston Common. Whitefield, who publicly aired his suspicion that many American clergy had never been converted, was most impressed with Jonathan and Sarah Edwards and their family.

After twenty-three years of ministry with the Northampton congregation, Edwards was fired in response to his treatise on the Qualifications for Holy Communion which repudiated the 1662 Half-Way Covenant of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as well as the position of Solomon Stoddard.  The Half-Way Covenant had allowed parents unable to share a “personal narrative of grace” to have their children baptized, and Stoddard had further allowed those parents to partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Edwards continued preaching at Northampton for another two years.  Following eight years of ministry with the Housatonic Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards became the president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton).  He died a month and a half later from a small pox vaccination.

A Notable Progeny

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ remarkable progeny are highlighted in Marriage to a Difficult Man: The “Uncommon Union” of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by Elisabeth D. Dodds.  Citing A. E. Winship’s study of fourteen hundred of Edwards’s descendants in 1900, Dodds described a pattern in which they had

entered the ministry in platoons and sent one hundred missionaries overseas, as well as stocking many mission boards with lay trustees.  One maverick married the daughter of a South Sea Island chieftain but even that branch reverted to type, and its son became a clergyman.

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’s descendants included thirteen college presidents, sixty-five professors, 100 lawyers, thirty judges, sixty-six physicians, and eighty holders of public office, though the list has likely increased since this information was tabulated. [5]

A Literary Legacy

This writer regards Edwards’s Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World as the most profound biblical/theological treatise he has read.  Westminster Seminary Chancellor Dr. Samuel T. Logan described Edwards’s Treatise on Religious Affections as “the most important theological work ever written in America.”   Church historian Sydney Ahstrom described Edwards’s Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will” as “one of the literary sensations of eighteenth-century America.”   His Original Sin Defended has been heralded as “the ablest explication of the Calvinistic doctrine on this point ever written.”  Harvard’s Perry Miller stated that Edwards’s History of Redemption was “the first truly historical interpretation in American literature.” [6]  The late Professor John H. Gerstner of Pittsburgh Seminary frequently offered (what was then) a two-volume set of Edwards’s works to young men as a gift on the condition that they would read them within the following year.  “It will change your life,” he stated.  This writer can assure the Christian Observer readership that they will not find “fast-food” religion in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, but that which constitutes solid preparation and reinforcement for the leadership of God’s church in this generation.  Yale has apparently conceded as much by publishing the complete works of Jonathan Edwards and making them accessible online at www.yale.edu/wje.

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Sources

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Ahlstrom, Sydney E. 1972. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bogue, Carl W. 1975. Jonathan Edwards and the covenant of grace. Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing Company.

Brand, David C. 1991.  Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific.  American Academy of Religion Academy Series, edited by Susan Thistlewaite. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Dodds, Elisabeth  D. 1971.  Marriage to a Difficult Man: The “Uncommon Union” of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.

Logan, Samuel T. 1984. Jonathan Edwards Course.  Westminster Seminary. Philadelphia.

Manspeaker, Nancy. 1981. Jonathan Edwards : a biographicalsynopsis. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press.

Murray, Ian H. 1987. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh, UK &Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust.

Miller, Perry. 1973. Jonathan Edwards.  The American Men of Letters Series. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, Publishers.

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Endnotes

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[1]. Nancy Manspeaker, Jonathan Edwards: a biographical synopsis, p. 48.  Note Clarence Darrow’s  misrepresentation of Edwards’s ministry as though the “fear” provoked by his preaching were limited to “silly women and children.”  The facts do not support such a distortion inasmuch as the parish house replaced the tavern as  the gathering place for souls seeking to get right with their Maker.  Edwards, like a skilled, social scientist, noted this in his Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundreds of Souls. One could hardly make the case that those who abandoned the tavern during that time of religious awakening were limited to  “silly women” and “children.”  But Darrow’s historical misrepresentation runs in another way as well.  For what sparked “a very remarkable blessing of heaven to the souls of the people of this town” were “some things said publicly on that occasion, concerning justification by faith alone.”  When Edwards preached his sermon: “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God” at Northampton, he did not get such a response, though that sermon may have helped prepare the hearts of the people for the messages on “justification by faith alone.”  David C. Brand, Profile of the Last Puritan p. 80.

[2]. Carl W. Bogue, Jonathan Edwards and the covenant of grace, p. 28

[3]. Ian H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, p. 97

[4]. This was Harvard’s Perry Miller’s term descriptive of the Great Awakening in America as noted by Dr. Samuel T. Logan, Jr., in his Jonathan Edwards course at Westminster Seminary in 1984.

[5]. Dodds, Elisabeth D.   Marriage to a Difficult Man: The “Uncommon Union” of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, p.37-38

[6]. David C. Brand, Profile of the Last Puritan, pp. 21-22

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About the Writer

David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona.  He and his wife reside in Wooster, Ohio.  They have four grown children and seven  grandchildren.  With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing.  One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.

 

 

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