A Mind in Love with God
The Jonathan Edwards Institute Conference
My topic in this first address is "Jonathan Edwards, A Mind in Love with God: the Private Life of a Modern Evangelical." The point of the title is to say that the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards is relevant for the way modern evangelicals think and feel about God in relation to our own lives of devotion and study and worship. My approach will be to take you on a guided tour of my own personal encounter with Edwards over the last 30 years. I hope I can introduce you to his writings and thought as it became very powerful in my own life. In this way, perhaps I can mingle enough biblical theology and biography and autobiography so that you not only have a fresh meeting with Edwards, but also see how his life and thought have shaped one modern evangelical.
The Success of Evangelicalism
Let's begin with the phrase in the title, "A Mind in Love with God." You need to know that I was assigned my titles. I didn't choose them, though I love them, and submitted gladly to the leaders of the conference. You need to know this so that you are aware of some driving convictions behind this event. When David Wells, who has written a book called No Place for Truth, and Os Guinness, who has written a book called Fit Bodies, Fat Minds, and the subtitle of the one is Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? and the subtitle of the other is Why Evangelicals Don't Think - when those two men are asked to come speak at a conference under the theme, "A Passion for Truth: Evangelicalism in the Modern World," you know that there is an agenda, a cluster of convictions and passions that are driving this event.
I will be disappointed if David Wells and Os Guinness do not say, in one form or another, that evangelicalism today is basking briefly in the sunlight of hollow success. Evangelical industries of television and radio and publishing and music recordings as well as hundreds of growing mega-churches and some highly visible public figures and political movements give outward impressions of vitality and strength. But both Wells and Guinness in their own ways, have called attention to the hollowing out of evangelicalism from within. That is, the strong timber of the tree of evangelicalism has historically been the great doctrines of the Bible - God's glorious perfections. . . man's fallen nature . . . the wonders of Biblical history . . the magnificent work of redemption in Christ . . . the saving and sanctifying work of grace in the soul . . . the great mission of the church in conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil . . . the greatness of our hope of everlasting joy at God's right hand. These things once defined us and were the strong fiber and timber beneath the fragile leaves and fruit of our religious experiences. But this is the case less and less, it seems. And that is why the waving leaves of success and the sweet fruit of prosperity are not as auspicious to David Wells and Os Guinness as tkey is to many. It is a hollow triumph, and the tree is getting weaker and weaker while the branches are waving in the sun.
But right at this point Edwards comes to our aid. The first thing he would say is this: Beware lest, even in your description of the problem, your diagnosis fall prey to the very categories of pragmatism that constitute the problem. In other words, don't bemoan the condition of evangelicalism because it is hollow and therefore weakening - as if the real goal is lasting prominence rather than temporary prominence. Instead, bemoan the condition of evangelicalism because it minimizes the supremacy and centrality of God.
"A Mind in Love with God"
"Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God." Here you have two words orienting on God: Mind and Love. These two words correspond to one of the deepest lessons Edwards ever taught. Mind (or understanding) and love (or affection) correspond to two great acts of the Godhead, and two ways that humans in his image reflect back to God his own glory. Here's the way he put it in his notebooks called the Miscellanies:
God is glorified within Himself these two ways: 1. By appearing . . . to Himself in His own perfect idea [of Himself], or in His Son, who is the brightness of His glory. 2. By enjoying and delighting in Himself, by flowing forth in infinite love and delight towards Himself, or in his Holy Spirit . . . So God glorifies Himself toward the creatures also in two ways: 1. By appearing to . . . their understanding. 2. In communicating Himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying, the manifestations which He makes of Himself. . . . God is glorified not only by His glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it. His glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart. God made the world that He might communicate, and the creature receive, His glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God's glory [doesn't] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.
I can scarcely overstate what that insight has meant in my life and theology and preaching. Virtually everything I write is an effort to explain and illustrate that truth. Here is my paraphrase: the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever - which is the essence of "Christian hedonism." There is no final conflict between God's passion to be glorified and man's passion to be satisfied. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. That's my twentieth-century way of saying it. Here is Edwards eighteenth century way of saying it:
Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself . . . and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. . . . [Thus] God's respect to the creature's good [that is, our passion to be satisfied], and his respect to himself [that is, his passion to be glorified], is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.
It follows from all this that it is impossible that anyone can pursue joy or satisfaction with too much passion and zeal and intensity. Edwards said, "I do not suppose it can be said of any, that their love to their own happiness . . . can be in too high a degree." It can be misdirected to wrong objects, but not too strong. It's the same thing C. S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory,
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
In other words, the pursuit of our soul's satisfaction - our joy and delight and happiness - is not sin. Sin is the exact opposite: pursuing happiness where it cannot be lastingly found ("My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water," Jeremiah 2:13 RSV). Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but on God. Or, more subtly, sin is pursuing satisfaction in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Revelation 3:16).
Pursuing the Enjoyment of God with all Our Might
Virtue, on the other hand, is to pursue the enjoyment of God with all our might. No half-hearted, polite, dutiful religiosity here! One of Edwards' resolutions that he recorded in his notebooks early in life and seems to have kept all his days was # 6 - "Resolved: To live with all my might, while I do live." Pursuing delight in God is not something one may do halfheartedly if he realizes whom he is pursuing and what is at stake. The cultivation of spiritual appetite is a great duty for all the saints. So Edwards says in a sermon on the Song of Solomon, "Men . . . ought to indulge those appetites. To obtain as much of those spiritual satisfactions as lies in their power."
Now connect all this with the title of this message and those two words that I said correspond to two great acts of the Godhead, and two ways that humans in God's image reflect back to God his own glory: "Jonathan Edwards: A Mind in Love with God." Mind corresponds to the understanding of the truth of God's perfections. Love corresponds to the delight in the worth and beauty of those perfections. God is glorified both by being understood and by being delighted in. He is not glorified so much by one brand of evangelicals who divorce delight from understanding. And he is not glorified so much by another branch of evangelicals who divorce understanding from delight. There is truth to be known aright, and there is beauty to be cherished aright. There is doctrine to be seen, and there is glory to savored.
What is at stake in the doctrinal hollowing out of contemporary evangelicalism is the loss of God. And with him, the loss of his truth and beauty. And with the loss of divine truth and beauty, the loss of truly seeing God and savoring God. Soon we will wake up and discover the evangelical king has no clothes on. The successes are hollow. And worst of all, our very reason for being is lost. For God's sake and our sake, we must know and love, see and savor. And if we lose our knowing and loving God - our seeing and savoring of God - then we lose our ability to reflect his truth and beauty in the world. And the world loses God.
That, I think, is ultimately what this conference is about, and why I am so happy to be a part of it.
Sinking a Shaft Deep into Reality - My Encounter with Edwards
Now let me turn to the story of my personal encounter with Edwards, and the pilgrimage of the last thirty years of friendship with him. The point here is to whet your appetite for his works and to give you some introduction to his life and writings. My conviction is that if I can infect you with Edwards and his passion for God's supremacy, you will have a very powerful inoculation against the hollowing disease of our times.
When I was in seminary, a wise professor told me that besides the Bible I ought to choose one great theologian and apply myself throughout life to understanding and mastering his thought, to sink at least one shaft deep into reality rather than always dabbling on the surface of things. I might in time become this man's peer and know at least one system with which to bring other ideas into fruitful dialogue. It was good advice.
Essay on the Trinity
The theologian to whom I have devoted myself more than any other is Jonathan Edwards. All I knew of Edwards when I went to seminary was that he had preached a sermon called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," in which he said something about hanging over hell by a slender thread. My first real encounter with Edwards was in a church history course with Geoffrey Bromiley when I chose to write a paper on Edwards' Essay on the Trinity.
It was one of those defining moments when my view of God's being was forever stamped. The Son of God is the eternal idea or image that God has of himself. And the image that he has of himself is so perfect and so complete and so full as to be the living, personal reproduction (or begetting) of himself. And this living, personal image or radiance or form of God is God, namely, God the Son. And therefore God the Son is co-eternal with God the Father and equal in essence and glory. And between the Son and the Father there arises eternally an infinitely holy personal communion of love. "The divine essence itself flows out and is, as it were, breathed forth in love and joy. So that the Godhead therein stands forth in yet another manner of subsistence, and there proceeds the third person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit."
You can see how this all coheres with the earlier conception of God glorifying himself in two ways: by being known and being loved or enjoyed. That corresponds to the very way the Godhead exists: The Son is the standing forth of God knowing himself perfectly, and the Spirit is the standing forth of God loving himself perfectly. Perhaps you can begin to feel the fire that began to burn in my bones as I saw a more profound unity in the nature of things than I had ever imagined. That encounter was 1969 and I knew the Edwards I had met in high school was a caricature.
Freedom of the Will
The next work of Edwards that I read was the Freedom of the Will. I found it totally compelling philosophically, and in perfect harmony with my emerging Biblical theology. Saint Paul and Jonathan Edwards conspired to demolish my previous notions about freedom. The book was a defense of Calvinistic divinity, but Edwards says in the preface, "I should not take it at all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction's sake: though I utterly disclaim a dependence on Calvin, or believing the doctrines which I hold, because he believed and taught them, and cannot justly be charged with believing in everything just as he taught."
In a capsule, the book argues that "God's moral government over mankind, his treating them as moral agents, making them the objects of his commands, counsels, calls [and] warnings . . . is not inconsistent with a determining disposal of all events, of every kind throughout the universe, in his providence; either by positive efficiency or permission." There is no such thing as freedom of the will in the Arminian sense of a will that ultimately determines itself. The will is determined, rather, by "that motive which, as it stands in the view of the mind, is the strongest." But motives are given, not ultimately controllable by the will.
All are enslaved, as St. Paul says, either to sin or to righteousness (Romans 6:16-23, see also John 8:34; 1 John 3:9); but slavery to sin, inability to love and trust God (see Romans 8:8), does not excuse the sinner, for this inability is moral, not physical. It is not an inability that prevents a man from believing when he would like to believe; rather it is a moral corruption of the heart that renders holy motives to believe ineffectual. The person thus enslaved to sin cannot believe without the miracle of regeneration, but is nevertheless accountable because of the evil of his heart, which disposes him to be unmoved by reasonable motives in the gospel. In this way Edwards tries to show that the Arminian notion of the will's ability to determine itself is not a prerequisite of moral accountability. Rather, in Edwards' words, "All inability that excuses may be resolved into one thing, namely, want of natural capacity or strength; either capacity of understanding, or external strength."
A pastor and missionary all his life, Jonathan Edwards wrote what is probably the greatest defense and explanation of the Augustinian-Reformed view of the will. It is primarily due to this book, The Freedom of the Will, that many subsequent scholars have called Edwards the greatest American philosopher-theologian. Aside from its intrinsic power, the clearest witness to its merit is its enduring impact on theology and philosophy.
When evangelist Charles G. Finney, a hundred years later, wanted to level his guns against the Calvinistic view of the will, he did not see any of his own contemporaries or even Calvin himself as the chief adversary. There was one great Goliath among the Calvinists that had to be slain: Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will. Finney's assessment of the book in a word: "Ridiculous! Edwards I revere; his blunders I deplore. I speak thus of this Treatise on the Will, because while it abounds with unwarrantable assumption, distinctions without difference, and metaphysical subtleties, it has been adopted as the textbook of a multitude of what are called Calvinistic divines for scores of years."
But for all its vehemence, Finney's slingshot missed the mark, and the great and godly Goliath strides on today, relentlessly exerting his power in theology and philosophy alike. In 1949, Perry Miller would chastise academics for their prejudice against Edwards and their frequent caricatures of him as an antiquarian specimen of hell-fire preaching from the long-lost times of the Great Awakening. Miller's own assessment: "He speaks with an insight into science and psychology so much ahead of his time that our own can hardly be said to have caught up with him."
Beginning in 1957, Yale University Press began to publish a new critical edition of Edwards' works, of which thirteen volumes have now appeared. It is not surprising that the first work they chose to publish was The Freedom of the Will. It is simply without peer. We would live in a different world of evangelicalism if Christians would read it. Nothing cements the truth of God's supremacy in all things for the joy of all peoples like an unshakable Biblical confidence in the sovereignty of God in all things.
The Nature of True Virtue
That was all of Edwards I read in seminary. After graduation in 1971, before graduate work in Germany, my wife and I spent some restful days at her parent's place in the woods outside Barnesville, Georgia. Here I had my third encounter with Edwards. Sitting on one of those old-fashioned two-seater swings in the back yard under a big hickory tree, with pen in hand I read The Nature of True Virtue. This is Edwards' only purely non-polemical work. If you have ever felt a sense of aesthetic awe at beholding a pure idea given lucid expression, you may understand what I mean when I say that this book aroused in me a deeply pleasurable, aesthetic experience. But more important, it gave me a brand new awareness that ultimately the categories of morality resolve into categories of spiritual aesthetics, and one of the last things you can say about virtue is that it is "a kind of beautiful nature, form or quality."
Perry Miller said that "the book is not a reasoning about virtue but a beholding it." Edwards gazes on the conception of virtue "until it yields up meaning beyond meaning, and the simulacra fall away. The book approaches, as nearly as any creation in our literature, a naked idea." I think it was perfectly in accord with Edwards' intention that when I finished that book I not only had a deep longing to be a good man, but I also wrote a poem called "Georgia Woods," because nothing looked the same when I put the book down.
Charity and its Fruits
Noel and I left for Germany in the fall of 1971 to study in Munich for three years. During those years I read three more works by Edwards and biographies of him by Samuel Hopkins and Henry Bamford Parkes. Noel and I read to each other a collection of his sermons called Charity and its Fruits, a 360-page exposition of 1 Corinthians 13.
Perhaps the most important insight we saw related to my emerging Christian Hedonism in those days. Is 1 Corinthians 13:5 ("Love seeks not its own") contrary to the conviction - which I learned from Edwards - that we should glorify God by seeking our holy joy all the time? Is that pursuit of our own joy contrary to the truth, "love seeks not its own"? Here is what Edwards said in Charity and Its Fruits.
Some, although they love their own happiness, do not place that happiness in their own confined good, or in that good which is limited to themselves, but more in the common good, in that which is the good of others as well as their own, in good to be enjoyed in others and to be enjoyed by others. And man's love of his own happiness which runs in this channel is not what is called selfishness, but is quite opposite to it. . . . This is the thing most directly intended by that self-love which the Scripture condemns. When it is said that charity seeketh not her own, we are to understand it of her own private good, good limited to herself.
In other words, if what makes a person happy is the extension of his joy in God into the lives of others, then it is not wrong to seek that happiness, because it magnifies God and blesses people. Love is the labor of Christian hedonism, not its opposite.
The End for Which God Created the World
Just off the kitchen in our little apartment in Munich was a pantry about 8 by 5 feet, a most unlikely place to read a Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World. From my perspective now, I would say that, if one book captures the essence or wellspring of Edwards' theology, it is this. Edwards' answer to why God created the world is to emanate the fullness of his glory for his people to know, praise and enjoy. Here is the heart of his theology in his own words:
It appears that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God's works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. . . . In the creature's knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing in and praising God, the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged; his fullness is received and returned. Here is both the emanation and remanation. The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair
That is the heart and center of Jonathan Edwards and, I believe, of the Bible too. That kind of reading can turn a pantry into a vestibule of heaven. And it is the essence of what is needed today to overcome the hollowing out of evangelical life and the collapsing of our private meditations into self-centered musings.
Treatise Concerning Religious Affections
The last work of Edwards I read in Germany was his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. For several months it was the meat of my Sunday evening meditation. I can remember writing letters week after week to former teachers, to friends and to my parents about the effect this book was having on me. Far more than The Nature of True Virtue, this book convicted me of sinful lukewarmness in my affections toward God and inspired in me a passion to know and love God as I ought. The thesis of the book is very simple: "True religion, in great part, consists in the Affections." Perhaps the reason the book moved me so is because it was Edwards' effort to save the best of two worlds - the very worlds in which I grew up and now live, and the two worlds implied in the title of this message: "A Mind in Love with God."
On the one hand, Edwards wanted to defend the genuine and necessary place of the affections in religious experience. He had been more responsible than any man for the revival fervor that deluged New England in the fifteen years following 1734. Charles Chauncy of Boston led the opposition to this Great Awakening with its "swooning away and falling to the Ground . . . bitter Shriekings and Screamings; Convulsion-like Tremblings and Agitations, Strugglings and Tumblings." He charged that it was "a plain stubborn Fact that, the Passions have, generally, in these Times, been applied to as though the main Thing in Religion was to throw them into Disturbance." He insisted, "The plain truth is that an enlightened Mind and not raised Affections ought always to be the Guide of those who call themselves Men . . ." Edwards took the other side: "I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with."
That sentence shows that Edwards did not condone the enthusiastic excesses of the Great Awakening. Yet it took time for him to sort out the true, spiritual affections from the false, merely human ones. The Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, published in 1746 (preached in 1742), was his mature effort to describe the signs of truly gracious and holy affections. It amounts to a yes and a no to revivalistic religion: yes to the place of appropriate emotions springing from perceptions of truth, but no to the frenzies, private revelations, irrational swooning, and false assurances of godliness.
Revival fervor and the reasonable apprehension of truth - these were the two worlds Edwards struggled to bring together. My father is an evangelist. He has conducted revival crusades for over 50 years and I respect him very highly. But I am a theologically oriented pastor, fairly analytic and given to study. It is not surprising, then, that the Treatise Concerning Religious Affections should seem to me a very contemporary and helpful message. I said it was my food for many weeks. Let me give just one sampling that still feeds me. He describes the man with truly gracious affections like this:
As he has more holy boldness, so he has less of self-confidence . . . and more modesty. As he is more sure than others of deliverance from hell, so he has more of a sense of the desert of it. He is less apt than others to be shaken in faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God's frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort, but the softest heart: richer than others, but poorest of all in spirit; the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.
And More . . .
My devotion to Jonathan Edwards has continued, but time would fail me to describe my encounters with the Humble Inquiry, the Doctrine of Original Sin, the Narrative of Surprising Conversions, the Treatise On Grace, the unfinished History of Redemption, The Memoirs of David Brainerd, and four more biographies (Winslow, Dwight, Miller, and Murray).
The Man and His Life
But what you need to hear in closing is something of the man and his life - I'll tell the parts that have touched me most deeply.
Edwards was born in 1703 in Windsor, Connecticut. He was the only son among the eleven children of Timothy Edwards, the local pastor. They say Timothy used to say that God had blessed him with 60 feet of daughters. He taught Jonathan Latin when he was six and sent him off to Yale at twelve. At fourteen he read what was to be a seminal influence in his thought, John Locke's Essay on Human Understanding. He said later that he got more pleasure out of it "than the most greedy miser finds when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some newly discovered treasure." He graduated from Yale in 1720, gave the valedictory address in Latin, and then continued his studies there two more years. At nineteen he took a pastorate in New York for eight months but decided to return to Yale as a tutor between 1723 and 1726
Falling in Love
In the summer of 1723 he fell in love with Sarah Pierrepont. On the front page of his Greek grammar he wrote the only kind of love song his heart was capable of:
They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is loved 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. . . . She has a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind, especially after this great God has manifested himself to her. 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 someone invisible always conversing with her.
Sarah was thirteen years old at the time! But four years later, five months after Edwards had been installed as pastor of the prestigious church of Northampton, Massachusetts, they were married. He was 23 and she was 17. In the next 23 years they had eleven children of their own, eight daughters and three sons.
Pastor in Northampton
Edwards was the pastor at Northampton for 23 years. It was a traditional Congregational church which in 1735 had 620 communicants. During this time he achieved notoriety for his leadership in the Great Awakening. But in 1750 Edwards was dismissed by his congregation. One reason was a tactless personal blunder, when he implicated some innocent young people in an obscenity scandal in 1744, but the straw that broke the camel's back was Edwards' public repudiation of the long-standing tradition in New England that profession of saving faith was not required in order to be a communicant of the Lord's Supper. He wrote a detailed treatise to prove "that none ought to be admitted to the communion and privileges of members of the visible church of Christ in complete standing, but such as are in profession, and in the eye of the church's Christian judgment, godly or gracious persons."
Pastor and Missionary and President of Princeton
After his dismissal, he accepted a call to Stockbridge in western Massachusetts as pastor of the church and missionary to the Indians. He worked there until January 1758, when he was called to be president of Princeton. After two months in office, he died of smallpox at 54.
When Edwards was in college he wrote seventy resolutions. One that he kept his whole life was number six - "Resolved: to live with all my might while I do live." For him that came to mean a single-hearted, passionate devotion to the study of divinity. When the trustees at Princeton called him to be president, he wrote back that he was not at all suited to such a public office, that he could write better than he could speak and that his writing was not finished. "My heart is so much in these studies," he wrote, "that I cannot find it in my heart to be willing to put myself into an incapacity to pursue them any more in the future part of my life."
Ministry and Lifestyle
During his pastorate at Northampton, Edwards delivered the usual two two-hour messages each week, catechized the children, and counseled people in his study. He did not visit from house to house except when called. This meant that he could spend thirteen or fourteen hours a day in his study. He said, "I think Christ has commended rising early in the morning by his rising from the grave very early." So he rose between 4:00 and 5:00 to study, always with pen in hand, thinking out every flash of insight to its full and recording it in his notebooks. Even on his travels he would pin pieces of paper to his coat to remind himself at home of an insight he had had on the way. In the evening he would spend an hour with his family after dinner before retiring to his study. None of his children rebelled or went astray, but held their father in highest regard all his life.
Edwards' six-foot-one frame was not robust and his health was always precarious. He could maintain the rigor of his study schedule only with strict attention to diet and exercise. Everything was calculated to optimizing his efficiency and power in study. He abstained from every quantity and kind of food that made him sick or sleepy. His exercise in the winter was to chop firewood half an hour each day, and in the summer he would ride into the fields and walk alone in meditation. In other words, for all his rationalism, Edwards had a healthy dose of the romantic and mystic in him. He wrote in his diary: "Sometimes on fair days I find myself more particularly disposed to regard the glories of the world than to betake myself to the study of serious religion." Edwards describes one of these field trips as follows:
Once as I rode out into the woods for my health in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love and meek, gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency, great enough to swallow up all thought and conception - which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud.
Edwards' Death and Ours
On February 13, 1759, one month after he had assumed the presidency of Princeton, Edwards was inoculated for smallpox. It backfired. The pustules in his throat became so large that he could take no fluids to fight the fever. When he knew that there was no chance left, he called his daughter Lucy and gave her his last words. There was no grumbling over being taken in the prime of his life with the great History of Redemption yet unwritten; but instead, with confidence in God's good sovereignty, he spoke words of consolation to his family:
Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue for ever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a father who will never fail you.
He died on March 22 and his physician wrote the hard letter to his wife, who was still in Stockbridge. She was quite sick when the letter arrived, but the God who held her life was the God that Jonathan Edwards preached. So on April 3, 1758, she wrote to her daughter Esther:
What shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it, He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be.
Your ever affectionate mother,
The private life of every American evangelical will end in death. It is an incredibly private affair, no matter how many are standing around the bed. You pass without any of your earthly friends or family. You go alone. Here the reality and authenticity of all our talk is tested to the uttermost. We should ask ourselves: will the evangelicalism in our day, with its preference for method and mood over the great doctrinal realities that Edwards labored to preserve - will this evangelicalism preserve us in life and sustain us in death? Is there enough of God in it?
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