Today in 1758 Jonathan Edwards died. He was 54 years old.
It was a fever he had contracted from a small-pox inoculation just a month before. After weeks of worsening weakness and the recognition of his immanent death, he spoke his last words to his daughter, Lucy, who attended him. Toward the end he said,
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.
There is so much to say of Edwards, of his vision of God, of his shortened life, of his influence. But consider for a moment this scene just before he died — a scene that took place this very day 255 years ago.
We would think that Edwards, with the mind he had, must have been overwhelmed with the thought of leaving so many unfinished works. I mean, what about A History of the Work of Redemption? We’re talking about a massive, comprehensive theology in the form of a history — “a body of divinity in an entirely new method.” He had only talked about it before 1758. It was a dream waiting to be realized, one that makes scholars get wide-eyed to this day. Maybe he would at least have some final instructions. Or maybe something for Princeton? He had just become the president. But no. It was none of this.
Jonathan Edwards, in his last breath, commends God as the better Father who will never fail his children. His last words were about the goodness of God.
God is who it is all about. It’s not the work, not the writing or the thinking or the enduring intellectual influence on America. It really is all about God.
As a dad, this scene grips me. Of all the things Edwards’s last energy could have been spent on, he tells his kids to trust God. On one level we could ask ourselves, “What would our last energy be spent on?” “Would I encourage the faith of my children?” “Would I commend the faithfulness of God with my last breath?”
But the truth is, we won’t commend with our dying breath what we don’t commend with our living. We won’t induce faith then if we don’t encourage faith now. Edwards on his deathbed actually drives us to ask what we’re spending our energy on today. Sure, work hard. Deadlines loom heavy. Tasks pile up. But success and legacy isn’t measured by how empty our inboxes are, or how many projects we ship, or how good we feel about Sunday’s sermon. Have we shown our children God?
If our children see a vision of God’s goodness through us, that, brothers, is a good day.
And that is what we can learn from Edwards on this March 22.