It is no secret that Jonathan Edwards has shaped you, Pastor John, in profound ways, as we heard earlier in the week, back in episode #554. Andy writes in to ask this: “Pastor John, if you could ask Jonathan Edwards one question, what would you ask him?”
These answers to Ask Pastor John should be longer than thirty seconds, so I am going to fudge on the question, and instead of answering, What one question would you ask Edwards? I am going to answer, What one kind of question would you ask Edwards? and then give a bunch of examples and fill up the time we are supposed to take.
No Theology Necessary
I would not ask Edwards anything about theology — not because it isn’t important; it has been the most important source of inspiration and insight for me outside of the Bible. More than anybody, Edwards is at the top of that list. The reason I wouldn’t ask him about his theology is that I think he has been so full and so clear on what he thinks theologically, that if he hasn’t written about it, then it is probably not important to him, and he doesn’t want to talk about it. And if it is not plain there, I doubt that he can improve on it.
And so, I am not going to go there with him, because I think he has done us the great service of putting it in books and he should expect that I would read them. So that is not the direction my questions are going to go.
Personal and Private Questions
I am going to go where eighteenth-century Puritan-type preachers were not willing to go — namely, about their private life. You will read two volumes or twenty-five Yale volumes of Edwards’s works, and find almost zero references to his family or his personal life or his struggles or anything.
So I am going to put him on the spot big time, if I get a chance to meet him. And he probably will not answer a bunch of these, just because of the way eighteenth-century people are wired, but I am going to ask him anyway.
Mr. Edwards, you had eleven children. Was that intentional? Did you want eleven children? Could you have had more?
Mr. Edwards, it is simply astonishing and wonderful that all your children walked with the Lord, as far as I know, till the day they died. Can you give me any insight into what your relationship with them was like, since you have the reputation of working in your study thirteen hours a day? Can you help me understand a little bit of how you discipled your children?
Mr. Edwards, can you describe any of your own battles with temptation to sin? I am thinking about sexual lust and anger and pride. What were your battles like? How did you mortify these sins?
Mr. Edwards, did you ever have misgivings about the pattern of your parish ministry, giving so much time to study and writing? How did you make those choices in a God-honoring way, whether to write and read and study, or whether to visit and evangelize and disciple?
Mr. Edwards, would you tell me about some of the sweetest times you enjoyed in communion with God? What were they like? Were there patterns of devotion that led into those times? I know you have written just a little bit in your personal narrative about a horse ride once. But you didn’t say much more after that. I would love to know what your pattern of devotional life was like.
Mr. Edwards, would you tell me about your devotional Bible reading? Or did you even distinguish between reading your Bible for personal enjoyment of God, and reading it for study of doctrine or Scripture in general? How did you mingle prayer with Bible reading? Were they separate? Did you pause? Did you have lists in your prayer? Did you have a pattern of prayer, a time for prayer? How did it look?
Mr. Edwards, what books did you consult most often in your study of the Bible? How important was a concordance to you? I don’t even know if you had a Greek concordance and a Hebrew concordance. Did you? Did you use them? I am just amazed at how much Scripture you quote on any topic. You string ten texts together, and I just wonder how you found them — or are they all in your head?
Mr. Edwards, you are known for being in touch with cultural currents of the day, like philosophy. How did you include the reading of John Locke or other philosophers in your pastoral work and your study? Was there a plan for that, or when a book was published did you just happen to kick back and read it? How did you mingle cultural reading with theological study?
Mr. Edwards, would you be surprised that thousands of people — scholars, pastors, laypeople — in the twenty-first century are studying your works, two hundred and fifty years later?
Thank you, Mr. Edwards, for all that you have given us.