Reflection on The Life of Jonathan Edwards

Introduction

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is one of the most well-known theologians and pastors in New England in the history of North America. He was a puritan pastor, a theologian, a missionary to the Indians, and president of Princeton University. This brief paper will discuss his passion, God-given abilities, and circumstances that made him one of the central figures of the First Great Awakening (1726-1760).

The passion of Jonathan Edwards

Edwards was a man with a single focused passion, that is, to wholly devote his life to God[1]. All his life’s endeavors, including his education, family, and ministries, were driven by this one passion.

Edwards’ passion for the Lord started at a young age. He was the only son of eleven siblings. His father, Timothy Edwards, was a pastor at East Windsor for sixty-one years. Timothy was a Harvard graduate with an extensive library at his home. He was a strict puritan pastor and a great preacher, and his preaching had caused revival at the East Windsor church. His passion for the Lord has a significant impact on his son. Jonathan Edwards’ passion for the Lord was apparent even at a young age[2]. For example, he built a prayer booth in a remote swamp and frequently prayed there before thirteen.[3] When he was a student at Yale, he often wandered in the fields, woods, and hills and repeatedly saw the glory and beauty of God’s love in Christ.

Edwards was driven by a dedication to principles and set a high standard to live a wholly devoted Christian life. He was willing to pay the price once he was convinced on a principle and was famous for having 70 life resolutions that he read once a week.[4]

His passion for God could be seen in his passion for having a pure church, where only the regenerated could be a church member. Therefore, he attempted to stop the halfway covenant practice started by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, which allowed children of unregenerated church members to be baptized. He also wanted to restrict communion to only communicant church members, who could witness their conversion experience.

His passion for God can be seen in his missionary effort to the Mohican and Mohawk Indians. After he was dismissed from being the pastor at Northampton, he had a few options but chose to go west to preach the gospel to the Indians and lived in a rural area. However, when the Indians were attacking many towns in New England, Edwards chose to stay at Stockbridge to continue ministering to the Indians. One time, he even sent his ten-year-old son Jonathan Edwards Jr. to accompany a missionary to go into the wilds of the upper Susquehanna Valley to evangelize to the Indians during the French and Indian war.[5]

God-given abilities of Jonathan Edwards

Edwards was known as one of the greatest theologians ever in America. He was gifted in three areas. First, he had a brilliant mind that allowed him to think critically and logically on theological concepts and life. Second, he was gifted with the ability to express his thought in writing. Third, he was a gifted preacher.

Edwards was a gifted theologian. He was a thinker. JI Parker wrote: “His theology of revival is the most important single contribution Edwards has to make to evangelical thinking today.”[6] His theological works made a lasting impact on the theology of the colonies and all the way to the 21st century.[7]

Edwards was not only gifted with a powerful logical mind but was also a gifted and prolific writer. He thought with his pen and left many writings that have a tremendous impact on the church in America and the world. Edwards had an amazing ability to collect and organize a large amount of information on various topics over thirty years of ministry. He organized these writings in eight volumes of books called the Miscellanies. Writing is learning for Edwards. He was known to write his thoughts on pieces of clothes on horse rides and pin them on his coat, and organize them when he returned home.

Lastly, Edwards was a gifted preacher. He was meticulous in crafting sermons for maximum impact on the audience. His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is one of the most well-known sermons in the church’s history. His preaching resulted in the revival at Northampton and the churches along the Connecticut River in 1735-1737. Together with George Whitefield, the revival spread to the rest of the colonies in the First Great Awakening in 1740-1742. He crafted his sermons with his target audience in mind to help them see God’s glory. Therefore his preaching was effective to regular people, pastors, and even American Indians.

Circumstances of Jonathan Edwards

For someone to be an influential figure in the church’s history, it is not sufficient to have a strong passion and spiritual gifts. He would also need the right circumstances to exercise his passion and gifts. Many circumstances in Edwards’s life enable him to be one of the prominent figures in the First Great Awakening.

First, Edwards’s family background has shaped him to be a devoted Christian since he was a boy. His father, Timothy Edwards, was a pastor trained in Harvard College, wanted to train Jonathan as a preacher. Therefore, Jonathan received excellent training in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin since he was a boy, and he was able to enter Yale College at twelve years old. Second, Timothy was very serious in his sermons. He was a captivating preacher, and his sermons were designed to persuade. Jonathan Edwards learned from his father how to preach.

Furthermore, Jonathan’s grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, was one of the most respected preachers in New England. He was the pastor of the second largest church in Massachusetts for sixty years. The church needed someone with great potential from the Stoddard family to succeed him, and Jonathan was the ideal candidate. Jonathan became assistant minister to his grandfather at 24 years old and the pastor at age 26 when his grandfather went home with the Lord. At age 26, Jonathan became the pastor of one of the most prestigious and influential pulpits in New England.[8]

Second, he married a very godly and capable lady, Sarah Edwards. She managed the household and their farm well, allowing Jonathan to spend most of his time studying and writing.

Third, Edwards’ friend, Isaac Watt, published Edwards’ first full-length book in England in 1936, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton.” The book was Edwards’ account on the revival at Northampton, thus giving Edwards a transatlantic reputation as a writer and minister.

Forth, he met the younger English Anglican evangelist George Whitefield in 1940. Jonathan was the theologian, Whitefield was the preacher. Together they led the First Great Awakening in America.

Fifth, one of his daughters, Jerusha, was in love with David Brainerd, a devoted missionary to the Indian who died at a young age. Edwards wrote a biography of David Brainerd in 1749 after his death. It was the first biography printed in America to gain international recognition and the first full missionary biography ever published. The biography became the most widely read of Edwards’ works.

Sixth, Edwards would not have moved to Stockbridge to minister to the Mohicans and Mohawks Indians if not because of his dismissal from the Northampton church. And because he had more time at Stockbridge, he wrote some of his most influential works, including Freedom of the Will and The End for Which God Created The World.

Seventh, if not because Edward’s son-in-law, Aaron Burr, the president of Princeton, suddenly died at 41-year-old, and the decision of the council of congregational pastors, Edwards would not have become the President of Princeton.

Lastly, Edwards was born between the arrival of the Puritans of New England and the formation of the United States of America. As a result, his descendants and apprentices were among the leaders of the young Republic. Among them were a vice president of the United States, deans of law and medical schools, US senators, governors, majors, college presidents, judges, pastors, and professors.

Conclusion

Jonathan Edwards’ passion was to wholly devote himself to God. His passion for God can be observed at his young age in East Windsor, through his life as a minister of the gospel, and continued to his death as the President of Princeton University. God gifted him with a powerful logical mind, the ability to express his thoughts in writing, and the ability to preach powerful sermons. His life circumstances, including his family background, marriage, friends, ministry partners, dismissal from the Northampton church, and placement in history, have allowed him to exercise his passion and gifts to become one of the most influential theologians and pastors in New England in the history of North America.

Bibliography

Marsden, George M. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards. Library of Religious Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008.

———. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

Murray, Iain H. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Reprinted. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003.

Nichols, Stephen J. Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2001.

Packer, J. I. A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life. 1st US trade pbk. ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994.

Piper, John, and Justin Taylor, eds. A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.


[1] That is the conclusion of many biographers of Edwards, including Stephen Nichols. He wrote: “In Edwards one sees the whole person – heart, soul, mind, and strength-devoted to God.” Stephen J. Nichols, Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Pub, 2001), 21.

[2] Even though Jonathan’s zeal for the Lord was transparent at twelve years old, he did not meet his dad standard and was not yet among those who could make profession. See George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 34.

[3] Iain H. Murray, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, Reprinted (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 19.

[4] Nichols, Jonathan Edwards, 38–39.

[5] George M. Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, Library of Religious Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008), 123.

[6] J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 1st U.S. trade pbk. ed (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 316.

[7] The evidence of this is the rows of books on Edwards in the DTS library. For over 300 years, theologians and pastors continue to write about Edwards. This is true even in the 21st century America because “Evangelicalism today is America is basking in the sunlight of ominously hollow success”, wrote John Piper. See John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds., A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 21.

[8] Nichols, Jonathan Edwards, 53.

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