Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)by Bruce Hollinger
"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.'' -- Luke 13:24
IntroductionJonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in East Windsor Connecticut. He was the only son among ten daughters. In Washington UBF, David Brogi is the only son among four daughters. Edwards father was Timothy Edwards who was a pastor himself. Edwards' mother was Esther Stoddard. She is perhaps more famous than her husband because she was the daughter of Reverend Solomon Stoddard. Solomon Stoddard, Edwards grandfather, was a Puritan in every sense of the word. He was the spiritual leader of the town of Northampton, Massachusetts for 57 years. Two years before his death, his grandson Jonathan Edwards rose from assistant pastor to pastor.
Jonathan Edwards learned much from his grandfather and father about the importance of studying hard. From the time he was old enough to hold a pen in his hand, Edwards learned how to write. His father taught him Latin and other languages such as Greek and Hebrew. At the age of six he could conjugate Latin verbs. His early mastery of these languages would later help him be an expert Bible scholar and a powerful Bible messenger. We can learn here that to be a fruitful servant of God, we must learn to master a language through constant diligent study. Many Junior Missionaries are laboring diligently to overcome English in order to be fruitful servants of God in America. They are happy when their sheep can finally understand what they are saying.
At the age of 13, Jonathan Edwards entered Yale College. Yale had ben founded in 1701 as an orthodox alternative to the more liberal Harvard. It was there that Edwards studied theology. And did he love to study. He would often spend 14 hours a day studying. But Edwards also loved to study about insects. He watched them closely, especially ants, remembering God's word in Proverbs 6:6, which says, "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!'' and Proverbs 30:25, "Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer.'' So if you have trouble with being lazy, go look and study the ants and learn their great diligence. Edwards was interested in science and living creatures because he felt that it helped him to understand the mind of the Creator God who made all things with purpose. In one of his comments later in his life, Edwards realized that God had not hidden the treasures of knowledge in nature to make things difficult for man, but to challenge his inquiring spirit and curiosity.
RevivalIn 1720, Edwards graduated from Yale, first in his class. By the time he was 23 years old, he became the assistant pastor and later the pastor at the church in Northampton, Massachusetts. Early in his pastoral career, Edwards struggled with the meaning of true revival. What could he do to get his congregation to experience revival? His generation was the second generation of the Puritans. The first generation had worked hard and been very diligent to sow the seed of the gospel and to make America a City on a Hill. Many great spiritual gains were made and the kingdom of God had begun to spread in the young America. But now, the second generation had lost much spiritual desire. They had lost saltiness and the zeal needed to continue the spread of the kingdom of God. Edwards was not the only one who recognized the need of spiritual revival. Throughout the history of the church, whenever territory for the kingdom of God is won, the devil becomes increasingly jealous and hostile. This is why God's church can never be satisfied or content. It must always make every effort to enter through the narrow door. So Edwards began a series of sermons with much prayer, in order to wake up the sleepy congregation that had become too involved with their own business and everyday life and not with Christ and his kingdom. In 1731, he preached a message called, "God glorified in man's dependence.'' In it, he attacked the liberal argument that sin was merely a condition of ignorance. He believed that human sin was an inherent enmity against God and that salvation meant a change of heart. This challenged complacent believers to earnestly and sincerely and thoroughly search their hearts of sins and repent. Such earnest soul searching by individuals is a step toward salvation.
In 1733 he preached a message called "A Divine and Supernatural Light.'' He stressed that real Christianity requires encounters with the truth, but that the truth must be illuminated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Only this can produce a sense of divine excellency of the things revealed in the word of God. One of the effects of this encounter will be a delight in the glory of God. He stated, "The convert does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart … there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness.'' Edwards was writing from personal experience. When he first encountered the Scripture under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, his life began to change. Part of this new Spirit-driven concern in the young Edwards at that time was a fervent interest in revival and the extension of Christ's Kingdom. In the following year, 1734, Edwards began a series of sermons about justification by faith. The main message was called, "Justification by faith alone.'' He said, "Justification comes not through good works, but through faith.'' He defined faith in terms of total response to Christ, of one being in Christ. Edwards always stressed the central theme of the religious experience or "sense of the heart'' as he called it.
In that year, 1734, revival began to break out in Northampton, Massachusetts. It began among the young people who had been drifting away from the church. If a nation is to be revived spiritually, then it must first come from its young people. Why young people? Because they are not fixed-minded or corrupt like old people. Young people tend to be learning and pure in their desires. Acts 2:17 says, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions….'' Young people, especially those of college age are the best ones from whom a spiritual revival can take place. They are the hope of the country and its future. And even many young people can bring their parents to the Kingdom of God. Once Shepherd Todd Funk was spiritually revived through the Bible study, he began to teach his mother and she began to be revived. At each Bible study she would say with wonder, "I didn't know that!''
Many young people wanted to meet with Edwards personally after his sermons to have discussions. In that year of 1734, a great change began to occur among the people. There was a great and earnest concern about the things of God and eternal life. An intense conviction of sin was nearly universal among those responding to the Northampton revival. Deeper sins like pride and envy were the focus. Some were even convicted that they were not more convicted. In his early years, Edwards was an intellectual introvert. He could not manage the small talk needed for parish visitation. But now many came to Edwards personally to his office to have Bible study. This is very much like UBF's 1:1 Bible study. These personal 1:1 meetings are the seeds of spiritual revival.
This revival of 1734 was the spark that was fanned into flame along the whole East Coast until or about 1743. What were some more of the signs of this great revival? For one, personal thirst and desire for God for each individual. Secondly, a personal witnessing such as campus fishing grew on a large scale. The sharing of the gospel, which was previously directed mainly from clergy to laity, now flowed in new channels---from wives to husbands, even from children to parents. Over a short period of time, hundreds came to Christ. Towns seemed to be full of the presence of God. Edwards wrote,
"The town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it was never so full of love, nor joy, and yet so full of distress as it was then… it was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives.''
Edwards wrote about this revival in 1736 in a work called "A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God.'' He interpreted the religious revival as evidence of God's redemptive work in New England. Later he wrote "The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God'' in 1741 and "Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival'' in 1743. In both of these works, he defended the revival as an authentic religious experience. But he himself became critical of the revival though he seemed to defend its authenticity.
He asked "What are the true signs of a revival and what are some of the false signs?'' His criticalness shows his deep desire for people to be true in their faith and to make sure that they were indeed making the effort to enter through the narrow door to the kingdom of God. To live as God's people one must thoroughly search one's own heart. Spirituality is not a series of emotional experience but a way of life.
Edwards was very demanding upon his congregation. But it was in a good way so that they would be true and sincere to God who sees and judges the heart. For instance in 1742, he drew up a covenant for his congregation to sign, binding them to live their faith visibly. This is a reminder that we have a covenant with God. The covenant is the new covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ which he poured out for sinners like us. Through his blood we as sinners become God's people and God becomes our God. We therefore must live as his people living responsible, faithful and holy lives to Jesus our Lord and Savior.
But for what is Jonathan Edwards most noted? It is his famous sermon he delivered in 1741 called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.'' This sermon created spiritual panic among the congregation who heard it. His key verse was Deuteronomy 32:35 which says, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.'' In this sermon he stated that rebellious man is far too small and weak to resist the judgment of God which was sure to come.
He said in his sermon,
"There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God… Hell, the very expression of divine wrath, is prepared; the fire is made ready; the furnace is hot now; the flames do now rage and glow… Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.''
The response of the audience was one of screaming and weeping. They reached for building columns and chair rails, something solid to hold onto, because they were sure that the floor of the church would suddenly open up and swallow them into the fires of hell under their feet. This sermon has the true meaning of the fire and brimstone preaching.
But Edwards believed that America was destined to be part of the glorious work of God. He even believed that the millennium would begin in America. He quoted Isaiah 60:9 in regards to this, which says, "Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar, with their silver and to the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.'' Edwards believed that the "islands'' here referred to America. Later in his life around the year 1751, he served as a teacher and missionary to the Indians. In 1758, three months before he died, he became the President of Princeton. We can say that Edwards life did much to advance the gospel in America. His life and faith was a great part in the First Great Awakening in America that started a great spiritual revival. Edwards made every effort to make sure that his flock entered through the narrow gate. He worked hard because he had a great vision for America. We can see that his hard labor sowed many good seeds that are still growing here in this country. Like Edwards, we must work hard and make every effort to teach the Bible 1:1. Sometimes we seem crazy and look crazy to be so diligent to get others to study the Bible. But we must continue to do so and believe that 1:1 Bible study is God's way to spark a great revival and to make America a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.
Contact us via e-mail if you are interested in Bible study
or if you have any comments about our website.
© 2007 UBF of Shippensburg