Jonathan Edwards Lover of God

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Overview

Jonathan Edwards stands tall in America's historical memory. A great philosopher, a great preacher, a great theologian. Edwards was a complex and gifted person, one who defies easy characterization. He intimidates us, and we distance ourselves from him because at the most fundamental level, he's just not like us.

It is of course true that Jonathan Edwards was a combination of many rare things: an exceptional intellectual, a masterly preacher, a cavernous theologian, a ...

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Jonathan Edwards Lover of God

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Overview

Jonathan Edwards stands tall in America's historical memory. A great philosopher, a great preacher, a great theologian. Edwards was a complex and gifted person, one who defies easy characterization. He intimidates us, and we distance ourselves from him because at the most fundamental level, he's just not like us.

It is of course true that Jonathan Edwards was a combination of many rare things: an exceptional intellectual, a masterly preacher, a cavernous theologian, a devoted husband and father, a college president, and much more. But all of these roles flowed out of one simple and essential reality: Jonathan Edwards was a Christian. He was a believer who followed Jesus Christ in repentant faith. He loved God, and he sought to live for Him.

This book celebrates the unique life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It peels back the cover of his life, to show us what a life devoted to our sovereign Lord can look like. It causes us to use our own God-given gifts for the salvation of sinners, the strengthening of God's church, and the glory of God. You do not need to be a scholar to enjoy and benefit from the story and rich lessons about Edwards' life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802424570
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/21/2010
  • Series: The Essential Edwards Collection
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 6.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

DOUGLAS A. SWEENEY is Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought and Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He formerly served as a lecturer at Yale University, as an adjunct professor as Aquinas College, and as a visiting professor at both Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. Sweeney is the author of a number of books and articles about religious history and the American theologian, Jonathan Edwards. He resides with his wife, Wilma, and their son in Lindenhurst, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt

JONATHAN EDWARDS LOVER OF GOD


By OWEN STRACHAN DOUGLAS SWEENEY

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2010 Owen Strachan Douglas Sweeney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8024-2457-0


Chapter One

A Happy Beginning

The man who would stand tall in history began life in a minister's home in East Windsor, Connecticut, a small town on the east side of the Connecticut River and the central north of the state. The date was October 5, 1703. Jonathan was the fifth child born to the Rev. Timothy Edwards and Esther Stoddard Edwards. Timothy was a gifted pastor and a good father to his family. He took a special interest in Jonathan, for the two of them formed the entirety of the family's male contingent. Jonathan had no less than ten sisters with whom he got along well. Between the busy life of a New England pastor and the bustle of a crowded home, the family led a full and happy life.

Jonathan's parents were devoted Christians. His father was a well-respected minister and his mother's father, Solomon Stoddard, was a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts and one of the eminent figures of the Connecticut River Valley. It is hard to picture today, but in colonial New England some three centuries ago, pastors were the leaders of society. Unlike the current day, when the work of the pastor enjoys little respect in society, these clergy possessed significant cultural influence, watched over churches that included most members of a given town, and understood the pastorate as a sacred calling.

Though they related to their people in various ways, they were not primarily administrators, folksy storytellers, or isolated intellectuals. They perceived themselves to be shepherds over God's flock, those who were responsible for the survival and flourishing of God's people. Preaching constituted the means by which such nourishment flowed from God to people, as did careful church oversight involving church discipline and observation of the sacred ordinances (baptism and the Lord's supper). With such a spiritual diet, the colonists of New England were equipped to live in a hard world of taxing labor, frequent sickness, and early death.

In a society that highly respected preachers and that called them to a high standard, Solomon Stoddard was a titan. His congregation was huge, he was a theological authority, and he possessed the bearing of a statesman. To say that Jonathan was born in the line of preachers, then, is no small claim. More accurately, he was born into New England royalty, and he was expected from a young age to pursue the Lord, the ministry, and the application of his considerable gifts in his life's work. He was raised in the church, and he was trained to view it as the theater of the supernatural, the arena in which God's glory shone through the proclaimed Word and the poured-out Spirit. The pastor was at the center of this divine drama. To the perceptive young mind of Jonathan Edwards, his father possessed the ability as a minister to move his people and draw them close to the Lord through preaching. Visits to Grandfather's church in Northampton would only have magnified such an observation as the little boy observed the gathering of hundreds on a weekly basis for worship under Stoddard's magisterial direction.

Young Jonathan's Seriousness

Between the boy's natural gifts and his impressive lineage, it seemed clear to many that young Jonathan had a date with a pastoral destiny in the near future. In time, and with much training, he would meet his destiny, and take the office of colonial pastor to a height unknown by either father or grandfather. He would not do so, however, without considerable preparation for his future ministry. In colonial America, this meant academic study from an early age-six in Jonathan's case. At an age when children today barely know the alphabet, Jonathan began the study of Latin under the tutelage of his father, who supplemented his pastoral income by tutoring boys preparing for college. Jonathan mastered Latin and progressed to Greek and Hebrew by age twelve. His intellectual ability was matched by his irrepressible spiritual fire. He later reflected that in this period:

I, WITH SOME OF MY SCHOOLMATES joined together, and built a booth in a swamp, in a very secret and retired place, for a place of prayer. And besides, I had particular secret places of my own in the woods, where I used to retire by myself; and used to be from time to time much affected. (Works 16, 791)

Though Jonathan had not at this time cried out for salvation, he was clearly engaged in religious activity, activity no doubt prompted by the example of his godly parents. At this point in his life, however, Christianity was more an exercise to be performed than a faith to be experienced. Though he did speak of emotional stirrings when spiritually engaged, it seems that a true work of grace had not yet inhabited his heart and saved his soul. The young Edwards was quite serious about Christianity but had not yet tasted the miracle of conversion.

Jonathan's seriousness extended into areas that were ignored by others of his age. Well before he wrote his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," he showed an early sensitivity to the reality of death. In a cheerful letter to his sister Mary, written in 1716 when just twelve, Jonathan reported that:

THERE HAS FIVE PERSONS DIED in this place since you have been gone ... Goodwife Rockwell, old Goodwife Grant, and Benjamin Bancroft, who was drowned in a boat many rods from shore, wherein were four young women and many others of the other sex, which were very remarkably saved, and the two others which died I suppose you have heard of. (Works 16, 29)

Residents of colonial New England were more accustomed to the frequency of death than we are today. Yet we glimpse a particular awareness of the realm beyond this one in Jonathan's letter. His tone is not dark or foreboding, but he clearly understands the nearness of death. Raised by his father and mother to acknowledge and confront hard realities, Jonathan was able from a young age to look deeper and clearer into his world than peers who sought simply to pass the time.

The Scholarly Life Begins

When the time came to attend university, the natural choice was the Connecticut Collegiate School, known to us today as Yale University, located in New Haven, some 54 miles from East Windsor. In 1716, when Jonathan entered a branch of the school in Wethersfield, his class consisted of twelve other young men. The teacher was his cousin, Elisha Williams. The course consisted mainly of reading, memorization, written work, and recitations, in contrast to the contemporary classroom. The emphasis in the 1700s was more on rote learning and recital than on discussion and lecture. The course of study could be grueling, and students spent many hours in small rooms and hard chairs memorizing their texts.

Jonathan's capacity for logical thought, clear writing, and sharp analysis of an argument developed during this time. In Wethersfield and later New Haven, the young Edwards also indulged his great appetite for theology during his years at Yale, reading classics such as the Puritan William Ames's The Marrow of Theology, and other texts that shaped his thinking.

Jonathan's four years at Yale were full of hard work and contemplative intellectual formation. Reading, reflection, and writing would be a part of his life for the remainder of his days. Though a young man with few responsibilities, he devoted himself to the cultivation of his mind. "I am sensible of the preciousness of my time," he wrote his father in 1719, "and am resolved it shall not be through any neglect of mine, if it slips through without the greatest advantage" (Works 16, 32). His devotion paid off in September 1720, at the end of his bachelor's degree, when Jonathan graduated as the valedictorian of his class. He delivered a valedictory address in Latin and prepared himself for the next phase of his education, a master's degree, then the highest academic degree attainable.

Jonathan was now a man. In his young life, he had accomplished much and impressed many. He had charted an excellent course for himself and had honored his parents and tutors. Yet he had not tasted the beauty of living for God in repentant, joyful trust. His life was full and good, his mind was sharp, but the dawn was yet to break. In coming days, a strange and wonderful light would shine in Jonathan's heart, transforming a young, scholarly, religious student into a God-intoxicated man.

Applying Edwards's Life and Ideas

A Well-Led Home

Jonathan Edward's full and happy life did not come out of a vacuum. He grew up in a home that cultivated faith, just as a gardener cultivates healthy plants. He was raised in a home that was devoted to the Lord through the leadership of his father and mother. With the help of his wife, Jonathan's father trained his children to embrace the realities of life in a fallen world and to prepare their souls for the world beyond. When the husband exercises spiritual leadership in this way, and works together with his wife to raise his children in Christian faith, his children will learn to confront hard truths, to take spiritual things seriously, and to pursue the Lord with passion. Though this spiritual preparation might seem unimportant compared to other things, it is in fact the greatest gift that parents can provide their children.

The Importance of Worship to the Family

The Edwards family made worship a fundamental priory. Though not all fathers are pastors like Timothy, all dads can lead their families in worship. Parents can set a pattern for their children in which worship is not an obligation or a chore, but an exciting, life-transforming privilege. The church of God would greatly benefit today from parents that celebrate worship and church involvement like Timothy and Esther Edwards did.

Prioritizing Education

Like the Edwardses, our parenting should also give priority to the educational formation of our children. This will involve emphasizing the importance of a Christian worldview that prizes the life of the mind and that embraces diligent study of numerous fields. No matter what our children go on to do in life, they can honor the Lord by approaching learning with discipline and passion. Enthusiastic parental support for education from an early age will set them on a course to do so.

Chapter Two

The Joys of New Birth

After earning his bachelor's degree, seventeen-year-old Jonathan Edwards plunged into his master's degree. Though he wanted to go into the ministry,, he was too young to be a pastor, and he thought it wise to cultivate his mind. Edwards's further preparation set him up to be a pastor who could handle the difficult intellectual challenges of his day. This approach was common in the 1700s, as future pastors sought rigorous preparation for the demands of pastoral ministry If they were to be leaders of church and society, authorities on a wide variety of fields, able teachers of the Word, they needed excellent preparation. The pastor-theologians, as they are called, sensed the high calling of the pastorate and shaped themselves accordingly. Thus for Jonathan the master's degree was an essential step in preparing for God's work.

"Wrapt Up to God in Heaven": Conversion

In his master's work, Jonathan found that he had more time to mull over the Bible he was studying. Always a contemplative person, he enjoyed meditating on Scripture. One day in the spring of 1721, Edwards pondered I Timothy 1:17 (KJV): "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." In the course of this spiritual exercise, one of thousands experienced in his life to this point, something happened. While silently walking along, a thunderclap struck in Jonathan's heart. He later said of that instance:

AS I READ THE WORDS, there came into my soul, and as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the divine being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and he wrapt up to God in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him. (Works 16, 792-3)

This sensation of being "swallowed up" in God erupted into a fresh love for Jesus Christ:

FROM ABOUT THAT TIME, I began to have a new kind of apprehension and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. I had an inward, sweet sense of these things, that at limes came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and contemplations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged, to spend in), time in reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation, by free grace in him. (Works, 16, 793)

Though be never formally said it, this was Jonathan's conversion experience. He had grown up with Scripture and had been studying it academically for years. He knew it very well and attempted to obey its moral and spiritual guidelines. As important as know]edge and obedience are, neither can save the soul and transform the heart. One must acquire what Jonathan later called the "true sense" of God for conversion to take place:

A TRUE SENSE OF THE DIVINE and superlative excellency of the things of religion; a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal, tie that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart. There is not only a rational belief that God is holy, and that holiness is a good thing, but there is a sense of the loveliness of God's holiness. There is not only a speculatively judging that God is gracious, but a sense how amiable God is upon that account, or a sense of the beauty of this divine attribute. (Works 17, 413)

Jonathan attained this "true sense" while he walked the campus of Yale, pondering the first chapter of 1 Timothy. He suddenly realized in a personal way the majesty, excellency, and greatness of Jesus Christ. He became for Edwards the fountain of beauty and the purpose of life. Once 10,000 miles away, now He was near.

Jonathan would never again abstractly study God. From this moment on, he would enjoy Him. He would seek to know the Lord, a journey that involved the full capacity of his mind, his emotions, and his soul. Jonathan's life would not be easy from this point forward, and he sometimes doubted his salvation, but his commitment would never fade.

The Sweetness of Meditation and the Reality of Heaven

A year passed in Jonathan's life, one filled with academic work and tutoring of undergraduate students at Yale. In the summer of 1722, though immersed in his studies, Jonathan was called by an English Presbyterian congregation in New York City, then housing about ten thousand residents, many of whom engaged in the booming sea trade. He agreed to serve as pastor of the little church, which had divided over its previous pastor. In the course of Edwards's year in New York, the congregation healed its wounds and called the former minister, James Anderson, back to the pulpit.

Though his stay in the city was brief, Jonathan's passion for the Lord only intensified while in New York. He thought much about heaven, and later reflected on his contemplation: "The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness; to be with God, and to spend my eternity in divine love, and holy communion with Christ. My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven, and the enjoyments of those there: and living there in perfect holiness, humility and love." Jonathan's delight in heaven sometimes overwhelmed him as:

THE INWARD ARDOR OF MY SOUL, seemed to be hindered and pent up, and could not freely flame out as it would. I used often to think, how in heaven, this sweet principle should freely and fully vent and express itself. Heaven appeared to me exceeding delightful as a world of love. It appeared to me, that all happiness consisted in living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love. (Works 16, 795-6)

(Continues...)



Excerpted from JONATHAN EDWARDS LOVER OF GOD by OWEN STRACHAN DOUGLAS SWEENEY Copyright © 2010 by Owen Strachan Douglas Sweeney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. The Happiness of a Christian Home

Chapter 2. The Joys of New Birth, Meditation, and Action

Chapter 3. The Trials and Joys of Young Adulthood

Chapter 4. The God of Grace and Word of Light

Chapter 5. The Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God

Chapter 6. Discovering the Unseen Realm

Chapter 7. The Loss of One Work and Beginning of Another

Chapter 8. Crafting a Legacy of Faith

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