The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758

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This wide-ranging volume covers the final fifteen of the thirty-three years that Jonathan Edwards preached and includes some of his greatest sermons—including his Farewell Sermons to his Northampton congregation. The period is defined by Edwards' inventive strategies to improvise during the delivery of his sermons. Considering dependence on the written text in the pulpit to be a serious failing, he devised a double-columned, outlined format for his sermon manuscripts and continued to use it for the rest of his life. Sermons from this period also include those preached to Mahican and Mohawk Indians at the mission post of Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Edwards’ various writings of 1743–58 map the complex terrain of his spiritual, intellectual, and professional life after the Great Awakening. He deals with topics ranging from the spiritual role of youth in the community to the struggles over communion in his Northampton congregation to the war with the French and their Indian allies.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300115390
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2006
  • Series: The Works of Jonathan Edwards Series
  • Pages: 816
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 2.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Wilson H. Kimnach is general editor of the Jonathan Edwards sermon series in The Works of Jonathan Edwards and coeditor of The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader. He is Presidential Professor in the Humanities at the University of Bridgeport and lives in Woodbridge, CT.

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Read an Excerpt


VOLUME 25: Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758


Copyright © 2006 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11539-0

Chapter One


The final period of Edwards' career as a preacher of the gospel covers fifteen years, from the end of the Great Awakening to his death. It is a much longer period than those reflected in the five previous sermon volumes of this Edition, which have averaged less than four and a half years each. This final period also involves more than one pastorate, encompassing eight years in Northampton and seven at the Stockbridge mission, not to mention the very brief presidency of the College of New Jersey. However, the content of this volume, like those before it, is not defined by mere quantity, whether of days of Edwards' life, sermons preached, or pastorates. The volumes attempt to represent phases of Edwards' life as a preacher, and they are defined by his own practices as reflected in the sermonic literature he produced. Thus the representation of his sermons necessarily varies in concentration of coverage and total quantity from volume to volume.

The period from 1743 to 1758 is defined by an action Edwards took as he composed a sermon in January 1742. Throughout his life, Edwards tended to makemajor resolutions or practical changes upon the new year, and in this case he made a far-reaching decision about the format of his sermon manuscripts. Composing a sermon on Dan. 5:25 (no. 650a), he began writing in his usual microscopic hand across the four-inch-square duodecimo page from edge to edge; but after writing the first five lines of script on the second page, he drew a line, beginning at the end of the last line of script, back under what he had written to the middle of the page and then down the center of the page dividing it into two two-inch-wide columns. He continued the double-column format throughout the remainder of the brief, four-leaf sermon manuscript. Edwards wrote other sermon manuscripts in double columns that month, although he seems to have begun writing in a single column on Luke 8:27 (no. 650c)-undoubtedly out of habit-before shifting back into double columns. Some of these sermons are very brief indeed, such as one on John 8:12 (no. 1023), which is only two leaves in all, and they may represent sermons Edwards delivered while itinerating or preaching at special private meetings during the last phase of the Great Awakening. Of course Edwards was quite busy during 1742, not only leading the revivals but observing and analyzing them and preparing his treatise in critique of them, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival.

But the decision had been made, and for the remainder of his life the double-columned sermon page constituted his "standard practice." For Edwards the preacher, techniques of abbreviation and consolidation were nothing new. In 1727 he had shifted from a larger octavo sermon booklet to a smaller duodecimo, probably so that the booklet would not be so obvious in his hand. At the same time he had started expanding the page count of his sermon booklets to accommodate two preaching units in one booklet rather than having to shuffle between two booklets of a fixed number of pages. Around 1730 Edwards began the heavy use of "pick up lines," visual devices that enabled him to pick up where he had left off, after looking up from his booklet, more easily than searching through his tiny writing. Although Edwards had experimented with various kinds of outline and textual abbreviation even in his early sermons, around 1740 he began outlining or abbreviating his syntax much more heavily, and this practice would increase, generally, for the remainder of his career. When the horizontal lines separating heads and major paragraph units began to come closer together as a result of his abbreviations, perhaps Edwards felt that dividing the page would make each unit of exposition longer and thus less cluttered, and he may have thought that if he got more of his sermon on each page, there would be less page shuffling. In any case, when Edwards divided the page into two columns, he largely ceased using pick up lines.

These changes undoubtedly facilitated some aspects of preaching for Edwards. Since he had always considered dependence upon his written text in the pulpit a serious failing, his stratagems were a means of enforcing a certain degree of improvisation during the delivery of his sermon; moreover, he no longer took time in his study to elaborate ideas in the meticulous prose of his earlier sermons, however much time he gave to thinking out the overall argument. There was thus a clear advantage for Edwards himself in saving time used in the composition of sermons. Other advantages are less certain, for if Edwards never was able to break his dependence upon a written text, any sustained improvisations may have been less effective than his written prose would have been. His first and in many respects most accurate biographer, Samuel Hopkins, who studied with Edwards and watched him at work, described Edwards as one who thought with his pen, and accounts by others of Edwards' preaching clearly indicate that his talents were more those of a writer than of a true orator. In his study, the steadily scratching pen could sculpt the great sentences and greater paragraphs that characterize his homiletics, but there is little evidence of his being eloquent on his feet. His Northampton congregation may have been "sermon proof" in the sense of having heard it all before, but having heard it before they probably would have been the first to notice any decline in the quality of utterance from the pulpit. They may not even have cared in the weary aftermath of the Great Awakening, unless Edwards demanded the most from them when he seemed not to be giving the most of himself; or, if they saw him serve someone else, such as the transatlantic literary community, with greater care and commitment than he seemed to give to his pastoral duties.

Edwards' actual practice does provide some hints about this matter, for if the double-columned page became his standard practice after 1742, it was not his uniform practice. For instance, the manuscript of his Farewell Sermon-arguably the most important sermon of this period-is in single-column form and is not significantly outlined. Moreover, it is far from unique: several sermons included in this volume were written in single columns. When Edwards first went up to Stockbridge to make a trial of his mission to the Indians during the winter of 1751, he not only composed sermons for the Indians in single columns but returned to the larger octavo sermon booklet that he had not used since 1727. The evidence of these practices clearly illustrates Edwards' limited trust in his ability to preach ad libitum, even at the end of his preaching career. At the very least, it appears that even if he could look up from the booklet or remember verbatim what he had written, he needed first to write it out in order to have his best expression.

Whatever occurred in the pulpit is, of course, not a matter of record, except through the subjective accounts of auditors' notes and diary entries, and those occur only occasionally. The actual homiletical record is inevitably the record of Edwards' sermon manuscripts. And during the period 1743-58 that record is characterized by sermons that are incomplete as homiletical texts. Indeed, in preparing the selection of texts for inclusion in this volume, one chief criterion was the extent of the text's actual existence. To be a reading text, it must have enough of Edwards' expression to enable a reader to read the sermon as a whole; otherwise, the sermon may be a valuable document for research-since virtually all Edwards' sermon manuscripts are comprehensible on some level-but not a complete homiletical work. Edwards himself found many of the outlinish sermons of this period to be of intellectual value, according to the evidence of his citations of them in his "Miscellanies" notebook "Table." However, Edwards' citations often refer to specific statements which would almost always be much less than the contents of an entire sermon and which often involve little more than one or two paragraphs. It can be said that Edwards did not take sermons lightly as theological statements just because he had not taken the time to develop them fully; on the other hand, he returned to the earlier practice of written-out texts in single-column format whenever the sermon itself was to be a major statement. In general, then, the period 1743-58 is not characterized by impressive homiletical works, if only because of their incompleteness, and this is especially noticeable when sermons are compared with the letters and treatises of the period, Edwards' other literary venues for public expression.

A Map of the Later Homiletical Scene

There are, however, great sermons in this period, and the selections in this volume include them, as well as some lesser but valuably illustrative pieces, mapping the complex terrain of Edwards' spiritual, intellectual, and professional life after the Great Awakening. The inception of this period came at a time of reflection and evaluation-Edwards' critical phase-when, in addition to the publication of Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival (1742, but issued by the press in March 1743), he preached in the first half of 1743 sermons which would be expanded into A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). That the period begins with Edwards' probing critique of the Great Awakening and his most extensive and profound evaluation of the nature of religious experience is portentous. Edwards was now working his way through the second thoughts and revisionary process that followed the very mixed results of the revivals, although as one who still believed in the essential validity of the Great Awakening his critical task was to separate the golden essence from the dross complicating it. Inevitably, this was accomplished in practice one individual at a time, despite Edwards' attempt in 1742 to execute a practical collective validation of the awakening by having his own church renew its covenant. But Saints Dwell Alone expresses Edwards' new sense of the practical realities of religion, including the possibly impassable barrier that separates saints-as individuals and as groups-from the surrounding society, perhaps even the society of the visible church.


Edwards' critical inquiry into the condition of the visible church all too soon discovered an issue that destroyed any hope of calm communal reflection, for 1744 was the year of the Bad Book episode, one of those trivial events that all too often are the occasion of significant consequences. According to Edwards' first biographer, the affair ended Edwards' influence with the young people and that in turn "seemed in a great Measure to put an end to Mr. Edwards's Usefulness at Northampton." The affair has been a subject of scholarly inquiry over the years and has been analyzed in depth. Still, the exact nuances of political interaction in the case are sufficiently obscure to retain an enduring ambiguity. Edwards had always taken the souls of children seriously, as had the Puritans generally. His Faithful Narrative (1737) had featured a four-year-old child as a prime exhibit of the work of God in conversion, and over the intervening years Edwards' preaching had stressed the importance of rearing children properly. The Northampton congregation included a number of young persons who had been converted during the "surprising conversions" of 1734-35 or during the just-concluded Great Awakening. But the Bad Book affair-amounting essentially to lewd wisecracks in public-did not really involve parents and children, since most of the culprits were bumptious men in their mid-twenties, few of whom were closely attached to prominent church families. Thus, Samuel Hopkins' words referring to Edwards' supposedly impolitic manner of initiating the inquiry which is alleged to have precipitated the general social upheaval-"Whether this was the Occasion of the alteration or not"-allow for maximum latitude in causal interpretation.

But the Bad Book episode was a symptom for Edwards, and probably for most of his congregation, indicating that the revivals had again proved to have limited effect upon the conduct of the church community. As always, Edwards saw the young as a spiritual barometer of the community, and for many months he attempted to reach out to the youth of the congregation. About eight months after the Bad Book affair, Edwards preached a quarterly lecture, The Beauty of Piety in Youth. The sermon is more carefully written out than most of this period, and it is a direct appeal to the young people of the society-with some emphasis upon the females-to pursue a life of piety and avoid eternal wounds from the sins of youth. The argument clearly targets sexual license and introduces the life of the spirit as the "sweetest" gratification of the human appetites. But two years later, in November 1746, he was still lecturing the youth of the church, this time in a "lecture to young people" (though with others from the general congregation in attendance). Rebellion in Israel is a much more grim undertaking, as the title indicates. The youth of the community have apparently not been moved by their pastor's or their parents' appeals, and Edwards now uses harsh language to condemn the continued backsliding of both sexes of the town's youth. Spiritual discipline has been lost and "unnatural" rebellion is the order of the day. The only concluding appeal that seems to have been plausible to Edwards was the example of the prodigal son. Thus by the mid-1740s, Edwards was clearly alarmed and seemingly pessimistic about the future of the Northampton church as represented in its youth.


At the same time that Edwards was preoccupied with his responsibilities as moral regulator of the Northampton community, he was inevitably involved in ever-widening circles of spiritual relationship beyond his parish. Indeed, his lifelong millennial interests compelled him to place local affairs in the cosmic contexts of the history of the work of redemption and the Apocalypse itself. Approaching the End of God's Grand Design, preached in December 1744, represents his effort to instill in his congregation a sense of the larger context of all earthly spiritual movements, such as the recent revivals. In this and similar sermons Edwards attempted to place the little world of Northampton's church in the cosmic context of divine providence, thus creating a more concrete awareness of the transcendent reality of the church.

But it was a little later, in 1747, that Edwards' desire to realize God's universal design in visible, earthly activity found a new expression. On February 3, 1747, Edwards preached a fast-day sermon to promote international union in extraordinary prayer for the advancement of the church and God's grand design upon earth. The idea was not original, as Edwards states in the sermon's Application, but he turned to it as a way of gathering up and refocusing the energies lately committed to the revivals. He then expanded his fast day sermon into a treatise, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer ... (1747), since he probably hoped such a publication might renew pious activism among the churches in a less troubled medium than that of the revivals. Occasional collective prayer had a long tradition in New England, and this innovation would be in some respects analogous to the expansion of local revivals into an international movement during the Great Awakening, except that collective prayer would presumably be less disruptive to ecclesiastical institutions. The goal in either case was contributing to the coming of the millennium. The treatise itself was clearly another effort by Edwards to resume religious leadership in the world beyond Northampton, although in this case the response proved to be tepid, both at home and abroad.


Excerpted from THE WORKS OF JONATHAN EDWARDS by JONATHAN EDWARDS Copyright © 2006 by Yale University. 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


Editorial Committee....................v
List of Illustrations....................ix
Note to the Reader....................xi
Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 Preface to the Period....................3
Saints Dwell Alone....................47
The Great Concern of a Watchman for Souls....................59
The True Excellency of a Minister of the Gospel....................82
The Beauty of Piety in Youth....................103
Approaching the End of God's Grand Design....................111
The Duties of Christians in a Time of War....................127
Of God the Father....................142
Rebellion in Israel....................155
The Church's Marriage to Her Sons, and to Her God....................164
The Suitableness of Union in Extraordinary Prayer for the Advancement of God's Church....................197
Yield to God's Word, or Be Broken by His Hand....................207
True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord....................222
Sons of Oil, Heavenly Lights....................257
Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit Are Inferior to Graces of the Spirit....................275
A Strong Rod Broken and Withered....................312
Christ the Great Example of Gospel Ministers....................330
Lectures on the Qualifications for Full Communion in the Church of Christ....................349
One Great End in God's Appointing the Gospel Ministry....................441
A Farewell Sermon Preached at the First Precinct in Northampton, After the People's Public Rejection of Their Minister ... on June 22, 1750....................457
Saving Faith and Christian ObedienceArise from Godly Love....................494
The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers....................536
Men's Inhumanity to God....................553
The Things That Belong to True Religion....................566
Heaven's Dragnet....................575
Sacramental Union in Christ....................582
Death and Judgment....................590
Christ Is to the Heart Like a River to a Tree Planted by It....................600
True Grace, Distinguished from the Experience of Devils....................605
God Is Infinitely Strong....................641
God's Use of Affliction....................646
Christ's Sacrifice an Inducement to His Ministers....................653
Warring with the Devil....................676
In the Name of the Lord of Hosts....................680
God's People Tried by a Battle Lost....................685
Of Those Who Walk in the Light of God's Countenance....................698
Farewell Sermons to the Indians....................711
God's People Should Remember Them That Have Been Their Ministers....................713
Watch and Pray Always....................716
Appendix: Dated Sermons, January 1743-February 1758, Undated Sermons, and Sermon Fragments....................717
General Index....................761
Index of Biblical Passages....................783
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