Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Jonathan Edwards Biographical Sketch

This is the final post in a four part series on the life of Jonathan Edwards. If you would like to read the paper in its entirety or see the endnotes click here.

The Final Chapters: Stockbridge and Princeton
When Edwards left Northampton, he was viewed as “having his head in the clouds” as unsociable and “not apt to teach.” While in Stockbridge, a more remote place than Northampton, Edwards had the opportunity to work on several writing projects that he had hoped to write for quite some time. One might think that with the prolific amount of writing that he accomplished while in Stockbridge that he was simply an ivory tower academician. After all, this is where he wrote Freedom of the Will (1754), Original Sin (1758), and drafted The End for Which God Created the World and True Virtue. However, Edwards seems to have taken to heart some of the criticism that he received while in Northampton and sought to become more involved in the “practical affairs of his day.” In addition to becoming more practically involved, Edwards also had the opportunity to address a different type of audience in the Indians at Stockbridge. Rather than filling his sermons with lofty metaphysical concepts, Edwards taught in a much more narrative-driven and simple way. One of his fellow missionaries said, “To the Indians he [Edwards] was a plain and practical preacher…”

After living on the frontier in a very dangerous and violent setting for several years, he was eventually asked to become the president of Princeton. Edwards was reluctant to leave Stockbridge and the increased time that he had for writing. However, at the counsel of a group of ministers Edwards accepted the call to Princeton and died shortly thereafter.

Edwards’ Contribution to the Church

There are numerous things that can be gleaned from the life and writings of Jonathan Edwards. However, there are three areas in particular that stand forth as his most significant contributions. The first and chief thing is his absolute passion for seeing God in everything. Edwards was a man who was transfixed upon the glory of God. He viewed every event in life and every area of academic study as an opportunity to learn something more about God. Edwards was not afraid of philosophy, science, or academia in general. When Edwards’ embraced the idea of a “Newtonian universe” he did not do it in such a way that led to a “distancing of God from creation.” Rather, Edwards, “insisted that the recently discovered immensities and complexities of the universe confirmed God’s ongoing intimate expressions of his art and language in all that had being.”

The second main contribution of Edwards is the way in which he combined a passion for intellectual understanding of God with a burning desire for experiencing Him. Edwards labored to communicate that the essence of true religion was more than just intellectual assent of biblical propositions. For Edwards this meant that a true Christian


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.

In other words, a person who is truly saved will not only have a “rational belief” in the attributes of God, but that “rational belief” will be accompanied by a delight in that particular reality of God’s personhood.

The third main contribution of Edwards is the way in which he showed that God’s passion for His glory is not at odds with man’s desire for happiness. Notice how Edwards connects God’s glory with man’s happiness in the following quote:

Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, [that is,] complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. . . God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.

Edwards was insistent that God did not create because of some sort of deficiency that he had in himself. God created so that his beauty and excellency, as seen preeminently in the person and work of Christ, would be enjoyed and delighted in by redeemed humanity. Thus, humanity’s highest happiness comes when they are beholding that which is most infinitely delightful, namely God.

Conclusion
During Edwards' own lifetime he received ridicule from some of his contemporaries for his aloofness and unsociability. However, three hundred years later the Church has much to be thankful for to the man who spent upwards of thirteen hours a day in his study. While his methodology for his pastoral ministry should not sought to be emulated by most; his passion, insight into Scripture, and enjoyment of God should be an encouragement to all.

1 comment:

Theodore Wesley said...

This has been a really helpful series on the life of Edwards. I haven't got a chance to read this last post yet, but thanks for sharing this. I have really enjoyed it.

Theodore