‘Read Jonathan Edwards!’

In 1977, when I was still working as a schoolmaster in Somerset, England, I travelled up to London to consult Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones with regard to entering the ministry. In the course of our conversation at his home in Ealing, I asked him if he would give me some advice on the matter of reading. Without any hesitation he replied, ‘Read Jonathan Edwards!’ I had, in fact, already acquired a copy of the two-volume Banner of Truth edition of Edwards’ Works and had begun to read them; but Dr Lloyd-Jones’ advice spurred me on to read Edwards more, and I began to read his sermons and treatises with greater vigour. Thus began my interest in and love for the great American preacher-philosopher-theologian–an interest and a love that have lasted more than thirty years.

— John Carrick, From the preface of The Preaching of Jonathan Edwards.


The Two Books

How great a person then must [Jesus] be for whose coming into the world the great God of heaven and earth, and governor of all things, spent four thousand years in preparing the way for his coming, going about it soon after the world was created, and from age to age doing great things, bringing mighty events to pass, accomplishing wonders without number, often overturning the world in order to it, and causing everything in the state of mankind, and all revolutions and changes in the habitable world, from generation to generation, to be subservient to this great design. Surely this must be some great and extraordinary person indeed, and a great work indeed it must [necessarily] be, that he is coming about.

Edwards, The History of the Work of Redemption (Yale, 9:292).

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Jonathan Edwards and the Pursuit of Reality

In Edwards’s case it is the man who pursues, and he pursues not only Christ but an ultimate reality through Christ.

Edwards insists that the nature of reality for us humans is not that of a place but rather that of an orientation, a relationship, or in his idiom, that of being’s perception of and consent to Being. His entire effort as a preacher was thus to enlarge the scope of individual awareness. ~ Wilson Kimnach, Jonathan Edwards’s Pursuit of Reality (in Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience, 115-116).

Edwards’s Missionary Paradigm

Edwards’s missionary diamond has at least seven facets: theology, history, philosophy, pragmatics, practice, spirituality, and aesthetics.

Theology facet: “The work of making intelligent beings themselves holy and happy is the work of redemption, which includes preaching the gospel, the main missionary task.

History facet: “…emanated not only the well-known understanding of the role of providence in history and the recurring  interest in the conversion of the Jews, but also Edwards’s depiction of redemption as progressive, the knowledge of God as expanding, and the experience of God as enlargement.”

Philosophy facet: (One example) “Natural ability and moral inability came to been seen as the key to the issue of free will, making all responsible for their response to the offer of the gospel.”

On the Pragmatics plane: “The use of ‘means,’ which became integral to Protestant missionary strategy” Examples include prayer, as expounded in JE’s Humble Attempt (1748), the personal stories saints, as well as theological colleges “looked to by Edwards as potent instruments of Christian extension.”

Practice facet: (One example) “We observe the value attached to duty and the evidencing of conversion by fruit (rather than by profession).”

Spirituality facet: (Few examples) “Religious affections as critical to true religion; steering between rationalism and enthusiasm; the preference of the true saint for godly habit over spiritual ecstasy; the concern to foster exertion rather than experiences; the urgency to save from hell, understood as the horrific opposite to the unimaginable glory of heaven.”

On the Aesthetics plane: “The new language making abstractions tangible and reality felt; the predilection for identifying beauty with holiness; and the appreciating of God’s design, his schema, his plan.”

Edwards had a multi-faceted vision of God and therefore a belief in an intricate, comprehensive design that focused on fostering mission for the supreme end of glorifying God.

All quotes from Stuart Piggin, The Expanding Knowledge of God: Jonathan Edwards’s Influence on Missionary Thinking and Promotion.

Edwards in Stockbridge Exile (?)

[Jonathan Edwards] can, like John Wesley, be held to have been personally a participant in missions, even if largely by default, through his Stockbridge exile. ~ Andrew Walls

Was Edwards exiled at Stockbridge, the Indian mission where he served and pastored the Mohawks and Mohicans? Did he consider himself displaced there by default–that is, was Stockbridge his only natural option after his ejection from his Northampton church? I don’t think so. Edwards was offered other pastoring opportunities elsewhere, in traditional congregations just like his former one. Yet, instead he freely chose to serve as pastor of the Indians. His ministry there, though full of personal suffering and community troubles as well, bore much fruit by God’s abundant grace.