Monday, September 16, 2013

Remember Your Leaders: Jonathan Edwards

“Resolved: To live with all my might while I do live.”
-Jonathan Edwards

A Biographical Sketch 
Jonathan Edwards was born October 5, 1703, in Windsor, Connecticut. He had ten sisters and not one brother. He could probably knit with and crochet with the best. He was of superior intellect and at twelve years of age his father sent him to Yale where Edwards flourished. He was a thinker, appearing to have always had his pen in hand taking notes as he read. At the age of 16 he graduated from Yale as valedictorian and gave the graduation address in Latin, for fun. He was brilliant.

At 19 years of age Edwards took his first call as a pastor to Scotch Presbyterian Church in New York. He returned to Yale a year later to finish Masters work and fell in love with Sarah Pierrepont. She was according to Edward’s own hand, “…of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind…and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure” (Edwards, Memoirs, xxxix). Over the next 23 years they had eight daughters and three sons.

In 1726 God called Edwards to assist his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in ministering to the esteemed Church of Northampton, Massachusetts. Stoddard passed three years later and Edwards took over as sole minister. His primary task as a pastor was ardent study of the Scriptures. He said: “Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected” (Edwards, Christian Knowledge, 162). To Edwards the greatest impact and good he could do as a pastor was to study well the Word of God and communicate it’s truth in all that he did, be that preaching, conversation, or in his prolific writing.

In 1757, after 23 years as pastor of Northampton, and time spent writing and thinking in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards was called by Princeton College to assume the role of President. It was a crowning achievement to be extended this invitation. He took it, although he was initially against the opportunity due to his poor health and grand writing dreams. However on March 22, 1758, after only assuming the position of President a month earlier, Edwards passed away after complications that arose from a smallpox inoculation.

Edwards is an example to us as a man who was fixed upon God as his ultimate end in all of life. Due to his writings that have been well preserved, we have a good corpus from which to “remember” his faith and imitate it in our lives. Here are three great things that Edwards strived for in the exercise of his faith:

We Were Created to Glorify God 
Uppermost in all of Edwards life was the great Reformed pillar of Soli Deo Gloria. Edwards’ faith spurned him to exist to magnify and extol God’s glory in all that he put his hand to. While he was a sinner and couldn’t accomplish this perfectly, it was nonetheless chief in his mind for what was his end in life. For as Edward’s says:

“Thus we see that the great and last end of God’s works which is so variously expressed in Scripture, is indeed but one; and this one end is most properly and comprehensively called, ‘the glory of God.’” (Edwards, Ethical Writings, 530)

And so Edwards, by the faith God had given him, sought to elevate and display the glory of God in his life. One thing we can take from Edwards on this point is his understanding of our sinful nature. The more depraved we are, the more we have to glory in our God:

“God hath made man’s emptiness and misery, his low, lost and ruined state into which he is sunk by the fall, an occasion of the greater advancement of his own glory…as there is now a much more universal and apparent dependence of man on God.” (Kimnach, The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 79)

We Were Created To Delight in God 
To many the Christian faith looks like a joyless prison. It is a religion of prohibition: you can’t get drunk, you can’t sleep around, you can’t lie on your taxes. Many in the world see Christianity as a set of rules that restricts the individual and takes all fun out of life. However Edwards says quite the opposite. He roots the fundamental core of Christianity in relation to happiness and joy. Christianity does not kill delight, it instead magnifies it and puts it in it’s proper place. Edwards says this:

“God is glorified not only by His glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in. When those that see it delight in it, God is more glorified than if they only see it.” (Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, 79)

Edwards contends that when we live into our created purpose in Christ, namely to glorify God, we do so only successfully when we do so out of delight. Because the Christian, if he truly grasps faith, realizes that he has found the most joyful pursuit in all of life, giving glory to his creator. And he is the most joyful pursuit because “He is [our] highest good…the sum of all that good which Christ purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls.” (Kimnach, The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 74) And so from Edwards we can learn that we are to delight in our God, in His goodness towards us, and in so doing bring glory to God.

We Were Created to Pursue God 
Edwards was a man of great resolve. A man who put his mind to a task and did not waver. He was intensely driven in all that he did. He was this way because he understood the seriousness of what he was called to do, to redirect hearts and minds to God’s glory. As such, Edwards found himself in a relentless pursuit of God. This is well attested to in his many Resolutions (Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, xx).

With 1 Corinthians 10:31 as his guide, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God, Edwards produced a list of 70 resolutions to guide his life and pursuit of God’s glory to be manifested. These are no mere New Years Resolution like we might think. May these few be an encouragement to you to imitate his faith, a faith that calls us to be enamored in our pursuit of knowing and displaying God’s glory in our lives.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration…

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God…

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

Edwards was a man of resolve. May we resolve to be so fixed on God in our lives so as to display His glory in all that we do.

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There is much written on Jonathan Edwards. For an introduction I would recommend Owen Strachan's Essential Edwards Collection (book one in particular), and John Piper's elucidation of Edward's main theological orientation in God's Passion for His Glory. For a deeper look at Edwards life George Marsden's biography is top notch. As for Edwards own work, I would direct you first to some of his best sermons and then to the Religious Affections or Concerning The End for Which God Created the World. Yale also has most of Edwards work free to read on their webpage which is simply an invaluable gift from the school.

**Next Week: Remembering Your Leader Charles Spurgeon

JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

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