The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 4.

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” (Revelation 5:5-6). 

 The lion and the lamb, though very diverse kinds of creatures, yet have each their peculiar excellences. The lion excels in strength, and in the majesty of his appearance and voice: the lamb excels in meekness and patience, besides the excellent nature of the creature as good for food, and yielding that which is fit for our clothing and being suitable to be offered in sacrifice to God. But we see that Christ is in the text compared to both, because the diverse excellences of both wonderfully meet in him. There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension.

Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Christ is the Creator and great Possessor of heaven and earth. He is sovereign Lord of all. He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him. His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist Him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world,” James 2:5. Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for everything that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them. Yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!                                                                                                                                                                                         Jonathan Edwards

In Edwards’ message Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions, Edwards describes how, in the winter of 1734-1735, the young people and their parents responded to his preaching with renewed interest, wishing a genuine examination of their public and private behavior. People who visited Northampton noticed the change of its spiritual climate and returned to their homes remembering Edwards’s message. Meanwhile, in addition to Northampton, the Holy Spirit brought revival to other places also.

After the late 1730s, Edwards became caught up in the Great Awakening, which began in 1740. Edwards became one of the ablest instruments and defenders of the revival. He preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (Deuteronomy 32:35) at Enfield, Connecticut, on July 8, 1741. The congregation was profoundly moved. A witness wrote, “Before the sermon was done, there was a great moaning and crying out throughout the whole house. What shall I do to be saved? Oh, I am going to hell! Oh, what shall I do for Christ?” Edwards asked for silence, but the tumult increased until Edwards had to stop preaching. A monument to the sermon stood until the twentieth century on the site of the Enfield meeting house.

Dr. Joel Beeke writes, By late 1742, New England Congregationalism was divided into two camps: the “Old Light” anti-Awakening group and the “New Light” pro-Awakening party. Colonial Presbyterians were also of two minds about the Awakening; “New Side” Presbyterians promoted the Awakening against the objections of “Old Side” traditionalists.”

Beeke continues by explaining that, “In an effort to make peace within the clerical community, Edwards wrote Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion (1742), taking pains to denounce extremists on all sides. He even suggested that the remarkable outpouring of the Spirit in this Awakening could be ushering in the millennium. Pushing the argument from Distinguishing Marks a step further, he insisted that true spiritual life was a matter not only of intellectual assent, but also of the affections. “Now if such things are enthusiasm,” he wrote, “let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifically, glorious distraction!”

As one historian writes, Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion intensely personal to the average person by fostering a deep sense of spiritual guilt and redemption, and by encouraging introspection and a commitment to a new standard of personal morality. It brought Christianity to African-American slaves and was an apocalyptic event in New England that challenged established authority. It incited rancor and division between old traditionalists who insisted on the continuing importance of ritual and doctrine, and the new revivalists, who encouraged emotional involvement and personal commitment. It had a major impact in reshaping the Congregational church, the Presbyterian Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the German Reformed denomination, and strengthened the small Baptist and Methodist denominations. It had little impact on Anglicans and Quakers. Unlike the Second Great Awakening, which began about 1800 and reached out to the unchurched, the First Great Awakening focused on people who were already church members. It changed their rituals, their piety, and their self-awareness.

Following the impact of the Great Awakening, Edwards would soon become involved in a controversy which would forever change his life and ministry.

Soli deo Gloria!


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