The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 5.

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. There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite grace. As Christ is a divine person, he is infinitely holy and just, hating sin, and disposed to execute condign punishment for sin. He is the Judge of the world, and the infinitely just Judge of it, and will not at all acquit the wicked, or by any means clear the guilty. And yet he is infinitely gracious and merciful. Though his justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived.

And not only so, but so great is his grace, that nothing is too much as the means of this good. It is sufficient not only to do great things, but also to suffer in order to do it, and not only to suffer, but to suffer most extremely even unto death, the most terrible of natural evils; and not only death, but the most ignominious and tormenting, and every way the most terrible that men could inflict; yea, and greater sufferings than men could inflict, who could only torment the body. He had sufferings in his soul, that were the more immediate fruits of the wrath of God against the sins.                                                   Jonathan Edwards

A pastor, and for that matter his family, face a series of incredible challenges in ministry. It has been said by many, including myself, that you know God has called you to full-time ministry when you cannot see yourself doing anything else but serving Him in a full time church related vocation. That is good advice because that perspective sustains you when, not if, conflict occurs in the midst of ministry and you may feel like quitting.

Sometimes, pastors are not given the choice of whether to remain in a particular ministry position or pastorate. The decision is made for him by those in lay leadership. The result is the minister or pastor is unceremoniously fired or removed from his positon of service to which he has given blood, sweat and not a few tears.

It matters not how much he has prayed with, or for, the people of his congregation. It matters not the number of hospital calls and visits to the sick and dying he has made. It matters not how faithful he has preached the Word of God, year after year, decade after decade. It matters not how faithfully he has served.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the particular pastor I have in mind in which this occurred is none other than Jonathan Edwards. Following 21 years of preaching, writing, serving, praying and sacrificing, the lay leadership of Northampton removed Jonathan Edwards from his position as pastor. Why?

In the late 1740s, Edwards became embroiled in controversy over who should partake of the sacraments, particularly the Lord’s Supper. Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather and predecessor, had taught that the Lord’s Supper could be a “converting ordinance” to which any baptized person of blameless life should be admitted. Edwards opposed this view, saying that only people who professed to be converted and who were bringing forth the fruits of conversion in their lives should be received at the Lord’s Table.

As a result, Edwards said that baptism ought to be administered only to the children of believers who had made a credible profession of faith. That was contrary to the long-established practice of the so called “Half-Way Covenant,” a modified form of church membership used in some New England Congregational churches. Baptized adults who professed a historical faith without claiming to be converted and who lived uprightly would be regarded as “half-way” church members, so that they could therefore present their children for baptism, though they themselves could not participate in the Lord’s Supper or vote in church matters.

Dr. Joel Beeke describes when the situation reached its inevitable climax. “A moment of crisis was reached in 1748 when Edwards told two applicants that they lacked the saving grace necessary to partake of the Lord’s Supper. At the same time, Edwards published his An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of and Qualifications for Communion, which insisted that genuine conversion bears visible fruit and is essential for sacramental privileges. Many townspeople and ministers objected to The Humble Inquiry, concluding that Edwards had gone too far. When these objections were combined with false rumors of Edwards’s treatment of some young people and other complications resulting from several discipline cases, the members of Northampton voted to eject him from the Northampton pulpit.”

Beeke continues by explains that, “In his farewell sermon on June 22, 1750, Edwards suggested that the discipline cases had turned the town against him. Privately, however, he told a friend that he suspected the real issue was his refusal to baptize infants of members who could not profess saving grace. By a large majority, the Northampton church voted not to change its sacramental practices.”

As another author comments, His (Edwards) dismissal from the church was messy.  He was voted out by the congregation.  In fact, out of 253 people only 23 voted for him to stay. Even after he was voted out, he agreed to continue doing sermons until a replacement was found, which took about fifteen months.”

Edwards’ tenure as Northampton’s pastor was clouded with salary controversies and power struggles. It seems, after The Great Awakening, his appeal as a pastor faded. Perhaps, it was because he continued to expect the same enthusiasm he saw in people during The Great Awakening. Regardless, his attempted change in church policy resulted in his dismissal as pastor.

I would encourage you to pray for your pastor, and his wife, today. Encourage them whenever you can. Support them as much as you can. Never entertain a criticism of them by an individual who fails to personally speak with the pastor about the subject at hand. Realize that Satan will seek to get a foot-hold in a church and does so many times by the congregation attacking its pastor. Make every effort to make sure this does not happen.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

 

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