“Mr. Edwards is a solid, excellent Christian…I think I have not seen his fellow in all New England.” – George Whitefield, October 17, 1740.
Jonathan Edwards accepted the call to be an assistant to Pastor Solomon Stoddard, his maternal grandfather, in 1727. Having served as pastor for well over fifty years in Northampton and at the age of 83, Stoddard needed assistance. With several previous, prospective candidates not succeeding in the position, the church leaders approached Edwards.
Edward’s biographer Steven J. Lawson explains, “Jonathan was ordained as his associate on Feb. 15, 1727, with the understanding that Stoddard would train young Edwards to succeed him.”
Solomon Stoddard began serving as pastor of the Northampton Church in 1670.His predecessor, Eleazer Mather, died and the pastoral search committee extended an invitation to the twenty-six year old Harvard graduate. In March 1670, having recently married Esther Mather, Solomon began preaching in the Northampton pulpit and would officially became the pastor in April 1672.
Stoddard believed that the “experience of the grace of God was the first necessity of a minister. Every learned and moral man is not a sincere convert, and so not able to speak exactly and experimentally to such things as souls want to be instructed in.”
In spite of Stoddard’s fifty-seven year ministry, the town of Northampton physically remained the same. It continued to be a farming community. Except for a few tradesmen and professionals, the people remained bonded to the soil.
Edwards’ biographer Iain Murray states, “Corn and wheat were sown in spring, calves and lambs were born and cared for. Then came hay-making and harvest, and before winter, apples were stored, animals slaughtered, and fields ploughed. Timber felling and wood cutting were constant necessities for building, for furniture and, not least, for hearting because there was to be no coal used in New England until after 1830. Country life was thus marked by an immobility and sameness. From week to week, and year to year, life went on as usual.”
The townspeople, of upward to 1,000, lived close together and close to nature. However, it was their weekly church involvement that truly bound them together with cords that, at least on the surface, could not be broken.
Murray explains, “Almost the whole population would be at the one meeting house on Sunday mornings and again at 2 pm in the afternoon, at which times, it is said, sermons might last for two hours. The church also expected a ‘lecture’ on Thursday afternoons at 2 pm. Communal life indeed revolved around the church and even the town-meetings were held in the meeting house at Northampton until the late 1730’s when a separate building was erected for that purpose.”
The Northampton church had a membership of approximately 400-500. However, this does not mean that all were converted followers of Jesus Christ. We will address this subject when next we meet because this issue would play a significant part in Edward’s ministry at Northampton.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!