Edwards believed that the underlying sin concerning his dismissal was the Northampton church’s pride. Edwards thought the “fundamental explanation of what had happened was that God permitted such weaknesses in order to expose the evil of spiritual pride.” Edwards was convinced that the congregation’s increasing wealth and reputation, along with its tutelage under Edwards, fueled its arrogance against its own shepherd.
“Spiritual pride is a most monstrous thing. If it be not discerned and vigorously opposed, in the beginning, it very often soon raises persons above their teachers, and supposed spiritual fathers, and sets them out of the reach of all rule and instruction, as I have seen in innumerable instances, ” explains Edwards.
However, Edwards learned much through this ordeal. He admitted his failures as a pastor, which he believed contributed to his eventual dismissal. These failures included:
- Not visiting the sick unless called upon to do so. Edwards was not prone to call upon church members unless called upon. Unfortunately, this fostered an impression that he was aloof and more concerned with his studies than God’s people
- His failure as a teacher. Edwards failed to understand the congregation’s tendency to accept a person’s profession of conversion rather than the evidences of conversion.
- His immaturity during the critical, early years of his ministry. As with any leader, Edwards grew by the experiences of life and leadership. He acknowledged his lack of judgment and discernment undermined the people’s confidence in him.
While Edwards candidly admitted his failures, he also held two strong convictions of which he would not compromise. First, he recognized the serious nature of the issue regarding a communicant’s sincere profession of biblical, saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Second, when Edwards’ chief opponent in the controversy at Northampton, Joseph Hawley, wrote Edwards years later and expressed his repentance and grief over his role in Edwards’ dismissal, Edwards responded with graciousness to his cousin and “with true candor and Christian charity.”
“There was never any hesitation in Edwards’ mind over the serious nature of the truth involved. He came to the firm conviction that a wrong principle of admission to the Lord’s Table imperils the whole nature of the church, for then the world and the church cease to be distinguished,” Edwards’ biographer Iain Murray explains.
June 22, 1750 was the day that 90% of Northampton congregation voted to dismiss Jonathan Edwards as their pastor. Pastor and historian Steven J. Lawson states that this was “truly one of the great tragedies of church history.”
“I have had enough of this controversy and desire to have done with it. I have spent enough of the precious time of my life in it heretofore. I desire and pray that God may enable you to view things truly, and as He views them, and so to act in the affair as shall be best for you, and most for your peace living and dying,” wrote Edwards.
Edwards’ preached his farewell sermon the next Sunday. His text was taken from 2 Corinthians 1:14: “just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.” He preached that one day they would gather, as pastor and congregation, before the Lord and all would give an account of their actions.
In a remarkable display of grace and humility, Edwards filled the pulpit at Northampton for a year until the church hired his successor. Edwards evidenced the graciousness taught in 1 Peter 2:23 (ESV) – “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
Edwards received several offers to pastor churches in Boston and Scotland. There were even some in Northampton who requested he begin a new church. He declined them all.
However, God was not yet finished using Jonathan Edwards. His next assignment in ministry would be as a pastor and missionary to the Native Americans in Stockbridge, MA. More to come. Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!