The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 6.

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. In the person of Christ do meet together infinite glory and lowest humility.

Infinite glory, and the virtue of humility, meet in no other person but Christ. They meet in no created person; for no created person has infinite glory, and they meet in no other divine person but Christ. For though the divine nature be infinitely abhorrent to pride, yet humility is not properly predicable of God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, that exist only in the divine nature; because it is a proper excellency only of a created nature; for it consists radically in a sense of a comparative lowness and littleness before God, or the great distance between God and the subject of this virtue; but it would be a contradiction to suppose any such thing in God.

But in Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, those two diverse excellences are sweetly united. He is a person infinitely exalted in glory and dignity. Philippians 2:6. “Being in the form of God, he thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” There is equal honor due to him with the Father. John 5:23. “That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.” God himself says to him, “thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,” Hebrews 1:8. And there is the same supreme respect and divine worship paid to him by the angels of heaven, as to God the Father, ver. 6. “Let all the angels of God worship him.”

But however he is thus above all, yet he is lowest of all in humility. There never was so great an instance of this virtue among either men or angels, as Jesus. None ever was so sensible of the distance between God and him, or had a heart so lowly before God, as the man Christ Jesus. Matthew 11:29. What a wonderful spirit of humility appeared in him, when he was here upon earth, in all his behavior! In his contentment in his mean outward condition, contentedly living in the family of Joseph the carpenter, and Mary his mother, for thirty years together, and afterwards choosing outward meanness, poverty, and contempt, rather than earthly greatness; in his washing his disciples’ feet, and in all his speeches and deportment towards them; in his cheerfully sustaining the form of a servant through his whole life, and submitting to such immense humiliation at death!                                                                                                                                                                                 Jonathan Edwards

In 1750, Edwards and his family left Northampton. They took refuge in the frontier settlement of Stockbridge, near the western border of Massachusetts, where he served as pastor to a small congregation and as a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. He learned to accommodate himself well to the level of understanding of the Native Americans. His years in Stockbridge were complicated. When the conflict of the French and Indian War reached the village in 1754, several inhabitants were killed.

It was during this time in Stockbridge that Edwards wrote his most significant works. As Dr. Joel Beeke explains, “Out of those long hours in the study, and especially from the period of relative isolation at Stockbridge, came a vast body of Edwards’s writings. His greatest literary achievement from this period was Freedom of the Will (1754), in which Edwards argues that only the regenerate person can truly choose the transcendent God; that choice can be made only through a disposition that God infuses in regeneration. In this, Edwards rejected the materialism of the British philosophers along with the utilitarianism of free-will advocates. Logically, Edwards succeeds in making Arminianism an impossibility. Other important works completed during his Stockbridge years include Concerning the End for which God Created the World and The Nature of True Virtue (both published posthumously in 1765), and The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin (1758)—a tour de force against Pelagianism.”

In 1758, Edwards agreed to become president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton. He left his family that January, as “affectionately as if he should not come again.” One of his daughters wrote; as he departed, he turned back to his wife and said, “I commit you to God.”

Edwards preached his inaugural sermon at Princeton on Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.” While at Princeton, Edwards hoped to complete two major treatises, one showing the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and the other, a much-expanded treatise on The History of the Work of Redemption. However, Edwards did not live to complete these works. On March 22, 1758, after only a few months in Princeton, he died of complications from a smallpox inoculation.

Regarding Edwards’ legacy, Dr. Beeke writes, “The effect of this spiritual giant’s theological insight on New England Christianity has been immense and is often debated. Some say Edwards provided the impetus to move New England beyond the thought of its founders. In that sense, Edwards was a true philosopher. Others say Edwards was the last representative of Puritan theology and thought in the New World, where Puritanism would later be disdained. A third group finds little fault with Edwards or his theology, but accuses his followers of veering from the truths that inspired Edwards. Though Edwards himself stressed godly living, some of his successors discarded the biblically Reformed base which supported that godliness in their attempt to adopt Edwards’s more speculative views and methods. That, in turn, fostered a decline of both doctrinal and experiential Calvinism in New England. This group maintains that Edwards was a theologian/philosopher whose vision died with him, but that is certainly not true. Edwards’s vision continued at Princeton and many other places, and was alive in the Second Great Awakening.”

Dr. Beeke continues by explain, “Perhaps the most accurate assessment of Edwards is a combination of several views. Edwards was a profound theologian, as readers of The End for Which God Created the World can attest. Edwards was also a minister with great pastoral sensitivity—consider his Religious Affections. Recent scholarship has focused on Edwards’s metaphysics, gleaning primarily from his philosophical and scientific writings. Whatever view one may hold, all agree that his writings, specifically his sermons, are profitable specimens of one of America’s best and last Puritans.”

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 3.

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). 

 There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellences in Jesus Christ. 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.”                                                                       Jonathan Edwards

As all true believers in Christ discover, especially those engaged in full-time ministry, the Lord developed Edwards’s spiritual life by various testing’s and difficulties. Sometimes Edwards agonized over decisions; sometimes he suffered spells of exhaustion, depression, and serious illness. Often he faced problems and challenges in the pastorate as well as in his personal and family life. As a true Puritan, Edwards sought to discern the Providence of God in every event and to improve spiritually on all that he experienced: good or bad.

Edwards’s first publication was titled God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him in the Whole of It. Edwards wrote of faith as “a sensibleness of what is real,” and as an “absolute and universal dependence on God.”

Three years later, his publication Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God described the work of true regeneration as producing a new “sense of the heart…above all others sweet and joyful.” This “new sense,” apprehended by faith, would become a key to Edwards’s theology.

Dr. Joel Beeke writes, “People who heard Edwards’s sermons undoubtedly appreciated them, yet Edwards was still left with the problem of promoting godliness in a congregation that seemed to be lapsing into spiritual indifference. To correct the errors into which some had fallen during the last years of Stoddard’s pastorate, Edwards focused his preaching in the early 1730s on common, specific sins. He urged people to repent and to embrace the gospel by faith. That theme was repeated in a series of sermons Edwards preached on justification by faith in 1734 (published in 1738 as Five Discourses on Important Subjects), which prompted a significant awakening at Northampton.

Those sermons would set the stage for the forthcoming revival known as The Great Awakening.

Soli deo Gloria!

The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, Part 2.

“When D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones read his paper on “Jonathan Edwards and the· Crucial Importance of Revival” at the Westminster Conference in 1976, he confessed that the paper was “one of the most difficult tasks I have ever attempted. Part of the reason for this, Lloyd-Jones admitted, was the immense influence Edwards had had upon him personally. But there was also the fact that Edwards was a spiritual and theological giant. “I am tempted,” Lloyd-Jones said, “perhaps foolishly, to compare the Puritans to the Alps, Luther and Calvin to the Himalayas, and Jonathan Edwards to Mount Everest!” And as he faced “this great peak pointing up to heaven,” Lloyd-Jones continued, he could feel like a weak “little climber.”                                                                                                            Michael A.G. Haykin

Edwards’s ministerial career officially began in 1722 with a brief sojourn of eight months in New York City. Disagreements had arisen between the English members of the First Presbyterian Church and the Scots-Irish majority, led by Scottish minister James Anderson. The English eventually withdrew and began meeting separately.

Edwards accepted their invitation to preach for them. Of this brief ministry Edwards wrote: “I went to New York to preach and my longings after God and holiness were much increased. I felt a burning desire to be in everything conformed to the blessed image of Christ…how I should be more holy and live more holily…. The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness, to be with God and to spend my eternity in Holy Communion with Christ.”

Approximately one year later, in April 1723, Edward’s father persuaded him to return to Connecticut. After he had completed work for a master’s degree at Yale, he spoke at commencement exercises. The title of his address was “A Sinner is Not Justified before God except through the Righteousness of Christ obtained by Faith.” That November, Edwards took a call to the parish church at Bolton, about fifteen miles east of Hartford, Connecticut.

In 1724, Edwards returned to New Haven to serve as tutor at Yale College. Yale was in an upheaval due to the decision of Rector Timothy Cutler in 1722 to abandon Congregationalism and revert to the Church of England. No suitable candidate would agree to take his place, so the college was in the hands of a temporary rector. Each local minister served for a month in rotation, while the forty or so students were left in the care of two tutors. The students were disorderly adding discipline to the heavy burden of Edwards’s teaching duties. Edwards remained there until 1726, when he received a summons from the people of Northampton, Massachusetts, to come upriver and serve as assistant to his aged grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. Edwards was installed there on February 15, 1727, and became sole minister of the parish church upon the death of Stoddard in 1729. He would serve there as pastor for the next 21 years.

While he was in New Haven, Edwards befriended Sarah Pierrepont, who he met when he was sixteen years old and she was only thirteen. Friendship grew into romance and they were married eight years later in 1727 after Edwards was settled at Northampton. Edwards later described his wife as a model of true conversion in Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion (1743). Their eleven children were the beginning of a large extended family that greatly impacted the life and history of New England.

Samuel Hopkins, one of Edwards’ first biographers, wrote of Sarah, She made it her rule to speak well of all, so far as she could with truth and justice to herself and others. Thus she was tender of everyone’s character, even of those who injured or spoke evil of her.”

Hopkins continues, “In the midst of his (Jonathan’s) complicated labors, Edwards found at home one who was in every sense a help mate for him, one who made their common dwelling the abode of order and neatness, of peace and comfort, of harmony and love, to all its inmates, and of kindness and hospitability to the friend, the visitant, and the stranger.”

 Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

 

The Puritans: Jonathan Edwards.

“Jonathan Edwards is probably the best example in this country of a predestination evangelist. This New England Puritan preached, with equal vigor and insistence, the decrees of God and the responsibility of men.”                                                                                                                                   John H. Gerstner

“As a Bible lover, a Calvinist, a teacher of heart-religion, a gospel preacher of unction and power, and, above all, a man who loved Christ, hated sin, feared God, Edwards was a pure Puritan; indeed, one of the greatest of all the Puritans.”                                           J. I. Packer

“In this world, so full of darkness and delusion, it is of great importance that all should be able to distinguish between true religion and that which is false. In this, perhaps none has taken more pains, or labored more successfully, than he whose life is set before the reader.”                                                                                                                                Unknown  

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is referred to and identified as America’s greatest theologian and philosopher and the last Puritan. God used him as a powerful instrument during the First Great Awakening. Edwards was also a champion of Christian zeal and spirituality. Both Christian and secular scholars agree on his importance in American history.

The riches from Edwards’s writings have been searched, pondered, and evaluated to the present day. His famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is still being read and studied in America’s public schools as a specimen of eighteenth-century literature. Students of American history pay much attention to Edwards’s scientific, philosophical, and psychological writings while theologians and church historians regard Edwards’s work on revivals as unexcelled in analysis and scope.

Christians to this day continue to read his sermons with great appreciation for their rich doctrine, clear and forceful style, and powerful depiction of the majesty of God, the sinfulness of sin, and Christ’s power to save.

However, not everyone agrees about Edwards’s place in the history of Christian scholarship. There are those who continue to debate his philosophical considerations, his commitment to certain historic Calvinist or Reformed theological doctrines, and his influence upon subsequent generations. As Iain H. Murray notes, “Edwards divided men in his lifetime and to no less degree he continues to divide his biographers”

Edwards was born October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was the only son of eleven children born to Timothy Edwards and Esther Stoddard, daughter of Solomon Stoddard. Both Edwards’s father and maternal grandfather greatly influenced his education and career. Solomon Stoddard served for sixty years as minister of the parish church of Northampton, Massachusetts. He was a powerful force in the pulpit, a leader in the churches of western Massachusetts and along the Connecticut River, and a gifted writer. Timothy Edwards was highly educated and also well known as a preacher.

Like many other ministers in that day, Timothy Edwards conducted a grammar school in his home, preparing boys for Connecticut’s Collegiate School, known as Yale College after 1718. The school was founded in 1701 as an orthodox Congregationalist alternative to Harvard College.

As one Edwards’ biographer explains, “Edwards received his early education in his father’s school, where he was nurtured and instructed in Reformed theology and the practice of Puritan piety. At age thirteen, he went on to the Collegiate School, which as yet had no permanent home. Several towns were competing for the honor of playing host to the fledgling institution. Edwards went to the nearest location, downriver from Windsor at Wethersfield, to begin his studies with Elisha Williams. When the college finally located at New Haven in 1716 under the rector- ship of Timothy Cutler, Edwards went to New Haven, where the course of study included classical and biblical languages, logic, and natural philosophy. He was awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1720, finishing at the top of his class, and then stayed at Yale to study for a master’s degree.”

Edwards’s spiritual life was influenced by various factors. His parents were a godly example and nurtured Edwards toward godliness. He went through several periods of spiritual conviction in his childhood and youth, which culminated in his conversion in 1721 after being impacted by the words of 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Edwards stated regarding his conversion, As I read [these] words, there came into my soul…a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense quite different from anything I ever experienced before…. I kept saying and as it were singing over those words of Scripture to myself and went to pray to God that I might enjoy Him…. From that time I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, in the beauty of his person and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in Him.”

Following his education, conversion and an eight month sabbatical, Edwards was ready to begin serving the Lord.

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Puritans: George Whitfield.

The Rev. George Whitefield (1714–1770) was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. He was an English Anglican preacher who spent most of his life spreading the gospel by preaching in the open air and was one of the major instruments God used in the 18th century Great Awakening in Britain and the United States.

He was probably the best known preacher in Great Britain and America during his lifetime and was considered one of the founders of Methodism. He drew great crowds when he preached, had amazing oratory skills and a voice which carried over long distances. Benjamin Franklin, when listening to Whitefield, once estimated that he could be heard by over thirty thousand people at one time in the open air.

Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England, Dec. 27, 1714 and died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Sept. 30, 1770. He was the son of an innkeeper. At the age of twelve he was placed in the school of St. Mary de Crypt at Gloucester in 1732. He eventually graduated after a year’s intermission of his studies so that he might be drawer of liquor in the inn (kept by his mother since his father’s death in 1716).

He entered Pembroke College, Oxford. The religious impressions which he felt on different occasions had been deepened while he was at school and at Oxford he fell in with the Wesley’s. He joined the “Holy Club,” and observed its rules rigorously, being the first of the Oxford “Methodists” to profess conversion (1735). Due to poor health, he left Oxford for a year, returning in March, 1736.

On June 20, 1736, Bishop Benson ordained him. Whitefield preached his first sermon the following Sunday. It was at the ancient Church of Saint Mary de Crypt, the church where he had grown up as a boy and was consequently well known. He described this occasion later:

“…Some few mocked, but most for the present, seemed struck, and I have since heard that a complaint was made to the bishop, that I drove fifteen people mad during the first sermon.”

He took his B.A. in the same year. He spent much time among the prisoners in Oxford, preached in London and elsewhere and quickly rose to great prominence as a pulpit orator. He continued in active service until the end, preaching for two hours at Exeter, Mass., the day before his death, while it was his regular custom to preach every day in the week, often two and four times daily.

George Whitefield and John Wesley were close friends but had sharp theological differences over predestination and the degree of the work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of men. Following his friend’s death, the story is told that John Wesley was timidly approached by one of the godly band of Christian sisters who have been brought under his influences and who loved both Whitfield and himself:

“‘ Dear Mr. Wesley, may I ask you a question?’

“‘ Yes, of course, madam, by all means.’

“‘ But, dear Mr. Wesley, I am very much afraid what the answer will be.’

“‘ Well, madam, let me hear your question, and then you will know my reply.’

“At last, after not a little hesitation, the inquirer tremblingly asked, ‘ Dear Mr. Wesley, do you expect to see dear Mr. Whitefield in heaven?’

“A lengthy pause followed, after which John Wesley replied with great seriousness, ‘No, madam.’ “His inquirer at once exclaimed, ‘Ah, I was afraid you would say so.’

“To which John Wesley added, with intense earnestness, ‘Do not misunderstand me, madam; George Whitefield was so bright a star in the firmament of God’s glory, and will stand so near the throne, that one like me, who am less than the least, will never catch a glimpse of him.'”

May such humility towards ourselves, and exaltation of others, be our pattern of life.

Soli deo Gloria!  

The Puritans: Isaac Watts.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is often identified as the Father of English Hymnody. He was the first prolific and popular English hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into many languages.

Watts was born in Southampton. He was brought up in the home of a committed Nonconformist — his father had been incarcerated twice for his controversial views. At King Edward VI School (where one of the houses is now named “Watts” in his honor), he learned Latin, Greek and Hebrew and displayed a propensity for rhyme at home. He drove his parents to the point of exhaustion on many occasions with his verse.

Once, he had to explain how he came to have his eyes open during prayers. Watts replied, ““A little mouse for want of stairs ran up a rope to say its prayers.”  When receiving punishment for reciting verse, he is reported to have said, ““O father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Watts, unable to go to either Oxford or Cambridge due to his nonconformity, went to the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690. Watts’ education led him to the pastorate of a large independent chapel in London, but he also found himself in the position of helping young preachers, despite his poor health.

While taking work as a private tutor, he lived with the Nonconformist Hartopp Family at Fleetwood House, Abney Park in Stoke Newington, and later in the household of Sir Thomas and Lady Mary Abney at Theobalds, Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire, and at their second residence, Abney House, Stoke Newington.

Isaac Watts held religious opinions that were more nondenominational or ecumenical than was at that time common for a Nonconformist; having a greater interest in promoting education and scholarship, than preaching for any particular ministry.

In 1707 he published his first hymnbook. He wrote Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children. He authored over six hundred hymns, some of which are the finest in the English language. Two of his most famous and beloved hymns are O God Our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.Not only did Watts write hymns but he also wrote on logic, astronomy, geography, English grammar, pedagogics and theology. His writings were influential and his learning and piety attracted many.

On the death of Sir Thomas Abney, Watts moved permanently in with Widow Lady Mary Abney, and her remaining daughter, to their second home, Abney House, at Abney Park in Stoke Newington. It was a property that Mary had inherited from her brother along with title to the manor itself. The beautiful grounds at Abney Park, which became Watts’ permanent home from 1736 to 1748, led down to an island in the Hackney Brook where Watts sought inspiration for the many books and hymns written during these two decades.

Prior to his death, Watts wrote a solemn Address to the Deity, …“in which he poured out his soul to God over the whole subject of the Trinity in a manner which shows most clearly, his reverence for the Holy Scriptures, his humility, his teachable spirit, his earnest desire to understand and receive all that God had taught.”

He died at Stoke Newington and was buried in Bunhill Fields, having left behind him a massive legacy, not only of hymns, but also of treatises, educational works, and essays. His work was influential amongst independents and early religious revivalists in his circle, amongst whom was Philip Doddridge who dedicated his best known work to Watts. On his death, Isaac Watts’ papers were given to Yale University; an institution with which he was connected due to its being founded predominantly by fellow Independents (Congregationalists).

Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

The Puritans: John Newton.

John Henry Newton (1725 – 1807) was an English pastor and hymn writer. He was the son of an English sea captain. His mother was a deeply righteous woman who taught John from the Bible until she died when John was seven years old.

Not much is known about John’s childhood immediately following his mother’s death, but at the age of eleven John went to sea and spent the next 20 years as a sailor engaged in slave trading. His life was spent in the vilest and sordid forms of wickedness. At one time, he was the property of an African woman, who fed him only that which she threw him under her table. He was nearly killed several times during a terrible storm at sea, which almost sank his ship. His wicked life passed before him and with deep conviction over his sinful life he cried out to God for salvation.

He married Mary Catlett in 1750. They had no children. The next several years were spent in preparation for the ministry. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and studied the Scriptures intensively.

In 1764 he was appointed pastor of Olney, where he served for 16 years before moving to St. Mary Woolnoth in the city of London. In addition to his pastoral duties, Newton was an ardent writer. His works included Omicron, Narrative, Review of Ecclesiastical History, and Cardiphonia.

John Newton is perhaps best known as the author of the world-famous hymn, Amazing Grace, which was one of the Olney Hymns written in collaboration with
William Cowper. Newton is also remembered for his work in the anti-slavery movement in England, which occupied the latter part of his life.

The following are a series of selected quotations from several of Newton’s writings.

An excerpt from a letter entitled, Causes, Nature and Marks of a Decline in Grace (March 1765): But still it is to be lamented, that an increase of knowledge and experience should be so generally be attended with a decline of fervor. If it was not for what has passed in my own heart, I should be ready to think it impossible. But this very circumstance gives me a still more emphatic conviction of my own vileness and depravity. The want of humiliation humbles me, and my very indifference rouses and awakens me to earnestness. There are, however, seasons of refreshment, ineffable glances of light and power upon the soul, which, as they are derived from clearer displays of divine grace, if not so tumultuous as first joys, are more penetrating, transforming, and animating. A glance of these when compared with our sluggish stupidity, when they are withheld, weans the heart from this wretched state of sin and temptation, and makes the thoughts of death and eternity desirable. Then this conflict shall cease;-I shall sin and wander no more, see Him as he is, and be like Him forever.

John Newton on the subject of salvation by grace alone: “Salvation is wholly of grace, not only undeserved but undesired by us until God is pleased to awaken us to a sense of our need of it. And then we find everything prepared that our wants require or our wishes conceive; yea, that He has done exceedingly beyond what we could either ask or think. Salvation is wholly of the Lord and bears those signatures of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness which distinguish all His works from the puny imitations of men. It is every way worthy of Himself, a great, a free, a full, a sure salvation. It is great whether we consider the objects (miserable, hell-deserving sinners), the end (the restoration of such alienated creatures to His image and favor, to immortal life and happiness) or the means (the incarnation, humiliation, sufferings and death of His beloved Son). It is free, without exception of persons or cases, without any conditions or qualifications, but such as He, Himself, performs in them and bestows upon them.”

Newton’s Epitaph: While working as a tide surveyor he studied for the ministry, and for the last 43 years of his life preached the gospel in Olney and London. At 82, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” 

Newton’s tombstone reads, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” 

 Soli deo Gloria!

 

 

 

The Puritans: John Bunyan, Part 4.

John Bunyan had enjoyed only a few years of freedom when he was again arrested for preaching and put in the town jail. Here he wrote Instruction for the Ignorant (a catechism for the saved and unsaved that emphasizes the need for self-denial), Saved by Grace (an exposition of Ephesians 2:5 that encourages the godly to persevere in the faith notwithstanding persecution), The Strait Gate (an exposition of Luke 13:24 that seeks to awaken sinners to the gospel message), Light for Them That Sit in Darkness (a polemical work against those who oppose atonement by Christ’s satisfaction and justification by His imputed righteousness, especially the Quakers and Latitudinarians), and the first part of his famous Pilgrim’s Progress.

Pilgrim’s Progress sold more than 100,000 copies in its first decade in print. It has since been reprinted in at least 1,500 editions and translated into more than two hundred languages, with Dutch, French, and Welsh editions appearing in Bunyan’s lifetime. Some scholars have asserted that, with the exception of the Bible and perhaps Thomas à Kempis’s The Imitation of Christ, this Bunyan classic has sold more copies than any other book ever written.

John Owen, minister of an Independent congregation at Leadenhall Street, London, successfully appealed for Bunyan to Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln. Barlow used his influence at court to secure Bunyan’s release from prison on June 21, 1677.

John spent his last years ministering to the Nonconformists and writing. In 1678, he published Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, a popular exposition of John 6:37 that movingly proclaims a strong free offer of grace to sinners to fly to Jesus Christ and be saved. This book went through six editions in the last decade of Bunyan’s life.

In 1680, he wrote The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, described as “a series of snapshots depicting the commonplace attitudes and practices against which Bunyan regularly preached. Two years later, he published The Greatness of the Soul and The Holy War. In 1685, he published the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress, dealing with Christiana’s pilgrimage, A Caution to Stir Up to Watch against Sin, and Questions About the Nature and the Perpetuity of the Seventh-day Sabbath.

As one author comments, “In the last three years of his life, Bunyan wrote ten more books, of which the best-known are The Pharisee and the Publican, The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, The Work of Jesus Christ as an Advocate, The Water of Life, Solomon’s Temple Spiritualized, and The Acceptable Sacrifice.”

In 1688, Bunyan died suddenly from a fever that he caught while traveling in cold weather. On his deathbed, he said to those who gathered around him, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt, through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet, to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.” After telling his friends that his greatest desire was to be with Christ, he raised his hands to heaven, and cried, “Take me, for I come to Thee!” He then died. He was buried in Bunhill Fields, close to Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.

Professor James Coffield writes, “If often seems as if God narrates the story of our lives with irony. Joy is often fleeting and real joy is paradoxically birthed in the most challenging of times. Joy flows from a particular way that one engages life. Joy is the product of praying for and entering into His presence, seeking His ultimate purpose, and stumbling toward His perspective.” Professor Coffield’s comments could well apply to the life and work of John Bunyan.

John 3:27 says, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” Certainly, God gave John Bunyan the ability to communicate biblical truth through writing, even in the midst of persecution. What gift has God given you by which to serve Him and the church?

Soli deo Gloria!