I believe every person has been designed to worship. It is somehow inevitable for us, humans, to place our attention and our affections on something or someone. The difference only comes in one’s object of worship.
Today, we will revisit history, and attempt to be acquainted with a man who lived in the 1700’s. His name is Jonathan Edwards. As we get to know him more, it is my hope that we will gain inspiration from his life that was transformed by his “greatest affection”.
Overview of Edwards’ Story
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is a known minister, preacher, theologian, and intellectual leader during the time of the Great American Awakening. (Shelley 2008, 343) Both his grandfather and his own father were pastors, and he lived in a home whose atmosphere emphasized Calvinist theology.
In 1716, just before his thirteenth birthday, Edwards entered Yale College. While in Yale, he was exposed to varying schools of thought, which later have contributed to the development of his theology particularly regarding Reformed orthodoxy. He graduated as valedictorian in 1720 and he earned his master’s degree three years thereafter.
The following years were pivotal both in his ministry and personal life. He got married to Sarah Pierrepont in 1727, and they had eleven children. His wife showed extraordinary piety, and their family life was described to be of great happiness and of fruitfulness. Not long after their wedding day, Edwards was ordained in Northampton, Massachusetts, to assist the ministry of his aging grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. Under the Stoddard’s apprenticeship, the young minister became a seasoned preacher. Furthermore, Edwards became an influential leader and profound theologian who sincerely loved the Lord.
From 1740 until 1750, there was a sharp contrast in Edwards’ ministry. While he was celebrated in other places as one of the many heroes in the Great Awakening, he was greatly opposed particularly by his home church. This treatment towards toward Edwards was rooted in his theology, which involved matters deemed to be in opposition to what were traditionally taught in their congregation. Through several misjudgments about him, this led to his dismissal in 1750. As a result, Edwards moved his family to the town of Stockbridge where he pastored a small congregation while serving as a missionary to the local Native Americans. For seven years, he fought a different set of battles – resisting discrimination against Indians, coping with financial crisis, fighting a long-term illness (probably malaria), and dealing with constant anxiety of the wars. In the midst of the prevailing pressures, Edwards continued the work through his writings.
In 1758, he was called to the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later, Princeton University). However, it only took weeks after the appointment when Edwards passed away after suffering complications from a tainted smallpox vaccination. (Larsen, Bebbington, and Noll 2003, 202-204)
His Legacy to the Christian Faith
As a young man of great intellect, Jonathan Edwards often wrestled with God and the truth of His sovereignty. Deep within him, he lacked a true fervent submission to God. However, while he was meditating on 1 Timothy 1:17, where it was written, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (ESV), he was led to a firm conviction that turned his entire being to God. From then on, he greatly rejoiced in God’s sovereignty, beauty, and glory. This turn of events caused a monumental impact in Edwards’ theology, teachings, and work.
Among his early works are the “Resolutions”, a series of spiritual commitments meant to focus his life upon God and holy living, and his “Diary”, which he used to examine himself and his spiritual growth. His known public sermons included “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence” (1731), “A Divine and Supernatural Light” (1734), and his famous series of sermons on “Justification by Faith” (1734) where hundreds of people came under deep conviction of sin. In his teachings, he boldly argued that the transforming work of grace through the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by a change in the person’s affections and a change in behavioral patterns. Meaning, there must be an over-all change in the head (mind), heart, and hands (actions or lifestyle).
As his ministry progressed, opposition increased. In order to defend his case, he made three treatises: “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God” (1741), “Some Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England (1742), and his writing on religious experience, “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections” (1746). There still are yet a number of great works by Jonathan Edwards not mentioned here, of which some of them were left incomplete because of his untimely death. (Geisler 1998, 209-212)
This man of God has certainly inspired many lives. His devotion to God has influenced followers of Jesus Christ that spans from his own generation until today. Amidst the challenges and persecution he faced, I am sincerely dumbfounded by his commitment to cultivating an intimate relationship with God. I am one of those who concur with his conviction that Christianity is not merely a matter of morality but a loving communion with our sovereign Lord. From this intimacy that we have with Christ, life change happens – a transformation of the head, heart, and hands.
Personal Thoughts and Application
I believe there is much to glean from the life of Jonathan Edwards. One lesson that captured my heart is to firmly fight for an intimate walk with Jesus Christ. I am aware that there are many things that can easily harden my heart and veer my affection away from God. These distractions may come in the form of sinful passions that this world offers. On the other hand, I can also be seduced by the subtle pride found in the things I do for God. All these could derail me from the one thing that truly matters – my relationship with my Lord.
Therefore, in order to apply this fundamental principle, I must guard and prioritize my time with the Lord. On a daily basis, I need to spend time in prayer, in reflective reading of Scriptures, and in writing down the deep things that God is teaching me so I can keep in step with His will for my life. It is very basic, but I must admit that the basics are what I often neglect. By God’s grace and through humble dependence upon His Spirit, I pray that I would be able to do all these out of my love and devotion for Him.
Questions for Further Reflection and Discussion
In your own opinion, why do you think it is important to constantly examine our innermost affections? Based from your experience, what are the things that often move your attention away from God? Conversely, what are the things that you are doing now that helps further nurture your walk with Christ?
Geisler, Norman. 1998. Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker Publishing. Logos Bible Software.
Larsen, Timothy, David W. Bebbington, and Mark A. Noll, eds. 2003. Biographical dictionary of evangelicals. Intervarsity Press. Logos Bible Software.
Shelley, Bruce. 2008. Church history in plain language, 3rd ed. Tennessee: Thomas Nelson. Kindle Software.
Photo of Jonathan Edwards. http://www.treasuring-christ.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/jonathan-edwards.jpg (accessed October 24, 2013).