Jonathan Edwards (on this earth from 1703-1758). His famed book, Freedom of the Will, and his most well known sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, may be classic, but not many people have read the story of his amazing life. I have not the time nor the literary expertise to comb through his diary entries looking for the heart and soul of this man, although I do own a 6,361 page collection of his writings. My only intention in this brief article is to present my readers with the story of a life lived in pursuit of God, a life that is beginning to impact mine in ways that cannot be described.
Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. His father was Pastor Timothy Edwards, his mother was Esther Stoddard Edwards. Against all odds, he was born the only son in a family of eleven. I guess you could call that either a blessing or a curse depending on your own upbringing. He received his earliest education and college-prep from his older sisters, along with his father.
In 1716, he entered Yale College. At this point I will let you do the math before I reveal his age. Hint: his 1716 birthday had not yet occurred, and he was born in 1703, so it would be (1716 – 1703 – 1 = his age). If you did the math right, you should have come up with twelve. That’s right… twelve. He graduated four years later in 1720, as valedictorian. Within three more years, he had earned his Master’s.
In 1727, he was ordained as a minister in Northampton and an assistant to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. He then became what was known as a scholar-pastor and studied a whopping 13 hours a day. Around this time he married Sarah Pierpont, who was then 17 years old. He had admired her devotion to Christ since she was only 13 years old, so she was naturally a wonderful wife for him. She pushed and encouraged him spiritually for the rest of his life.
When his grandfather died, he inherited his massive congregation. Unfortunately, he left the church after a doctrinal dispute. After leaving, he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Shortly thereafter, he relocated to a frontier settlement where he began to minister to a small congregation and became a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. While at the frontier settlement, he had more time to study and write.
In 1758, he was elected President of the College of New Jersey (which later became known as Princeton University). Shortly thereafter, he died after an experimental inoculation for smallpox. He was buried next to his son-in-law, Aaron Burr Sr., the father of who would later become Vice President Aaron Burr.
Despite his short lifetime, he accomplished much more than most of us ever will. His works continue to bless the hearts and minds of many, and the story of his life serves as an encourager to those with misdirected ambition. May we not reject the example he has left us. Yes, we must exercise our minds. We must know doctrine. We must know the Bible. But as Edwards so eloquently wrote about in his “Treatise on Religious Affections”, God must also be our highest affection. We must serve Him and love Him with both our minds and our emotions.
“And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
Even though he accomplished all of this, he was unable to accept the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God as a youth. He once wrote: “From my childhood up my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty… It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.”
However, in 1721, he came to believe it while meditating on 1 Timothy 1:17. He later said: “As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before… I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever!”
He later came to recognize this experience as his conversion to Christ. It is important for us to remember that this occurred in 1721. He was 17 years old and had attended Yale for four years, yet his heart had not caught up with his mind. I am not saying that we should neglect the mind. On the contrary, we should develop our minds to the full. What I am saying is that there must be a connection between the heart and the mind at some point in your life. At what point will what you believe manifest itself in your heart and actions? If there is no manifestation, are your beliefs truly believed?
“Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
-1 Timothy 1:17