Jonathan Edwards and the Need for Fellow Elders

Jonathan Edwards

He may have felt righteous anger welling up on the inside, but at that point more than any other in his career, Jonathan Edwards needed peer level leadership advice.

To read what happened click here and follow the links

The term ‘Elder’ means different things in different church contexts. I am using it in the sense of 1 Tim 5:17, that the elders direct the affairs of the church; they govern the church as servant-leaders. In biblical humility and by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, they are the leaders.

Genuine Eldership
Throughout the New Testament we see that elders were appointed to lead the church. We see the model of an apostolic leader, like Paul, with an ever changing team accompanying him, but when we see the local church there are no ‘Senior Pastors’ there, as such!

Nevertheless, we acknowledge that each church eldership team needs a team leader, and the team leader is first among equals, the captain of the team, the deciding vote if there is an impasse, but he’s not the only player on the team.

Respected Bible teacher John Hosier writes, ‘the Bible indicates that local churches are led by Elders (sometimes called Presbyters or Bishops in the New Testament) and there seems no good reason to abandon this pattern of leadership.’

‘The New Testament always speaks of Elders in the plural. The Bible recognises that it is not good for a man to be alone! Certainly where there are at least two Elders then they can seek God together and watch over one another in leadership.

‘God raises an Elder up, so occasionally we have to wait for other Elders to be raised up – we cannot rush ahead of God. But in Titus 1:5 Paul tells Titus to appoint Elders in every church.’ (John Hosier, Christ’s Radiant Church, Monarch)

If Jonathan Edwards had a team of elders leading the church with him it’s unlikely he would have made such a mistake. Out of his shock and desire to correct error and bring people to godliness he publicly shamed most of the families in the church!

Iain Murray writes, ‘the youth of almost every prominent family in the church appeared to be involved.’ (Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.276)

Having lost the good will of many, the next item on the agenda for those aggrieved was Edwards’ salary. And lastly came the communion controversy. Tough times for a man alone.

A Sudden and Sad Halt to the Growth
Perry Miller, in his biography of Edwards, writes that ‘for four years nobody in Northampton applied…for admission to Edwards’ church…’ (Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards, Meridian New York, p.216)

Sereno Dwight, an early biographer, writes, ‘This was the occasion of weakening of Mr Edwards’ hands in the work of this ministry, especially among the young people, with whom, by this means, he greatly lost his influence.

‘It seemed in a great measure to put an end to his usefulness at Northampton…He certainly had no great visible success after this.’ (‘The Life of President Edwards’, quoted by Murray, p.277)

A Sad Farewell
In his farewell sermon six years later, Edwards felt the need to mention this controversy once again, ‘How exceeding beautiful, and how conducive to the adorning and happiness of the town, if the young people could be persuaded, when they meet together, to converse as Christians and as the children of God.

‘This is what I have longed for: and it has been exceedingly grievous to me when I have heard of vice, vanity or disorder among our youth.

‘And so far as I know my heart, it was from hence that I formerly led this church to some measures, for the suppressing of vice among our young people, which gave so great offence and by which I became so obnoxious [to you]…’ (quoted in Murray, p.328)

Let every leader take heed from Edwards’ mistake and draw on the necessary counsel of peers. The Church of Jesus Christ needs elders, and not merely ministerial superstars.

And here, surely, is evidence from history of the church’s great need for plurality of eldership.

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards click here for Yale and here for Princeton

To read George Whitefield’s impressions of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ family life click here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

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Jonathan Edwards’ Critical Mistake

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards and Plurality of Eldership, Part Two

So, some of the teenagers and twenties had got hold of a book. It was an illustrated manual of midwifery and was causing a stir amongst them. (For the first part of the story read here)

The numbers involved quickly increased, with an accusation that the keeper of the book was charging a fee for others to look at it. Some then made inappropriate comments to young women who reported the whole story to Edwards.

The Inadequacy of ‘One Man Ministry’
Edwards, so grateful to God of the work done amongst the young people during the revivals of nearly a decade ago, was horrified.

His hopes for a continued reformation amongst them and their younger siblings seemed dashed. His ambition for them to make religion the guiding influence in their lives seemed to be faltering. His expectation that the families of Northampton should live in holiness was shaken.

The details shocked him and, while doubtless calming himself internally, he began a process which would finally and irreversibly alienate him from the majority of his congregation.

Edwards began an inquiry. He preached a sermon which touched on the matter, called for an after meeting and a committee of investigation was formed.

It is difficult to imagine that what happened next would have taken place if Edwards had been in a Biblically functioning Eldership team, where key pastoral decisions and directions could be debated and discussed.

But Edwards held a solitary leadership position, in the Congregational Church in Northampton. Therefore, while he legitimately sought to lead the young people to godliness, his own sense of shock was not tempered by the wisdom of pastoral peers.

A Surprising Pastoral Blunder
And so he made the mistake from which he never recovered. During the public meeting, he read out the names of those alleged to be involved; both those suspected of lewdness and those who would be called upon to give further information. It was a long list of names, and with each name called another set of parents dropped their heads in disbelief and shame – and anger.

The sources reveal some confusion about whether a distinction was made between those accused and those merely mentioned as witnesses. That confusion may well be a reflection of the tumult that followed the meeting!

The list included members of many of the families of the town, most of whom were members of the church. They were understandably horrified that they had been exposed in this way, and doubtless regretting they had ever agreed to a formal inquiry. The strength of feeling against Edwards was intense.

It was a monumental pastoral blunder.

Next time we’ll consider some leadership lessons from the saddest period of Jonathan Edwards’ life as he strove to live a Godward and obedient life.

© 2010 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards and the Naughty Book

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards and Plurality of Eldership (Part One)

One of the shock stories of American church history is the apparently sudden sacking of the great Jonathan Edwards.

Many are surprised that someone of Edwards’ intellectual and theological calibre could go so quickly from ‘You’re on fire!’ (and news of the ‘fire’ had spread all around the English speaking world) to ‘You’re fired!’

Controversies
There were a number of controversies, none of which directly arose from the revivals in the 1730’s.

Sometimes it is asserted that the controversy that led to Edwards’ sacking was around his insistence that admission to communion should be exclusively for those who were trusting Christ for their salvation.

This, Edwards felt, was clearly the Biblical norm, rather than allowing those who had a nominal  faith. But the church disagreed and this indeed became the final straw.

But the communion controversy (and discerning true conversion), while important, wasn’t the original cause of bad feeling between Pastor and people. Something had happened earlier that Edwards had seriously bungled.

The Naughty Book
In 1744, a report came to Edwards that some of the young people (actually, late teenagers and several in their twenties) had got hold of an illustrated manual for midwives. This was a source of fascination, giggling (we’re told) and lewd comments. An increasing number were trying to gain access to look at the book and finally the matter was brought to Edwards.

What he did next leads us directly into our theme of the New Testament teaching on local churches being led by a plurality (several) of elders rather than just one.

For the next installment of this story read here

© 2010 Lex Loizides

God’s Abiding Presence

Jonathan Edwards

The American colonial town of Northampton (now MA), had experienced numerous seasons of spiritual excitement.

A Cycle of Harvests

Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards grandfather, had led the Northampton church from 1672 and had referred to a cycle of harvests which had brought many of its inhabitants to faith in Christ.

When Jonathan Edwards began his pastoral ministry there (beginning in 1727) he was also able to record amazing outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

George Whitefield’s visit to the town in 1740 seemed to fan into flame the longings and passions of a people hungry for the presence of God.

As Whitefield left Northampton for New York the work was continuing with great power.

‘Great attention in the town’
Edwards wrote, ‘there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons who were in a Christless state…in about a month or six weeks, there was a great attention in the town, both as to the revival of professors [those already converted, or ‘professing’ faith] and the awakening of others.’ (Quoted in Jonathan Edwards, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.164)

But this was no short lived excitement lasting only briefly after the Evangelists’ visit. In May 1741, Edwards preached in someone’s home and wrote that ‘one or two [believers] were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine things’ that the impact was noticeable, ‘having a very visible effect upon their bodies.’

Indeed, he noted that after the regular church services that some of the folk attending were ‘so overcome that they could not go home, but were obliged to stay all night where they were.’ (ibid, p.165)

Iain Murray in his treatment of this period suggests that Edwards is referring to a morning or afternoon service and not an evening service, which can only mean that they were having these encounters with God for many hours!

Absolute Sovereignty
‘Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.’ declared Edwards and he seemed surprisingly (refreshingly?) open to God’s Spirit moving in power upon the people as an undeniable feature of the revival.

If we look around the world today, at the great ‘harvests’ of South America, China and Africa it is practically impossible not to notice the similarity of phenomena, and the resultant increase of new followers of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is still powerfully active around the world and many thankful Christian leaders can echo Edwards’ words of 1741,

‘There was an appearance of a glorious progress of the work of God upon the hearts of sinners, in conviction and conversion, this summer and autumn, and great numbers, I think we have reason to hope, were brought savingly home to Christ.’ (ibid, p.165)

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield Comments on Jonathan Edwards’ Family Life

This is Part Four on Whitefield’s Visit to Northampton (see Part One, Two and Three)

When Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American colonial town of Northampton, he had the privilege of staying with Jonathan and Sarah Edwards and their family.

Edwards and Whitefield – Similarities and Differences
Edwards and Whitefield shared many similarities. They were both highly respected Christian leaders, they both had a reputation as powerful preachers, they were both Calvinistic in their theological outlook.

But there, the similarities ended. Their style of preaching was very different. Edwards was a careful, logical teacher. Whitefield was all life and fire, thunder and lightning.

Edwards was a meticulous writer, crafting pamphlets for publication. Whitefield barely had the time to check the proof copies of manuscripts of his sermons and had the disappointment of seeing very poor versions of his sermons in print without his permission.

Edwards was a settled Pastor overseeing a local congregation, and very much a responsible Pastor of one parish. Whitefield, on the other hand, had declared that the whole world was now his parish and lived a life of itinerant preaching.

Edwards was a family man, with a godly wife and several children. Whitefield was still single, and still waiting for the love of his life to come along.

Whitefield longs for family life
Describing the private times he enjoyed with the Edwards family, Whitefield wrote,

‘Felt wonderful satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. He is a son himself, and hath also a Daughter of Abraham for his wife.

‘A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were dressed not in silks and satins, but plain, as become the children of those who, in all things, ought to be examples of Christian simplicity.’

Whitefield Prays for a Wife
Speaking of Sarah Edwards Whitefield wrote, ‘She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talked feelingly and solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a help-meet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for some months, I have put up to God, that he would be pleased to send me a Daughter of Abraham to be my wife.

‘I find, upon many accounts, it is my duty to marry. Lord I desire to have no choice of my own. Thou knowest my circumstances; thou knowest I only desire to marry in and for thee.

‘Thou didst choose a Rebecca for Isaac, choose one for me to be a help-meet for me, in carrying on that great work committed to my charge. Lord, hear me, Lord, let my cry come unto thee.’  (George Whitefield Journals, Banner of Truth, ps. 475-477)

It may sound strange to us that his future wife might not be a ‘choice of his own’. Surely his choice ought to come into it? But, humbly though somewhat self-consciously (he knew his Journals were being published and read avidly), he is merely expressing that he wants God’s will for his life and is nervous of messing it up himself.

It is a good thing to pray, and to take counsel from friends, to honestly ask God and Pastors for help and guidance.

He did eventually marry and found happiness. His friend John Wesley also married. But that’s another story for another time…

For more resources on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

For more on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards go here

For more on Sarah Edwards go here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield visits Jonathan Edwards (part 3)

George Whitefield twenties
George Whitefield, probably in his twenties

Part Three (see Part One and Part Two)

In the autumn of 1740, English Evangelist George Whitefield finally met the man he had so respected, Jonathan Edwards. Both these men were Reformed, (or, ‘Calvinistic’) in their theology and practice, preaching the gospel fervently and trusting God to move the people to respond.

Whitefield had already blazed a trail of powerful evangelistic work in England, Scotland and Wales and had seen multiple thousands gathered to hear the message of Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, his brother Charles and a small army of newly converted leaders had taken up the movement in Britain and were not only continuing to proclaim the message to the unconverted but were gathering the new converts into small groups (classes) and mid-week congregations (or ‘societies’ as they called them).

Whitefield’s fame was now legendary, and his visits to colonial America had already been wildly successful. He had been born again only 5 years previously and was just 25 years old. Jonathan Edwards had been eager to meet him and to have him preach in the church he pastored in Northampton, New England.

Jonathan Edwards on George Whitefield’s Visit
In a letter to Thomas Prince, Edwards described the impact of Whitefield’s visit:

‘He preached here four sermons in the meeting-house (besides a private lecture at my house) – one on Friday, another on Saturday, and two upon the Sabbath.

‘The congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time.

‘Mr. Whitefield’s sermons were suitable to the circumstances of the town, containing just reproofs of our backslidings, and, in a most moving and affecting manner, making use of our great profession and great mercies as arguments with us to return to God, from whom we had departed.

‘Immediately after this, the minds of the people in general appeared more engaged in religion, showing a greater forwardness to make religion the subject of their conversation, and to meet frequently together for religious purposes, and to embrace all opportunities to hear the Word preached.

‘The revival at first appeared chiefly among professors and those that had entertained the hope that they were in a state of grace, to whom Mr. Whitefield chiefly addressed himself.

‘But in a very short time there appeared an awakening and deep concern among some young persons that looked upon themselves as in a Christless state; and there were some hopeful appearances of conversion; and some professors were greatly revived.

‘In about a month or six weeks, there was a great alteration in the town, both as to the revivals of professors and awakenings of others.’ (Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) at the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University)

It’s great to see how God raised up an itinerating Evangelist to help a Pastor who was seeking to impact his town with the gospel. Their friendship and mutual respect continued for the rest of their lives.

To read George Whitefield’s remarkable comments on Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ family life go here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 2)

Part Two (see Part One)

Whitefield preaches in Edwards’ home
George Whitefield continues his account of meeting the Edwards family in Northampton in 1740:

‘In the Evening, I gave a Word of Exhortation to several that came to Mr. Edward’s House. My Body was somewhat weak; my Appetite almost gone; But my Lord gave me Meat, which the World knows nothing of.

‘Lord, evermore give me this Bread! Amen and Amen.

Saturday, October 18
‘At Mr Edwards’s Request, I spoke to his little Children, who were much affected.

Preached at Hadfield 5 Miles from Northampton, but found myself not much strengthened.

Conversed profitably on the Way about the Things of God with dear Mr. Edwards and preached about 4 in the Afternoon to his Congregation.’ (George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)


Sarah Edwards – ‘Workers throw down their tools and go to hear him!’

Sarah Edwards, in a letter to her brother, recorded the general feeling that Whitefield’s visit produced on the town:

‘It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. I have seen upwards of a thousand people hang on his words with breathless silence, broken only by an occasional half-suppressed sob.

He impresses the ignorant, and not less the educated and refined. It is reported that while the miners of England listened to him, the tears made white furrows down their smutty cheeks.

So here, our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day-labourers throw down their tools, to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected…

He speaks from a heart all aglow with love, and pours out a torrent of eloquence which is almost irresistible.

Many, very many persons in Northampton date the beginning of new thoughts, new desires, new purposes, and a new life, from the day on which they heard him preach of Christ and this salvation.’
(from Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield Vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.162)

Go to Part 3 of this story

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

© 2009 Lex Loizides

George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards (part 1)

When he was just 25 years old, the English Evangelist George Whitefield visited the American town of Northampton, the town made famous by a revival in the 1730’s.

An article in the Princeton Theological Review (Vol 2, No.4, 1904), makes reference to the impact of  the Great Awakening in both Great Britain and America, noting that ‘The chief personal bond between the two branches of this evangelistic movement was George Whitefield’.

New Friends

One of the great joys of this visit, and of real interest to us, is the meeting and subsequent friendship of Whitefield and Edwards, the Evangelist and the Theologian.

Whitefield describes their meeting in his journal:

‘Friday, October 17, 1740
When I had taken a little Refreshment, we crossed the Ferry to Northampton, where no less than 300 Souls…were savingly brought Home to the dear Lord Jesus about 5 or 6 Years ago.

‘Their Pastor’s Name is Edwards, Successor and Grandson to the great Stoddard, whose Memory will be always precious to my Soul, and whose Books…I would recommend to all.

‘Mr. Edwards is a solid, excellent Christian, but at present weak in Body.

‘I think, I may say I have not seen his Fellow in all New-England. When I came into his Pulpit, I found my Heart drawn out to talk of scarce any Thing besides the Consolations and Privileges of Saints, and the plentiful Effusion of the Spirit upon the Hearts of Believers.

‘And, when I came to remind them of their former Experiences, and how zealous and lively they were at that Time, both Minister and People wept much; and the Holy Ghost enabled me to speak with a great deal of Power.’
(George Whitefield Journals, unedited version, Quinta Press – but see here for Banner of Truth edition)

And so, these two giants in their fields met and became firm friends.

For Part 2 of this story see here

For more resources on Jonathan Edwards visit the excellent Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University

© 2009 Lex Loizides

John Wesley and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds
John Wesley Preaching to the Crowds

Have you ever read John Wesley’s Journals? They are deeply interesting. In a manner similar to Edwards he tries to observe and assess the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who hear the gospel.

‘Signs and Wonders’

Wesley writes that after preaching in one meeting, ‘We then called upon God to confirm his word. Immediately one that stood by (to our no small surprise) cried out aloud, with the utmost vehemence, even as in the agonies of death.

‘But we continued in prayer, till ‘a new song was put in her mouth’…Soon after, two other persons were seized with strong pain, and constrained to ‘roar for the disquietness of their heart.’

‘But it was not long before they likewise burst forth into praise to God their Saviour.’ He adds, ‘signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.’ (JW Journals, Vol. 1, p.187, Baker Edition)

A few days later a similar thing happened: ‘At Weaver’s Hall, a young man was suddenly seized with a violent trembling all over, and in a few minutes, the sorrows of his heart being enlarged, sunk down to the ground.

‘But we ceased not calling upon God, till he raised him up full of ‘peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ (p.187-8)

Increased Power
Again and again as Wesley preached people were overwhelmed by God’s power. At this early stage Wesley and his fellow leaders were alarmed and concerned to help those who are affected. But then it spread…

During the sermon, as he emphasised the generous offer of mercy to all who come to Christ…’Immediately one, and another, and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as thunderstruck.’ (p.188)

He then gives various descriptions of sorrow being turned to joy in those who were affected.

A Doctor’s Story
On April 30th Wesley recorded this incident:

‘We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case.

‘Today, one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out ‘into strong cries and tears.’ He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears.

‘He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud nor yet any natural disorder.

‘But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.’ (p.189)

Wesley, as Edwards had done before him, was careful not to ridicule or harshly judge those who responded to the power of God’s Spirit in these overt ways.

And, as with Edwards, we must remember that these things were happening primarily in the evangelistic context. They were not a ‘draw card’ as such, but seemed to be evidence of God’s presence and of conviction of sin, and conversion.

Perhaps we need to take a step back from the highly ordered nature of much modern evangelism and ask God to reveal His holiness and power once again.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

All You Need is Love

Jonathan Edwards, who said it before the Beatles!
Jonathan Edwards, who said it before the Beatles!

Jonathan Edwards is famous for an evangelistic sermon in which he was urging people to escape from the coming judgement of God.

He is not so famous for his faithful ministry, excellent sermons on a very wide range of topics and other writing.

We’ve been enjoying some choice quotes from ‘Charity and its Fruits’, based on ‘the Love Chapter’ often read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13.

Here, we conclude our inspirational quotes from Edwards. I hope these insights spur you on to love God with all your heart and others as yourself.

Genuinely doing good for others
‘Love…is that disposition which leads us to have a desire for, or delight in, the good of another; and that is the main thing in Christian love.’ (p. 104)

On doing good when it costs us
‘It is easy for God to make up, and more than make up, to us, all that we thus give for the good of others.’ (p.109)

Heaven – a World of Love
‘Heaven is the palace or presence-chamber of the high and holy One, whose name is love, and who is both the cause and source of all holy love.’ (p. 326)

The Trinity a Fountain of Love
‘God is the fountain of love, as the sun is the fountain of light. And therefore the glorious presence of God in heaven, fills heaven with love, as the sun, placed in the midst of the visible heavens in a clear day, fills the world with light.’ (p.326)

‘There dwells God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, united as one, in infinitely dear, and incomprehensible, and mutual, and eternal love.’ (p.327)

The Holy Spirit in Heaven
‘There dwells the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of divine love, in whom the very essence of God, as it were, flows out, and is breathed forth in love, and by whose immediate influence all holy love is shed abroad in the hearts of all the saints on earth and in heaven.’ (p.327)

All references to the Banner of Truth Edition

You can purchase ‘Charity and its Fruits’ here
If you haven’t been following the blog, you can begin reading about Jonathan Edwards and the great revival that took place in his town here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Cultivating Humility

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill

One of Winston Churchill’s most famous and funny quips concerned his political opponent Clement Attlee. Apparently interrupting a Churchill rant, a friend said, ‘But surely, Mr. Churchill, you admit that Mr. Attlee is a humble man?’ To which Churchill replied, ‘He is a humble man, but then he has much to be humble about!’

Churchill himself was, of course, criticised many times for his over confidence!

To dwell on the quality of humility is good for the soul.

Jonathan Edwards, in his careful style, does just that in his sermons on 1 Corinthians 13. The sermons were collected together and published as ‘Charity and its Fruits’. Here are a few quotes that go right to the heart of the matter.

On Self-Centredness
‘As you have not made yourself, so you were not made for yourself.’ (Charity and its Fruits, Banner of Truth, p.181)

On Self-importance
‘Humility tends also to prevent an arrogant and assuming behaviour. He that is under the influence of an humble spirit…when he is amongst others…does not carry it toward them as if he expected and insisted that a great deal of regard should be shown to himself.

His behaviour does not carry with it the idea that he is the best amongst those about him, and that he is the one to whom the chief regard should be shown, and whose judgment is most to be sought and followed.’ (p.139-140)

Mocking Others
[Those who are humble] ‘are not found treating with scorn and contempt what others say, or speaking of what they do with ridicule and sneering reflections, or sitting and relating what others may have spoken or done, only to make sport of it.’ (p. 141)

Self-Interest
‘If you are selfish, and make yourself and your own private interests your idol, God will leave you to yourself, and let you promote your own interests as well as you can.

But if you do not selfishly seek your own, but do seek the things that are Jesus Christ’s, and the things of your fellow-beings, then God will make your interest and happiness his own charge, and he is infinitely more able to provide for and promote it than you are.’ (p.184)

More next time…

You can purchase ‘Charity and its Fruits’ by Jonathan Edwards here
You can read more about Jonathan Edwards’ ministry here
© 2009 Lex Loizides

Maintaining Love Under Pressure

Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards
Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards

We continue our enjoyment of quotations from the 18th century spiritual leader, Jonathan Edwards.

In his sermons on 1 Corinthians 13, gathered together in a volume published as ‘Charity and its Fruits’, Edwards, the great soul-physician applies the light of Scripture to our innermost motives and thoughts.

The sermons speak directly to the heart and perhaps these few quotes will ignite a desire in you to read them in full.

Maintaining Love
‘A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow or corrupt or undermine a spirit of love.’ (Edwards, Charity and its Fruits (Sermons on 1 Cor 13), Banner of Truth, p.23)

Seeing the Sovereignty of God when we are offended
‘Love to God disposes men to have regard to the hand of God in the injuries they suffer, and not only to the hand of man.’ (ibid p.79)

‘Let us not say in our heart, I will do to him as he hath done to me.’ (p.82)

‘The spirit of Christian long-suffering, and of meekness in bearing injuries, is a mark of true greatness of soul.’ (p.87)

On Overlooking Offences
‘It is from littleness of mind that the soul is easily disturbed and put out of repose by the reproaches and ill-treatment of men:

just as little streams of water are much disturbed by the small unevennesses and obstacles they meet with in their course, and make a great deal of noise as they pass over them,

whereas great and mighty streams pass over the same obstacles calmly and quietly, without a ripple on the surface to show they are disturbed.’ (p.87)

You can purchase Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Humility, Hell and the Assurance of Salvation

New Edition of Edwards' Thoughts on the New England Revival
New Edition of Edwards' Thoughts on the New England Revival

Here are some choice quotes from Jonathan Edwards. These thoughts and insights represent a sampling of his style both in the pulpit and on paper.

Most are pretty challenging and all show his eagerness to apply Biblical thinking to living the Christian life.

Humility
‘The humble man is…disposed to renounce all the glory of the good he has or does, and to give it all to God.’ (Charity and its Fruits (Sermons on 1 Cor 13), Banner of Truth, p.137)

On Martin Luther’s Aggressive Style
‘Luther, that great Reformer, had a great deal of bitterness with his zeal.’ (Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, Banner of Truth, p.28)

Edwards on the Reasonableness of Passion when urging folk to escape the possibility of Hell
‘If any of you who are heads of families saw one of your children in a house all on fire, and in imminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, yet seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape after you had often called to it–would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner?

Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly in delaying, in the most lively manner of which you was capable?

If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself?’ (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, from Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p.107)

On a Man being powerfully filled with the Holy Spirit
‘There have been instances before now, of persons crying out in transports of divine joy in New England.

We have an instance in Capt. Clap’s Memoirs, published by the Rev. Mr. Prince, not of a silly woman or child, but a man of solid understanding, that in a high transport of spiritual joy, was made to cry out aloud on his bed.

His words are: “God’s Holy Spirit did witness (I do believe) together with my spirit, that I was a child of God; and did fill my heart and soul with such full assurance that Christ was mine, that it did so transport me as to make me cry out upon my bed with a loud voice, He is come, he is come!”’ (Edwards, Thoughts on the New England Revival, Banner of Truth, p.22)

You can purchase several books by Jonathan Edwards here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Supernatural Healing and Health in Jonathan Edwards’ Town

Now this may come as a surprise, especially if you are aware of Edwards’ position on the cessation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12, at least ‘the extraordinary gifts’ as he puts it.

But good Mr. Edwards faithfully recounts what actually happened in Northampton during the season of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1735.

And one of the tremendous surprises, as we read the Narrative is his testimony of a season of supernatural health that literally affected the whole town.

The passage is tucked away and rarely brought out, but here it is:

‘In the former part of this great work of God amongst us, till it got to His height, we seemed to be wonderfully smiled upon and blessed in all respects.

Satan seemed to be unusually restrained; persons who before had been involved in melancholy, seemed to be as it were waked up out of it;

and those who had been entangled with extraordinary temptations, seemed wonderfully freed.

And not only so, but it was the most remarkable time of health that ever I knew since I have been in the town.

We ordinarily have several bills put up, every Sabbath, for sick persons; but now we had not so much as one for many sabbaths together.’ (From, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, in Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p. 69)

This amazing season of health didn’t last forever. Indeed he declares honestly that ‘after this it seemed to be otherwise.’ But the reality is that Jonathan Edwards did actually witness a season of supernatural health and healing in his own town during his ministry.

Why he didn’t consider this season of health an ‘extraordinary gift’ of healing, though it was truly extraordinary we don’t know. Why this experience of health over a whole community didn’t impact his thinking about the continuance of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 we don’t know.

What we do know is that God did grant such a season of health, and that God does continue to answer prayer even now, though perhaps not on such a widespread scale as Jonathan Edwards saw.

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here
You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Sarah Edwards and Foretastes of Heavenly Glory!

Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750
Sarah Pierpont Edwards, by John Badger c.1750

We’ve been enjoying Sarah Edwards’ articulate descriptions of being filled with Holy Spirit during the 1741-1742 revival in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Here, she concludes her experience…

Monday morning at the Edwards’ house…
‘So strong were my feelings, I could not refrain from conversing with those around me, in a very earnest manner, for about a quarter of an hour, on the infinite riches of divine love in the work of salvation.’

Carried to the fireside entirely without strength
‘[Then], my strength entirely failing, my flesh grew very cold, and they carried me and set me by the fire.
As I sat there, I had a most affecting sense of the mighty power of Christ, which had been exerted in what he had done for my soul…and of the glorious and wonderful grace of God in causing the ark to return to Northampton.’

Mrs. Edwards leaps for joy!
‘So intense were my feelings, when speaking of these things, that I could not forbear rising up and leaping with joy and exultation.’

The Following Sunday at church…a foretaste of heavenly glory!

‘When I heard him [the preacher, William Williams] say, that those, who have assurance, have a foretaste of heavenly glory, I knew the truth of it from what I then felt: I knew that I then tasted the clusters of the heavenly Canaan: My soul was filled and overwhelmed with light, and love, and joy in the Holy Ghost, and seemed just ready to go away from the body. I could scarcely refrain from expressing my joy aloud, in the midst of the service.’

(From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41)

This was not ‘mere excitement’
Over-emotional? Iain Murray, himself wary of mere emotionalism, writes, ‘her joy, it should be noted, was far from the exuberance of mere excitement.’ (Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.196)

And her loving husband Jonathan writes of his wife’s ‘season in the Spirit’, ‘It was the greatest, fullest, longest continued and most constant assurance of the favour of God and of a title to future glory that I ever saw…in any person.’ (Quoted by Murray, p.195-6)

May God the Father bless you with similar assurances of His love for you in Christ, by the influence and power of the Holy Spirit.

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Sarah Edwards, the Presence of God and the Dignity of the Priesthood

Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards
Sarah Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards

Was Sarah Edwards an over-emotional person? Was she a kind of ‘balance’ for her supposedly unemotional, strict husband Jonathan Edwards?

Or was she an intelligent and articulate woman, highly respected in the community, who had the privilege of personal encounters with God?

Jonathan encouraged her to record her various experiences (covering two and a half weeks in 1742) for the edification of others.

Iain Murray calls her words ‘an amazing testimony to how much of heaven can be enjoyed upon earth.’ (Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.193)

So without more ado, these are a few excerpts of her story…

The Presence of God
‘Under a delightful sense of the immediate presence and love of God, these words seemed to come over and over in my mind, ‘My God, my all;
my God, my all.’

The presence of God was so near, and so real, that I seemed scarcely conscious of any things else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness, and mildness, and gentleness, and their great and immutable love to me.

I seemed to be taken under the care and charge of my God and Saviour, in an inexpressibly endearing manner; and Christ appeared to me as a mighty Saviour.’

The Dignity of a Royal Priesthood
‘The next day, which was the Sabbath, I enjoyed a sweet, and lively and assured sense of God’s infinite grace, and favour and love to me, in taking me out of the depths of hell, and exalting me to the heavenly glory, and the dignity of a royal priesthood.’

Intense admiration of God’s Grace
‘To my mind there was the clearest evidence, that God was present in the congregation, on the work of redeeming love; and in the clear view of this, I was all at once filled with such intense admiration of the wonderful condescension and grace of God, in returning again to Northampton, as overwhelmed my soul, and immediately took away my bodily strength.’

Back at the house…trying not to leap for joy
‘While I was uttering the words [of one of Isaac Watts’ hymns], my mind was so deeply impressed with the love of Christ, and a sense of his immediate presence, that I could with difficulty refrain from rising from my seat, and leaping for joy.’

(From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41)

More from Mrs. Edwards next time…

© 2009 Lex Loizides

‘The Happy Ones!’ – Jonathan and Sarah Edwards in their Own Words

Jonathan and Sarah Edwards
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards

When a revival of Christianity took place in Northampton, Massachusetts in the early 1700’s Jonathan Edwards unexpectedly became the apologist of the new movement, warts and all.

His discernment and level-headedness in the midst of much religious excitement and emotion have impressed Christian leaders ever since.

As a young Pastor in his early thirties he led the congregation and the town through a turbulent and spiritually explosive time with great ability.

Edwards defended the fact that a powerful apprehension of God’s glory does tend to affect people in noticeable ways, particularly in their emotions, but sometimes even physically.

Because this was a major cause of concern and criticism from those outside the town he tends to speak quite a lot about it when discussing that period.

‘Joy inexpressible and full of glory!’
He had himself experienced something of the overwhelming love of God. Iain Murray in his biography of Edwards records one such moment:

‘Another Saturday night (Jan 1739) I had such a sense, how sweet and blessed a thing it was to walk in the way of duty; to do that which was right and meet to be done, and agreeable to the holy mind of God; that it caused me to break forth into a kind of loud weeping, which held me some time, so that I was forced to shut myself up, and fasten the doors.

I could not but, as it were, cry out, ‘How happy are they who do that which is right in the sight of God! They are blessed indeed. They are the happy ones!’ (Quoted by Iain Murray, Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth, p.146)

But not only had Jonathan had personal encounters of joy and delight in God’s presence; so had his wife!

And, certainly by the time he published ‘Religious Affections’ in 1746, he was surely drawing not only on his general pastoral experience but also on the experience of the woman he both loved and trusted.

He apparently urged her to write her story down. In this, and the next post, we’ll listen to her testimony of God’s presence and power.  She was 32 when she wrote of her experience.

Justified by faith and free from accusation!
Having described her longing for a more profound experience of God’s grace, she began reading Romans 8 once again, and particularly Rom 8:33f

‘Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.

Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom 8:33-35 KJV)

She writes,
‘The words…were impressed on my heart with vastly greater power and sweetness still.  They appeared to me with undoubted certainty as the words of God, and as words which God did pronounce concerning me.

I had no more doubt of it than I had of my being.  I seemed as it were to hear the great God proclaiming thus to the world concerning me; ‘Who shall lay anything to thy charge’, and had it strongly impressed on me how impossible it was for anything in heaven or earth, in this world or the future, ever to separate me from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus.

I cannot find language to express how certain this appeared…My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself.

Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud.  It appeared certain to me that God was my Father, and Christ my Lord and Saviour, that He was mine and I His.’ (From ‘The Narrative of Sarah Pierpont Edwards’, Jonathan Edwards [1743], Family Writings and Related Documents (WJE Online Vol. 41) also for pictures above)

More next time…I’m struggling to keep these posts short!

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Edwards: “We ought not to limit God where He has not limited himself!”

Expanding our Expectations of what God might do through His Church

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

There’s a somewhat tired caricature of the Reformed believer as an overly religious and narrow-minded fundamentalist.

Such a person supposedly takes solace in the Sovereignty of God in light of the failure of the message he proclaims. After all, it is supposed, not many are being converted because it’s ‘not the will of God’…so goes the caricature.

But actually, as we have seen already from the writing of Jonathan Edwards, an affectionate love for the doctrines of grace not only expands our view of the majesty of God (in His transcendence), but also includes real, passionate, personal experiences of God (in His immanence, His closeness).

And a Biblical view of the nature of  God both as the One who graciously forgives us and as the mighty Head of the Church, will enable us to believe Him for new and perhaps even greater seasons of blessing in the world, through the Church.

We can get nervous when we hear preachers telling us we could limit God, somehow restricting what He could or couldn’t do. That kind of talk grates on our understanding of God’s ultimate freeness and our ultimate dependance. Jonathan Edwards was not merely a theologian, He was directly involved in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Northampton, Mass in the early 1700s and was a witness to what appeared to be a rapid acceleration of normal evangelistic processes. Here’s his view on these things:

The Church’s Past Experience not the Ultimate Guide

‘What the church has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge; because there may be new and extraordinary works of God, and he has heretofore evidently wrought in an extraordinary manner.

He has brought to pass new things, strange works; and has wrought in such a manner as to surprise both men and angels. And as God has done thus in times past, so we have no reason to think but that he will do so still.’ (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, from Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p.89)

‘The Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation; and we know that he uses a great variety; and we cannot tell how great a variety he may use, within the compass of the rules he himself has fixed.’

Don’t Limit God!
‘We ought not to limit God where he has not limited himself.’ (ibid p.89)
This reminds me of Martin Luther’s famous phrase, ‘Let God be God!’

Edwards is exhorting us not to settle and bring our expectations down to our past experience. Rather, we are to trust God for new initiatives and breakthroughs, and even new outpourings of the Spirit, in the mission.

May God continue to help you as you receive His grace in your own life and seek to serve others with life changing message of His mercy in Christ.
You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards Defends the Effects of the Power of the Spirit

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God
The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God - Wesley's edited edition

Effects on the body are neutral from a Scriptural point of view
In his ‘Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God’ Edwards once again urges an impartial and judicious evaluation if such physical manifestations take place.

‘A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.

The influence persons are under, is not to be judged of one way or other, by such effects on the body; and the reason is, because the Scripture nowhere gives us any such rule.’ (Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God’, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth p.91)

But Edwards ‘comes out fighting’ to defend the convictions the Spirit produces
So having stated that they are strictly ‘neutral’ in respect of Scripture he then strongly defends such experiences, even suggesting that it is foolish to be dismissive about them:

‘I do not know that we have any express mention in the New Testament of any person’s weeping, or groaning, or sighing through fear of hell, or a sense of God’s anger;

but is there any body so foolish as from hence to argue, that in whomsoever these things appear, their convictions are not from the Spirit of God?’ (ibid p.93)

and he continues,

‘indeed spiritual and eternal things are so great, and of such infinite concern, that there is a great absurdity in men’s being but moderately moved and affected by them.’ (ibid p.95)

Encouragement for Worship Leaders
To the delight of many current worship leaders, he, perhaps unintentionally, gives us a beautiful apologetic for exuberant worship when he writes,

‘And when was there ever any such thing since the world stood, as a people in general being greatly affected in any affair whatsoever, without noise or stir? The nature of man will not allow it.’ (ibid p.95)

More next time…

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards and Authentic ‘Power Encounters’ with God!

Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections
Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections

While arguing that the effects on the body are not in themselves evidence of true conversion, Edwards is careful not to dismiss such effects automatically as being wrong, in and of themselves.

Whether Edwards desired it or not, he found himself pastoring people who claimed to be having wonderful encounters with God. Sometimes they cried, sometimes they remained silent and sometimes they seemed to lose all physical strength.

This was inevitably a concern both to him and to those who heard what was happening. And so, in seeking to discern the way God was working, Edwards finds himself defending the work of the Spirit while urging restraint on those affected by their experience of God’s glory.

As this is a common feature of times of revival we would do well to allow Edwards’ insights and comments to help shape our own opinion.

And in so doing, perhaps our minds and hearts might be prepared for fresh encounters with the ‘the glorious splendour of His majesty’ (Psalm 145:5)!

God’s Glory can ‘overbear’ the body!
In his ‘Treatise Concerning Religious Affections’, Edwards is keen to discern authentic spiritual encounters, and the fruit that follows such encounters. But he very definitely defends the role of emotion, or ‘affections’ as a key element in Christian spirituality. Sometimes these religious affections can overpower us physically.

‘And who that considers what man’s nature is, and what the nature of the affections are, can reasonably doubt but that such unutterable and glorious joys, may be too great and mighty for weak dust and ashes, so as to be considerably overbearing to it?

It is evident by the Scripture, that true divine discoveries, or ideas of God’s glory, when given in a great degree, have a tendency, by affecting the mind, to overbear the body.’ (A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 1746, Section 2, Yale, http://edwards.yale.edu/)

Good Jonathan Edwards spends so much time considering these ‘power encounters’ that we will spend a few more posts listening both to his eye-witness accounts and to his judicious conclusions.

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here
You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards and so-called ‘Physical Manifestations’

What would Jonathan Edwards do?
What would Jonathan Edwards do?

‘Physical Manifestations’
Probably the most controversial feature of the awakening under Edwards was the phenomenon of people crying out, falling over and becoming apparently immobile on the floor. Some were in distress, others described their experience as an inexpressible joy that was full of glory. Either way it has made subsequent historians uncomfortable. Both Whitefield and Wesley saw similar phenomena.

But good Jonathan Edwards does not shy away from accurately and soberly reporting on what was happening.

Physical weakness
‘Some persons [have] had such longing desires after Christ, or which have risen to such degree, as to take away their natural strength.

Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ to such poor, wretched, and unworthy creatures, as to weaken the body.

Several persons have had so great a sense of the glory of God, and excellency of Christ, that nature and life seemed almost to sink under it; and in all probability, if God had showed them a little more of Himself, it would have dissolved their frame.’

Perfectly sober, but not always able to speak!
‘I have seen some, and conversed with them in such frames, who have certainly been perfectly sober, and very remote from any thing like enthusiastic wildness.

And they have talked, when able to speak, of the glory of God’s perfections, the wonderfulness of His grace in Christ, and their own unworthiness, in such a manner as cannot be perfectly expressed after them.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p. p.45)

The phrase which causes an involuntary smile on my face is ‘when able to speak’! ‘They have talked, when able to speak, of the glory of God’s perfections…and their own unworthiness.’

Then and now
We are a good distance from human pride here, but we must be careful not to immediately rubbish any contemporary claims from those we meet who may have had similar encounters with the glory of our gracious God. We must heed Martin Luther’s advice and ‘Let God be God!’

If we are praying for a rekindling of the power of the Christian Faith in our city, town or nation, then we can be sure that we are asking for God the Holy Spirit to come amongst us with fresh power.

Next time, we’ll continue to examine Edwards’ treatment of these ‘power encounters’ that took place under his leadership.

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards on Conversion ‘a great and glorious work of God’s Power’

Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinistic Pastor and Theologian
Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinistic Pastor and Theologian

In 1735 there was a sudden outpouring of grace on the town of Northampton. Many came to Christ under great conviction of sin and revelation of the sovereignty and justice of God.

Salvation
Having described some of the struggles that some converts went through in terms of a realisation of their sin and guilt before God, Edwards describes the longed-for breakthrough of personal salvation.

He writes,
‘Conversion is a great and glorious work of God’s power, at once changing the heart, and infusing life into the dead soul; though the grace then implanted more gradually displays itself in some than in others.’

In some, converting light is like a glorious brightness suddenly shining upon a person, and all around him: they are in a remarkable manner brought out of darkness into marvellous light.

In many others it has been like the dawning of the day, when at first but a little light appears…and gradually increases.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.40, 41)

The Newness of things
‘Persons after their conversion often speak of religious things as seeming new to them; that preaching is a new thing; that it seems to them they never heard preaching before; that the Bible is a new book: they find there new chapters, new psalms, new histories, because they see them in a new light.’ (ibid p.44)

‘While God was so remarkably present amongst us by His Spirit, there was no book so delightful as the Bible.’ (ibid p.47)

A love for God
‘Many have spoken much of their hearts being drawn out in love to God and Christ; and of their minds being wrapt up in delightful contemplation of the glory and wonderful grace of God, the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ; and of their souls going forth in longing desires after God and Christ.’ (ibid p.44-45)

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

The Variety of the Work of the Spirit in Conversion

Northampton, Massachusetts about a century after Edwards
Northampton, Massachusetts about a century after Edwards

A young peoples’ revival
In writing of the revival that broke out in 1735, Jonathan Edwards gives an objective yet compassionate account. The first changes visible were amongst the youth of the town, but the influence quickly spread to other age groups until he was able to make this astonishing observation:

‘In all companies…on whatever occasions persons met together, Christ was to be heard of, and seen in the midst of them.

Our young people, when they met, were [inclined] to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ…

Those amongst us that had been formerly converted, were greatly enlivened and renewed with fresh and extraordinary incomes of the Spirit of God.’  (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.13-15)

The work of the Spirit in Conversion is Varied
Edwards describes in general terms the order of events in those who were converted at this time:

‘Persons are first awakened with a sense of their miserable condition by nature, the danger they are in of perishing eternally, and it is of great importance to them that they speedily escape and get into a better state…

Some are more suddenly seized with convictions-it may be, by the news of others’ conversion, or some thing they hear in public, or in private conference-their consciences are smitten, as if their hearts were pierced through with a dart.

Others are awakened more gradually…’ (ibid p.23)

George Whitefield, the pre-eminent Evangelist of the 18th Century spoke in similar terms:

‘Therefore, far be it from me to confine the Almighty to one way of acting, or say, that all undergo an equal degree of conviction: no, there is a holy variety in God’s methods of calling home his elect.’ (From Sermon, The Holy Spirit Convincing the World of Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment)

Soul Distress
Jonathan Edawrds describes different levels of alarm and concern experienced amongst the people, but the same objective – forgiveness – being reached by those who seek God’s mercy.

‘Some are from the beginning carried on with abundantly more encouragement and hope than others. Some have had ten times less trouble of mind than others, in whom yet the issue seems to be the same.

Some have had such a sense of the displeasure of God, and the great danger they were in of damnation, that they could not sleep at nights.’ (ibid p.24)

‘Many times persons under great awakenings were concerned, because they thought they were not awakened, but miserable, hard-hearted, senseless, sottish creatures still, and sleeping upon the brink of hell.’ (p.25)

Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit is active He would reveal to men and women the reality of their condition before God.

‘And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…’ (John 16:8 NASB)

And, as Whitefield urged when he preached on that verse, it is in order that mercy might be obtained. Yet, what a challenge it is for us to read of the impact of conviction of sin on a whole town!

The people of Northampton in the 1730’s could thank God that they had at least one wise Christian leader in Edwards to help them find their way to the cross of Christ and receive forgiveness there.

More next time….

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

Jonathan Edwards – a participant in Revival and a judicious student of Revival

Jonathan Edwards, first among America's theologians and philosophers
Jonathan Edwards, first among America's theologians and philosophers

Edwards in Revival
One of the contributory factors to Edwards’ depth and openness to the Spirit in his writings is simply the fact that he had experienced the power of God himself.

He was not merely an armchair theologian or commentator, writing from a remote perspective, without having seen the power of God at work in the conversions of men and women and the subsequent impact in a community.

This made a considerable difference in his ability to value peoples’ spiritual experience. To put it simply, he wasn’t freaked out by the operation of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives, and their various responses to His power.

Edwards was a participant as well as an observer. At just 33 years of age, he was an astute student of the ways of God.

From single to multiple conversions

It wasn’t long after the sudden conversion of a young lady that the whole town was in the grip of a full-scale revival.  This was not a case of christian believers becoming more fervent in their faith. This was the major part of the population being suddenly drawn to God.

The impact on the town itself was palpable. The main topic of conversation was Jesus Christ and the way of Salvation. Hundreds were converted.

Edwards writes:
‘All other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown by; all the conversation, in all companies and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.13)

He continues,
‘But although people did not ordinarily neglect their worldly business; yet religion was with all sorts the great concern, and the world was a thing only by the bye.

The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it.

The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances.

It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell;

and what persons’ minds were intent upon, was to escape for their lives, and to fly from wrath to come.

There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.

‘The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did as it were come by flocks to Jesus Christ. (ibid p.13)

Old Northampton
Old Northampton

The Town itself seemed altered
This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town…

the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it was never so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then.

There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. (p.14)

Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship,

every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth;

the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbours. (p.14)

More next time…

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

How the Great New England Revival Began

‘Remarkable Outpourings of the Spirit’
‘From the fall of man to this day…the Work of Redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit of God.’ (Jonathan Edwards, Sermon: History of the work of Redemption quoted by Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism, IVP, p.129)

Jonathan Edwards is generally regarded as America’s greatest theologian. His ability as both preacher and writer, and his impact of the lives of millions is unprecedented in American religious literature.

However, like Calvin and the Puritans after the Reformation, Edwards is often caricatured as a hard hearted and even cruel preacher (at face value, this is because of his most famous sermon, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’).

However, anyone who has read his sermons or other works will be pleasantly surprised to find a diligent and humble observer of revival as well as a powerful and moving preacher of God’s word.

Setting the Scene
The town of Northampton, Massachusetts comprising of about 200 families, had seen several local awakenings before Edwards’ ministry. There had been several ‘harvests’, seasons of conversions and church growth, but nothing as extensive as that which took place in 1735.

Jonathan Edwards Narrative Title Page
Jonathan Edwards Narrative Title Page

Edwards writes, ‘Then it was, in the latter part of December that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us; and there were very suddenly one after another, five or six persons, who were to all appearances savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.’ (Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, Banner of Truth, p.12)

The youth are the first to enter in
The awakening began amongst the youth.  A young lady who was well known for her lack of respect for the things of God was suddenly converted and began to evangelise everyone she met.

Her conversion experience had an unexpectedly powerful impact on others.  So much so that Edwards could write:

‘God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of any thing that ever came to pass in the town…

The news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people, all over the town, and upon many others.

Many went to talk with her, concerning what she had met with…’ (ibid p.12)

We’ll pick up the story next time…

You can purchase Edwards on Revival here

You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

© 2009 Lex Loizides