Welcome to a special bonus episode of 5 Minutes in Church History. Today is October 5, 2013 and on this day Jonathan Edwards turns 310 years old. I think he’s looking better now than he ever did. But here it is on his 310 birthday and I thought the least we could do for him was have a special episode in which we can talk about 5 reasons that we can be celebrating his birthday.
Now we know of Edwards as a pastor and a theologian, the writer of great books like Religious Affections and Charity and It’s Fruits, but what we need to start with and see is Edwards as a devoted husband and a devoted father.
He first met Sarah, his wife, while he was a professor at Yale and she was the daughter of the pastor of the first church at New Haven. And when he met her he was struck by her. He went back to his room, pulled down the book that he was lecturing on, opened it up, and in the flyleaf of the book he wrote a paragraph about this young lady in New Haven. He eventually married her, and they had eleven children together. At the end of his life, he could speak of the uncommon union that God had blessed them with.
Not only was he a devoted husband, he was also a devoted father. He had, as I mentioned, eleven children. One of them was Esther. She went down to Princeton; she married Aaron Burr Sr.—of course, they had the child Aaron Burr Jr.—but at one point, while Esther was down in Princeton and apparently was going through a difficult time, Edwards wrote her a letter and in it he would say, “I would not have you be discouraged and melancholy, though you are far from home. God is everywhere, and I hope you will walk closely with Him, and will have much of His presence.”
The second reason is this, his unflinching commitment to truth. His commitment to truth actually cost him his job. In 1750 he was kicked out of his church. Now he was in the right on the position; his church was in the wrong. But, they had the final say. And on June 22, 1750 they voted to dismiss their minister. So here’s Edwards, easily the most popular preacher in New England, if not the Transatlantic world, and for his commitment to truth he was kicked out of his church.
The third reason that we should be celebrating the life and legacy of Edwards is that he was committed to proclaiming the gospel. This was his singular task as a minister—to faithfully proclaim the gospel. But we see this especially at the end of his life. I mentioned he was kicked out of North Hampton, kicked out of his church, and when he was kicked out, he had a couple of options. He was invited to pastor in Boston, he was even invited to pastor churches in Scotland. But Edwards instead chose to go about 40 miles to the West, out to Stockbridge. Might as well have been a thousand miles out to the West. This was the frontier, and out there on the frontier, this plain that was carved out in the Berkshire Mountains by the Housatonic River as it snaked along, there were about 250 Native Americans. There were Mohawks and Mohicans, they were living in Tepees and sort of crudely constructed log cabins. And for eight years, Jonathan Edwards was their pastor. He was a missionary, proclaiming the gospel.
The fourth reason that we should celebrate the life and legacy of Jonathan Edwards is that he left behind a godly life and a godly legacy. You can find his sermons online. You can find his books, they’re available in print. You can find testimonials to him. A singular fact about Edwards I find so fascinating is that here’s Jonathan Edwards, an historical figure, and his works were published both by Banner of Truth Trust and also by Yale University Press. Now I don’t know of any other historical figure whose works are published by a rather conservative Christian publisher and one of the top-flight university presses of our day. That says something about Edwards. It speaks that there is something there for us to learn. Even 310 years after his birth. So, Edwards left behind a godly legacy.
Well that leaves us with one more. There are so many things we could say about Edwards, but I think I’ll just leave you with this—he loved to ride horses. Whether he was preparing sermons in his study, writing letters to fellow ministers, writing letters to his daughters, thinking about going to Stockbridge and ministering to the Indians there, or if he was horseback riding through the Connecticut River Valley, Edwards was able to see all of life as a revelation of God’s goodness, of God’s glory. And that’s a vision that all of us could use. So, happy birthday, Jonathan Edwards. Thanks for leaving us with such a great legacy.