Today, October 5, 1703, the great Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut. He became one of the great preachers and thinkers of the Christian church, ranking up there with Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and St. Augustine. He is probably the best Christian minister America has ever nurtured. In an article for World Magazine, Cultural Editor Gene Edward Veith writes,
“Edwards’ influence went beyond theology. His understanding of the beauty of nature and its connection to its Creator bore fruit in the magnificent landscape paintings of the Hudson River artists. His awareness of the limits and the sinfulness of human nature is evident in the fiction of Hawthorne and Melville, with its awareness of the darkness that dwells in the human heart. His rehabilitation of Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers made them palatable to the American Founders, who used them, in a Christian way, to forge the constitutional republic.”
This fact may be what has endeared me to Edwards since I was in high school. I’ve often thought that I would be blessed if I understood little more than Edwards’ life and teaching. I’m not sure that I’ve thought this for more than a few minutes at a time, especially since I’ve done nothing to back it up. Similarly, I’ve admired Nathaniel Hawthorne for years without a fully developed reason, that is, without a reason I can articulate. I guess I’m just a poser, a pseudo-intellectual, a plebian.
Doubtless, the sermon included in many American literature anthologies, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is beautiful. “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at [the unbeliever’s] heart and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with [the unbeliever’s] blood.” Goodness! Edwards’ delivered that kind of language in an even, quiet tone.
But that certainly wasn’t his only message. In my barely readable anthology (I don’t think the publishers of my two-volume set seriously believed buyers would read them; encyclopedias are more readable than this), the sermon prior to the one above is “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence,” which is, as I understand Edwards, the essential message of his ministry. John Piper said it this way, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Ah, that is refreshing. Not politically correct, not egocentric, totally unacceptable in today’s colleges, but wonderfully relevant and fulfilling.