Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Jonathan Edwards' Contribution to America

A short article in the subject of American Studies and Literature focused on Jonathan Edwards, the fiery New England preacher of the mid 1700’s. I was happy to find the article though as I read the hyper-condensed overview of the man and his contributions to early America, made a few observations and came up with a few questions. 

Is Edwards still read by students today? The purpose of the article was to survey high school and college exposure to American literature and suggested the intended outcome for students having touched the material; a kind of “here’s what you should have learned but were misled and this is what you discovered about the truth of the matter in college.” Do students still read Edwards today? If so (and using Edwards as a case-study) why are students told what to think about what they read? What, then, do they learn?

Considering contributions to early America and literature, Jonathan Edwards is called a Puritan thinker. Yes, he was Puritan; and, yes, he was a thinker and he just so happened to write (which in itself is an amazing study). The way Edwards is often presented (in terms of Puritanism) is that he was the preacher of terror--his most known work is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Without thinking, students are left with the wrong view of the man, the wrong view of God and are left wondering how and why he was a great American. This leads to the second and overlooked contribution of Edwards, being a thinker. He was the practitioner of true science: observing, recording, processing, concluding in such a way that was inclusive of total reality--the spiritual world is as real as the physical. The reference to the doomed spider in his famous sermon was not drawn from a hat, but was on his mind due to actual scientific observation as a scientist. There was a spiritual truth to be drawn from the physical world. 

A couple of words about this so-called “preacher of terror” (all his sermons were not hell-fire and filled with the wrath of God): “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” has a context, following a sermon titled, “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence, By The Greatness of Man’s Dependence Upon Him In The Whole Of It.” Noting the first paragraph of “Sinners,” we find the introductory verse followed by this explanation: “In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites . . .” Edwards was not out to vindictively beat his parishioners; rather, he saw what was wrong with mankind, what was wrong with his corner of early America and offered a solution: redemption. The sermon concludes: “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ now awake and fly from the wrath to come.” Like the Israelites, if redemption was rejected, then wrath is to be expected.

Be encouraged to read Edwards, his memoirs and other works. Let the man speak for himself. He was an outstanding writer, a deep thinker and had a firm grasp on the whole of reality.

Enjoy Iain Murray's excellent biography on Jonathan Edwards, who was a great contributor to both Christ's Kingdom and his country. He was God's man with God's Word in God's world. Jonathan Edwards clearly understood the meaning of “one nation, under God” long before the phrase was coined.

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