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A Visit to New England

Category Articles
Date October 9, 2003

Recently I travelled to New England to preach, and on the Friday my host pastor graciously drove me to New Haven, CT and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. We spent a glorious afternoon poring over selected manuscripts of Jonathan Edwards. Imagine the fascination of opening archive boxes, turning back the cover of file folders, and seeing the pages of Edwards’ own diary. Or reading the study notes he wrote beside texts of Scripture in his famous “Blank Bible” (so named because of the blank pages inserted between the leaves of a reassembled Bible. Because of the scarcity of paper, Edwards often wrote in such a tiny script that a magnifying glass is necessary. And though he may have been, as he is often considered, the greatest mind in American history, he’ll win no prizes for his penmanship. My hat is off to Ken Minkema and others who persevere through the tedious transcription process necessary to publish Edwards’ works for us.

On Saturday afternoon, we made a brief visit to Northampton, the place where Edwards spent most of his ministry and the center of so much of the work of God during the First Great Awakening. Northampton is a disappointment to many who read Edwards, especially if they haven’t been prepared for the experience. A Polish Catholic church sits on the site of the famous two-story home where Jonathan spent thirteen hours in his study every day preparing the sermons we still read, where he and Sarah raised all those Godly children, and where David Brainerd died. The town is a center for all sorts of beliefs and practices that Edwards never imagined. Only a cement step remains of the meetinghouse where Edwards preached. And while the public library employs an enthusiastic reference librarian who loves and studies all things Edwards, the library contains only one manuscript of the great theologian. It is, however, a revealing letter written to a pastor in Connecticut during the time of spiritual declension in Northampton that occurred between the two waves of the Great Awakening there. Equally interesting is a sermon of Jonathan’s grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, written in lettering so tiny that it’s unreadable even with a 5x magnifier. I doubt whether the elderly Stoddard could have written it, much less read it. And I wonder if it wasn’t transcribed for him as an archive copy of the message.

One of the most interesting stops in Northampton was our first – the cemetery. Although Edwards is buried at Princeton where he died, there is a monument to him and Sarah and their children, some of whom were buried there. I think the most emotional moment for me was at the grave of David Brainerd, the passionate young missionary whose life and diary Edwards published, and which remains a Christian classic. To imagine Jonathan and Sarah and others beside that grave when the earth was freshly turned prompted a few minutes of sober and grateful reflection by all of us standing there some 275 years later.

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