Jonathan Edwards’ Ter-Centenary
As a model of ministerial faithfulness, heavenly-mindedness and self-effacing humility, he had few equals and perhaps no superiors.
by John M. Brentnall
This year marks the tercentenary of the birth of Jonathan Edwards on October 5, 1703. While we wish to take nothing from Him who declares: "I will not give my glory to another ,yet it would be churlish and ungrateful of us not to acknowledge God’s gift of one of the most godly men to have adorned His Church. Both spiritually and intellectually Edwards was raised to the same high level as Augustine, Calvin and Owen, and by God’s grace has exercised a similar (though not such an extensive) influence.
As a model of ministerial faithfulness, heavenly-mindedness and self-effacing humility, he had few equals and perhaps no superiors. Out of appreciation for Edwards’ finest qualities, John ‘Rabbi’ Duncan was constrained to say: "I would like to sit at Jonathan Edwards’ feet, to learn what is true religion."
His calm and massive intellect was as comprehensive in its grasp of Biblical truth (History of Redemption) as it was penetrating in its diagnosis of the human heart (Religious Affections and sermons on the state of natural men) and logical in its pursuit of inferences from acknowledged truths (Treatise on the Will).
His defences of the Biblical and Calvinistic doctrines of the sovereignty of God in salvation, the impotence of the fallen human will and the potency of divine grace have never been answered. While his refined distinctions (eg between ‘natural’ and ‘moral ability’, between ‘common’ and ‘saving’ grace and between the ‘view’ and ‘sense’ of spiritual realities) have been challenged, yet rightly understood, they are thoroughly Scriptural.
Perhaps, however, his greatest contribution to theology is his setting forth of the glory of God as the chief end of the whole creation, and the way in which he links this with His people’s eternal enjoyment of Himself. In such exalted regions he resembles the great Puritan John Howe. His instrumental involvement in revivals – as preacher, diagnostic soul-physician and historian – has served as a guide in this spiritual mine-field to many unwary travellers.
Lastly, the touching beauty of his family life and the remarkable influence of the Edwards ‘clan’ on American Christianity leaves us in no doubt as to the rich blessing of our gracious covenant God on him and his successors. Though we are pygmies by comparison, may we seek grace to follow him who, with countless others, now inherits the promises of grace and glory.
John M. Brentnall
The two volumed Works of Jonathan Edwards, the biography by Iain Murray and a number of the most important of his writings are published by the Banner of Truth
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