Jonathan Edwards was a man mastered by the Bible.
“The key to understanding Jonathan Edwards,” Iain Murray writes, “is that he was a man who put faithfulness to the Word of God before every other consideration.”
After his conversion and graduating from college, Edwards went to New York to serve as an interim pastor for a small breakaway Presbyterian congregation, and while he was there he wrote down certain commitments, which he wanted to pursue throughout his life.
And in those Resolutions, he wrote, that he was resolved, “to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.”
And he did.
They say he often studied thirteen hours a day, which of course was work, but it was more than that for Edwards, it was his delight.
He loved the Bible.
As Douglas Sweeney has noted, he considered it “divine.” He thought it “full of wondrous things.” He believed its contents were “unerring,” “the most excellent things in the world.”
“There is nothing that tells us of such glorious things as the word of God. These things are above all that could be found out by human reason, more excellent than man can obtain the knowledge of or communicate by human learning, more excellent things than either men or angels could reveal to us. They are precious things that God has brought forth out of his own treasures.”
It’s no surprise then, Edwards took, “the greatest delight” he says, “in the holy Scriptures, of any book whatsoever.”
“Oftentimes,” he says, “in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt as harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light, exhibited by every sentence and such a refreshingly ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. I oftentimes used to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it, and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.”
One of the things that’s happened, and I don’t know, maybe because Edwards was such a great thinker, and he was constantly thinking, and he basically wrote down every thought he ever had, is that as unbelievers have studied Edwards, they have often trumpeted him as a philosopher or literary artist, which misses him, really, because fundamentally, Edwards was a biblical thinker, an exegete.
The great grandson of Jonathan Edwards, Sereno Dwight, once wrote, “No other divine has yet appeared, who studied the Scriptures more thoroughly…His knowledge of the Bible is probably unrivaled.”
Which, whether that’s true or not, is definitely something you want your grandchildren to say of you. And while I know some people don’t think of Edwards as much of an expositor, if you look at just the purely exegetical writings he has left us, there is something like 5000 pages.
One of my favorite ordination sermons of Edwards is entitled Ministers to Preach not their own wisdom but the word of God.
It’s based on 1 Corinthians 2:11-13.
And the doctrine, or big idea of the message, was “ministers are not to preach those things which their own wisdom or reason suggests, but the things already dictated to them by the superior wisdom and knowledge of God. They are not to preach those things that would seem right to their understandings if their understandings were left alone and acted independently of any testimony or teaching from the understanding of any other being. But in their preaching they ought to rely on what is revealed and discovered ready to their hands by an understanding infinitely superior to theirs. And this revelation they are to make the rule of their preaching.”
Ministers according to Edwards, are only “sent on God’s errand. God hasn’t left it to their discretion what their errand shall be. They are to preach the preaching that he bids them. He has put into their hands a Book containing a summary of doctrine, and bids them go and preach that word. And what a daring presumption would it be for them afterwards to pick and choose among the doctrines contained in that summary and to say, these are fit for me to preach and this part of my errand is fit to be done, and this not. God doesn’t need to be told by his messengers what message is fit to deliver to those to whom he sends them, but they are to declare his counsel are not to shun to declare his whole counsels.”
Which of course is the secret of true fruitfulness for any of us.
It’s tempting, I know, to get intimidated as we look at someone like Edwards, just the sheer size of his brain, but that brain gave Edwards advantages and disadvantages, I am sure. It wasn’t the ultimate reason for his effectiveness. Long term effectiveness always has to do with a man’s submission to the authority of God’s word. It’s here the sovereign King speaks.
I mean, it’s not just Edwards.
If you just look back at the men’s God used in significant ways.
They are different.
You’ll see their personalities were different, some were emotional and some were very reserved. Their backgrounds varied, some came from wealthy families, some from poor. The locations in which they served were not always alike either, some lived in important places, some in out of the way villages. Even their educational backgrounds and intellectual abilities, some were scholars, other tinkers.
But one thing, you will find that they all had in common is that they all were men whose minds and hearts were mastered by the Bible, they were men who refused to think or speak like they were smarter than the Bible, they were men who were astonished by what they found in the Bible, who treasured it, and who as a result made unusual sacrifices of time and energy to study it and gave their lives to accurately explaining its meaning for others.
Like Jonathan Edwards.
He was from a pretty out of the way place. In terms of personality, he had, he said, “a contemptibleness of speech, presence and demeanor, with a disagreeable dullness and stiffness, much unfitting me for conversation.” His own congregation sometimes seemed to prefer the rhetorical skills of a George Whitefield to his own. He didn’t have a lot in terms of resources. I think, he died with a library of something like 300 books. And from a human perspective, honestly, he failed in some pretty significant ways. After 24 years or so, he was fired from the congregation his grandfather pastored for 60. The small little mission he served afterwards, only got smaller. Then he was president of Princeton for something like a month. And yet, the impact of his ministry is still reverberating across the world today, in large part because of the fact that even under extreme pressures, he persevered in his commitment to understanding and proclaiming the Scriptures.