Jonathan Edwards


It is amazing to me that a man whose name is synonymous with godliness and was involved in the outstanding awakening of a nation to the need of salvation in his day should have only lived to the age of fifty-five. But it is true. Jonathan Edwards made his mark in his generation despite many forms of opposition. I should not be surprised however as many of the great servants of God did not serve their generation for long (Robert Murray McCheyne, Jim Elliot, to name two more) and yet they lit a flame that has long since burned and ignited the passion of many a believer to serve God with the same selfless ambition.

Since I first read the story of Jonathan Edwards (JE) I was fascinated with his life. Most people who have heard his name associate it only with ‘hell fire’ preaching and usually his famous sermon ‘Sinner in the hands of an angry God’. To leave the summary of JE there would be to do him a great disservice. In fact, some have gone as far as to say that ‘he was the greatest thinker in American history’. Others have commented that to really understand the mindset of America, and in particular New England, in the 18th Century you have to study the life of JE. He has been described as a ‘revivalist, theologian, philosopher, man of letters, pastor, missionary, college president, and beloved husband and father’.

Let’s start at the beginning. Both JE’s father and grandfather were churchmen. His father combined this role with that of a teacher and as a result Jonathan was educated at home along with his sisters, cousins and a few village boys. The village they lived in was East Windsor in Connecticut which is between New York and Boston on the eastern side of the United States. JE loved the outdoor life and was interested most of all in observing nature. His father, Edward, often found himself astounded by the philosophical speculations of his only son. It seemed that Jonathan discovered at an early age that God had revealed Himself in the beauty of the world in which he lived as well as in the quietness of his heart.

It is well worth a couple of hours reading to get to grips with this young man and to see the dilemmas that he faced in life and how he reacted to them. He faced personal tragedy, family feuds, loss of reputation and times of deep anxiety, but he came out of all of these experiences with a godly character that can be produced only in the furnace of suffering.

It was his personal discipline that has spoken to me the most and it is this aspect of his life that I want to emphasize. This seems to me to be the secret of his success in service for God. His knowledge of the word of God was great, his grasp of God’s character was unsurpassed and his ability to preach and hold an audience was incredible but his personal devotion and holiness were the foundation of his life. Let me illustrate.

  1. He maintained daily set times for prayer. Getting before God to meditate, to pray for others, to worship God and to be quiet in the presence of God was a discipline that he cultivated and would not allow to slip. How am I in this area of my life?
  2. It is said that his prayer times as described above and his study of the word of God took up thirteen hours of the day. No wonder he knew God intimately.
  3. As he worked he worshipped. Study and preparation were not seen as a job to be done but as opportunities to worship the Lord.
  4. He believed that the main work of his ministry was to expound the word of God. He gave God and His word first place.
  5. He believed that he was a servant of God and as that his whole life was lived to know God and to bring Him to the people of his day.

My prayer is that men and women of God will be cultivated in our days who know God on an equally intimate basis. This will require discipline by all of us if this is our personal ambition. We need to spend time with God. We need to discipline ourselves to understand His word. We must pray that we will see God move again in the same mighty way that believers in previous generations have seen Him move.

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Edwards by Ola Elizabeth Winslow, published by McMillan.

Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell by Dr. John Gerstner, published by Baker Books.

Jonathan Edwards – The Great Awakener – Heroes of the Faith series published by Barbour Publishing Inc.