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According to this article:
Rev. Jonathan Edwards delivered the hellfire and brimstone "spider" sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741. This topical sermon is a bitter jeremiad against the "New York Negro rebels" who were then being executed for plotting to burn the village of New York to the ground.
The reference is to the New York Conspiracy of 1741, which did occur the same summer that Edwards delivered his most famous sermon. The article proceeds to draw inferences from the text of the speech, descriptions of the circumstances, and a connection to "prosecuting attorney William Smith" to assert that the mania in New York that summer was the subject of his oration. Finally the article concludes:
Ultimately absolved by their minister, the jubilant people in Enfield were free; but thrilling sermons in Connecticut could be no solace to the tortured in New York.
But searching around, I'm having a hard time finding any supporting evidence to back that theory up. It's doubly difficult to determine what, if anything, Edwards knew of events in New York that summer or what he thought of them. The sermon itself seems to be more focused on eternal consequences than on current events. It's pretty much the defining moment of the Great Awakening.
Is there any documentation that shows Jonathan Edwards' purpose for delivering this particular sermon?
One claim is wrong. Evidence for a second claim is over-all circumstantial.
From the OP:
The article proceeds to draw inferences from the text of the speech, descriptions of the circumstances, and a connection to "prosecuting attorney William Smith" to assert that the mania in New York that summer was the subject of his oration. Finally the article concludes:
Ultimately absolved by their minister, the jubilant people in Enfield were free; but thrilling sermons in Connecticut could be no solace to the tortured in New York.
A simple peak at the time line disproves this. The sermon was written about a month before the infamous trial took place. Some of the accused were burned at the stake, thus "tortured."
The second claim:
This topical sermon [Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God] is a bitter jeremiad against the "New York Negro rebels" who were then being executed for plotting to burn the village of New York to the ground.
The sermon was written after the start of the Conspiracy, which started in the Spring of 1741. It isn't known if Edwards knew about it, but it can be assumed that he did, since it caused wide-spread hysteria.
As far as direct evidence linking the event to the penning of the sermon, it appears that the evidence thus far available is only circumstantial.
Edwards was a slave owner and his views and sermons about slavery waxed and waned over his career, but he supported an end to the international slave trade and the humane treatment of slaves generally.
Not much has been written about Edwards, which is why it is difficult to know if there might be a relationship. In 1995, a great deal of new information was discovered about him in the form of personal letters. Kenneth P. Minkema has been studying these letters and Edwards other personal writings and published a paper in 2009, Jonathan Edwards's Defense of Slavery for the The Massachusetts Historical Review Vol. 4, Issue NA. I am referencing his work unless otherwise stated.
Edwards wrote sermons in the 1730s clearly referencing slavery themes and then seemed to abandon the theme until the summer of 1741. It is possible he is talking about slavery in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, but it is difficult to prove. (Minkema would suggest it is most likely not about slavery and Edwards pro and anti slavery views were influenced by personal considerations, mainly a personal attack on another preacher who was unpopular with his followers, as well as religious and ethical concerns.)
What can be proven is that several weeks after writing the famous sermon, he wrote down thoughts strongly condemning slavery. His sermons written directly after Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God are thus absolutely anti-slavery.
These anti-slavery sentiments coincide with the Conspiracy of 1741 and an abolitionist movement within his church community. The timing would suggest the event did influence Edwards to write other important sermons and influenced the Great Awakening. The event may not have impacted this particular sermon, though.
I, too, was looking for confirmation of the article linking the Rebellion of 1741 to "Sinners". About the statement that the sermon took place before the trials and executions, I have found evidence to the contrary. Hordsman, Daniel. ”A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy formed by some White People in conjunction with Negro and other Slaves, for burning the City of New-York in America, and murdering the Inhabitants.” Published in New York by James Parker. Howes H652, Sabin 33058. Horsmanden presided over the trial and later served on New York's Supreme Court. Fullest account of the so-called Negro Plot of 1741, based on depositions. Reprinted in 1971 by Beacon (see GLC 4205.02)
Records show many were arranged and punished before July of that year. It is quite possible that there is a connection. However, without a primary source linking this event to the writing of "Sinners" it can still only be considered speculative.
2. Works (Selected List)
Throughout his abbreviated career, Edwards trod a narrow path between several dichotomous positions: between traditional Calvinist teachings and Enlightenment thinking between passionate experience and cool intellectual rationality between intellectualism and personal embodied experience between religious orthodoxy and cultural accommodation between rigid ecclesiastical boundaries and warm-hearted acquiescence in determining church membership. Some of these dichotomies were the outcome of the failed Puritan vision of a functional theocracy, while others came from the insurgence of Enlightenment thinking that advocated reason over faith, proclaimed a cultural optimism that negated doctrines of predestination and original sin, and encouraged the quest and expectation of human progress and growth. These ideas threatened traditional Calvinist tenets such as predestination, providence, and original sin. Enlightenment ideas also undercut the authority of Scripture by emphasizing reason over faith, and lent itself to supporting the Arminian idea (which pre-dated Edwards, but was becoming an increasingly strong element in New England theology) that humans can help move themselves towards God’s grace. At the same time the burgeoning revivalism of the era also countered the intellectual underpinnings of Calvinism by emphasizing the emotions and passionate experiences that could accompany conversion and at the same time by-pass the rigors of strict Calvinism.
Edwards would have none of these extremes. He persistently pursued a middle ground that upheld Calvin’s teachings and acknowledged the affections, ideas and possibilities implicit in contemporary culture. For example, Edwards firmly agreed that human reason could, and would, contribute to one’s understanding of God through the experience and observation of nature, history and personal experience. He was also clear that the affections were a God-given gift of grace to help us turn towards God, rather than simply dismissing the passions and emotive responses commonly associated with conversion experiences. He reframed the affections in a way that legitimated them while at the same time minimized their most dramatic expressions. He did not promote the affections as necessary or desirable, nor did he disqualify them. Edwards was, after all, a revivalist working towards the salvation of souls, and he was not inclined to establish human judgments as the primary criterion for either accepting or rejecting conversion experiences as authentic and sincere.
In all his writings, Edwards upheld the first question of the Westminster Catechism, which was issued just months after the Westminster Confession of Faith was published in 1646:
Question: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.
For Edwards, this question and answer encapsulated the absolute sovereignty of God (in its implicit assumption of God as Creator), the submission of the human will to the purposes of God, the goal and aim of existence for humanity, and the joy and fulfillment one will find by participating in this divine purpose. Where once this all might have been more self-evident, or at least more easily digestible, in Edwards’ era it was not clear how to define and implement the particulars of the chief end of man. In the Preface to The Religious Affections, Edwards opens with the contemporary questions: “What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God?” (Edwards, 15) How, in fact, does one glorify God? What does it look like? How will we know when we are doing it? Can others adequately judge our efforts at glorifying God?
At no point does Edwards give solid, concrete answers, because he cannot. Humans cannot judge the works of grace in another person’s life. Only God knows for sure. Just as we cannot judge others, we cannot know for ourselves either. God’s sovereignty is an inscrutable mystery, and we can but be open to the work of the Holy Spirit upon us. We have several resources at our disposal, however, for this purpose. The Religious Affections is Edwards’ attempt to illuminate and illustrate these resources. They include:
- Understanding (Edwards, 24, 50), or reason: “God has endued the soul with two faculties: one is that by which it is capable of perception and speculation, or by which it discerns, and views, and judges of things which is called the understanding.”
- Inclination and human will (Edwards, 24): “…the faculty by which the soul does not behold things as an indifferent unaffected spectator, but either as liking or disliking, pleased or displeased, approving or rejecting. This faculty is called by various names it is sometimes called the inclination: and, as it has respect to the actions that are determined and governed by it, is called the will…”
- The affections (Edwards, 27-48) “…true religion consists in a great measure in vigorous and lively actings of the inclination and will of the soul, or the fervent exercise of the heart”
- The twelve rules, or the distinguishing signs of the holy affections (Edwards, Part III), which include:
o the source of the affections (Edwards, 124) “Affections that are truly spiritual and gracious do arise from those influences and operations on the heart which are spiritual, supernatural and divine…[to be used to] distinguish between those affections which are spiritual and those which are not so.”
o humiliation and a sense of sinfulness (Edwards, 237) “Evangelical humiliation is a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart.”
o practice (Edwards, 308ff): Edwards begins Section XII by stating that “Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice.” This will mean a way of life for a Christian, and it implies three ways of being: “That his behaviour or practice in the world, be universally conformed to, and directed by, Christian rules.” And “that he makes a business of such a holy practice above all things” and finally “that he persists in it to the end of life.”
We are also repeatedly forewarned about the possibility of hypocritical behavior and false affections, the possibility of gradual and non-dramatic conversion, the work of Satan to confound and confuse us, and the need to avoid judging others. Edwards unpacks every nuance and implication of affections and the true religion in The Religious Affections, and by so doing he pursues his life-long endeavor to revive the Puritan faith of his congregation and to utilize every cultural and intellectual trend that can faithfully transmit the meaning of true religion and the chief and highest end of humankind.
Edwards began the Affections with a discussion of human faculties, but in order to understand the flow and arguments of his larger systematic corpus it is best to begin with his understanding of the sovereignty of God. Edwards’ God is infinitely beautiful, powerful, just and moral. As infinitely powerful, God displays all the metaphysical attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and the like. As infinitely just, God demands retribution for every offense. As infinitely beautiful, God endows all Being with beauty and appreciates the beauty in all Being. As infinitely moral, God delights only in beauty and despises all ugliness. For Edwards, God is not just the ground of Being or an uncaused first cause. God is the immediate cause of each and every being and event. Therefore, for Edwards, creation is not a past event but a present reality. The Deists are wrong to assume that God is a watchmaker and the world an independently running mechanism. The relationship between God and the world is much more intimate than that of a creator and a product. Each creature and event is what it is purely as a function of God’s continuing fancy. Our "present existence is a dependent existence." (Edwards, 1758: 223)
The complete dependence of humanity upon God has many implications, but Edwards addresses two of the most important implications in Original Sin and Freedom of the Will. Original Sin is a reply to the typical Arminian objection that a just God would never impute sin to someone on account of his or her parentage. While in Freedom of the Will, he attempts to show that an Arminian conception of a free will is nonsensical. One first goes wrong, Edwards asserts, when one treats individual people as if they were discrete entities. We know that this is not so, he argues, because we rightly understand a man to be the same person at sixty years of age as he was as an infant, even though his body is entirely different (Edwards, 1758: 222). This continuity over time and through the course of many changes is a function of God’s providence. Therefore, it is just as legitimate for God to treat humanity as a single entity with many instantiations as it is for us to treat a man as a single entity over the course of his lifetime. It is true that Adam sinned, but is it just as true to say that humanity sinned.
For Edwards, sin is nothing positive. God does not create it. Rather, God creates humanity with a natural and a supernatural character (Edwards, 1758: 217). Sin is the non-temporal rejection of the supernatural character of humanity by humanity and this rejection leaves humans with only their natural character, which is an inclination toward a particular being, i.e. oneself. Therefore, Edwards argues, humanity is tainted with sin not due to some act, but as an unavoidable outgrowth of its own received nature or character. Humans sin because they are sinful they are not sinful on account of their sins.
This obviously has considerable implications for notions of free will. Since, as Edwards writes, "by self-love is meant nothing else but a man’s loving what is grateful or pleasing to him…which is the same thing as a man’s having a faculty of will." (Edwards, 1765: 130) Edwards thought that the Arminian position on the will necessarily led to one of two absurd conclusions. If the will is free, then it can do as it pleases. However, how does the will determine what pleases it? Does the will have its own free will, and does that free will have its own free will? If not, then the will must determine what pleases it by mere randomness or chance (Edwards, 1754, 11-12). The first option leads into an infinite regress, while the second is the very definition of absurdity.
The will, argued Edwards, is determined. It is the person that is free, for freedom is merely the capacity to do what one wills (Edwards, 1754: 4). This means that the will is not free. It is fully determined and operates according to a moral necessity, which is just as strong as a logical or natural necessity. By moral necessity "is meant that necessity of connection and consequence, which arises from such moral causes, as the strength of inclination, or motive, and the connection which there is in many cases between these, and such certain volitions and actions." (Edwards, 1754: 10) This is all to say that a person with a moral character or moral inclinations will necessarily will to act morally. This is the thesis of Freedom of the Will, and it serves to connect both Edward’s earlier work on the religious affections and his later works on virtue and God’s end in creation.
In the Religious Affections, Edwards describes two faculties of the soul or two moments in the human encounter with a phenomenon. The first moment involves the faculty of understanding, while the second involves the faculty of inclination (Edwards, 1746, 24). Upon encountering any text, experience or object one must first understand it. One’s understanding can be correct or incorrect. Having understood it (or misunderstood it as the case may be), one is then inclined either toward it or away from it. We know from his Freedom of the Will that Edwards understood a person’s inclinations to be necessary products of that person’s moral character. Therefore, the affections or feelings of inclination generated by any encounter are wholly determined by one’s capacity to understand the phenomenon in question and by one’s moral character. Genuinely religious affections or feelings of inclination are the product of true understanding and inclination toward those things that the Spirit of God dictates. Understanding devoid of inclination is not religious, since one may fully understand the plight of an injured stranger without being inclined to help him or her. In like manner, inclination without understanding is not religious, since one may be inclined to help an injured stranger out of a false belief that the stranger will reward his or her benefactor. The ultimate test, therefore, of genuinely spiritual and religious affections is also the test for a genuine moral character. True godliness is most easily known by its "being effectual in practice." (Edwards, 1746: 315) Thus, Christian practice is the most notable sign both to oneself and to others that one’s character is moral, that one’s religious affections are genuine, that one’s understanding is sound, and that one is inclined toward the Spirit of God.
Two sentences from the final sections of the Religious Affections could serve as summaries of Edwards’ dissertations: True Virtue and End of Creation. He writes, "Those acts which men delight in, they necessarily incline to do." (Edwards, 1746: 317) The practical implication of this statement is that humans always follow their inclinations. According to Edwards, in order to know what a person is inclined toward, what makes them happy, one has only to watch what they do. This is not to deny that humans often have conflicting interests or irreconcilable desires. However, insofar as humans are free to act in accordance with their wills, they will always act exactly in accordance with their own desires and inclinations. Humans always seek their own happiness. Edwards further argues that happiness consists in attaining the ends that one inclines toward. Therefore, the greater the end sought, the more happiness there is to be attained. What being, he quips, could be greater than "that Being who has most of being." (Edwards, 1765: 123) God or Being, thereby, is not only the ultimate source of one’s moral character, one’s religious affections, Christian practice and virtue, but also the source of true human happiness.
Again, in the Religious Affections Edwards writes, "Holy practice is as much the end of all that God does about his saints, as fruit is the end of all the husbandman does about the growth of his field or vineyard." (Edwards, 1746: 321) The purpose of all the actions of the saints and of all of God’s interactions with the saints is holy or Christian practice. As was learned from the Religious Affections, holy practice necessarily stems from a right understanding and a spiritual inclination toward God, which is the same as having a moral character. And, as was learned from Freedom of the Will, moral character comes from no human cause. Rather, its ultimate source is God. God, therefore, is the source of all ends. What then, Edwards inquires, is God’s ultimate goal? "Whatsoever is good, amiable, and valuable in itself, absolutely and originally…must be supposed to be regarded or aimed at by God ultimately, or as an ultimate end of creation." (Edwards, 1765: 98) Human character, happiness, actions, affections, inclinations, and virtue are all dependent upon God. As was presented above, for Edwards, God is the direct and sustaining cause of all things. Therefore, the goodness or value of all things is derivative. Only God’s goodness is sui generis. Only God is valuable in and of God’s self. Only God is originally and absolutely amiable. The final and first cause of the universe, the end and the beginning of the universe are one and the same. God’s end is humanity’s end is God.
A final word must be added concerning some glaring absences in Edwards’ philosophical and systematic works. Christ is notably absent from his system, as is scripture, tradition, and any concern for the trinity. It is clear from a series a sermons he delivered before his death, however, that he intended to publish a larger work on the history of redemption that would incorporate many of these neglected topics into his theological system.
Jonathan Edwards had been raised under, and was freshly recommitted to, the reformed tradition of John Calvin—the preeminence of God’s sovereignty, the authority of God’s word, the certainty of human depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement, and salvation by faith alone. In college especially, he was educated and became sympathetic to enlightenment reasoning and the empiricism of modern science. As the head pastor of a church that was occasioned by revivalism he was also sympathetic to the special outworking of God’s grace through the Great Awakenings in Europe and America. All taken together, Jonathan Edwards emerged as a bridge between these various movements.
Upon the death of his grandfather, Edwards began the themes that brought these three movements together and marked him for centuries to come. Most of what he produced during his 23 years in Northampton was sermons and lectures. He developed a “hard-hitting sermon style that coupled a stark vision of human depravity, including frank details of everyday sins, with the exhilarating potential of salvation by simple faith.” (Tracy 331) It was, in fact, his sermons on the great Reformed themes of justification by faith that set off a regional revival in 1734.
The Effects of the Great Awakening in America
From the Salem witch trials to George Whitefield’s rise to fame, many events and people came together to make the Great Awakening happen. The Great Awakening was a religious revival that later became a political movement. Its impacts on the American colonies were far-reaching and outlived its leaders.
This is a transcript from the video series The History of the United States, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Two Men Who Shaped the Great Awakening
Jonathan Edwards was a highly influential preacher in the Great Awakening. He was known for being a powerful thinker with a genuine talent for philosophical speculation.
Edwards aimed at giving the movement a philosophical and psychological rationale. He spent over six years to publish his justifications of the Awakening in a series of articles: The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God in 1741, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in 1742, and A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections in 1746. These treatises were the most sophisticated treatments of the essence of religious experience printed in the 1700s.
George Whitefield was a priest from the Church of England, who became the greatest preacher of his time during the Great Awakening. His magical voice and sermons gathered tens of thousands of people. One can argue that he was the face of the movement to a great extent.
Whitefield’s efforts were treated differently by two different groups of preachers. Some welcomed him as a help to their preaching of revival. In contrast, others saw him as an annoying person whose teachings misled the commoners. In particular, the ministers of Massachusetts were not at all happy with him. Many did not want to accept him as a primary leader of the movement. Whitefield was given names from ‘enthusiast’ to ‘son of Satan’ by his fans and enemies.
The Fate of Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards was surprised by how the Awakening in Northampton exceeded even what he regarded as the bounds of propriety. “The people were exceedingly moved, crying out in great numbers in the meeting house,” Edwards wrote.
In an attempt to calm down the Awakening’s mad passions, in 1742, Edwards introduced a new test for membership in the Northampton church. The result, however, was exactly the opposite of what he planned. The Northampton congregation was embarrassed by this decision and turned on Edwards, forcing him to resign in 1750.
He rejected well-paid offers of clergies in New York and Scotland to become a missionary to the Mohegan Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1757, Edwards was elected president of the new College of New Jersey at Princeton. He did not reject this post and arrived at Princeton at the beginning of 1758 when smallpox was uncontrollably spreading.
Nassau Hall in Princeton University. (Image: ssguy/Shutterstock)
Medical procedures in the 18th century were not sufficiently reliable. Although Edwards was vaccinated against smallpox, he was too weak to survive the vaccination. He died of complications on March 5, 1758.
The Fate of George Whitefield
George Whitefield always had a passion for good deeds. Since 1738, he had tried to build an orphanage in Georgia, where a large number of young children were left without guardians. Once the uprising had settled, Whitefield managed to establish that orphanage and traveled back and forth between England and America for the rest of his life. He finally lost the battle to asthma and died in Newport, Massachusetts (in 1770), where he was buried.
The Great Awakening Reaching the End
Like everything else, the revival could not continue forever. In 1758, a chastened Gilbert Tennent led the reunion of the Presbyterian churches he and his father had helped divide.
American historian Richard Bushman once described the Great Awakening as having “all the influence of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and the campus and urban uprisings of the 1960s, all put together as one.” At the same time, the Awakening’s connections with European Pietism and with English characters like Whitefield may imply that American colonies wanted to move closer to European and English models. The Awakening also promoted a vast questioning of traditional authority, offering a uniquely American way of dealing with tension and uncertainty about its national meaning and identity.
Institutional Effects of the Great Awakening
Almost 350 new churches were built as a result of the Awakening. About 50,000 American converts filled the new churches and the already established ones.
Furthermore, the pro-Awakening factions—the new lights and the new side—built new colleges: Dartmouth, Brown, Rutgers, and Princeton. They were all established by people who supported the Awakening and were eager to train clergy who would continue to support its principles.
Cultural Effects of the Great Awakening
The Great Awakening had substantial cultural impacts. The mass marketing of Whitefield’s sermons weakened the control of the colonial elite over the media of the 1700s. The movement also inspired religious conversion and encouraged Americans, principally through missionary work, to see themselves as exporters of ideas to other cultures.
As a result of the Great Awakening, citizens of New England, as well as other Americans, regained their sense of mission that had been dormant for years. The Awakening also sparked a change in the most authoritarian institutions in British North America: the church. This was because people were allowed to question and sometimes to dismiss their leaders.
The Lasting Effects of the Great Awakening
The Great Awakening was the first religious revival in American history. Since that time, Americans have relied on religious revivals to resolve the great cultural crises that they have encountered as a people. The effects of evangelical awakenings, such as those in the 1820s and 1858, are seen throughout the country’s history, including the Civil War.
Union soldiers sit in trenches awaiting the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia, 9 June, 1864. (Image: Everett Historical /Shutterstock)
The issues of industrialism in the late 19th century, and even the Cold War, were no exception. During these times, Americans have come to terms with all of the confrontation, sorrow, and pain of transition through evangelical revivals.
The pattern set by the Great Awakening of the 1740s may be its most enduring contribution to modern America. It may even be the most lasting cultural contribution that the colonial era made to the rest of American history.
Common Questions about the Effects of the Great Awakening
The movement reduced the higher authority of church doctrine and instead put greater importance on the individual and his or her spiritual experience. An important effect of the Great Awakening was the transformation of the religious climate in the American colonies.
The Great Awakening began in the 1730s and lasted less than ten years, until 1740. The effects of the Great Awakening , though, lasted much longer and, according to some scholars, still affect the American society.
The primary effect of the Great Awakening was that it encouraged people to rethink and renew their religious commitment and passion to develop a greater appreciation for God’s mercy.
The summary of Great Awakening was breaking the monopoly of the Puritan church since after the Great Awakening colonists began pursuing diverse religious affiliations and interpreting the Bible for themselves.
Jonathan Edwards and the First Great Awakening
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On May 10, 1716, Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to one of his ten sisters, Mary. Written when he was twelve years old, it is the earliest known letter by Edwards. The very first paragraph is about awakening. That is to say, the earliest extant sentence that we have from Jonathan Edwards is about awakening. Edwards writes:
Through the wonderful mercy and goodness of God there hath in this place been a very remarkable stirring and pouring out of the Spirit of God, and likewise now is, but I think I have reason to think it is in some measure diminished, but I hope not much. About thirteen have joined the church in an estate of full communion. . . . I think there comes commonly a-Mondays above thirty persons to speak with father about the condition of their souls.
He goes on to let her know that Abigail, Hannah, and Lucy, three other sisters, all have the chicken pox and that he himself has a toothache. But this time of awakening dominates Edwards’ report of his father’s church at East Windsor, Conn.
After completing his degrees at Yale, Edwards took the post of assistant minister in Northampton, Mass. His maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, served as minister. Two years later, Stoddard died and Edwards found himself the senior and lone minister of the second-largest church in the New England Colonies. In 1731, Edwards was called upon to deliver the Thursday lecture corresponding with the commencement at Harvard. For the New England clergy, Harvard commencements were like the Super Bowl. Everyone came out to watch. Edwards preached to a packed house of clergy, many of whom had pastored for far more years than Edwards had been alive. Edwards preached the sermon “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption.” It was his first sermon to be published, and in it he declared, “God is glorified in the work of redemption in this, that there appears in it so absolute and universal dependence of the redeemed on God.” That is to say, salvation is a work of God from start to finish. “Let us exalt God alone,” Edwards concluded, “and ascribe to Him all the glory of redemption.”
For the next three years, Edwards preached the doctrines of grace to his congregation at Northampton. In 1734, he preached a sermon titled “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” When dead souls rise to new life, when blind eyes see the beauty of the gospel, and when deaf ears hear the transforming truth of the redemptive work of Christ—all of this is because of the divine and supernatural light. It is not a human or a natural light. Spiritual awakening comes from heaven above.
As Isaiah 55:10–11 promises, the preaching of the Word of God did not return void. It accomplished God’s purpose. From 1734 to 1736, there was a revival in the towns and churches dotting the Connecticut River Valley. Edwards reported on this in his first book, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton and in the Neighboring Towns (1737).
Jonathan Edwards’ first letter was an account of the outpouring of the Spirit of God. His first published sermon was a clear proclamation of the sovereignty of God in the work of redemption. His first book chronicled a revival. Awakening was a dominant theme of the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards.
That Connecticut River Valley awakening, however, served only as prelude. In 1740–42, God brought about another season of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as awakening came not only to the churches up and down the Colonies, but also in the lands of Old England. In Old England, George Whitefield and brothers John and Charles Wesley preached to tens of thousands—mostly gathered outdoors. Soon, Whitefield crossed the Atlantic and preached to crowds of similar size in the Colonies. An indefatigable evangelist, Whitefield crisscrossed the Atlantic and logged thousands of miles on horseback.
Meanwhile, Edwards continued his compelling preaching of the gospel. On July 8, 1741, Edwards was in Enfield, Conn., for a midweek service. He was not the intended preacher that night. The intended preacher had become ill and was out of commission. Eleazer Wheelock, who would go on to found Dartmouth College, gave Edwards the nudge to stand in the pulpit. Edwards delivered what is likely the most famous and the most read sermon ever preached on American soil, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The drama overwhelmed the crowd. They shrieked and cried out. But the drama did not stem from Edwards’ technique. Rather than whoop up the crowd into a frenzy, Edwards waited for the congregation to regain its composure, and then he pressed on in his sermon. The drama came not in the technique but in the truth, the truth of eternal damnation, the truth that all of us are on the precipice of eternal judgment. The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow is pointed directly at us. We are like spiders dangling over the pit of hell, saved from the flames for the time being by a mere thread. God used Edwards’ words to pierce hearts.
Edwards equally matched his imagery of judgment with imagery of redemption. Christ has “flung the door of mercy wide open and stands in the door crying and calling with a loud voice to poor sinners.” This was passion for the gospel.
Historians call it the First Great Awakening. It remains one of the most significant events in United States history. It had proponents, opponents, and zealots. The zealots included the likes of James Davenport. He routinely characterized pastors as “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” led public bonfires for the burning of books, and exhibited all manner of extreme behavior. While he later wrote retractions and made amends, he caused great harm during the Awakening itself. His antics fueled the criticisms of the Awakening’s detractors, including men such as Charles Chauncy. Chauncy looked down on the lack of decorum he saw in the Awakening. He was for order and a far more private expression of religion. Much more problematic, though, was the theology of Chauncy. He was a universalist. Being well aware of his times, he opted not to publish the manuscript that laid forth the argument for his heretical views. But he never held back his criticism of the Awakening or of its preachers.
Between these zealots and opponents stand the ministers used by God to bring a season of awakening to the Colonies. Edwards was the great theologian of the Awakening, and Whitefield was the great evangelist of the Awakening. They were joined by a whole cast of others. Gilbert Tennent was an Irish immigrant and famous Presbyterian minister. He preached a sermon titled “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” The sermon, as one might imagine, helped lead to a split in the Presbyterian church between the New Side and the Old Side. (In the Congregational churches, where Edwards roamed, the split was referred to as New Lights and Old Lights.) Another factor in the split was disagreement over ministerial training, especially concerning the training provided at the Log College in Neshaminy, Pa., which was founded and led by Gilbert Tennent’s father, William. The college moved east across the Delaware River and was renamed The College of New Jersey before it received the name Princeton. For two generations Princeton University provided well-trained and confessional Presbyterian ministers as well as lawyers and physicians. In 1812, Princeton Theological Seminary was founded to take on the task of training ministers. That great legacy of Princeton, which endured through the time of J. Gresham Machen in the 1920s, all started at the First Great Awakening.
In the early days of the First Great Awakening, Whitefield preached in an oak grove in Chester County, Pa. More than ten thousand people came to hear him preach, which is to say nearly every single person in the county and surrounding towns came to hear him preach. During this time and near this oak grove, Samuel Blair founded a Presbyterian church and his own version of the Log College. Blair had one standout pupil, Samuel Davies. Of Welsh Baptist descent, Davies would become a Presbyterian missionary in Anglican Virginia. He led his own revivals, and eventually his success made him a target for the established Anglican church. They viewed him as an “unwanted intruder into these parts.” He fought back and won the freedom to preach in Virginia, making Davies one of the earliest voices for disestablishmentarianism. Davies also wrote hymns, including “Great God of Wonders!” He succeeded Jonathan Edwards as president of Princeton in 1759. His term lasted eighteen months, as he died on February 4, 1761.
The First Great Awakening had its excesses and faults, yet it also made a significant impact during its own time, the decade of the 1740s, and had a lasting impact on both the American church and American culture. There would be more Great Awakenings. Beginning around 1825, there was the Second Great Awakening, with Charles Grandison Finney at the epicenter. Dwight L. Moody is at the center of the Third Great Awakening as the nineteenth century was coming to a close. It’s more accurate to say that the nineteenth century witnessed many waves of revivals that varied in nature, duration, and location. The twentieth century followed suit, with the two standout figures being Billy Sunday in the first half and Billy Graham in the second half.
All of this leads to some rather important questions. What are we to make of awakening and revivals? Are these good things? Should we pray for them?
No doubt, there have been excesses, and no doubt, there have been many examples of bad theology throughout America’s storied history of awakenings. Sadly, much damage has resulted. Nevertheless, we can sift through it all and find much that is helpful, especially if we return to Northampton and the years 1731–34. Edwards was simply being a faithful pastor, carrying out his charge of faithfully proclaiming the gospel of God. He preached with conviction as if lives depended on it—because they did. He preached with passion because he knew of the urgency of the moment.
You could say awakening comes in two forms. There is the awakening, the raising of new life out of death. This is the call to poor sinners. But even those who have been awakened need awakenings. We slumber in our spiritual laziness, and so we are summoned to wake up. This is the call to redeemed sinners. And it’s not by human effort or by natural means. We are awakened only and always by a divine and supernatural light—only by God’s grace and always for God’s glory.
Dr. Stephen J. Nichols (@DrSteveNichols) is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier Ministries teaching fellow. He is author of numerous books, including For Us and for Our Salvation and A Time for Confidence.
The Uncommon Union: The Edwards Family
Edwards’s time at Stockbridge was followed by a quite brief tenure as president of Princeton. He left Stockbridge in January, beginning his presidential duties later that month. Around the beginning of March, he took a smallpox inoculation, developed pneumonia, suffered intensely for about two weeks, and died on March 22, 1758. Perhaps the saddest element of this tragic episode is that at the time of his death Edwards was separated from his wife, Sarah.
He had made the move to Princeton in the middle of winter. Given the difficulties of the travel, and also to allow Sarah to sell property and settle some financial affairs, it was decided that he would go ahead to Princeton and settle the home there and they would reunite in the spring. When they parted in January, it was the last time they were to see each other on earth. In now famous last words, his thoughts drifted toward Sarah as he said, dictating a letter to his daughter Lucy, “Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been such a nature as I trust is spiritual and so will continue for ever” (See Heidi Nichols, “Those Exceptional Edwards Women,” Christian History 22 , 23-25).
Edwards had first met Sarah while he was a student at Yale in New Haven. Her father was a minister and a founding trustee of the college. From the first moment Jonathan met her, he was enraptured by her grace and elegance and charm, and also by her model spirituality. Through the years he surely kept up on the life of Sarah Pierpont, and he married her four years after he began his pastoral charge at Northampton.
Like his own family at East Windsor, he and Sarah had eleven children of their own. He looked to Sarah to keep this bustling home together. Once, while Sarah was on a trip to Boston and Jonathan was left tending the family, he wrote a letter to his wife, informing her that the two oldest daughters were sick, adding, “We have been without you almost as long as we know how to be” (Edwards to Sarah Edwards (June 22, 1748), The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Letters and Personal Writings, [Yale University Press, 1998], 247).
Like other families of the colonial era, the Edwardses were no strangers to tragedy and difficulty. Though all of their children lived past infancy, not all of them survived their parents. Edwards preached the funeral sermon for his daughter Jerusha, who likely contracted tuberculosis while caring for the dying David Brainerd. Another daughter, Esther, lost her husband Aaron Burr, and there were the sad occurrences of the deaths of grandchildren. Further, Edwards, though it is hard for us as contemporary readers to think of this, lived on the frontier and faced the accompanying threat of Indian invasions. Distant relatives were taken captive, and at times both at Northampton and especially at Stockbridge tension ran high. One letter to Esther Edwards Burr from her father finds the family sheltered in a fort.
There were trying days, and there were days of celebration. Sometimes it was the challenges that provided for rich adventure in the Edwards home. When the family moved to Stockbridge, Jonathan Edwards, Jr., was just a boy. He played alongside the Mohicans and Mohawks, learning Mohican as he learned English. Later in his life he would become quite an advocate for Native Americans, even warranting the praise of George Washington. All visitors, and there were many, to the Edwards home commented on the grace of the hosts and the union of the family. Edwards, according to the custom for ministerial preparation in those days, also housed apprentices for the ministry in his home. This generation of ministers had a profound impact on New England. And before them, Edwards and his family lived out their faith in full view.
His hope for his family was the same as that for the congregations to which he ministered. Summed up best in a letter to his daughter Sarah when she was twelve years old and visiting relatives, Edwards writes, “I wish you much of the presence of Christ and communion with him, and that you might live so as to give him honor in [the] place where you are by an amiable behavior towards all” (Edwards to Sarah Edwards [June 25, 1741], WJE, 16:96). When another daughter, Mary, was away in New Hampshire, Edwards took the occasion to remind her of God’s care: “Though you are at so great distance from us, yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care, but you are every moment in his hands. We have not the comfort of seeing you, but he sees you. His eye is always upon you” (Edwards to Mary Edwards [July 26, 1749], WJE, 16:289).
That his children learned this can be seen in some correspondence with his daughter, Esther Edwards Burr. Shortly after the death of her husband, her infant son, Aaron Burr, Jr., later to become America’s third vice president, fell sick, being “brought to the Brink of the Grave.” This was an intense time of suffering in Esther’s life. No sooner had she finished writing to her mother about how God was comforting her at the loss of her husband, she took up the quill to write to her father of her “new tryals.”
In the letter, however, she reveals her deep resolve of faith in God, boldly claiming, “Altho all streams were cut off yet so long as my God lives I have enough — He enabled me to say altho’ thou slay me yet will I trust in thee.” She can declare, “O how good is God,” she can say, “I saw the fullness there was in Christ,” and she can testify that “a kind and gracious God h[as] been with me in six Troubles and in seven” (Esther Edwards Burr to Jonathan Edwards [November 2, 1757], The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754-1757, [Yale University Press, 1984], 295-296). Her father had this to say in his response:
Indeed, he is a faithful God he will remember his covenant forever and never will fail them that trust in him. But don’t be surprised, or think some strange thing has happened to you, if after this light, clouds of darkness should return. Perpetual sunshine is not usual in this world, even to God’s true saints. But I hope, if God should hide his face in some respect, even this will be in faithfulness to you, to purify you, and fit you for further and better light. (Edwards to Esther Edwards Burr , WJE, 16:730)
Perhaps Esther Edwards Burr’s response to these times of trial in her life represents the true legacy of Edwards’s ministry.
Jonathan Edwards: America's Theologian-Preacher
Preacher, scholar, missionary, philosopher, father, theologian, and saint&mdashthese were the earthly roles of Jonathan Edwards. Gentle, firm, industrious, serious, profound, disciplined, and balanced&mdashthese were his most compelling characteristics. He was a man of character, involved in controversy, a man who no less now than during his life evokes the praise of brethren and the calumny of foes.
He was called to live during a time of difficult transition, from the colonial to the revolutionary period. In the distance behind him were the fading memories of the pious days of Pilgrim and Puritan in the distance ahead, the anticipation of secular society, &ldquoenlightenment&rdquo religion, and separation of church and state. While he sought to renew what was, he sharpened the contrast with what was to come.
Born in 1703, just three months after John Wesley and an ocean apart, the only son among the eleven children of the Reverend Timothy and Esther Edwards, in the parish of East Windsor, Connecticut, with ministers and merchants in his heritage on both sides, this lad, who was to grow to become the foremost theologian of early America, gave early promise of his difference from his peers. As a child he was docile, reflective, affectionate, and sensitive, but, above all, precocious. His intellectual activity was remarkable. He began then what was to be his practice throughout life: writing to cultivate thought.
From Edwards&rsquos pen, when his fingers were but twelve and thirteen years old, came such essays as one, of a thousand words, on the habits of the field spider. Another was an analysis of colors and the rainbow. Another was a demonstration that the soul is not material. If these seem strange subjects for such tender youth, they reflect something of the uniqueness of this fertile mind and its uncommon thirst for knowledge.
That thirst, perhaps first cultivated by the elementary schooling provided him by his father, respected as minister and teacher, was furthered by the lad&rsquos entry at Yale College in 1716, just before his thirteenth birthday. Here he took the established course of ministerial training, read Locke and Newton, wrote essays on Berkeley&rsquos philosophy, yet reflected little participation in typical nonacademic activities of college life. Never outgoing or given easily to social graces, little able to enjoy the frivolous or the vain, he seemed aloof from his fellows. Because he served as college butler in his senior year, one who ladled out the meat and potatoes at mealtime, he enjoyed little society even at meals.
Having completed the course in 1720, a Yale graduate at seventeen, he remained for further study before taking a Presbyterian pulpit briefly in New York in 1722. Even more briefly he preached in Bolton, Connecticut, before being invited back to Yale to take the master&rsquos degree, and serve as tutor and to perform administrative duties during an interlude of several months when there was no president.
It was during these years between graduation and his being &ldquosettled&rdquo in the Northampton parish which became inextricably linked with his name that Jonathan Edwards was converted, enjoyed that &ldquosweet delight in God and divine things,&rdquo and set down in his diary a covenant and a determination to dedicate all his effort to the service of God. As he read Paul&rsquos First Epistle to Timothy, there struck most deeply to his soul verse 17 of chapter one: &ldquoNow unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.&rdquo
Inexplicably, this verse, so atypical of verses which are often used of the Holy Spirit to strike conviction and convert hearts, caused the young man&rsquos soul to be turned to the realization of who God is and His claim on the total being of man. This depth of understanding and solemnity of purpose was typical of this philosopher-genius who was equally soulwinning preacher. In his own words,
As I read the words, there came into my soul . . . a sense of the glory of the Divine Being a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to Him in Heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever! . . . From about that time, I began to have a new kind of apprehension . . . of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by Him. An inward, sweet sense of these things . . . came into my heart.
Not long afterward, his diary and notebooks of meditations reflect the resolutions of his will in the service of Christ. Particularly beginning in January of 1723, and continuing through the spring and summer of that year are such revealing entries as these:
Now, henceforth, I am not to act, in any respect, as my own. I shall act as my own, if I ever make use of any of my powers, to any thing, that is not to the glory of God, and do not make the glorying of Him, my whole and entire business if I murmur in the least at affliction if I grieve at the prosperity of others if I am in any way uncharitable if I am angry, because of injuries if I revenge them if I do any thing, purely to please myself, or if I avoid any thing, for the sake of my own ease if I omit any thing, because it is great denial if I trust to myself, if I take any of the praise of any good that I do, or that God doth by me or if I am in any way proud.
. . .
Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it.
. . .
Never let me trifle with a book with which I may have no present concern.
These samples, of so many others like them, reflect the dedication and singleness of mind and heart of the man of twenty-three who was called as colleague pastor to his maternal grandfather, the Reverend Solomon Stoddard, at Northampton, Massachusetts, in November of 1726. Here he was to labor in that service and devotion for almost the quarter century that followed.
Northampton was the most important inland city in New England, ecclesiastically second only to Boston. The congregation had sought a likely successor to the aging Mr. Stoddard, who had been pastor over fifty years. More than one generation had grown up knowing only him as pastor. Edwards came with high expectations.
Not long after his coming, he married, when she was seventeen, Sarah Pierrepont, daughter of the minister of New Haven, great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker, combining in that marriage three very illustrious families. Edwards described her as &ldquoof a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind.&rdquo Reared in her father&rsquos parsonage, she was easily able to make of her husband&rsquos a place of singular and practical piety. Both a Mary and a Martha, she did much serving and caring for the material needs of a growing family (there were eleven children in all) she was also meditative and spiritual, a woman of deep feeling.
With the death of Stoddard two years after Edwards was ordained to succeed him, the younger now assumed all the responsibilities of the parish. He was twenty-six. More preacher and teacher than pastor, he regularly spent thirteen hours daily in his study. His practice was to rise at four A.M. (at five in winter). He carefully regulated his diet, eating what could be easily and quickly digested, so that his mind would remain most active. For exercise he chopped wood or rode horseback. Ever eager to &ldquoimprove his time,&rdquo on long rides he would take pins and little pieces of paper whenever he had an idea he wished to remember, he would pin a paper to his coat to remind him, after the ride, to write down the idea.
The pulpit was his throne. Jonathan Edwards gave most of his mental and physical energy to the preparing and delivering of sermons. We possess today manuscripts or outlines for about a thousand of these. He preached on Sunday (usually for two hours) and gave the teaching lecture on Thursday. To his congregation of about six hundred, he would usually read (from the small booklet he had made by sewing together small pieces of paper, 3 7/8 by 4 1/8 inches, most of which had been used for other purposes on the other side&mdasha picture of his native frugality, of things no less than time) the closely reasoned exposition in the Puritan style.
Each sermon was begun with the assertion of a subject, &ldquothe doctrine&rdquo next came the series of developed points, &ldquothe reasons, or proofs&rdquo finally, the applications or &ldquouses.&rdquo The text was often not immediately obvious and usually an unfamiliar one, but wonderfully replete with the &ldquodoctrine&rdquo he was presenting. His best known sermon, for example&mdash"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"&mdashdeveloped an almost unknown text: &ldquoTheir foot shall slide in due time&rdquo (Deut. 32:35).
And his people listened. His voice was not strong, but solemn and distinct. He possessed a quiet intensity, &ldquolooking and speaking as in the presence of God.&rdquo He was deliberate and piercing. He spoke less a series of words than a message. His was the eloquence that moves to action after the words are forgotten.
Contributing to his later difficulties with his people was his preference for his study over their society. He believed he could do more good for his people by writing and preaching, catechizing the children in small groups, and counseling his people in his study, than by visiting in their homes. Some interpreted this practice, so in contrast with the late Mr. Stoddard, as an aloofness, rather than his natural reticence. Physically frail most of his life, Edwards conserved his energy for what he believed was its most profitable use. Yet he always went to his people when sent for, to the sick and to the afflicted. And ministers and other dignitaries, when passing through, found&mdashand often later wrote of&mdashhis cordial hospitality and gracious care and provision for their welfare. George Whitefield was one such.
Whitefield reminds of the renewal of the Great Awakening in New England. Earlier, in the last months of 1734, a series of sermons Edwards preached in his parish was followed by several sudden and violent conversions, particularly of individuals known to be notorious sinners. That winter and spring a genuine revival broke out in Northampton, with perhaps three hundred saved. Strife, backbiting, and gossiping subsided among the people. Almost as quickly as it had begun, the revival ended by May and June. For the next several years Edwards sought to revive the spirit of 1735.
By the 1740s the Awakening, part of a movement which had begun simultaneously in the middle colonies, was again reaping a harvest of souls in New England. Whitefield was helping to spread it as well. Never primarily an itinerant like Whitefield, Edwards was occasionally invited to preach at other parishes. In this context he preached the sermon so blessed at Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741, &ldquoSinners in the Hands of an Angry God.&rdquo God honored it mightily.
Because of emotional and physical excesses accompanying some of the Awakening, Edwards, by a series of writings and by his preaching, counseled moderation and balance, of the head and the heart. Aware of excesses and &ldquofalse fire,&rdquo he suggested ways of distinguishing false from true conversions. Among his significant works in the 1730s and 1740s are these, their titles clearly proclaiming their content: A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God The Distinguishing Marks of God The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God Personal Narrative Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival in New England and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.
But for Jonathan Edwards, as minister at Northampton, the tide was turning and the sands were running out. In 1744 he had made a number of enemies by refusing to compromise his beliefs on church discipline when a group of young people were discovered reading and exchanging &ldquolascivious and obscene&rdquo books, probably manuals for midwives. Although the congregation agreed the matter should be investigated, when their pastor read publicly a list of names of those he wished to interrogate&mdashunwisely not distinguishing between witnesses and accused&mdashthe congregation was inflamed. Too many sons of too many families of prominence were included in the yet indiscriminate list. This attitude made bolder the insolence of the guilty and left embers to smolder long after the fire had subsided.
In the interlude before the final conflict, the Edwards home experienced a grievous event. The young missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, betrothed to Jonathan and Sarah&rsquos daughter Jerusha, died in their home after several months of nursing the body which had been wasted for several years by tuberculosis. Jerusha herself followed her beloved David in death after just four months.
Two brief chapters remain. The first is Edwards&rsquos dismissal from Northampton. The issue was joined in 1749 and consummated in June of 1750. Edwards, after more than twenty years of concurrence, concluded that &ldquoStoddard&rsquos Way&rdquo was wrong. Stoddard had gone beyond the &ldquoHalf-Way Covenant&rdquo of 1662 (which had permitted a &ldquohalf-way&rdquo church membership for those baptized as infants but who had never &ldquoowned the covenant,&rdquo given evidence or an account of conversion). Although these &ldquohalf-way&rdquo members had been denied access to the Lord&rsquos Supper, as unconverted church members, Stoddard had further permitted them to participate in that ordinance, giving them all the privileges of believers, as long as they were not &ldquoopenly scandalous&rdquo in their way of life.
While we may wonder at his tardiness in doing so, Pastor Edwards, in seeking to restore stricter definitions for church members, published his &ldquoQualifications for Full Communion,&rdquo demanding examination of the heart condition of those who presented themselves as members. This was nothing more than separating chaff from wheat, sheep from acknowledged goats. But the obscene books episode and the apparent aloofness of their pastor joined now with this new resentment to cause the camel, whose head had been allowed in the tent, to expel the tent chief. In 1750, after twenty-three years as their pastor, at age forty-seven, with eight children at home, Jonathan Edwards was turned out of the pastorate of his lifetime, unpracticed in the ways of the world, but dependent on the will of Heaven.
The last chapter is the fruitful harvest at Stockbridge, sixty miles away. Here Edwards was called to be a pastor to a small flock and missionary to the Housatunnock Indians. Twelve white families and 250 Indian families made up the population. Not well-fitted for such a role, yet isolated still farther from the bustle of the world, he was given now of God the opportunity to reap with his pen the harvest of decades of sowing of seed thoughts. It was here at Stockbridge that he wrote works on the freedom of the will, on the nature of virtue, and on original sin, for which he is chiefly noted.
Finally, in 1757, Jonathan Edwards was called to be president of the College of New Jersey, which had moved to and was eventually to be known as Princeton. However, this apparent earthly honor, a fitting recognition of his singular and pious gifts&mdashin a day when Princeton was known for such virtues&mdashwas not to be. He arrived in February of 1758 was installed as president. There had been a serious epidemic of smallpox in neighboring towns. It was sensible to be inoculated, and so was the new president a week later. A month later he was dead.
He had finished a course and left a heritage of submission to the God who doeth all things well. Whatever and wherever in his life change had come, his will had been actively resigned to the will of God. He stood for &ldquoheart religion.&rdquo He delighted in the &ldquosweet things of religion,&rdquo and in his life he sought to live to the honor and glory of &ldquothe King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.&rdquo When shall we see another?
Suggestions for Further Reading
Keith J. Hardman. The Spiritual Awakeners. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983. [See pp. 61-73.]
&ldquoJonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening.&rdquo Christian History, vol. 4, no. 4 (1985). [Entire issue]
Iain H. Murray. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1987.
A Legacy of Faith: Jonathan and Sarah Edwards
One of my favorite people in history, Jonathan Edwards, witnessed what he deemed a &ldquosurprising work of God&rdquo which historians call the First Great Awakening. Best known arguably for his famous sermon, &ldquoSinners in the Hands of an Angry God,&rdquo a sermon used of God to bring a mighty awakening at Enfield, Connecticut in 1741, it does not represent adequately this Puritan&rsquos preaching or his life. One of the most brilliant men ever born in America, Edwards&rsquo place in early American Christianity endures with few peers.
A lesser known feature of Edwards concerns his rich heritage. He was born on October 5, 1703, the only son among 11 children to the Rev. and Mrs. Timothy Edwards. Timothy and Esther Stoddard lived in the same modest home all 63 years of their marriage. Young Jonathan quickly distinguished himself as a prodigy. He graduated as valedictorian from Yale at 16. He eventually came to pastor a Congregationalist church in Northampton, Massachusetts. This pastorate would become a lightning rod for the growing thunderclouds of awakening.
Jonathan&rsquos love for God began early in life. He spent days of prayer and fasting often through the course of each year as a child. His Memoirs record that as a boy of only seven or eight he prayed five times daily in secret prayer. He and his schoolmates built a booth in a swamp designed to be a place of prayer.
Jonathan married Sarah Pierrepont on July 28, 1727. A woman of &ldquouncommon beauty,&rdquo Sarah was known for her gentle spirit, kindness, and deep devotion. Jonathan and Sarah were as different in personalities as they were similar in convictions. Jonathan was the introverted scholar, content to spend 13 hours daily in his study. Sarah thoroughly enjoyed conversation with others. Both were deeply committed to Christ in fact, it was Sarah&rsquos devotion to the Lord which drew Jonathan to her.
The Edwards had 11 children, 3 sons and 8 daughters. Sarah prayed consistently for their children. She disciplined her children with gentleness and firmness. The children demonstrated great respect for their parents, rising from their seats whenever their mother or father entered the room. Jonathan also took part in the rearing of their children, but the remarkable torrents of revival and his proclivity toward studying often occupied his time. He was always available for his family, but Sarah bore the greatest load in rearing the children.
In 1734-35, an outpouring of the Spirit filled Northampton and the surrounding towns with a spirit of revival. The Great Awakening had come to Massachusetts! Sarah personally experienced a deep, lasting personal revival during the awakening.
Sarah&rsquos testimony displayed the real struggles of a minister&rsquos wife. On one occasion, she wrestled over the temptation to be envious of other ministers. After revival came to their church, Jonathan would occasionally journey for weeks at a time to preach in other churches. In 1742, a Rev. Buell came to fill Jonathan&rsquos pastorate while he was away. Sarah worried that God might bless the ministry of the visiting minister more than her husband. She finally yielded her will to God&rsquos, saying: &ldquoI had to bless God, for the use he had made of Mr. Edwards hitherto but thought, if He never blessed his labors any more, and should greatly bless the labours of other ministers, I could entirely acquiesce in His will.&rdquo Following this confession, Sarah could rejoice that God indeed blessed the ministry of brother Buell, saying: &ldquoI rejoiced when I saw the honour which God put upon him, and the respect paid him by the people, and the greater success attending his preaching, than had followed Mr. Edwards.&rdquo She added, &ldquothe sweet language of my soul continually was, &lsquoAmen, Lord Jesus! Amen, Lord Jesus!&rsquo&rdquo Can there be any doubt that the example of Sarah Edwards to accept and encourage this guest minister aided the continual work of the Spirit? What an example to us, in a day in which competition or recognition among believers often drive our involvement in the Lord&rsquos church.
George Whitefield, the mighty preacher of revival in Britain and the American Colonies, offered an eyewitness report of the Edwards&rsquo home in October 1740. Whitefield considered Jonathan to be without peer in New England. &ldquoA sweeter couple I have not yet seen,&rdquo Whitefield recorded in his Journal , adding: &ldquoMrs. Edwards is adorned with a meek and quiet spirit she talked freely and solidly of the things of God, and seemed to be such a helpmeet for her husband.&rdquo
Today, March 22, marks the anniversary of his death. The genuineness of Sarah Edwards&rsquo devotion to God is seen in a letter to daughter, Susannah, immediately following Jonathan&rsquos untimely death: &ldquoWhat shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. . . . The Lord has done it. He has made me adore His goodness, that we had [Jonathan] so long. But my God lives and He has my heart.&rdquo
The legacy left by the Edwards family demonstrates the effect of a gospel-centered home. Over four hundred descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards have been traced. Of these, fourteen became college presidents, roughly one hundred became professors, another one hundred ministers, and about the same number became lawyers or judges. Nearly sixty became doctors, and others were authors or editors. The Edwards family pictures Proverbs 22:6: &ldquoTrain up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.&rdquo
&ldquoMemoirs of Jonathan Edwards,&rdquo in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), lxiii.
George Whitefield, George Whitefield&rsquos Journals (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 477.
America's odd couple: Benjamen Franklin and Jonathan Edwards
Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards were two of America’s most notable leaders. Jonathan Edwards was a spiritual leader during America’s Great Awakening, while Benjamin Franklin was a leader in the areas of government, inventions, and literature.
Both men were born into large families. Edwards was born the only male in a family of eleven children. Franklin was the tenth child in a family of fifteen children. Both came from middle-class families. Franklin’s father was a tallow chandler and a soap boiler. Edwards was the grandson of one of the most influential preachers in New England, the Reverend Solomon Stoddard. Edwards’ father was also a minister. Both were sent to school to study for the ministry. Franklin however left Boston Grammar School to work with his father. Edwards was a very studious young man and at the age of thirteen was accepted by Yale.
Franklin despised his father’s work, and at the age of twelve he was apprenticed to his brother a printer. Franklin found that he was quite good at printing and writing, but his brother, probably due to jealousy, sought to conceal Franklin’s talents. Franklin finally broke with his brother in 1723, and ran to Philadelphia. He got involved with a politician who used him, and eventually left him stranded in London. Finally at the age of twenty-four he seemed to have found success. He was the owner of a printing shop where he edited and published the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1733 his most famous work, Poor Richard’s Almanac began selling. He had married a woman named Deborah Read in 1730, with whom he had two children. He also had two illegitimate children.
Franklin was not only a writer, but he was also a representative of the colonies in AMERICA. He represented the colonies in England. In 1775 he served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. He was a great American, but he was not a Christian. His life was spent accomplishing some of the most amazing feats in history, yet when he stepped out into eternity in 1790 he was unprepared to meet God. About 20,000 people mourned at his funeral.
Jonathan Edwards, unlike Franklin, did live up to his father and grandfather’s legacy. When his grandfather died in 1729 Edwards was immediately named his successor. It was during this time of pasturing a growing congregation in Northapmton that Jonathan wrote some of his most brilliant sermons and books.
In 1734 a spirit of revival broke out, not only in Edwards’ congregation, but all over America. It was known as the Great Awakening. During this time Edwards’ church was filled with new converts, and the entire country seemed to come closer to God than ever before. On Sunday, July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards delivered his most famous sermon, “Sinners In the Hands of An Angry God”. This sermon seemed to convict hundreds of soul to get saved and live for God. However, Edwards routinely named backsliders in the church, and often these people were the wealthy influential townspeople. These ksliders” eventually got rid of Edwards in 1750 when he was voted out of his church. For the next seven years he was a missionary to Indians in Massachusetts. He later became the president of the college of New Jersey. Only three months after arriving however he died from a smallpox inoculation.
Both of these men had character and determination. They are both well-known American heroes. The difference between them is simple, one had Christ and one did not. Franklin accomplished so much, yet he still wrote as an unhappy grump of an old man. Edwards had the true peace that comes from knowing Christ. All of Franklin’s discoveries and inventions were of no use to him the very second after he died. However when Edwards died he realized immediately that every moment of his life was worth giving to God.
It's Thursday, February 27, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Coronavirus Threatens 2020 Olympics and Global Market: A Reminder of the Fragility of Human Life and Experience
Just over a hundred years ago, we did not know they existed and now we're talking about it just about every hour of every day. I'm talking about viruses. What exactly is a virus? This word has become so common in our vocabulary over the last several weeks. A virus is actually an infectious agent that can only replicate inside a living organism. That's what makes it different from some other forms of threats to human beings. When you're looking at a virus, you are looking at a little chemical and genetic compound that the evolutionists and materialists say exists only to replicate itself and at that it is spectacularly effective. Viruses, as I said, can replicate themselves only within living organisms and they basically use those living organisms as hosts that enable themselves to reproduce. They use up the energy and of course the resources of that host, whether it is a bacterium or it is a human being. But viruses as we know are microscopic in size, but all of a sudden we are reminded of the vulnerability, the fragility of human beings because as we now know, viruses can and do kill us.
The COVID-19 virus, which is a form of Coronavirus has now infected as of this morning 80,238 people. Leading to at least a documented 2,700 deaths. Less than a hundred cases thus far in the United States, but hotspots have emerged around the world in unlikely places perhaps by our imagination, including Milan, Italy and the nation of Iran.
But consider the fact that this little microscopic infectious agent is now making headline news, threatening a global impact on the economy, and even as international media made clear yesterday threatening the cancellation of the 2020 summer Olympic games in Tokyo.
Now all of a sudden we're talking about this tiny little infectious agent being a world changer. How did that happen? We're supposed to be living in an age of radical modern advances. We are living in the age of modern medicine and yet we are looking at a little organism that is turning the world upside down. We're also looking at an organism that despite all of modern science and modern medicine is not yet completely understood. It is not yet ascertained exactly what the death rate is expected to be from COVID-19. But it is known that the virus is spreading very rapidly and unexpectedly.
Now going back to the early 20th century, the influenza epidemic that killed so many millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic then was believed to have been facilitated and accelerated by the World War itself and the movement of so many troops and others that were involved in the war effort. But remember that at that point we were talking about the very earliest stages of aviation with almost no passenger aviation and we were talking about all of those troops and others having to travel across the landmass on wheels or, still at that time, even many on horses and others crossing the oceans by ships. But now we are looking at the age of modern aviation when people can go to an airport in China and land just less than 24 hours later virtually anywhere in the United States. And of course the airplanes can go in all directions, and because of that it has become nearly impossible to limit the movement of human beings sufficient to stop the spread of this kind of infectious agent. And one of the other things we have to recognize is that we are looking at the potential for a very significant economic impact. This is not to say that it will lead to anything like a recession or a depression, but it is to say that that tiny little infectious agent has become a very important economic actor, not only in China but also in the United States and elsewhere.
And then that unexpected news that many had not even imagined that the summer Olympic games might be canceled. Those games were only canceled one other time in the history of the modern Olympics movement. And that was because of what became World War Two and those cancelled games were in Tokyo where the 2020 summer Olympic games are also scheduled to be held. Stephen Wade reporting for the Associated Press tells us, “A senior member of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that if it proves too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo this summer because of the Coronavirus outbreak, organizers are more likely to cancel it altogether than to postpone or to move it.”
That turns out to be very interesting. The entire Olympic movement involves not only thousands of athletes but thousands more who are involved as judges and organizers and volunteers. There are Olympic committees and there are all the different events and there are all kinds of preliminary events that lead up to even determining who was going to be qualified to compete in the 2020 Olympics. All of that is thrown off if the Olympics are not held exactly as they are scheduled. As the Olympic organizers have made clear in international press reports, it is a very finely detailed plan that can't be adjusted just a little bit. It turns out that there is no practical way to postpone the games. There is no practical way to redistribute the games. We are really looking at the fact that at this point the Olympic authorities are saying to athletes, go ahead and train as if the Olympics are going to be held, but there's actually no assurance. They are now saying according to the Associated Press that they will have to make an announcement within the next 90 days as to whether or not the Olympics are going to be held. One of the little footnotes in the news reports is that the food orders have to be placed by then. That's just a reminder of how fragile human society can sometimes turn out to be.
The articles in the financial pages are also very interesting because those who are involved in selling or trading internationally and that means virtually everyone in a globally connected economy, they now have a great deal at stake in the future of this virus. And thus you are seeing very real impact even in the stock markets in the United States and in Europe right now with those who are investors trying to figure out where the virus is going in terms of impact in their own national economy and worldwide. Now, how should Christians think about this? Well, what a reminder it is of the fact that we live in a fallen world and what a reminder we need that human beings are more fragile than we would like to think. How humbling does it turn out to be that even in the year 2020 when we believe that we have conquered so much, there is so little at this point we actually know about this virus.
Now, of course, you have national leaders including President Trump in the United States offering assurance, and in the U.S. even as the Centers for Disease Control have indicated that this could become a major problem here, at this point, efforts have indicated that there are far less than a hundred cases in the United States. Yesterday in a publicized event, the president of the United States announced that he had appointed the vice president, Mike Pence, to lead the national effort to confront the challenge of COVID-19 the Coronavirus.
But as a Christian, there's something else that comes to my mind and that is the fact that human beings are always closer than we would like to think to something that will kill us. This point was made most emphatically by one of the greatest preachers in American history Jonathan Edwards in his most famous sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” He based that sermon upon Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”
Edwards preached that sermon on July the eighth of 1741 in Enfield, Massachusetts. And in that sermon he made some astounding statements that resound not only through American history, but also in Christian ears. He said this, "It is no security to wicked men for one moment that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man that he is now in health and that he does not see which way he should immediately go out of the world by any accident and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages," said Edwards, "shows that this is no evidence that a man is not on the very brink of eternity and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought ways and means a person's going suddenly out of the world are actually," Edwards said, "innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men," he said, "walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering. And there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight and these places are not seen. The arrows of death," he said "fly unseen at noon day. The sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle or go out of the ordinary course of his providence to destroy any wicked man at any moment."
He concluded, "All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world are so in God's hands and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God where the sinners shall at any moment go to hell then if means we're never made use of or at all concerned in the case."
Now that is 18th century language used by perhaps the most famous theologian of American history to describe the plight of human beings. When he speaks of the death of wicked men, number one, he doesn't mean just men, he means men and women. And when he says wicked, he doesn't mean especially wicked or notorious sinners, he means all human beings who've fallen short of the glory of God and sinned against God. When he speaks of wicked man, he speaks of all humanity and he makes a profound point. Human beings do not want to think that they are one step from death. They don't want to imagine that they are just one instant from eternal judgment. They want to believe that the ground that they stand on is firm, they don't understand, as Edwards said, that they are walking as if across a net and that there are holes in that net, and that as Moses said in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”
Now here we are in the year 2020 and I'm very thankful for the advances of modern medicine. I do not want to go back to a pre-modern age of medicine. I don't want to go back before modern germ theory. I don't want to go back to a period before surgeons washed their hands between patients. I don't want to go back before anesthesia or antibiotics. I don't want to go back before vaccines and modern treatments for these diseases. But I do want us to recognize that even at our best, we have only so much to say about the progress of a disease. This tiny little invisible infectious agent is threatening to have an impact not only in the world economy, not only on the Olympics and furthermore, other headlines say international soccer competitions beginning in just a matter of days. But it also comes as a reminder of the fact that plague infectious diseases has been one of the longest surviving enemies of humankind identified in the book of Revelation as one of the greatest threats to human beings have ever faced and a reminder of divine judgment, which is surely to come.
One final footnote, interestingly since I mentioned Jonathan Edwards. How did Jonathan Edwards die? Jonathan Edwards wanted to make the point that God had created a rational universe for his rational creatures to understand. Jonathan Edwards, that great Puritan theologian believed in the development of medical knowledge and even of the emergence of what was then known as early modern science. Jonathan Edwards wanted to make that point and so he accepted the treatment of a vaccine for smallpox. But at that point, the vaccines were badly calibrated and rather than being vaccinated against smallpox, Jonathan Edwards was infected with smallpox. And having just before that become the president of what we now know as Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards died.
My point here is actually not about vaccines per se at all, but about Jonathan Edwards who had warned in his sermon that men do not know when they may die or of what cause. They may be healthy one day only to be dead the next. Jonathan Edwards knew of which he spoke. Most importantly, he knew about his assurance in Christ.
Two Significant Pro-Life Bills Fail in the Senate This Week: A Revealing Roll Call on Late-Term Abortion and Infanticide
But next, we turn to Washington D.C. A very important headline in yesterday's edition of the New York Times. The article is by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and the headline “Senate Democrats block a pair of abortion bills.” Now we saw this coming, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had announced days ago that he would be bringing to the Senate floor two particular bills that would have to do with abortion. Both of them very important. Neither of them he knew would be adopted by the Senate because neither of them would garner the requisite 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But the point is that the majority leader made certain that the bills hit the floor and senators are now on the record on these two crucial issues.
Just the day before, the New York Times had run a story by the same reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, which had anticipated Tuesday's developments with these words, "Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation's culture wars with votes on bills to restrict access to late-term abortions and threatened some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy, a central theme of their reelection campaigns this year."
Now I read that statement just as I did because I want to look at this issue not only because of the legislation that's important in its own right, but also because of how this issue is treated in the mainstream media and especially by a newspaper such as the New York Times. That final sentence of that opening paragraph says that Republicans plan, "To make curbing a woman's right to terminate pregnancy a central thing." Just consider the way that's phrased. “A woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.” That is not unloaded language, that is language that is being used here in order to signal what the New York Times wants its readers to understand is the right and on the other hand the wrong position on the question of abortion.
A day later, again the same reporter tells us, "Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked action on legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions, casting a pair of votes that Republicans hoped to use to their advantage in the 2020 elections."
One thing to notice here very quickly is that in both of those lead statements, the reporter acts as if politics is the sine qua non. The political impact of these bills hitting the floor of the Senate are in the view of the New York Times or at least in this coverage, the most important issue. It's politics that frames the reality. What is missing from the language and what is missing from the political context of this reporting is the fact that what is at stake is an unborn human being. And that what abortion is, is the termination, the ending of the life of that unborn baby, the intentional murder of the unborn. Now, of course that's loaded language that is moralistic language, but notice that the New York Times is also using moralistic language of its own. But that language is intended to make the issue the politics rather than the act of abortion.
There's also a great deal of confusion that is very much at stake in these two pieces of legislation. One of them was a law that was initiated by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. It would effectively have limited or prohibited almost all abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. And the crucial argument that was used in the Graham bill was that fetuses at that stage of development can feel pain and thus have legal standing to have their right to survive in the womb and to avoid that pain upheld as a constitutional requirement. But of course those who are intent upon supporting abortion for any reason or for no reason at all, at every stage of development right up until the moment of birth, they oppose this legislation because they said it infringes upon a woman's right to choose. That's the language they use, but also note something else. It is an interference they said in the relationship between a woman and her doctor in the process of reproductive healthcare. Now again, when we're talking about abortion, we're talking about the opposite of reproductive, but we are looking at a moral battle that is fought with the weapons of vocabulary.
Now on the issue of abortion, there's an almost classic partisan divide and that has been growing more acute in recent years in American politics. And this was generally a party line vote, but not entirely. As Stolberg reports, "The votes prompted moderates in both parties to cross party lines. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, both facing tough reelection campaigns, each split their votes backing one bill but not the other as did Senator Lisa Murkowski Republican of Alaska." The next sentence states this, "Democrats who have long accused Republicans of waging a war on women's reproductive rights, revived that line of attack. They accused Mr. McConnell of playing politics with the senate's time by staging show votes on measures he knew would fail while refusing to take up hundreds of bills already passed by the house Democrats including those to protect women's health."
Now just notice that language, it's downright Orwellian. It's actually a classic example of how so many in the mainstream media want to immediately turn the issue of abortion at all extents away from any consideration of the unborn baby and only to the existence of the woman who was the only morally significant factor or actor so long as the pro-choice or pro-abortion movement insists.
But there's something else of extreme importance here, we need to look at a couple of factors. For one thing, the first bill was known as the pain capable unborn child protection act and it would limit almost all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. From a Christian worldview by the way, we do not understand any moral distinction between the 19th week and the 20th week. We believe that the abortion of any child at any stage of development from the moment of fertilization is morally wrong and tantamount to the intentional ending and destruction of a human life.
The sanctity of human life requires the defense of that unborn human life, not only at 20 weeks, not only with the development of the ability to experience pain. And for that matter, we have to understand that the Christian worldview disallows any distinction by development or condition for the defense of the sanctity of human life. But we also have to note something here and that is that the pro-abortion movement is intent on supporting all abortions as we saw in the state of New York, but also in Illinois and other states thereafter, all the way up until the moment of birth, right up until the baby draws its first breath outside of the womb. You would say, well, at least at that point, evidently even the Democrats would recognize a baby's right to life.
But at this point you have underestimated the lethal intention and logic of the pro-abortion movement because the second bill that was brought to the Senate this week is known as the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which was sponsored by Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse. Senator Sasse's bill would actually not affect abortion at all. The accomplishment of the passage of this bill would not limit abortion at all. Now, Senator Sasse and the others who supported this bill do want to limit abortion, but the point is that this particular bill simply identified a baby that survived the process of abortion as an American citizen and a human being deserving of the protection of life and of whatever medical treatments might be expended on another baby in exactly the same circumstance. We have to recognize that in the moral corruption and confusion of America right now, you can have in one facility a baby with the exact same condition, a baby at the same point of development that is the recipient of heroic medical treatment to try to save that baby's life while right down the hall a baby with the identical circumstances can have its life basically terminated simply because its mother does not want it.
Senator Sasse has been emphatic and eloquent in his defense of the legislation, pointing out that opposition to this legislation is actually tantamount to the support for infanticide. At this point, I go back to the coverage in the New York Times. "To that Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat shot back that infanticide was already a crime. He cited the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor in Philadelphia who was convicted in 2013 of three counts of first degree murder after botching abortions on poor women late in their pregnancies and is now in prison. That's why I think your bill is unnecessary," he said to Senator Sasse. "Mr. Sasse insisted that doctors in abortion clinics were engaging in passive infanticide by withholding care from babies who survive abortions." Senator Sasse said, "That's what we should prevent and that's what this legislation is about."
Notice the illogic of the opposition to this bill. If they say that infanticide is wrong and if they go in to say that infanticide is already illegal, why would they oppose a bill that would simply stipulate with greater definition the horror of infanticide and make clear just how illegal and wrong that it is? Opposition to this bill and in this case Senator Sasse is absolutely right, is tantamount to embracing the logic of infanticide. And Senator Sasse helps us also by pointing out that infanticide, the killing of a human infant, is infanticide, whether it is morally characterized as active infanticide or passive infanticide. In either case, the human guilt is clear.
How Much Is at Stake in the 2020 Elections? Why the Battle for the Federal Courts Is a Defining Issue for Both Parties in 2020
Finally, yesterday on The Briefing they talked about the efforts to restructure and to correct the federal judiciary with President Trump having nominated and the Senate having confirmed more than 190 federal judges.
We also talked about the fact that president Trump in 2016 had offered a list from which he would draw judicial nominees and most importantly nominees for the United States Supreme Court. We also pointed out that Democrats at this point had been averse to the very idea of such a list and yesterday we talked about why. But in yesterday's edition of the New York Times, Carl Hulse wrote an article with the headline, “A sign of liberals push to hone fight for the courts.” Hulse reports, "Russ Feingold, the former Democratic Senator from Wisconsin is assuming the leadership of the American Constitution Society, a progressive group active on judicial nominations and the justice system signaling that Democrats are planning an aggressive effort to sharpen their focus on the federal courts as a defining issue." All of that simply to say that as predictable as this news is, it underlines the fact not only that elections have consequences, but that the federal courts are now front and center in the attention of both parties as we look to the 2020 presidential election.
You're looking at the fact that here a very prominent ex-United States Senator a Democrat is taking control of the American Constitution Society that could be seen as basically the ideological opposite of the Federalist society and the battle is joined. It's a battle of ideas. It's a battle over how the United States Constitution is to be interpreted and it is a battle over what kind of role the judiciary should have in the United States. This story in yesterday's edition of the New York Times coming so fast on the heels of the articles we discussed yesterday on The Briefing is just a reminder that anyone with even one eye open looking at the reality of the 2020 presidential race understands just how much is at stake.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
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Early life Edit
Dayton was born in Elizabethtown (now known as Elizabeth), New Jersey. He was the son of Elias Dayton, a merchant who was prominent in local politics and had served as a militia officer in the French and Indian War and his wife the former Hannah Rolfe. He graduated from the local academy, run by Tapping Reeve and Francis Barber, where he was classmates with Alexander Hamilton. He then attended the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). He left college in 1775 to fight in the Revolution, and received an honorary degree in 1776. 
Dayton was 15 at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War in 1775 and served under his father (Elias) in the 3rd New Jersey Regiment as an ensign. On January 1, 1777, he was commissioned a lieutenant and served as paymaster. He saw service under Washington, fighting in the battles of Brandywine Creek and Germantown. He remained with Washington at Valley Forge and helped push the British from their position in New Jersey into the safety of New York City.  In October 1780, Dayton and an uncle were captured by Loyalists, who held them captive for the winter before releasing them in the following year. Dayton again served under his father in the New Jersey Brigade. On March 30, 1780, at age 19, he was promoted to the rank of captain and transferred to the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, where he took part in the Battle of Yorktown.  The Revolutionary War pension records indicate that he served as Aide-de-Camp to General Sullivan on his expedition against the Indians from May 1 – November 30, 1779.
At the close of the Revolutionary War, Dayton was admitted as an original member of The Society of the Cincinnati in the state of New Jersey.    On July 19, 1799, Dayton was offered a commission as Major General in the Provisional United States Army, but declined.
After the war, Dayton studied law and created a practice, dividing his time between land speculation, law, and politics. After serving as a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (of which he was the youngest member, at age 26  ), he became a prominent Federalist legislator. He was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly in 1786–1787, and again in 1790, and served in the New Jersey Legislative Council (now the New Jersey Senate) in 1789. 
Dayton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789, but he did not take his seat until he was chosen again in 1791. He served as speaker for the Fourth and Fifth Congresses. Like most Federalists, he supported the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton, and he helped organize the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. He supported the Louisiana Purchase and opposed the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801. 
Wealthy from his heavy investments in Ohio, where the city of Dayton would later be named after him, Dayton lent money to Aaron Burr, becoming involved by association in the alleged conspiracy in which Burr was accused of intending to conquer parts of what is now the Southwestern United States. Dayton was exonerated, but his association with Burr effectively ended his political career. 
Dayton married Susan Williamson and had two daughters. Susan's Revolutionary War Pension Application W.6994 states that the marriage occurred on March 28, 1779. A supporting letter, written by Aaron Ogden, a captain in the New Jersey Brigade, states that he "was present at the marriage of the said Jonathan Dayton and Susan his wife which marriage ceremony was performed by the Reverent Mr. Hoyt, a Presbyterian Clergyman. in the fore part of spring of the year seventeen hundred and seventy nine (1779) while the New Jersey Brigade lay at Elizabethtown in the Borough of Elizabeth and state of new Jersey."
After resuming his political career in New Jersey, Dayton died on October 9, 1824, in his hometown. He was interred in an unmarked grave that is now under the St. John's Episcopal Church in Elizabeth, which replaced an original church in 1860. Shortly before Dayton's death, Lafayette visited him, as reported in an obituary in the Columbian Centinel on October 20, 1824: "In New-Jersey, Hon. JONATHAN DAYTON, formerly Speaker of the House of Representatives of Congress, and a Hero of the Revolution. When the Nation's Guest lately passed New-Jersey, he passed the night with General Dayton, and such were the exertions of this aged and distinguished federalist, to honor the Guest, and gratify the wishes of his fellow citizens to see, that he sunk under them and expired, without regret, a few days after." 
The city of Dayton, Ohio, was named after Jonathan Dayton. While he never set foot in the area, he was a signatory to the Constitution and, at the time the city of Dayton was established in 1796, he owned (in partnership with Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson and Israel Ludlow) 250,000 acres (1,011 km²) in the Great Miami River basin.