There were a variety of interesting things in my latest reading of George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life.
—-Marsden talks about Edwards’ famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Marsden discusses the subject matter of the sermon, which is that our sins weigh us down and cause us to slide towards hell, yet God upholds us, even as God is angry at us for our sins. According to Marsden, Edwards did not even get to finish his message because of the hysterical spiritual responses of the congregation towards it. Marsden also talks some more about why Edwards was a powerful preacher: Although Edwards relied somewhat on a manuscript and was not as flashy as his father (who also was a minister), there was a solemnity and an intensity to his delivery.
—-At Yale, there was a revival among students. There were the usual hysterical features of the revival that turned some people off, plus the students were questioning the spirituality of their superiors. Edwards spoke against the students challenging their superiors, and he acknowledged that the revivals in New England contained a mixture of the works of God and the works of Satan. But, ultimately, he exhorted the Yale authorities not to look down on the revival, for doing so might be blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
—-When a prominent Christian minister died, Edwards at the funeral departed from his usual funeral practice—-of leading the people in his audience to think about the condition of their souls and how they will spend eternity. Rather, drawing from the Gospel story of the death of John the Baptist and how that distressed John’s disciples, Edwards exhorted the congregation to go to Jesus for comfort when they are distressed.
—-Jonathan Edwards’ wife Sarah was having fits of spiritual ecstasy, yet that did not take her away from her responsibilities as a wife and mother (as they were defined in those days). Edwards wrote about her ecstasy while keeping her anonymous in his writing, and one could tell that he admired and respected his wife, as he presented her as a paragon of spirituality. During her ecstasy, she did not struggle with her usual problem of depression, and she began to support ministers who were involved in revival rather than envying them as rivals to her husband. There were some pretty grisly things in her writings, though, as when she remarked that, even if Jonathan were to whip her, that would not disturb her spiritual peace (which is not to suggest that he did whip her). Later, Sarah was diagnosed as having hysteria, but Marsden says it’s not clear that this was a reference to her spiritual ecstasy.
—-Samuel Hopkins was a senior at Yale, and he was concerned about his spiritual condition. In a setting of revivalism and Jonathan Edwards’ insistence that true Christians are those whose affections have been touched, Hopkins questioned that he was affectionate enough towards Christ, since he was the quiet, studious type. But he went to stay with the Edwards, and Sarah encouraged him that she was praying for him. Hopkins wrote about Jonathan Edwards, and he discussed Edwards’ social mannerisms. According to Hopkins, Edwards came across as “stiff and unsociable” (Hopkins’ words) to those who did not really know him. But Hopkins says that Edwards was rather quiet because he did not want to speak evil of others, he wanted to speak only when he had something to say, he preferred to write rather than dispute with his vocal cords, and he did not have the physical strength (in terms of his lungs and “animal spirits”) to be engaging in every social situation. But, to those with whom he was close, Hopkins says, Edwards was kind, and he was willing to be challenged by intimates.
I could identify with a lot of this. I tend to be quiet in social situations. The downside, of course, is that I don’t stand out to people, and so they forget about me. But Edwards may not have had that problem, since his family was well-connected, and he had an opportunity to express himself to people through his sermons and writings.