In my latest reading of George Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life, Jonathan Edwards is serving in Stockbridge, a village that had both English people and Native Americans. Edwards saw this community as anticipatory of the millennium (the thousand year reign of Christ in Revelation 20), “when every tribe and nation would see the light of God’s righteousness and dwell together in harmony (cf. Isaiah 60)” (page 375).
There were three things that stood out to me in my latest reading. First, although Edwards had problems with some of his co-workers at Stockbridge—-viewing them as un-orthodox, or as misusing the mission’s funds—-that did not bother him a great deal because it was a step up from his experience at Northampton, where he had been criticized, booted out of the pastorate, and ostracized. Jonathan Edwards is not the only person who appreciates imperfect but better experiences after enduring a particularly bad experience. I think of people who had a bad first marriage but went on to have a good second marriage, or who had bad jobs and went on to jobs where the environment was not perfect, but better.
Second, one of Edwards’ relatives, Abigail Williams, worked at the mission at Stockbridge, and she initially was not looking forward to Edwards coming to work there. But she became impressed with him, calling him “learned, polite, and free in conversation, and more catholic than [she] had supposed” (Abigail’s words on page 380). Marsden states that “Abigail may have enjoyed anyone who could intelligently converse on deeper issues” (page 380). But Edwards may not have been as broad-minded as she thought, for he had doubts about Abigail’s orthodoxy. In any case, I could identify with this story in my latest reading because there are people with whom I may disagree on politics or religion, and yet I respect them and enjoy interacting with their thoughts (and maybe even them) for a variety of reasons: they are knowledgeable, they have profound insights, they know how to share their opinions without putting people down, etc.
Third, on page 393, Marsden talks about Edwards’ preaching to the Native Americans. According to Marsden, while Edwards continued to preach about sin and God’s judgment to the Native Americans, he emphasized God’s mercy much more. Marsden states that Edwards initially emphasized their sins and vices, but he moved away from that in the course of his preaching. Marsden speculates that Edwards may have been influenced here by David Brainerd, a friend of Edwards and a missionary to the Native Americans, as well as the topic of a bestselling spiritual biography that Edwards wrote after Brainerd’s tragic death. Brainerd observed that, when he was preaching to the Native Americans, their hearts were pierced more when he spoke of Christ’s compassion, without speaking a word of terror.