Paul's Passing Thoughts

TANC 2015: Susan Dohse, Sessions 1 – 3: Jonathan Edwards – The Man, the Myth, the Message

Session 1 – Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Man of Many Words

I love history, and although I give my dear husband fits when I am preparing for our conferences, this studying and doing research does give me an element of enjoyment. This is also one of my preventive measures to staving off Alzheimer’s – engaging in mentally challenging activities. However, I am motivated by truth. That is the mission of TTANC, The Truth About New Calvinism.

For our new guests either here or in cyberspace, I will quickly introduce myself. My name is Susan Deborah Dohse. I was married to Wayne St. Denis for thirty-six years, and together we had three sons: Timothy, Benjamin, and Philip. Wayne passed away in December of 2009 of congestive heart failure and diabetes. The Lord blessed me with a new husband and so I lost my “sainthood” when I married Paul 4 years ago. I actually married him twice. We eloped on January 1st and April 9th had a public marriage ceremony to announce our union. I am in my 42nd year of teaching, and my present title is that of a Developmental Specialist. This means I get to play with babies whose ages range from birth to age three. I have taught every grade except Kindergarten and the first fifteen years of my teaching career was at Xenia Christian. Two children were added to my clan, Heather, and Paul Jr. Together, Paul and I have four grandchildren, Blayne, Benjamin’s son, whom you will meet on Saturday, and Hannah, Jacob, and Joanna, who live in Puerto Rico with their missionary parents Heather and David.

If I were to take a survey such as what might be taken for the game show Family Feud, and ask people to name one thing they know about Jonathan Edwards, here is what I believe the top answers might be:

1) Who?
2) He wrote that anti-war song, Sunshine.
3) Wasn’t he the man who fell into the hands of an angry God?
4) I know, he woke up during that Great Awakening.
5) He’s running for President, isn’t he?

The young, restless, and reformed call him their “home boy”, and pastors elevate him to equal importance of the Apostle Paul. There is a Jonathan Edwards Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, a Jonathan Edwards Classical Academy in Whites Creek, Tennessee, a Jonathan Edwards Conference held by John Piper, Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University which houses all his known writings, a Jonathan Edwards College at Yale, and a Jonathan Edwards Gordon Conwell Seminary. The list can go on. Just Google it. This Puritan minister of the 1700’s is immortalized, idolized, and almost canonized. The Puritan Board Blog holds Edwards in high esteem, and why wouldn’t they? It’s the Puritan Board. They extol his life and elevate his teachings to be on par with Scripture. John Piper rarely has an original sermon because of his heavy reliance on the theology and epistemology and writings of Jonathan Edwards. “Alongside the Bible, Edwards became the compass of my theological studies,” writes Piper. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones made this claim: “I am tempted perhaps foolishly, to compare the Puritans to the Alps, Luther and Calvin to the Himalayas, and Jonathan Edwards to Mt. Everest. He has always been to me a man most like the Apostle Paul.” Author Stephen Nichols speaks of a lecturer who stated, “Next to Scripture, Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections stands as the single most important book for any Christian to grapple with.”

He is called the Prince of Pastors, America’s greatest theo-philosopher, and America’s Augustine. Do I even try to say something the least bit negative about this golden boy of the Puritans?

So, the Why question. Why study history in general and Jonathan Edwards in particular? We live in the here and now, the present. We are supposed to be planning for the future, our retirements, Christmas, our next conference, lunch. We plan for and perhaps worry much over the future. With all that we have to do today, and with all that we have to look forward to in the future, why bother with discussing someone from the past? Consider all the demands that press on us daily and the anticipation of what is. Peter Stearns said, “Any subject of study needs justification.” Why is Jonathan Edwards worth our study, worth your attention? What is the justification for my sharing what I have learned about this man?

Let’s look at it from this perspective: How can we evaluate war if the nation is at peace –unless we use historical material? How can we understand the role that beliefs play in shaping church history, and family life if we don’t study the impact of such historical figures as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Augustine, and Jonathan Edwards? Let’s use this analogy: Jonathan Edwards is our laboratory and the data learned from him and what he taught serves as the evidence in figuring out the answers to other Wh questions: Why is Protestantism, i.e. Christianity, pursuing New-Calvinism? What factors contribute to this resurgence? What elements of Protestantism persist despite change? When we unfold his record, it could provide some light on how New Calvinism works, and the road it is taking us down.

Jonathan Edwards, destined from birth to be a Puritan minister. His parents, Timothy and Esther Edwards, hearty Calvinists, believed in predestination and the sovereign will of God, but were not disposed to helping God define the direction, shape the will, and mold the mind of their only son, Jonathan. He had no other calling but that of a Puritan minister. His mother, father, and older sisters made sure that he would follow in the path of their father, Timothy, and grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. He was the fifth child of eleven, and the only boy. He was extremely loved and doted on but not spoiled. His father was a micro-manager and had the highest of expectations for his only son. He learned Latin at the age of 6, and before entering the Collegiate College of Connecticut, later named Yale University, at the age of 13, he would know both Latin and Greek. His father, Timothy, a teacher himself of Latin and Greek would see to it that his son would know the languages necessary to enter college.

From an early age, religion was a preoccupation with Jonathan. He dated his interest in spiritual things to when he was 9 or 10, calling it “a time of remarkable awakening” when he had been for months concerned “about the things of religion and [his] soul’s salvation.” Moved to both private meditation and prayer, and religious exercises with other children, he often went to “secret places” in the woods, “a booth in a swamp, in a very secret and retired place, for prayer.” He later wrote, “I seem to be in my element when engaged in religious duties.”(Samuel Miller, Jonathan Edwards, and Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards.)

He entered the Collegiate School of Connecticut at the age of 13, intellectually precocious, and an un-regenerate pre-teen who did not measure up to his father’s expectations because, although overly pious, Jonathan did not show a heartfelt love of God, which was the true sign of conversion.

He went off to school with ten other boys ages 13-15; typical age for boys to attend college during those days. The course work was rigorous, and life structured. Breakfast followed morning prayers, with classes through midday; an hour and half of free time after the noon meal and before afternoon classes, more prayers, Bible reading and explication. Supper came after early-evening recitations, with study hours from 9-11. Lights out at 11. Monday through Thursday first year students studied Greek and Hebrew grammar, sophomores began work in logic, and the upper classes moved on to natural philosophy, mathematics, and metaphysics. All students studied rhetoric, oratory, ethics, and theology. This puts the common core philosophy in a bad light, doesn’t it?

The final examination for receiving the Bachelor of Arts degree was: a student had to convince his rector of his expertise “in Reading the Hebrew into Greek, and into Latin and grammatically resolving said languages and in answering such questions in their systems of logic and in the principles of natural philosophy and metaphysicks.” Edwards did so well that at the commencement in 1720 he gave the valedictory oration, in Latin. He returned to work on his Master’s degree.

Scholasticism gave him satisfaction and recognition in the collegiate community, but not peace. Although well-read and informed in the reading and study of philosophy, particularly European high culture ( Locke, Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, Henry More, Malebranche, the Cambridge Platonists, to name a few), he still anguished over the issue of conversion. In his Personal Narrative he reported his earliest religious experiences and wrote that just prior to going to Yale he believed that he had experienced spiritual transformation. But he lost his exuberance. He had at least four spiritual awakenings, he records.

When 16, he became bed-ridden with pleurisy and almost died. He wrote that it was a divine intervention, for God held him over the pit of hell and it was his sinful life that brought him to the verge of death. Believing, as all good Puritan Calvinists do, that experiences such as this is part of the sovereign will of God and part of the spiritual conversion process, he resolved to rearrange all things in his life to allow him to focus on Christ alone. He tried to renounce his former ways and obey the Lord’s Word. He “fell again” into the “old ways of sin” which led him to many great and violent struggles in his soul. He broke off all former wicked ways, all known outward sin, and applied himself to see salvation and to practice many religious duties. (Please note these words: see salvation and practice religious duty: they are important in the pursuit of salvation) Through self-searching he felt the need to change his attitude from “seeking salvation” to contemplation of Christ’s place and role in the world—develop a new awareness of Christ’s glory. Please note the first two steps one takes to conversion: recognizing how wicked you are by identifying all known sin, and contemplation of Christ’s glory. Now he needed to shift his attention to God. Only by turning to God would he be able to experience a true spiritual transformation. He writes that when he saw the once horrible doctrine of God’s sovereignty he was able to “see further.” His reasoning was that he “apprehended the justice and reasonableness regarding the doctrine of God’s sovereignty” and became “convinced and fully satisfied as to this sovereignty of God and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men according to his sovereign pleasure.” He found the breakthrough to being converted. Only through the full realization of the glory of the Divine Being did he develop new convictions about Christ and the work of redemption. He describes his mystical and existential conversion as “an inward, sweet sense” of the work of redemption, “a calm sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of the world.” His experience had been so overwhelming that he writes in his diary that “often he had a kind of vision, or fixed ideas, and imaginations of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapped and swallowed up in God.” (Diary, Works of Jonathan Edwards)

Now on the verge of complete conversion, on the edge of self-transformation according to his new and vivid experience of the sovereign majesty of God and Christ’s glorious work of salvation, he needed a stamp of authority to certify that these spiritual experiences were indeed evidence of conversion. He traveled from New York in 1723 to tell his father his spiritual odyssey. Without the approval of his father, the long and agonizing journey of the past two years might prove invalid. “Not long after I first began to experience these things I gave an account to my father of some things that had passed in my mind. I was pretty affected by the discourse we had together.” With his father’s final affirmation and approval, his son’s process of conversion was complete. In his Personal Narrative he tells his readers that after the discourse with his father, he went for a short walk, when “[i]t came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God…The appearance of everything altered. There seemed to be as it were, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine Glory in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity, his love, seemed to appear in everything.” Although he writes that he does not know the exact moment when conversion happened, he knows that one day he had a “delightful conviction” accompanied by a “sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things” that he had never experienced before. He dated this remarkable change in attitude to the time between his graduation from Yale and his pastorate in New York.

It is important to keep the steps of his conversion in the back of your mind because we will revisit these again.

Throughout his life Jonathan Edwards spent a considerable amount of time and energy in fashioning the conduct and character of his person. At the beginning of his literary activity he kept to being the careful, organized writer, following the rules he wrote in his Cover-Leaf Memoranda where he would engage the reader, and gently lead them into some new dimension of belief. By the 1730’s he abandoned his rule book and became aggressive and assertive with the intent to expound serious Christian doctrine rather than just chronicle events.

The timeline of events from his conversion experience to his death revolve around Edwards establishing his ministerial authority. Called to be an assistant pastor to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, was a major role for Edwards. He was entering a territory with increasing social instability and potentially explosive situations. Corn, cattle, and land were central to the region’s interests and social divisions within the town had become significantly exacerbated. The Stoddard family controlled the military, the judiciary, and the church, and this control was a constant thorn in his flesh. Edwards did not long have the benefit of his grandfather’s counsel or authoritative position. On February 11, 1729, after 60 years in the same town and ministry, the great man finally died, leaving his 26 year old grandson to continue his work. Elijah’s mantle had fallen on his shoulders, but he was far from earning the respect it marked, for he would always live in the shadow of the Pope of the Connecticut Valley, his grandfather. From 1729 to 1743 he was on the rise as the sole pastor of the prestigious Northampton congregation that experienced awakenings in 1734-35 and 1740-42. Some historians calls these times the Little Awakening, and the Great Awakening.

His strategy during these years consisted of three elements: cultivate a patronage of influential people in Northampton, cultivate a patronage of influential people beyond Northampton, and continue to grow his self-confidence in the rightness of his personal beliefs as foundational to true religion. He accomplished this not through his preaching solely, but through his prolific writing.

The congregation of Northampton had to get used to a minister that was “stiff and unsociable”, a man of few words and a man reserved with strangers. He was never comfortable visiting people’s homes and making small talk. He wrote, “I prefer the study of books than to the company of people.” When they had spiritual concerns, he preferred to counsel them in his study, not visit them in their homes. Unlike his grandfather, who preached without notes and with much emotion, his pulpit manner reflected his constitution and habits. His voice was not particularly loud, but that did not diminish the fact that he commanded his audience with distinctness, clearness, and precision. He rarely moved his hands or looked out on his audience unless it was to stare at the bell rope in the back of the church, for he wrote out his sermons and read from his texts.

His life was marked by rigid structure –rising early, thirteen hours of study in which he wrote treatises, and prepared his sermons. Edwards wrote in his diary in 1728, “I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early.” After the evening meal, he often devoted one hour engaged with his children in conversation and singing. He also wrote “I judge that it is best when I am in a good frame of mind for divine contemplation, or engaged in reading the Scriptures, or any study of divine subjects, that, ordinarily, I will not be interrupted by going to dinner, but will forego my dinner, rather than be broke off.” After family worship, he would return to his study for 2-3 more hours before retiring to bed. Much praise must be given to his wife Sarah, for she was glue that held the household together. She was responsible for running the household, discipline and instruction of their eleven children, and caring for the steady stream of visitors and apprentices, often overseeing their home and 50 acres while nursing one child and pregnant with another. When it came to the management of a household, it has been said that Jonathan Edwards had no common sense, often unaware of how many sheep they had, or the condition of their fields. It was Sarah that helped to make the man, Jonathan Edwards.

From 1744-50, he became embroiled in controversies and conflicts in which his downward spiral in the eyes of the town led to his dismissal in 1750. Edwards had inherited a church socially fractured and in spiritual decline. His effectiveness as spiritual leader diminished with each passing year. He was dismissed from his ministerial position and on July 1st 1750, he severed his formal connection with the church of Northamption. To pour salt on his wounds, the church retained him for another year, hiring him by the week to preach to a congregation that was having difficulty in obtaining a new minister, in no part because of the town’s reputation for contentiousness. In the summer of 1751, he moved 60 miles west of Northampton where he was to be the minister and schoolmaster at an Indian mission school in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Finally convinced that his talent was writing, in a few short years he completed 4 theological treatises on topics of transatlantic interest. The strategies he developed after graduation from Yale were now being played out in the wilderness of Massachusetts.
The theme of his writing was the most important and urgent: the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and excellence. He now had the self-confidence and the growing conviction that he had the duty and right to communicate this message. He had internalized the message to the point where it was shaping him, the message became the man. The message of God’s sovereignty with its human counterpart of the need for total dependency on God dominated him to where he was convinced that he had a role as proclaimer of that message. Now his role became one of quasi-apostle. He journeyed from the desire to be heard, to one who felt he had the right to be heard, to this quasi-apostle, one who must be heard.

Now more than 290 years and 4,000 words of scholarship later, we see that the person of Jonathan Edwards was shaped not by his practice, but by his writing. Is it no wonder that the young, restless, and reformed are urged to “take up and read Edwards”? He fits well in their TULIP cult; since the TULIP cult works from the principles taught in the highly fallible writings and sermons of men, men such as John Calvin, and their home-boy, Jonathan Edwards.

Session 1, Blog TalkRadio Podcast


Session 2 – Jonathan Edwards: Strange but True

According to his daughter, Edwards spent 18 hours a day in his study, and by his own admission he said, “I am fitted for no other business but study.” Given that Edwards was happily married with eleven children, I don’t see how he could get away with that in today’s world. There is more to his genius, extraordinary mental abilities, and introverted personality that is not widely known, or conveniently kept from view. I will not go down those roads because the research is based on assumption, subjectivity and colored by the commentator’s own personal attraction or contempt for Edwards.

My dear husband is often teased and gently admonished to stay off the rabbit trails when caught up in his speaking. However, I would like to briefly meander into Mr. McGregor’s garden. Like Peter Rabbit I may find myself in a furry bunch of trouble. But humor me or at least allow yourself to scratch your head and say, “Hmmm, not sure about that, but …”

Have you ever considered that Edwards may have had to live with mild Asperger’s syndrome? Not that having Asperger’s is a bad thing, but could explain some of his oddities such as: very detail oriented somethings obsessive about it, excellent vocabulary, excellent rote memory in some areas, perfectionism, emotions expressed in unexpected ways, difficulty changing focus or thinking from one activity to another, may need separate space or area to decompress, rule-oriented, structured, thrives on routine and schedules, socially awkward, difficulty with eye contact, stand-offish, difficulty reading emotions in another person and understanding body language…just saying…. hopping off the bunny trail, now.

I may be showing my age by asking this: who remembers Ripley’s Believe It or Not television show? It aired in 1985 and Jack Palance was its narrator. How about the museum at Niagra Falls? How about some of these believe it or not ideas Jonathan Edwards wrote about and believed?

Frank Viola’s blog helped me condense some of Jonathan Edward’s beliefs and kept me from jumping from one book or article to another collecting my specific thoughts. With his help, how about these shocking beliefs of Jonathan Edwards:

1) He was a strong advocate for Indian rights during his day. He was bitterly critical when New Englanders stole land from Native Americans, commanding them to pay for the land they took. The logical Reformed personality was a “social activist”? Peculiar isn’t it, since many contemporary Edwards followers turn their noses up at anything to do with social activism or social justice today.

2) “Edwards owned slaves and believed that being a slave-owner was NOT incompatible with being a follower of Jesus. While Edwards was an advocate of Indian rights and denounced the transatlantic slave trade, he himself was a slave owner.”

So, for “America’s greatest theologian” to own slaves and think it okay, is well, shocking, don’t you think?

3) Knowing how Calvinists hated Arminians and Arminians were mutual in their love for Calvinists, “Edwards did not believe that Arminians were disqualified from ministry or the Kingdom of God. He defended a pastor who had anti-Calvinistic views. The pastor (Benjamin Doolittle) was being denounced by his own church for owning a slave”. To defend an Arminian minister is “shocking to some hard-core Calvinists who believe that ‘unless you receive John Calvin into your heart, you cannot be saved’, or at least…”you are a heretic.”

4) “Edwards believed the Pope was the Antichrist; apologies to our Catholic friends.
This fact sobers popular notions that Edwards always interpreted Scripture correctly.

5) “Edwards believed that God hates sinners worse than you hate poison. Just read his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

6) “Edwards believed that the revival that was happening in 1740 was the prelude of the consummation of the ages where ‘the world would be renewed’ and that God’s great and last work on the earth began in America.

7) “Edwards believed that emotional outbursts that included bodily manifestations were normal during a revival…He explained that this was a human response in some people to the power of the Spirit.

8) “Edwards believed that mystical experiences were part of the Christian experience.” (Mystical meaning “…an experience that’s spiritual that goes beyond the faculties of the frontal lobe.”) “On one occasion, a vision caused him to weep aloud for almost an hour. He points out that he had experiences like this numerous times: ‘I have many times had a sense of the glory of the third person in the Trinity, in his office of Sanctifier, in his holy operation, communicating divine light and life to the soul.’”

Have you ever met a Calvinist who described a personal spiritual experience like this? Maybe, if you know a Charismatic Calvinist.

9) Edwards believed that God’s sovereignty requires that He create the entire universe out of nothing at every moment. (Frank Viola, “Shocking Beliefs of Jonathan Edwards”, November, 2014)

I have been reading Jonathan Edwards for several months; not that I have fully comprehended his writings for he can be an extremely complicated person to follow with his long sentences, lack of punctuation, and circuitous repetitions of ideas, and I certainly have not read everything he has written. But here is my short list of his principles gleaned from what I read. I call them my Have you Heard Principles of Jonathan Edwards. I am supplying little or no commentary; just actual quotes from his writings so as to avoid accusations that I misrepresent this icon. My purpose in doing this is also to provoke you to think.

Have your heard of Jonathan Edward’s Star Trek Principle?

Of Being, 1721: I quote, “But I had as good speak plain: It is self-evident, I believe, to every man, that space is necessary, eternal, infinite, and omnipresent. But I had as good speak plain: I have already said as much as that space is God.”

Have you heard of Jonathan Edward’s Light Bulb Principle? From An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity: “The Son of God is the absolutely perfect idea of God.”; “The second person in the Trinity…is God’s perfect idea…God generated the Son by understanding His own essence…The Holy Spirit is the act of God between the Father and the Son infinitely loving and delighting in each other.”

God, the idea of God, and the delight of God equals Edwards’ Trinity.

“The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, un-originated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the Divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God’s infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct Persons.”

Have you heard of Jonathan Edward’s Hula Hoop Principle? God Makes Men Sensible of Their Misery, and Pressing Into the Kingdom: “It is God’s usual method before remarkable discoveries of his mercy and love to them, especially by spiritual mercies, in a special manner to humble them, and make them sensible of their misery and unworthiness, either by some remarkably humbling dispensation of his providence, or influence of his Spirit.”

1) “… He sets their sins in order before their eyes. He brings their old sins to their minds, so that they are fresh in their memory…God makes them sensible of the sin of their hearts, how corrupt and depraved their hearts are.”

2) “God convinces sinners of the dreadful danger they are in by reason of their sin. God makes them sensible that his displeasure is very dreadful. They are made in some measure sensible of the dreadfulness of hell.”

3) “They are made in some measure sensible of the connection there is between their sins and that wrath.”

4) “They cannot truly know the evil of sin against God, except it be by a discovery of his glory and excellence.”

5) “How does God assist the natural conscience so as to convince the sinner of his desert of hell? It is by light. The light which given evangelical humiliation, and which makes man sensible of the hateful and odious nature of sin, is a discovery of God’s glory and excellence and grace.”

6) “Natural men cannot see any thing of God’s loveliness, his amiable and glorious grace, or any thing which should attract their love; but they may see his terrible greatness to excite their terror.”

7) “God brings men to this despair in their own strength in these ways. When they first set out in seeking salvation, it may be they thought it an easy thing to be converted. And so God suffers them to go on striving to open their own eyes and mend their own hearts. He sometimes convinces them by their own trials, suffering them to try a long time to effect their own salvation.”

8) “If God is so pleased at such a time to make the soul hear his still small voice, his call to himself and to a Saviour, the soul is prepared to give it a joyful reception.”

9) “You cannot have convictions and awakenings when you please. God is sovereign as to the bestowment of them . There is a certain season, which God appoints for them, which is, above all others, a day of grace with them, when men have a very fair opportunity for securing eternal salvation.”

10) “God usually gives success to those who diligently, and constantly, and perseveringly seek conversion. However sinful a person is, and whatever his circumstances are, there is, notwithstanding a possibility of his salvation.”

Recall the stages of his own conversion. You have to keep moving to keep the hula hoop going, according to Edwards, you have to keep seeking, keep pursuing salvation, keep pressing on into the kingdom…see my point?

Have you Heard of Jonathan Edward’s Three Bears Principle? From Religious Affections. Remember the story of the Three Bears? It was either too much, too little, or just right. Edwards explains how one can determine if a conversion in genuine.

1) Too much: “Tis no sign one way or the other, that religious affections are very great, or raised very high. Tis no evidence that religious affections are of a spiritual and gracious nature, because they are great. Or that have great effects on the body.” (crying out in distress of their condemnation, fainting, and trembling when hearing messages of the terror of the Lord.); “Tis no sign that affections are truly gracious affections, that they cause those who have them to be fluent, fervent, and abundant in talking of the things of religion.”; “Tis no sign…that they come with texts of Scripture remarkably brought to mind.”

2) Too little: “Passing affections easily produce words; and words are cheap, and godliness is more easily feigned in words than in actions. Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints.”

3) Just right: “Gracious and holy affections have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. His behavior is universally conformed and directed by Christian rules. This business of holy practice is chiefly engaged in, devoted to, and pursued every day and persists until the end of his life.” This Christian practice was “the chief of all the evidences of a saving sincerity in religion.” Truly gracious affections were attended with evangelical humiliation and “the lamblike, dovelike spirit and temper of Jesus Christ.” “So the saints are said to live by Christ living in them. Christ by his Spirit not only is in them, but lives in them; and so that they live by his life…”

Have you Heard of Jonathan Edward’s Handel’s Messiah Principle? From The End of the Wicked: Have you often imagined what will occupy your time when in heaven? Consider what our “home boy” says you and the saints who have gone before will be enjoying:

“The saints in glory will see how the damned are tormented; they will see God’s threatenings fulfilled, and his wrath executed upon them. They will not be sorry for the damned; it will cause no uneasiness, or dissatisfaction; but on the contrary, when they have this sight, it will excite them to joyful praises. When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how this will heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state. When they see how miserable others of their fellow creatures are…when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity: how will they rejoice! You will see them all rejoicing at the sight of the glory of God’s justice, power, and terrible majesty, manifested in your torment. You will see them all with one voice, and with united joy, praising God for glorifying himself in your destruction.”

“How will you bear to see your parents, who in this life had so dear affection for you, now without any love to you, approving the sentence of condemnation, when Christ shall with indignation bid you depart, wretched, cursed creatures into eternal burnings? How will you bear to see and hear them praising the Judge, for his justice exercised in pronouncing this sentence, and hearing it with holy joy in their countenances, and shouting forth the praises and hallelujahs of God and Christ on that account? After you lie in hell thousands of years, and your torment shall yet continue without any rest day or night; they will not begin to pity you then; they will praise God that his justice appears in the eternity of your misery. As to those who are damned to hell, the saints in glory are not concerned for their welfare, and have no love nor pity towards them; and if you perish hereafter, it will be an occasion of joy to all the godly.”

My personal opinions and commentary are virtually nil in this second presentation. The evidence I gave was first hand—from his own pen. My goal was to give you the evidence needed in the laboratory I spoke of in my first talk.

Jonathan Edwards was born into a strict Calvinist household, was taught Calvinistic doctrine, he embraced Calvinism, and to his last breath defended Calvinism. The message of John Calvin became the man Jonathan Edwards.

Let us instead, allow the message of God’s own word become our message: “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable will of God.”

Session 2, Blog TalkRadio Podcast


Session 3 – Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Jonathan Edward’s  famous sermon Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God delivered to a congregation in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741, is often the only thing written by him some will ever read. American literature courses in high school and college include excerpts, and maybe the entire sermon in literature anthologies. It is usually presented to portray the awfulness of the Puritans and their Calvinistic religion. This was not the only hell fire sermon he delivered, yet, it is the one selected to represent Edwards and the Great Awakening movevent.  Contrary to YouTube and others who do dramatic presentations of this sermon, Edwards was not a pulpit pounding, foaming at the mouth, shouting minister. All of his messages were delivered in his low voice, almost monotone, with little emotion.

The old Puritan Way was eroding in New England for political and demographic reasons. They were no longer the majority population and most people living in 1720  who were born in the Congregational churches took it seriously, but did not regard the ministry or church doctrine with the respect their forebearers had felt.  Congregationalism wasn’t dead; most Congregationalists were still very concerned with their souls.  They just did not respond passionately to traditional Congregationalism anymore.  Voila! Enter the First of the Awakenings sometimes referred to as the Small Awakening. The revivals caught on. They addressed the people’s desire to be passionate about religion again.  In the absence of a literal wilderness to fight against, New Englanders in the 1730’s and 40’s fought against a spiritual wilderness. Preachers such as Whitfield and Edwards fought against the apathy and religious complacency that had replaced the Puritan religious zeal. Puritan religious zeal was more and more being transferred to politics.

Edwards appreciated the religious revivals because it brought people back to church and got them passionate about religion again. After all, true conversion was connected to the church.  Edwards being the theo-philosopher, and amateur psychologist of his time, was given opportunity to study and document the psychological steps involved in religious conversion.  Pre-occupied by this documentation, he did not realize that many who came to church in fear of damnation, did not come to believe that they were saved and fell into despair. Some took their own lives, such as Edwards’ uncle,  Joseph Hawley, who slit his throat in despair of his soul’s damnation.  Is there any question as to why this awakening faded in 1735?

It was sparked back to life in 1740 when the famous English Anglican minister George Whitfield answered Edwards’ request to come preach in Northampton. Whitfield convinced Edwards to preach the full revival.  What some do not know is the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was delivered by Edwards at least four times to four different congregations. He studied the make-up and psychology of each audience, and made changes to the sermon to accommodate each one. The first time he delivered the sermon was in his home church of Northampton and he was able to give the full sermon without interruption.  He repeated the sermon at Enfield, but his preaching reduced the audience to wailing, and loud crying, that drowned out the voice of Edwards before he could arrive at his hopeful conclusion.

In the sermon, he crafted his words, illustrations, and metaphors to inspire terror, to lead his listeners systematically and authoritatively to repent and humble themselves before the grace of a loving God in the hope of obtaining salvation.   His sermons were never concerned with persuading sinners to come to Christ or accept salvation. For the devout Calvinist only the arbitrary election of God determined who would be saved. (Voices of Democracy (2006)

The puzzles of his sermon:

  • He tells people they are in immediate danger of hell, urges them not to continue in their sinful ways, and seek a remedy for their sin. As a Calvinist, he cannot tell them to accept Christ and be saved—he doesn’t believe that. So the remedy is very vague, ie, “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”
  •  The emotional nature of his sermon is a puzzle. Edwards disliked hysterical emotionalism that was often connected to these revivals. Remember the Three Bears principle.  He did not approve or encourage his listeners to cry out in church, throw themselves on the floor, or any other dramatic thing. But he could not get the congregation to calm down so that he could finish his message.
  • Puritan ministers usually did not deliver hellfire sermons. He usually focused on the process of searching for God’s grace, the technical points of how to read God’s word, and how to live godly lives.   They were not focused on hell and damnation because he assumed that most people in the audience did not know their state and so haranguing them about hell would be counter-productive.
  • Edwards tells them that very few humans are saved, and even says that most of their friends and loved ones who have died, are undoubtedly in hell. It’s puzzling that he admonishes them to seek the remedy.
  • It’s puzzling that being a Calvinist purist he included Arminian ideas: that God can change your heart (the Puritans believed that to be impossible because God never changed his creation); that humans can become good (Puritans thought that impossible); and that God can decide to save someone previously condemned to hell (again, Puritans believed your fate was determined before the world was created). He repeats that there is nothing humans can do to avoid Hell, and then says humans have to do something, ie, “Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it.”  Saying if you continue in it clearly implies that you can choose not to continue in your sin, and thus can do something to save yourself.

It makes you wonder if Edwards would be surprised to know that “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” would seal his everlasting fame. It was only one of his hellfire revival sermons, and not indicative of the bulk of his work. If he had his druthers, he would likely have chosen his writings on the conversion process, the qualifications one needed for full church membership, even his study of spiders and rainbows to have lived on in popularity instead.

Regardless of this sermon, let’s take a look at the “afterglow” of Jonathan Edwards’ legacy.

Mark Driscoll preaches that God personally hates you and preached a sermon from Mars Hill that drew much comment and complaint.  Rick Holland in his book Uneclipsing the Son tells the reader that God is rightfully angry with us and at us, ie, “Our sin draws His wrath like a magnet draws steel.”  Jonathan Edwards’ sermon depicts an angry God, as does his treatise The End of the Wicked; and Driscoll, Holland and Piper follow in the bend of their beloved icon.

John Piper’s version of Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God after the bridge collapse in Minneapolis: “That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world. The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that we are sinners and need to repent.”

Those of the Calvinist bent inherited from John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards a picture of God who is constantly angry about something or someone and use portions of Scripture such as Nahum 1 as proof texts: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes, and vents his wrath against his enemies.”

We fail to appreciate the difference between an angry God and a God who gets angry.  Jonathan Edwards is the poster child for the angry God group, ie, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

According to a study which analyzed the results of a Gallup survey, belief in an angry God is “significantly associated with an increase in social anxiety, paranoia, obsession, and compulsion.”  When you are told repeatedly that you are totally depraved, worthless, and deserve God’s wrath, your mental, emotional, and spiritual health is in peril.  Who would want to join in a relationship with someone who is angry with you all the time? Edwards’ God is bound by His anger, and according to the theology of this American icon, has no choice but to be constantly angry at mankind, that’s His fundamental nature.

Consider this: God is not an angry God; God is a God who sometimes gets angry. A God who gets angry when anger is needed, like we see in Isaiah. God is angry at the hypocrisy of his children. He is angry with their evil deeds and ungodly behavior. But in His anger He gives the remedy: “[w]ash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:16-17) Quite a different remedy from the one of Edwards, isn’t it? “Therefore let everyone who is out of Christ fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of God is  now undoubtedly hanging over a great number of you.”

Consider this:  churches justify the spiritual abuse of their members because they work out of a place of anger, fear, and hate, thinking this is how God wants them to act. This is what ministers have been taught over the years, and this is what they teach to their congregations. So they pour out their wrath from a never dry well because they are embodying in themselves the type of God they believe in—a God who is fundamentally angry, and who has to be constantly angry otherwise He won’t be the omnipotent Being they need him to be, and want to be themselves, powerful and angry. (Zack Hunt)

We need God to get angry. When He sees oppression, injustice, spiritual abuse and tyranny in His house, we need Him to get angry because this is not the way He created us to be. God is not an angry God who wants His people to suffer, God is a God who gets angry when He sees His people suffer.

As believers, we are under the law of love, not under the law of condemnation. Let’s rejoice in that truth, let’s raise our hands and shout Amen to that truth of Scripture, not elevate dead men to hero status. Let’s refuse to make their false doctrines, their misrepresentations of God, and misuse of God’s Word as mission statements and church constitutions.

The insanity must end. We must continue to work to end it.  John 17:17 says, “Father, sanctify them through the truth, thy word is truth.”

Session 3, Blog TalkRadio Podcast