Friday, January 16, 2009

Jonathan & Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union (Part 4)

An eternal union of love

The tomb of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards

The family removed to the frontier town of Stockbridge, where Jonathan served as a missionary to the Native Americans. He wrote some of his most important theological works in the wilderness of Stockbridge, including The Freedom of the Will and Original Sin. Sarah was kept busy in the home and was active in the community. The town was affected by the Indian wars. Stockbridge was a dangerous place to be. Yet many refugees fled there for shelter. Sarah put in a claim for providing 800 meals for needy displaced people.

If ever a marriage was ‘made in heaven’ it was that of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. Sarah’s practical and caring disposition and wise management of family affairs allowed Jonathan to concentrate on his preaching and theological work. When Scottish friends dispatched some supplies and provisions to the Edwards, they sent them to Sarah, knowing that she would make more profitable use of the goods than her otherworldly husband. She was a living embodiment of the wise and godly woman described in Proverbs 31.

If anything, Sarah’s reputation for godliness exceeded that of her husband. Once Jonathan Edwards as booked to preach at the ordination of one Job Strong in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But a local man Samuel Moody had been asked act as substitute should Edwards have been delayed on the long journey. Much to the disappointment of the packed church, Edwards failed to arrive at the time when service was due to start. Moody began to lead the service and in the prayer before the sermon he lamented that ‘the eminent servant of God, the Rev. Mr. Edwards of Northampton’ was not with them. He began to extol Edwards’ virtues – his ‘uncommon piety, great excellence as a preacher’ and so on. Unknown to the poor preacher, Edwards had unobtrusively entered the church as Moody began to pray. He quietly made his way into the pulpit and as Moody finished praying and opened his eyes, there was the eminent Mr. Edwards standing next to him!

Recovering quickly from his shock, Moody shook the eminent preacher by the hand and greeted him with the words,

"Brother Edwards, we are all of us much rejoiced to see you here today, and nobody, probably as much as myself; but I wish that you might have got in a little sooner, or a little later, or else that I might have heard you when you came in, and known you were here. I didn’t intend to flatter you to your face; but there’s one thing I’ll tell you: They say that your wife is a-going to heaven by a shorter road than yourself."

But Jonathan Edwards was to arrive in heaven before his wife. He was called from the backwater of Stockbridge to become Principal of the newly formed Princeton College. An outbreak of smallpox hit the town and fatalities were high. Jonathan had himself inoculated, but the jab was botched. Tragically Edwards died shortly after taking office. The dying Principal sent a message to his wife via Lucy, their youngest daughter,

"Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest regards to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue for ever. And I hope she will be supported under so great a trial and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a Father who will never fail you."

Shortly after this Edwards looked about and said, "Now where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?" Then, on March 22 1758, he went to be with the God of his salvation. Sarah responded to this heavy and unexpected blow with great grace,

"What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be."

Sarah was soon to join her Jonathan in glory. She died of dysentery on October 2nd 1758 and was buried in her husband’s grave in Princeton. Theirs was indeed an “an uncommon union”. Michael Haykin puts his finger on what made the Edwards’ marriage such a happy one,

"Their benevolent love for God and his world – truly uncommon in this selfish, sinful world – had bonded them together during their married lives. It was a ‘spiritual’ love. As McClendon puts it, they were ‘two who have breathed together the breath of the same Spirit.’ And as such, it was eternal for it joined them to the triune God."

In the concluding point of his expositions of 1 Corinthians 13, Charity and its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards said,

"If you would be in the way to the world of love, see that you live a life of love - of love to God and love to men. All of us hope to have a part in the world of love hereafter, and therefore we should cherish the spirit of love, and live a life of holy love here on earth. This is the way to be like the inhabitants of heaven, who are now confirmed in love for ever... Thus also, you may have a sense of the glory of heavenly things, as of God, and Christ, and holiness; and your heart be disposed and opened by holy love to God, and by the spirit of peace and love to men, to a sense of the excellence and sweetness of all that is to be found in heaven."

Bibliography

Memoir of Jonathan Edwards by Sereneo E. Dwight, Chapter XI. See online version here - from p. 106 of pdf document.

Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, by Iain Murray, Banner of Truth Trust. Especially see chapter entitled 'Personal Portraits'.

Jonathan Edwards, The Holy Spirit in revival, by Michael Haykin, Evangelical Press. Chapter 7, 'The Comforter is come: Sarah Edwards and the vision of God'. Reviewed here.

George Whitefield: The life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century, Volume 1, by Arnold Dallimore, Banner of Truth. Chapter 32, 'The Fall Tour - New England', especially p. 537-538.

* Notes of a talk given at our Penknap Ladies' Meeting.