Updated: Feb 7
A 'dull, monotone' preacher, some called him.
Others knew him as the calm, quiet man who preached a harsh message.
Yet no matter the method of delivery, most people agree that his sermons had a way of piercing straight to the heart. He was one of God's faithful instruments in bringing about The Great Awakening.
Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in the Connecticut Colony. From a young age, he had an intense interest in religion and science. He wrote many essays and even started a club at a swamp where he would meet with other boys to discuss spiritual matters and pray.
At age 13, Edwards began his undergraduate studying at Yale University. It was here at college, at the age of 17, that he became a Christian. Edwards describes his experience,
"There came into my soul...a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense quite different from anything I had ever experienced before."
After graduating, Edwards studied theology for two more years at Yale. He was a man not content with book knowledge of God alone. His desire was to know God more personally and to teach others how to do so.
You see, the spiritual life in the colonies at that time was incredibly dull. Although most preachers were generally well-educated, they lacked the deep burden to save souls, and some of them were not even Christians themselves! George Whitefield, another man who played a large role in The Great Awakening, truly wrote of that time,
"I am greatly persuaded that the generality of preachers talk of an unknown, unfelt Christ. And the reason why congregations have been so dead is because dead men preach to them."
Because of this tragedy, Edwards chose not to complicate his sermons with intelligent-sounding theological statements, which only sounded like jibberish to the common man anyway. He was deeply rooted in his conviction that if he could just reach a person's heart first, then he would be able to instruct them successfully. Without a heart connection, his words would only go in one ear and right out the other. I think it is important to note that Edwards was not a man who believed in invoking emotion in people simply for emotion’s sake. He wanted that emotion to lead them to God, and then to action (Ex. Rom. 2:4). He was dutifully concerned with the salvation of the lost.
In 1727, Edwards was ordained and he married Sarah Pierrepont. Two years later in 1729, his grandfather, Reverend Solomon Stoddard died, and he took his place, becoming the full-time minister in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts.
Up to this point, many people's spiritual lives were in shambles, and they needed a revival. Jonathan Edwards was the man to do it. He was not a great orator, so he did not rely on his speaking skills to get the people to listen. The world was not falling apart, so he did not use the burden of a great calamity to get the people to listen. And fancy sounding words did not get the people to listen either because they already had that. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that opened up the hearts and minds of Edward's listeners and invoked repentance toward and obedience to God.
In just a few years, hundreds of people joined the church! Well-known sinners were converted! Remarkable events took place. The once dull pew-sitters became people who would weep and shudder at Edwards' heartfelt sermons. Truly, God was doing amazing work in that place that would bring him glory for centuries.
Edwards' sermon topics were mostly centered on sin and the state of man, the wrath of God, the mercy of God, and the holiness of God. He was not afraid to preach the truth, no matter how harsh-sounding, but he preached it with a heart full of love for the lost and wayward. Probably one of Edwards' most well-remembered sermons is titled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." In this sermon he states,
"All you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God."
In 1748, some of the church leaders wanted to let unsaved people be members of the church and take part in church ordinances such as Communion and baptism. Jonathan Edwards was firm when he told the church that he would definitely not let any unsaved person take part in those activities, as they were reserved only for people belonging to Christ. This made the church leaders mad, and for a while, this subject was discussed and debated many times. Finally, two years later in 1750, the church leaders kicked Jonathan Edwards out of his position as minister of that church.
Edwards was no doubt heartbroken. He moved his wife and children to Stockbridge, Massachusetts with him, where he ministered to the Indians. They lived in Stockbridge for seven years. Edwards was now free from pastoral duties and had much time to study and write. He loved his family very much. He and his wife had eleven children, and Edwards spent time with them every single night.
Seven years later, at the age of 55, on March 22 in 1758, Jonathan Edwards died. He was a noble man who spoke the word of God boldly no matter the cost, and he would not sacrifice his heartfelt passion for eloquence. He was humble and patient. And most memorably, Edwards helped bring about a spiritual revival, known as The Great Awakening.
And, Edwards's death did not end The Great Awakening. Many more came after him, leaving a story behind that we now can learn from and be inspired by.
Until next time,
Tayla Skye Schroeder
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Sermon: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/pdf/edwards_angry.pdf
1. Hobar, Linda Lacour. The Mystery of History, IV, Bright Ideas Press, Dover, DE, 2014, pp. 17–20. Wars of Independence to Modern Times.
2. Wiersbe, Warren W. “Chapter 4 Jonathan Edwards.” 50 People Every Christian Should Know, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2009, pp. 30–37.