Three hundred years ago a giant was born. It would be appropriate to reflect on the life and doctrines of the self-effacing servant of God, Jonathan Edwards. I would suggest a simple book that gives a fly-by overview of the life and major works of Jonathan Edwards. It would be extremely useful to the person who is unfamiliar with this great man. Read my brief comments on Stephen Nichols’ introduction to Jonathan Edwards.
Jonathan Edwards, A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought
P&R Publishing, 2000
I read this book in one sitting, and I think it is worth telling you about. Nichols is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and chairs that society’s Jonathan Edwards Study Group. I think if he has something to say on the subject, we should listen. The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 has two chapters which give a brief summary of Jonathan Edwards’ life. My personal wish is that Nichols had dedicated more material to this portion of the book, but as it is merely an introduction we can’t expect a sense of completion at the reading of it.
Part 2 introduces the reader to Edwards’ writings on revival and church life. The works covered are God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, A Faithful Narrative, Religious Affections, and An Humble Inquiry.
Nichols says that Edwards’ teaching on God’s sovereignty in God Glorified is powerfully effective because it does not ring with sharp rhetoric against the Arminian view, but instead “he presents the doctrine of sovereignty in all of its glory and luster, and in the process makes any alternative look entirely undesirable” (75).
I think Nichols does a fine job summarizing Edwards’ defense of the revival by commenting on the doctrine of conversion that is so essential to understanding real revival. Several pages are dedicated to the account of the four-year-old Phebe Bartlet’s conversion. My personal opinion is that this chapter could be used to provoke some hearty discussion on the conversion of the soul, and I would like to remind everyone that Jonathan Edwards was in the spiritual lineage of the great Puritan preacher, Thomas Hooker, who championed a biblical study of true conversion.
I really enjoyed the brief summary of Religious Affections and I hope that my people will read this chapter with special attention. (The adult SS class at MSBC is doing a study on Edwards’ and his most famous sermon this summer to commemorate the 300th year of his birth). Nichols kindly reminds the reader that the revivalists of today (i.e. Toronto Blessing) cannot rightly claim the blessing of Edwards on their ecstasy. This work is one of the more popular of Edwards writings and, according to Nichols, this is one reason why it is so misinterpreted along with the fact that most people read an abridgement (110). Nichols says the Edwards knew of the potential difficulty the choice of the word “affections” would cause, but nevertheless decided upon it because “true religion consists in holy affections that are grounded upon the work of the Spirit in conversion, result in assurance of salvation, and evidence themselves throughout one’s life in love and holiness” (123). One thing that I found helpful was Nichols’ sobering reminder to read Edwards’ twelve signs of genuine religious affections with serious introspection and personal application. (The abbreviated twelve signs are listed on page 117). He reiterates what he says several times throughout the book that the Puritans dreaded the possibility of self-deception, and we would do well to inherit a little bit of that godly phobia.
Part 3 summarizes some of Edwards’ writings on theology and philosophy and includes a summary on the famous Freedom of the Will. The final part (4) summarizes three messages. Obviously, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is commented on since it happens to be the most famous message in American history. But I was personally blessed be the summaries of two messages: The Most High, a Prayer-Hearing God and Heaven Is a World of Love. The simple summary moved me to my knees here in my study.
Nichols closes each chapter with a section entitled Note on the Sources which is extremely helpful for any who would want to do more reading. I also appreciated the last chapter entitled Continuing the Journey, A Brief Guide to Books by and about Jonathan Edwards. Many excellent sources are commented on in this chapter which should be appreciated as coming from an expert on the subject.
I heartily recommend this book to any who are not familiar with Edwards.
Filed under: Biographical |