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A Review of Jonathan Edwards: A Life

In his writings on The Mind, Jonathan Edwards wrote the following regarding truth: “Truth is the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.”

  • Byron Snapp,
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In his writings on The Mind, Jonathan Edwards wrote the following regarding truth: “Truth is the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God.”

George Marsden, in his award-winning biography Jonathan Edwards, does a masterful job of presenting the reader with Jonathan Edwards’ desire to live out his definition of truth. Marsden reveals the mind and heart of a great saint through his in-depth research and apt quotations. I do not believe the above quotation is mentioned in the book; yet as I was reading, my mind continually returned to Edwards’ definition of truth.

Edwards lived in a time of conflict on a variety of fronts, including both church and state.

He was born into an authoritarian pastor’s home in 1603. His dad believed that one had to come under the heavy weight of the law, be awakened, be humbled, and then experience a dramatic conversion in order to be saved. Edwards had trouble convincing his father that he was converted because he could not give a testimony that fit neatly into his father’s step-by-step plan, but Edwards indeed had a great hatred of sin and struggled with his disobedience to God. Edwards expressed that from his youth he continued to be caught up with the beauty of God’s glory and majesty.

His father wanted him to serve in a nearby pastorate. Edwards’ service at this pastorate lasted only two years. For years Edwards wrestled with his desire to please his father, particularly when Edwards believed God was leading him in another direction.

Edwards faced many conflicts in his pastorates. He dealt with the excesses of various revivals God sent across his path. He sought Biblically to separate the wheat of true revival from the chaff that many contemporaries chose to overlook. As a pastor he had a great desire to see souls saved. He had a particular burden for the church youth of his day. This burden was a major reason why he entered into a church discipline case against a number of young males. This was unwise and resulted in him losing much of his influence among them in his remaining years at the Northampton church in Massachusetts. He also had a heart to reach out to nearby Indians. His concern for their salvation motivated him to send his nine-year-old son with a missionary to be raised among the Indians so that the son could more effectively minister to them in his adult years. His most famous battle in the Northampton church was his commitment to admit to the Lord’s Table only those individuals who could give a credible profession of faith. This was a reversal in the long-standing practice of the church and ultimately led to his dismissal.

After leaving the church, he faced the burden of how to provide for his growing family. He began a new ministry on the colonial frontier in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Conflict accompanied him as he sought to preach and to apply Biblical justice to the white settlers and the Indians alike. The settlers frequently dealt harshly and unfairly with their Indian neighbors. The Indians, in return, threatened and actually attacked white settlements. Edwards’ family faced an unstable situation. He found great solace in pondering God’s sovereignty and seeing His providence in daily life. Edwards rightly believed that all creation was related to God. He sought to explore and understand how all aspects of creation and daily life pointed to God. He filled notebooks with his conclusions. Marsden’s selection of quotations from these observations is very beneficial.

On the domestic front there does not seem to be conflict of the type that Edwards experienced elsewhere. Jonathan’s marriage to Sarah was one of great joy to both and one of real devotion. Marsden relates the difficulty that Sarah faced in the midst of her scholarly husband’s unbending commitment to long hours of daily study. He seemed to be oblivious to practical duties of home life, often leaving Sarah to shoulder great responsibilities alone.

Marsden eloquently details Edwards’ life year by year in this engrossing volume. He gives a realistic picture of his subject and sets him in the context of his times. This allows us to draw any number of practical lessons for our own lives and times. We, too, live in a day of ecclesiastical conflict and terrorist threats to which Scriptural thinking needs to be prayerfully applied.

Marsden not only provides the reader with many quotations from Edwards’ works, but he also provides excellent summaries of Edwards’ major works and other secondary writings. This adds great value to a beneficial, interesting volume. I could hardly put it down.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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