The Bible teaches that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. How foolish is it to say, “Child, look to yourself, a fool, to become wise and of noble character.” Character is like a vineyard. It needs to be cultivated and cared for with precision to produce the best fruit. In order to have a well shaped character, it is important, if not vital to have a living example. In the same vein, it is helpful and encouraging to look back in time to those who have gone before and glean intangible treasures. The woman of whom I would like to commend to my readers: Sarah Pierrepont Edwards (1710-1758), wife of the infamous theologian Jonathan Edwards.
I had the immense pleasure of reading a book written by Elisabeth Dodds entitled, “Marriage to a Difficult Man.” As I read about Sarah Edwards, admiration was welling up for this dear woman. I began noting ways that I wanted to be like her, for there were many indeed! As character constantly develops and gets sharpened over the years, it is always a humbling experience to see someone’s life in view. Because of Sarah Edwards’ example, I want to:
- Make Simple Things Beautiful
- Be my Husband’s Number One Fan
- Be a Dependable and Hospitable Hostess
- Make my Husband Look Good
- Stand on the Rock, Christ, and Lean on My Husband
Making Simple Things Beautiful
Creativity is not my strong suite. I admire those who can make something out of scraps and turn that which is ugly to a work of art. Sarah Edwards had the knack to take the mundane and bring life to it. She took that which was bland and added artistic flavor. For example, Sarah impressed a design on her home churched butter. Where other women would roll out of bed in the morning, Sarah ensured that she was presentable looking, tying a pretty ribbon in her hair. She would also put garnishes on plates to brighten the dreary New England day. Sarah was thoughtful, creative, and went out of her way to make the ordinary special.
The Number One Fan
‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ is one of the most famous sermons in the United States. Could you imagine not only being in the presence of this pastor but being married to him? You, knowing everything about him-his flaws, his fears, his dreams and aspirations. As great of a man as Jonathan Edwards was, he was a man. And he needed a tremendous wife in order for him to be able to do what he did. There were times where Jonathan Edwards needed an audience to practice his sermons and speeches and his wife was his solo audience. She would sit there by the fire, knitting, while listening and critiquing.
And then there were those romantic times where Jonathan and Sarah would go horse back riding together and he would bounce ideas off her and she conversed with him because she was his number one fan. She desired his success and loved him so deeply. He was her rock, her encouragement, and her guide. Like her, I want to my husband’s number one fan; cheering him on to take dominion in his garden of life.
In colonial times, doors did not have locks but only latches on the front door. There would be a string that would hang on the outside of the door giving the signal to visitors when it was suitable (or not) to come inside. Another snippet of the past is there were no inns for travelers in every city. People traveling through would be at the mercy of the citizens of the town. Usually what ended up happening was the travelers being directed toward the minister’s house. Sarah Edwards had the amazing ability to be a fantastic hostess and was well known throughout their area. Clergy from other towns would time their travels to traverse past the Edward’s home around dinner time. Sarah was extremely hospitable and kind to her guests. I would love to be that kind of woman where people would feel comfortable in my home and enjoy their time visiting. The Lord has blessed my family so abundantly and I want to bless others just like Sarah Edwards had the gift to do.
Making Husband Look Good
Reading about the famous Jonathan Edwards could leave one scratching their head. He was so impactful with his pen, but in person, it was hard to figure him out. The man of the house was not social. A large complaint from his church was that he did not go around making social calls to the congregants. Edwards spent the majority of his days and nights studying. But his wife made up for awkward social failures. Because of her work ethic, her well behaved children, and hospitality, she made her husband look good. When I meet someone and converse with them, I want them to think well of my husband because of my behavior.
I confess that I, out of my wicked heart, tend to be relieved when I see a woman who has it all together fail. I do not compare to some of these women, but deep down I want to be like them. But when reading about Sarah Edwards’ trials, I was not relieved but extremely sad for her. She was all too human like us all and had her difficulties. A few nervous breakdowns and emotional upheavals cast her down a few times. But, by God’s grace and mercy, I was thrilled to see her rise again out of the ashes of despair, wipe her dusty clothes off, and get back to life. She stood firm on her Savior and she leaned on the strength of her husband. She loved her husband dearly and trusted him. Jonathan was her rock, her guide, and her comfort. I want to trust my husband and lean on his strength like Sarah did.
It has been my pleasure and enjoyment to read this book on Sarah Edwards. Not only was I able to dip into history, I was able to glean wisdom and encouragement from this saint of old. I now have another example to look to and to follow in my journey through life as a woman, a wife, and a mother. I tremble at the thought of asking the Lord to cultivate my character like He did with Sarah Edwards. The fruit of her life which came from the well pruned branches by the Master Vinedresser certainly made an impeccable vintage. I am thankful for this example who has gone before.
(A letter by Jonathan Edwards, addressed to a young lady in the year 1741)
My dear young friend,
As you desired me to send you, in writing, some directions how to conduct yourself in your Christian course, I would now answer your request. The sweet remembrance of the great things I have lately seen at your church, inclines me to do anything in my power, to contribute to the spiritual joy and prosperity of God’s people there.
1. I would advise you to keep up as great an effort and earnestness in religion, as if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature, and were seeking conversion. We advise people under conviction, to be earnest and violent for the kingdom of heaven; but when they have attained to conversion, they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest, in the whole work of religion, but the more so; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For lack of this, many people, in a few months after their conversion, have begun to lose their sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and dark, and have ‘pierced themselves through with many sorrows;’ whereas, if they had done as the apostle did, (Philippians 3:12-14) their path would have been ‘as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day.’
2. Do not leave off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had already in conversion. Pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive sight, that you may know yourself, and be brought to God’s footstool; and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those who have most of these things, have need still to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness, pride and corruption remaining, that they still need to have that work of God wrought upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them, that shall be bringing them more and more out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, and be a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests that are proper for an impenitent man, that are not also, in some sense, proper for the godly.
3. When you hear a sermon, hear for yourself. Though what is spoken may be more especially directed to the unconverted, or to those who, in other respect, are in different circumstances from yourself; yet, let the chief intent of your mind be to consider, ‘In what respect is this applicable to me? and what improvement ought I to make of this, for my own soul’s good?’
4. Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet do not forget them yourself: often remember, what a wretched slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion; as the blessed apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting spirit, and his injuriousness to the godly; humbling his heart, and acknowledging that he was ‘the least of the apostles,’ and not worthy ‘to be called an apostle,’ and the ‘least of all saints,’ and the ‘chief of sinners.’ And be often confessing your old sins to God, and let that text be often in your mind, (Ezekiel 16:63.) ‘that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth any more, because of your shame, when I am pacified toward you for all that you have done, says the Lord God.’
5. Remember, that you have more cause, on some accounts, a thousand times, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been committed since conversion, than before; because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God, and to look upon the faithfulness of Christ, in unchangeably continuing his loving-kindness, notwithstanding all your great unworthiness since your conversion.
6. Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin, and never think that you lie low enough for it; but yet be not discouraged or disheartened by it; for, though we are exceeding sinful, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness, infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins!
7. When you engage in the duty of prayer, or come to the Lord’s supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship—come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did! Come, and cast yourself at His feet, and kiss them, and pour forth upon Him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured the precious perfume out of her pure broken alabaster jar! “There was a woman who was a notorious sinner in that city. When she learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s home, she took an alabaster jar of perfume and knelt at His feet behind Him. She was crying and began to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she kissed His feet over and over again, anointing them constantly with the perfume.” (Luke 7:37-38)
8. Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace, and of sweet communion with Christ: it was the first sin committed, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan’s whole building, and is with the greatest difficulty rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps insensibly into the midst of religion, even, sometimes, under the disguise of humility itself. “To fear the Lord is to hate evil. I hate arrogant pride, evil conduct, and perverse speech.” (Proverbs 8:13)
9. That you may pass a correct judgment concerning yourself, always look upon those as the best discoveries, and the best comforts, that have most of these two effects: those that make you least and lowest, and most like a child; and those that most engage and fix your heart, in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God, and to spend and be spent for him.
10. If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul, in dark and dull frames of mind—it is proper to review your past experience; but do not consume too much time and strength in this way. Rather apply yourself, with all your might, to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light, and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining old experience, by the best marks that can be given, through a whole year.
11. When the exercise of grace is low, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails; do not desire to have fear cast out any other way, than by the reviving and prevailing of love to God in the heart. By this, fear will be effectually expelled, as darkness in a room vanishes away, when the pleasant beams of the sun are let into it.
12. When you counsel and warn others do it earnestly, and affectionately, and thoroughly. Remember that you are speaking to your equals—let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness, and of the sovereign grace that makes you differ.
13. If you would set up pious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend, I would think it would be very proper and profitable.
14. Under special difficulties, or when in great need of, or great longings after, any particular mercy, for yourself or others—set apart a day for secret prayer and fasting by yourself alone; and let the day be spent, not only in petitions for the mercies you desire, but in searching your heart, and in looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God—not as it accustomed to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God of the sins of your past life, from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with the circumstances and aggravations attending them, and spreading all the abominations of your heart very particularly, and fully as possible, before him.
15. Do not let the adversaries of the cross have occasion to reproach true religion on your account. How holy should the children of God, the redeemed and the beloved of the Son of God, behave themselves! Therefore, ‘walk as children of the light, and of the day,’ and ‘adorn the doctrine of God your Savior.’ And especially, abound in what are called the Christian virtues—which make you like the Lamb of God. Be meek and humble of heart, and full of pure, heavenly, and humble love to all. Abound in deeds of love to others, and self-denial for others. Let there be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.
16. In all your daily living, walk with God, and follow Christ, as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the marks of the wounds in his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin, and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robes of his righteousness.
17. Pray much for the ministers and the church of God; especially, that he would carry on his glorious work which he has now begun, until the world shall be full of his glory.
God is Very Angry at the Sins of Children – Puritan Jonathan Edwards
2 Kings 2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.
Jonathan Edwards was no exception. As a boy, Edwards struggled with questions regarding God’s sovereignty in salvation. He later remarked that he was “full of objections against the doctrine…. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.” (Cited in George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 40.) Put bluntly, the young Edwards hated Calvinistic doctrine.
And so, he exercised the full weight of his brilliant mind against it, reading far and wide to discredit it. Yet the thought that he was rebelling against his sovereign Creator weighed heavily on his conscience.
God would convince him yet. Though Edwards undertook to confound God’s absolute sovereignty, the Holy Spirit opened his eyes through Scripture. Reading 1 Timothy 1:17, the truth of this great doctrine suddenly dawned on him.
As he put it:
I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be wrapped up to God in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in Him. (Ibid., 41)
As he continued to study his Bible, Edwards became convinced that God was sovereign, and delightfully so. From that point on, the sovereign glory of God composed the zenith of Jonathan Edwards’ thought. Consequently, Edwards dedicated much thought to an articulation and defense of God’s sovereignty, such as in his great treatise, Freedom of the Will.
In time, Edwards would fill the pulpit of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. There, Edwards refined his understanding in the fires of the pulpit. One sermon, entitled God’s Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men, brilliantly demonstrates the change that God, through Scripture, had wrought in Edwards’ thinking.
In that sermon, Edwards explains that God exercises sovereignty in salvation because “it was His original design to make a manifestation of His glory, as it is” (Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, 58.) That is to say, the purpose for which God created the world, and the purpose for which He saves sinners, is that He might exhibit a full display of His glory.
But this implies a critical necessity: In order for God to display the fullness of His glory, He must manifest the full display of His attributes.
If God did not display all of His attributes, His glory would be subsequently diminished. As Edwards explains:
If God’s wisdom be manifested, and not his holiness, the glory of his wisdom would not be manifested as it is; for one part of the glory of the attribute of divine wisdom is, that it is a holy wisdom. So if his holiness were manifested, and not his wisdom, the glory of his holiness would not be manifested as it is; for one thing which belongs to the glory of God’s holiness is, that it is a wise holiness. So it is with respect to the attributes of mercy and justice…. The glory of one attribute cannot be manifested, as it is, without the manifestation of another. (Ibid.)
That is to say, if God showed only His wisdom and not His holiness, the glory of His wisdom would be diminished; or, if He exhibited only His mercy and not His justice, the glory of His mercy would be diminished. As Edwards notes in that same context, God’s attributes “reflect glory on one another.” And, because God is unified in His attributes, all of His attributes would be diminished by the absence of any one of them.
The necessary conclusion, then, is that God must exhibit His sovereignty (like His wisdom, holiness, mercy, and justice) in order to fully display the unified glory of His attributes.
There are two implications that might be drawn from how Edwards demonstrates his thinking here:
First, Edwards has an utterly God-centered understanding of the universe. Be it salvation, creation, the Scriptures, or the Christian life, all things point back to the character and work of God. How great a contrast to our day where the obsession is not with God but with man, not with heaven but with earth.
Second, Edwards grounds his theology in arguments from Scripture. He endeavors to his thesis with such clarity and biblical support, that the only response is one of worship and obedience.
Such is the only appropriate reaction to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. As Edwards himself explains:
Let us therefore give God the glory of his sovereignty, as adoring him, whose sovereign will orders things, beholding ourselves as nothing in comparison with him. Dominion and sovereignty require humble reverence and honor in the subject. The absolute, universal, and unlimited sovereignty of God requires, that we should adore him with all possible humility and reverence. It is impossible that we should go to excess in lowliness and reverence of that Being, who may dispose of us to all eternity, as he pleases. (Ibid., 60)