Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography

I’m now about halfway through Iain Murray’s biography of Edwards, and I just wanted to take a minute here to heartily recommend it. I realize that a recommendation this early in the book might be risky, but I feel fairly certain that the quality will continue to the end.

There are a few reasons why I think it’s a good one to read:

1. Jonathan Edwards is one of the most misunderstood characters in American history, in my opinion. I remember being a junior in high school and being assigned “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to read for American Literature class and just rolling my eyes and hating it. How many of you have had the same experience?
There is a characterization of Edwards as a heartless, antisocial, stoic Puritan that leaves out the majority of the man’s real person. Even the more sympathetic “absent-minded professor”-type evaluation by modern evangelicals is unfair, says Murray. He was a warm friend, someone who yes, studied hard, but also regularly sought people out to come to his home and involve them in his family.
I think I’ve posted this before, but this is one of my favorite quotes in reference to Edwards and his family, from George Whitefield:

Felt wonderful satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. He is a Son himself, and hath also a Daughter of Abraham for his wife. A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were dressed not in silks and satins, but plain, as becomes the children of those who, in all things ought to be examples of Christian simplicity. She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talked feelingly and solidly of the Things of God, and seemed to be such a help mate for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for many months, I have put up to God, that he would be pleased to send me a daughter of Abraham to be my wife.

2. Murray has an excellent understanding of Edwards’ theology and why it was so important. Calvinism is the doctrine that people love to hate in the American church today, but held within these pages (especially those in the chapters entitled “The Green Valley of Humiliation” and ” ‘Thirteen Hours, Every Day’ “) is an excellent explanation of the doctrines of grace and an exploration of the influence it had on Edwards and his ministry.

When [God] decrees diligence and industry, He decrees riches and prosperity; when He decrees prudence, He often decrees success; when He decrees striving, then often He decrees the obtaining of the Kingdom of Heaven; when He decrees the preaching of the Gospel, then He decrees the bringing home of souls to Christ; when He decrees good natural faculties, diligence, and good advantage of them, He decrees learning; when He decrees summer, then He decrees the growing of plants; when He decrees conformity to His Son, He decrees calling; and when He decrees will, He decrees justification; and when He decrees justification, He decrees everlasting glory. Thus all the decrees of God are harmonious.

(from the Miscellanies, #29)

3. Great American history told herein! Did you know that there was a big spat about where Yale University was actually going to set up shop? For a year or two, there were two campuses. Murray also paints a nice picture of early New England and the relative warmth of the people in Northampton compared to areas that lay further out. Since the people of Northampton lived in close proximity to one another, they had better manners (warm New Englanders! who’da thunk it?!).

Anyway, I just wanted to get this plug in here amidst all the baby sewing and kids’ activities so you all know that my mind isn’t going to mush 😉 … and in case the baby comes and I don’t actually finish this book until sometime next spring.

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