I have been recently observing an unfortunate phenomenon: Jonathan Edwards is not well known. My referencing of Edwards in conversation has usually been met with an astonishing, “Who?” or, the caricature of the angry, downcast, miserable, depressed, joy-stealing preacher of “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” springs to mind and immediately prejudices the hearer against considering anything positive about the rural pastor from North Hampton, Connecticut. Sadly, this trend has settled in among those who should know and love him best: the Church of Jesus Christ.
I certainly do not directly blame the Church for casting Edwards’ life and ministry aside and remaining ignorant of the truth he labored to give to God’s people for their health and spiritual good. It is probably mostly the fault of the secular schoolbooks and scholarly critics that speak of Edwards from heavily biased opinion and from misinterpretations his life and teaching. This has, regrettably, painted a picture of Edwards in the minds of Americans that is very unlike the original.
And how tragic! The God-exalting, Christ-centered, humble, love-filled life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards has provided us with deeply satisfying, spiritually nourishing, life-giving, fruit-bearing sustenance for our souls, and yet we have forsaken this well of pure water because we have come to believe, essentially, that it is contaminated! Let us not be content to allow secular authors and critics to have the sole voice to speak to us about our founding fathers! O that we would reclaim that original portrait of this great man from the theft of misinterpretation and place it back securely in its proper place: the Church of Jesus Christ, so that all people can come, see, and enjoy!
Iain Murray, with great skill and spiritual insight, has certainly provided us with the means to do just that in his book, Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. With this book, Murray has provided us with an accurate, edifying, truthful account of Edwards’ life that not only examines his theological convictions, but also demonstrates how those convictions flourished in his everyday life. Edwards is portrayed in real life, with real struggles, real passions, real heartbreak, in the context of a real family, supported, and held up by a God who was more real than all the aforementioned.
Along with a detailed, evangelical interpretation of Edwards life, thought and ministry, Murray provides many excerpts from Edwards’ pen that are helpful and practical for any reader. Most notable is Edwards’ keen insight on the issue of spiritual pride. Edwards writes, “Spiritual pride is a most monstrous thing. If it be not discerned, and vigorously opposed in the very beginning, it very often soon raises persons above their teachers, and supposed spiritual fathers, and sets them out of the reach of all rule and instruction, as I have seen in innumerable instances” (341).
It can be safely assumed that Edwards saw the ‘beginnings’ of such pride when he personally wrote a young lay-man who had taken the pulpit during a time when the regular pastor was absent, instructing him to stop this practice. In the letter that Murray supplies, we read from Edwards, “I am fully satisfied by the account your father has given me, that you have lately gone out of the way of your duty, and done that which did not belong to you, in exhorting public congregations…I hope you will consider the matter, and for the future, avoid doing thus. You ought to do what good you can, by private, brotherly, humble admonitions and counsels; but ‘tis too much for you to exhort public congregations” (222). Murray also supplies essential quotes from Edwards regarding proper understanding of the Great Awakening, true conversion, and pastoral study, just to name a few.
Without making an unnecessary overstatement, I can easily that Murray’s New Biography has been one of the most edifying and helpful books I have ever read. I often take it back off my shelf to reflect and meditate on significant portions of the book. It is well-written, detailed, thorough, extremely helpful, very interesting, and will provide the reader with a clear understanding of the life and ministry of Jonathan Edwards; not to mention a solid introduction to his theological thought. I heartily recommend it!