12 Lessons from the Life of Edwards
1. The Importance of True Godliness
Edwards found that many who professed faith were not truly born again and spiritual people. In his day as in the days of Jesus there were many hypocrites in the church. They are orthodox in their beliefs and outwardly upright in their lives, but the Holy Spirit has never come into their hearts. The foolish virgins in many ways resembled the wise and were not easily distinguished by the onlooker, but a vital ingredient was missing. It is the same today. It is possible to be a church member, an elder and even a minister and still not be converted. Some in Northampton had wonderful experiences of conviction and joy in the revivals and yet were in a state of nature rather than a state of grace. Edwards wrote possibly his greatest book entitled Religious Affections to set out the distinguishing marks of a work of saving grace. ‘Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves’ (2 Cor 13:5). Closing the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used terrible words when he warned of the Judgment Day: ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity’ (Mt 7:22-23). We must be truly godly not just pretend Christians.
2. The Place of Prayer
If Edwards was characterised by anything it was his prayer life. He prayed on his own, he prayed with his wife, he prayed with his family, he prayed with his congregation and he prayed with like-minded brethren. He prayed constantly wherever he was and whatever he was doing, he had his regular daily devotions and he had special days of fasting and prayer. He united with men in Scotland (M’Laurin, Robe, McCulloch, Erskine) and elsewhere in keeping part of Saturday night, and Sunday morning and also the first Tuesday of every quarter starting with the first Tuesday in November as a special day of prayer for the outpouring of the Spirit in revival, that mission work might prosper, that the Jews would be converted, and that the kingdom of Christ would come world-wide. This was known as the ‘Concert for United Prayer’. Are you a praying person? Are your daily prayer-times the most important part of the day? Do you have special times of fasting, humiliation and prayer? Do you pray and long for revival? Oh what blessings we would see if we prayed more!
3. Believed God could do a Great Work
Edwards believed in revivals and he looked for them. In God’s mercy he experienced two great revivals under his own ministry. He saw the careless seriously concerned about their souls, unconverted members under conviction of sin repenting unto life, great sinners transformed by the grace of God, the church alive with zeal for God and the whole community affected with the fear of God. Do you believe that in 2011 God could transform your church, parish and nation? Are you expecting revival? Do you have a small view of God? Do you think modern man is too clever and sophisticated for God to convert millions in Britain?
4. Concerned for the Salvation of His Children
One of the great burdens of Edwards’ life was his family. He had eight daughters and three sons. He taught them, prayed with them and for them, wrote long serious letters to them about their souls, took them individually on long journeys on horseback with him and earnestly pleaded with them to make their peace with God. To him nothing was more important for his children. How much does your children’s salvation matter to you? Are you more concerned about their souls than their bodies, their health, their education, their wealth and their success? To Edwards this was a matter of vital concern and it should be to us too.
5. The Importance of Guarding the Lord’s Table
Many churches leave it to the individual whether they will partake of communion or not. The bread and the wine are handed to everyone present. Edwards was eventually prepared to suffer the loss of his salary and removal from his ministerial charge in order to keep the unconverted, and therefore the unworthy from the table of the Lord. Of course it is impossible for mere man to see the heart and so to keep all the unregenerate from the table. However Edwards was concerned that we should not join with the devil in adding tares to the field of wheat. Church discipline should be practised, and the eldership has a vital role in this. Only those who have a creditable profession of faith should be allowed to sit at the table. The table is not for the unconverted nor for those whose life contradicts their Christian profession. Scripture warns:
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.1 Corinthians 11:28-30
6. The Error of Arminianism
The idea that a man has free will to save himself, that he is not totally depraved, and so can choose God and salvation, leads the individual to put his faith in himself. Edwards saw a short step between one claiming to have the natural ability to believe unto salvation and one not needing a Saviour at all. He was alarmed by Arminianism as he saw it leading to faith in man, to a rejection of the atonement and so to Unitarianism (rejection of the Trinity). Edwards totally rejected Arminianism rightly seeing it as a serious error and he preached and wrote against it. He could see where it was leading and where in New England it eventually led. The Arminian churches there became Unitarian. His great book on the Freedom of the Will was written to counteract this heresy. God is sovereign and salvation is all of grace. Do you have faith in man or faith in God? Are you giving all the glory for your salvation to God alone?
7. The Duty and Blessing of Hospitality
‘Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares’ (Heb 13:2). Edwards’ home was always busy. Caring love was shown to all who came. No one was turned away and many used Northampton manse as a stopping off place on their journeys. Students came and stayed for months studying under Edwards. What an example his home was! David Brainerd, a missionary to the Indians, arrived one day seriously ill. He was welcomed and cared for till he died. A very godly young man, Edwards mentioned the blessing that his prayers were in the household. After his death Edwards laid aside other writing projects and concentrated on editing the diaries that Brainerd had left behind. It became Edwards’ most popular book and influenced generations of missionaries. Instead of emphasising Brainerds’ success in missionary labours (and there were successes), it rightly laid the stress upon something far more important – upon his selfless devotion to God and the gospel.
8. The Best of Ministers can be forced out of Churches
Edwards was a great preacher who saw many converts. He was a wonderful Bible teacher. He was a godly man who wrestled with God in prayer on behalf of his flock. Yet he was voted out of his congregation because of his stand for truth and righteousness. He was against the unconverted coming to the Lord’s table and bringing judgment upon themselves. Many of those saved under his ministry stood against him. How shocking! Yet Jesus, the perfect minister, met with hostility and promised His faithful servants that they too would have tribulation in this world. The great Apostle Paul struggled against opposition in Galatia, Corinth and elsewhere. This is an encouragement to persecuted ministers. You are not the first to be thrown out.
9. God’s overruling Sovereignty
We might well wonder why God allowed the moving of Edwards from the influential church in Northampton to little Stockbridge, yet God has His plan and all works together for good for the child of God and the cause of Christ. At Stockbridge Edwards had the peace and quiet to write several of his best books which have been a treasure to the Christian church ever since. Cast your cares upon the Lord, knowing that He cares for you and is directing all to the best end. ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4.6-7). ‘The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof’ (Ps 97:1).
10. God does not need our Gifts
Edwards died at the early age of 54. His father lived till he was 89. If Edwards had been spared he could have influenced a generation of young men studying at Princeton College who later would become some of the political leaders of an independent America as well as others who would become ministers. At the time of his death he had great plans for new important books which he wished to write. He was at his prime with so much to offer but God took him home. His life’s work was done. God needs no one. He can raise from the stones children to Abraham and mighty preachers of his Word. Remember no one is indispensable. Instead of pinning your hope for the future of the church on gifted men, trust in God.
11. The Importance of Preparing for Death
Sooner or later death will come to us all. Edwards spent his life preparing for death and so should you and I. He had a peaceful deathbed trusting in Jesus of Nazareth his ‘never-failing Friend’. God’s presence removed fear. ‘Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near’ (Is 55:6). His last words showed that he trusted in God for the future of the church. We are to work while it is yet today because the night is coming. Wesley famously said: ‘Our people die well’. Will this be true of you?
12. Optimistic Views of the Kingdom of God
There is far too much pessimism around today. The idea seems to be that things will just get worse and worse. No! Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Thy kingdom come’, and He would not ask us to pray for something that was against His will. His kingdom shall come and He shall reign over the whole world. The Psalmist prophesies: ‘They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him’ (Ps 72:9-11). To date all kings and presidents have not fallen down and worshipped him. In another place the Psalmist states: ‘All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name’ (Ps 86:9). We have seen remnants of the nations worshipping Him but we still await the day when it can be said in truth that all nations worship Him. Let us be optimistic. Let us attempt great things for God and expect great things from God as William Carey, the great missionary to India, so famously said and did.