I’ve been quite enthralled with reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards written in 2004. I’ve greatly reduced the amount of material I’m reading at the current moment, partly due to my Greek lessons, high volume of work at my place of employment, studying for the small group I’m leading, and personal struggles in procrastinating. But this work by George Marsden is encompassing my desires of thought. It is, in my judgement, a page turner. Every time I open it I see the relevance to most of my own struggles early in my Christian walk and especially now. Edward’s struggles in his early life, before he garnered the pastorate in Northampton, were vast and from my personal vantage point quite aspiring. For the few years after graduating he struggled with prayer. Imagine that? For those who have read about his life, or read anything from his wealth of insights might be aghast at finding this out. I know I was. I was aware he suffered from depression(melancholy as they called it then), to be sure, but to find out it was a great struggle during the years before becoming a full time pastor was a revelation of the highest order. Not some days ago a brother from church and I had a brief discussion and this very thing came up as an area of despair for him. It is something I struggle with as well. My prayer life is something I struggle with, not in the course of the day, but at times I wish I were more astute at it, e.g. with others, spontaneous, planned, before and after gathering with other believers, etc. The last chapter I read in the volume was particularly encouraging. On pg. 105 the author quotes an entry from May 28 1725, “It seems to me, that whether I am now converted or not, I am so settled in the state I am in , that I shall go on in it all my life. But, however settled I may be, yet will I continue to pray to God, not to suffer me to be deceived about it, nor to sleep, in an unsafe condition; and ever anon, will call all into question and try myself, using for helps, some of our old divines, that God may have opportunities to answer my prayers, and the spirit of God to show me my error, if I am in one.” The Mr. Marsden comments on the entry, “The settled state was not one of despair. Rather it was one of guarded hope and firm resolve.” I pray for that same “guarded hope and firm resolve”. For both me and my brother in the Lord.
Other insights from the great saint of old that have touched my heart deeply revolve around his intellect. It has often been said that Jonathan Edwards is America’s greatest philosopher and theologian. Not just by Christian historians but also the secular realm. Just the fact Yale has reproduced his entire works online for free is testament to the legacy God has bestowed upon this great man of the Faith. In his young life he was aware of this gifting. Today when his name is brought up and referenced to the uninitiated they will usually comment that he is hard to understand. A case of different worlds? Perhaps. But I don’t think his writings are unattainable to contemporary understanding. Dr. John Piper would, I think, agree. It may take time to acclimate one to his writing style and thought. Even Edwards knew this, as Marsden comments on pg. 98, “In his Bolton sermons we can sense his Herculean efforts to make some of his most profound ideas intelligible to ordinary people.” Edwards was a master communicator and very reserved in the deeper notions of the workings of his mind(at least in his youth). He had much in realms of future study and writing he desired to accomplish. And as a young man he wrote in his diary to “Remember to act according to Prov 12:23, ‘A prudent man concealeth knowledge.'” He was quite afraid of pride with regard to his intellect, and often prayed for forgiveness and restraint from this, one of his most reoccurring sins to be sure. For those who think things deep and are often commended and repudiated for such things, it is a wise thing to be mindful of. For those people are in danger of feeling they’re insights are always correct and all should bow to their intellectual prowess. May the Lord grant me patience along with wisdom and knowledge in these things, just as brother Edwards.
On this I turn to the great hope of success at overcoming these temptations and burdens. One text, just one. For in it, all manner of hope and comfort subsist. “Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.” Heb 4:14–16 (NET Bible) This comes amidst a litany of therefore statements and commenting on how Jesus, as our great High Priest, has achieved for those called by his name everlasting rest. The high priest in the Torah was to bring the blood of atonement into the Holy of Holies on the one day of the year it was required. He would stand in there place it on the ark of the covenant(after making a sacrifice to sanctify himself before entering) and then depart. Jesus, as Hebrews states, is the great High Priest, he sat down i.e. finished after entering the heavenly temple and makes constant intercession on our behalf to the Father. Because he also experienced the doldrums of humanity, and yet without sin, he can sympathize with us and knows exactly what to pray on our behalf. It should give us confidence when, even in our lackluster prayers, he picks up our slack to say. Therefore, it should make us more bold to remember to pray and do so diligently.
I must include, however, another text; for it is the compliment to this last citation. As Paul writes concerning why we are not like unbelievers, “…we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. …For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” Gal 2:16, 19–21. It’s because of the faithfulness of the Son of God I live in this decaying and forgetful body. I’m justified by His faithfulness. I am to have faith in his work and not my own. And with that grace of God gifted to me, we must go confidently to the throne of Grace. Amen and amen.