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the writer of the preceding pages regrets, at least as sincerely as any of his readers, that the collection of facts, which they contain, is not more full and complete; yet, in consequence of the long interval which has elapsed since the death of President Edwards, they are all, which after much time, and labour, and travel, he has been able to discover. Such as they are, they constitute, with his writings body of materials from which we are to form our estimate of his character, as an intelligent and moral being.
In reviewing them, it is delightful to remember, in the outset, that so far as the human eye could judge, the individuals of both the families from which he derived his descent, were, as far back as we can trace them, distinguished for their piety. Each married pair, in both lines, with that care and conscientiousness which so generally marked the pilgrims of New England, and their puritan ancestors, trained up their children in the fear of God, and continued through life to supplicate daily the divine favour on them and their descendants, in all succeeding generations. Their prayers, ascending separately and successively indeed, were yet embodied in their influence, and from Him, who “showeth mercy to thousands of generations of them that love him, and keep his commandments,” called down concentrated blessings on their common offspring. So full, so rich were these blessings, as bestowed on the subject of this Memoir, that, perhaps, no one example on record furnishes a stronger encouragement to parents, to wrestle with God for the holiness and the salvation of their posterity. clxxxi
It was owing to the moral influence thus exerted, and to the divine favour thus secured, that when we review the childhood and youth of Mr. Edwards, we find them not only passing without a stain upon his memory, but marked by a purity and excellence rarely witnessed at so early a period of life. The religious impressions made upon his mind in childhood, were certainly frequent, deep, and of long continuance, and had a powerful effect upon his ultimate character; yet the estimate formed of their real nature by different persons will probably be different. His own estimate of them was, unquestionably, that they were not the result of real religion.
The circumstances which led him to this conclusion, were these two:—First, That, after he had cherished the hope of his own conversion, for a considerable period, and had experienced a high degree of joy, in what he regarded as communion with God, he lost imperceptibly this spirituality of mind, relinquished for a season the “constant performance” of the practice of secret prayer, and cherished many affections of a worldly and sinful character:—Secondly, That when he recovered from this state of declension, his views of divine truth, particularly those connected with the sovereignty of God, were in many respects new, and far more clear and delightful than any which he had previously formed.
Without calling in question the fact, that a given individual has, on some accounts, decidedly superior advantages for judging of his own Christian character, than others enjoy; and without presuming to decide on the correctness of the estimate, thus formed by Mr. Edwards; it may not be improper to state various circumstances, which lead me to suspect, that it may perhaps have been erroneous. 1. The declension, of which he complains, appears to have been chiefly, or wholly, a declension in the state of the affections. 2. Those impressions began when he was seven or eight years of age, and were so powerful and lasting, as to render religion the great object of attention, for a number of years. As made on the mind of such a child, they were very remarkable, even if we suppose them to have resulted in piety. 3. The season of his declension commenced soon after his admission to college, when be was twelve years of age. That a truly pious child, in consequence of leaving his early religious connexions and associations, and especially the altar and the incense of the parental sanctuary; of removing to a new place of residence, of entering on a new course of life, of forming new acquaintances and attachments, of feeling the strong attractions of study, and the powerful incentives of ambition, and of being exposed to the new and untried temptations of a public seminary; should, for a season, so far decline from his previous spirituality, as to lose all hope of his own conversion, is so far from being a surprising event, that, in ordinary cases, it is perhaps to be expected. Piety, at its commencement in the mind, is usually feeble; and especially is it so, in the mind of a child. How often are similar declensions witnessed, even at a later age. Yet the subject of such backsliding, though, during its continuance, he may well renounce the hope of his conversion, does not usually regard the period of his recovery as the commencement of his Christian life.—4. He had not, at this period, made a public profession of religion; and, of course, was not restrained from such declension by his own covenant, by communion with Christians, or by the consciousness, that, as a visible Christian, his faults were subjected to the inspection and the censure of the surrounding world. 5. Though charitable in judging others, he was at least equally severe in judging himself. 6. He appears, at a very early period, to have formed views of the purity of the Christian character—of the degree of freedom from sin, and of the degree of actual holiness, requisite to justify the hope of conversion—altogether more elevated in their nature, than the truth will warrant. 7. That his views of divine truth—particularly of the sovereignty of God—should have opened, after the age of twelve, with so much greater clearness and beauty, as to appear wholly new, was to have been expected from the nature of the case. 8. At a subsequent period, when his mind was incessantly occupied by the unusual perplexities of his tutorship, he complained of a similar declension. 9. The purity, strength, and comprehensiveness of his piety, as exhibited immediately after his public profession of Christianity, was so much superior to what is frequently witnessed, in Christians of an advanced standing, as almost to force upon us the conviction that it commenced—not a few months before, at the time of his supposed conversion, but—at a much earlier period of life. Rare indeed is the fact, that holiness is not, at its commencement in the soul, “as a grain of mustard-seed, which is the least of all seeds;” and though in the rapidity of its growth, it differs widely in different soils, yet time is indispensably necessary, before its fruits can cover the full-grown plant, like the clusters on the vine.—These considerations, and particularly the last, have led me to believe, that the early religious impressions of Mr. Edwards are to be regarded, as having been the result of a gracious operation of the Spirit of God upon his heart.
Under this happy influence, exerted in childhood, his character was formed. It prompted him then to study the Scriptures, to love payer, to sanctify the sabbath, and to pay an unusual attention to the duties or religion. It inspired him with reverence towards God, and made him afraid to sin. It rendered him conscientious in the performance of every relative duty, in manifesting love and gratitude, honour and obedience, towards his parents, kindness and courteousness towards his sisters, and the other companions of his childhood, respect and deference to his superiors, and good will to all around him. It led him also, at a very early period, to overcome that aversion to mental labour, which is so natural to man, and to devote himself with exemplary assiduity to the great duty, daily assigned him, of storing his mind with useful knowledge. Some of our readers, we are aware, may perhaps regard the recollections of his earlier years, as of little importance; but those, who cherish common sympathies, with the whole body of evangelical Christians, in the deep interest which they feel in his character and efforts, and who reflect, that the foundation of that character and of those efforts was then laid, will requite of us no apology for thus exhibiting the comparative innocence and purity, the docility and amiableness, the tenderness of conscience, the exemplary industry, and the ardent thirst for knowledge, which characterized this vernal season of his life.
The development of mental superiority, in the childhood and youth of Mr. Edwards, was certainly uncommon, if not singular. Boys of the age of eleven and twelve, even when receiving every aid from their parents and instructors, and when feeling the influence of all the motives, which they can present, are usually unwilling, in any branch of natural science, to examine, so as thoroughly to comprehend, the discoveries and investigations of others. clxxxii Still more unwilling are they to make this examination, when no such aid is furnished, and no such inducements are presented. But rare indeed is the instance, in which the attention of such a boy has been so far arrested, by any of the interesting phenomena, in either of the kingdoms of nature, that he has been led, without prompting, and without aid, to pursue a series of exact observations and discoveries, as to the facts themselves; to search out their causes; and, as the result of the whole, to draw up and present a lucid, systematic, and well digested report of his investigations.
After the lapse of a little more than a year, just as he attained the age of fourteen, we find him entering on pursuits of a still higher character. Few boys of that age have sufficient strength of intellect to comprehend the Essay on the Human Understanding. Of those who have, but a small proportion can be persuaded to read it; and a much smaller, still, are found to read it voluntarily, and of choice. We find Edwards, however, at this period of life, not only entering on this work of his own accord, and with deep interest, but at once relinquishing every other pursuit, that he may devote himself wholly to the philosophy of the mind; and, to use his own language, “enjoying a far higher pleasure in the perusal of its pages, than the most greedy miser finds, when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold, from some newly discovered treasure.” Nor is this all. While reading the work of Locke, he presents himself before us, not as a pupil, nor simply as a critic; but in the higher character of an investigator, exploring for himself the universe of minds, and making new and interesting discoveries. Fortunately his investigations are preserved, and may be compared with the efforts of other distinguished men, at the same period of life, in other countries and in other ages. And if any one of all those efforts discovers greater perspicacity and mental energy, than the “Notes on the Mind;” particularly, the articles entitled, Being, Space, Motion, Genus, the Will, and Excellency we are yet to learn where it is to be found, and who was its author. The discussion of the very important and difficult question, in the last of these articles, What is the foundation of excellency,—of excellency in its most enlarged acceptation, in things material and spiritual, in things intellectual, imaginative, and moral,—is not only original, as to its youthful author, and profound, but is even now, we believe, in various respects, new to the investigations of philosophy. 7979 The last article under this head, is obviously the foundation of the author’s subsequent Treatise on the Nature of True Virtue. The Notes on Natural Science, furnish similar proof of high mental superiority; and, by their variety of topics, their general accuracy, and their originality, evince a power and comprehension, discovered by only here and there an individual, when possessed of the full maturity of his faculties. His habits of thinking and reasoning, at this time of life, appear to have been as severe, as exact, and as successful, as those of the most accomplished scholars usually are, in the vigour of manhood. The plan of study, itself, which he then formed,—of studying with his pen; and of immediately, and of course, employing the principles of the science he was examining, which had been already detailed and demonstrated by others, in the discovery of new principles,—is at least equal evidence of the same superiority. So vigorous was the mental soil, that the seeds of thought could not be implanted therein, without being quickened at once, and made to grow into a rich and abundant harvest. Looking at these two series of notes in connexion with the plan of study under which they grew, and then comparing them, by the aid of recollection, with the efforts of other children and youths of uncommon promise; we instinctively ask, When, and where, has the individual lived, who has left behind him substantial proofs, that he has possessed, at the same age, a mind more powerful, comprehensive, or creative?
These conclusions are only confirmed by the survey of his succeeding years. Though drawn away from the entire devotion of his mind to his collegiate studies, by (what were to him) the alluring blandishments of mental philosophy, he yet sustained in his class the first standing as a scholar; and, though leaving college when sixteen, be was not too young to receive its highest honours. Having entered the pulpit at eighteen, he was, after a few trials, designated by a number of gentlemen of a superior character, for a very important and difficult station; to which, as well as to various other interesting fields of labour, he received most pressing invitations.
The extraordinary difficulties and perplexities of the college, while he was one of its officers, sufficient as they were to have overwhelmed a common mind, only served to furnish him and his colleagues a fairer opportunity, to show forth the superiority of their own character. By their wisdom and fidelity, the college was preserved and enlarged, when in imminent danger of ruin; and the period of their administration will ever be regarded as one of the most important eras in its history.
While the review of the childhood and youth of Mr. Edwards thus forces upon us the conviction, that, in the early development of extraordinary mental powers, he has had few equals; and enables us to reflect, with pleasure, that these powers were never prostituted to folly, or to vice, but from the beginning were faithfully devoted to the great end for which they were given; it also leads us to remark, that his character, as a moral being, was thoroughly formed and established, at a very early period of life. Like a dutiful child, he listened, indeed, to the counsels of his parents, as to the principles by which his conduct should be regulated; but he also examined for himself the foundations of those principles, and, having discovered that they were firm and immovable, formed out of them a series of rules, for the systematic regulation of his own conduct. These rules, particularly as exemplified in the journal of his daily life, evince not only a pure and transparent sincerity, and the greatest openness of soul towards God; as well as an inspection, metaphysically accurate, of his own mind, and a thorough acquaintance with his own heart; but a knowledge of his duty,—to God, his fellow-men, and himself,—and a conscientiousness in performing it, which are usually the result of great wisdom and piety, combined with long experience. They grew, obviously, out of a disposition to turn every occurrence of life to a religious use, and thus to grow wiser and better, continually, under the course of discipline to which the providence of God subjected him. They appear to have been made under the immediate inspection of the Omniscient eye, with a solemn conviction that he was an immortal being, formed to act on the same theatre with God, and angels, and the just made perfect, in carrying forward the kingdom of holiness and joy, in its ever enlarging progress. Viewing himself as just entering on this career of glory, he adopted, for the permanent direction of his course, the best and noblest resolution, that an clxxxiii intelligent being can form:—“Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence: resolved, to do whatsoever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general: resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.” In the spirit of this resolution, we find him, with all the earnestness of which he was capable, giving up himself to God,—all that he was, and all that he possessed,—so as habitually to feel that he was in no respect his own, and could challenge no right to the faculties of his body, to the powers of his mind, or the affections of his heart; receiving Christ as a Prince and a Saviour, under a solemn covenant to adhere to the faith and obedience of the gospel, however hazardous and difficult the profession and practice of it might be; and taking the Holy Spirit as his Teacher, Sanctifier, and only Comforter. And, in accordance with both, we find him, at this time, regularly making the glory of God the great end for which he lived; habitually trusting in God, to such a degree, as to feel no uneasiness about his worldly condition; maintaining the most open and confidential intercourse with his Maker; cherishing exalted thoughts of Christ and his salvation; feeling himself to be a part of Christ, and to have no separate interest from his; exercising a filial and delightful sense of dependence on the Holy Spirit, for the daily communication of his grace; regarding communion with God as the very life and sustenance of the soul; delighting in praising God, and in singing his praises, and as much when alone, as in the company of others; often observing days of secret fasting, that he might discover, and repent of, and renounce every sin; maintaining a constant warfare against sin and temptation; frequently renewing his dedication of himself to God; conversing daily and familiarly with his own death and his own final trial; rejoicing habitually in the divine perfections and the divine government; reverentially acknowledging the divine hand in all the works of nature, and in all the events of providence; exhibiting a calm and sweet submission to the divine will under all the afflictions of life, so that he could regard afflictions as real and great blessings; and enabled so to live with God, from day to day, and from hour to hour, as to be delightfully conscious of his presence, to refer his inmost mind to the inspection of his eye, to value his approbation above all things else, to cherish a joyful sense of union to him, to converse with him, as a father, concerning his wants, infirmities, and sins, his dangers, duties, and trials, his joys and sorrows, his fears and desires, his hopes and prospects, and to commune with him in all his works and dispensations, in his perfections and his glory. And, as the result of this, we find the Spirit of God unfolding to him the wonders of divine truth; vouchsafing to him joyful and glorious discoveries of the perfections of God, as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; enabling him to live, as in the immediate presence and vision of the things that are unseen and eternal; and communicating to him a joyful assurance of the favour of God, and of a title to future glory.
This state of his heart towards God, prepared him for a just estimate of his own character, for the formation of the best habits, and for a conscientious and faithful government over himself. The daily and careful survey of his sins, by the light of the divine holiness, enabled him to discover the deceitfulness of his own heart, and led him habitually to abhor himself, to form none but humbling and abasing views of his own attainments in piety, and to esteem others better than himself. There was something extremely delicate in his constitution; which always obliged him to the exactest rules of temperance, and every method of cautious and prudent living. His temperance was the result of principle. It was not the mere ordinary care and watchfulness of temperate people, but such a degree of self-denial, both as to the quantity and quality of his food, as left his mind, in every part of the day, alike unclouded in its views, and unembarrassed in its movements. We have seen, from his diary, that he rose at a very early hour, throughout the year; that, in the morning, he considered well the business and studies of the day, resolved to pursue that which was the most important; that his habits of punctuality were exact and thorough; that he husbanded his time, as the miser guards his choicest treasures; not losing it even in his walks, his rides, or his journeys; and not allowing himself to leave his study for the table, if his mind would thereby lose its brighter moments, and its happier sequences of thought and discovery; and that, in consequence of this regularity of life, and an exact and punctilious regard to bodily exercise, he was enabled to spend an unusual portion of every day, in severe and laborious mental application. 8080 On a preceding page it is stated, on the authority of Dr. Hopkins, that he regularly spent thirteen hours, every day, in close study, After receiving his invitation to Princeton, he told his eldest son, that he had for many years spent fourteen hours a day in study: and mentioned the necessity of giving up a part of this time to other pursuits, as one of his chief objections against accepting the office of president. Let it also be remembered, by every minister, that notwithstanding the exact discipline to which his mind had been subjected, by the course of his education, and by his long devotion to metaphysical pursuits, he continued his attention to mathematical studies, as a source, alike, of recreation and improvement, throughout the whole of his ministerial life.
The habits of his religious life, which he formed in his youth, were not less thorough and exact. His observation of the sabbath was such as to make it, throughout, a day of real religion; so that not only were his conversation and reading conformed to the great design of the day, but he allowed himself in no thoughts or meditations, which were not decidedly of a religious character. It was his rule, not only to search the Scriptures daily, but to study them so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that he might perceive a regular and obvious growth in his knowledge of them. By prayer and self-application, he took constant care to render them the means of progressive sanctification. He made a secret of his private devotions, observes Dr. Hopkins, and therefore they cannot be particularly known; though there is much evidence that he was punctual, constant, and frequent in secret prayer, and often kept days of fasting and prayer in secret, and set apart time for serious, devout meditations on spiritual and eternal things, as part of his religious exercises in secret. It appears from his diary, that his stated seasons of secret prayer were, from his youth, three times a day,—in his journeys, as well as at home. He was, so far as can be known, much on his knees in secret, and in devout reading of God’s word, and meditation upon it. And his constant, solemn converse with God, in these exercises of secret religion, made his face, as it were, to shine before others. His appearance, his countenance, his words, and whole demeanour, were attended with a seriousness, clxxxiv gravity and solemnity, which was the natural, genuine, indication and expression, of a deep abiding sense of divine things on his mind, and of his living constantly in the fear of God. His watchfulness over himself—over his external conduct and over his secret thoughts and purposes—was most thorough and exemplary. The fear of God, and a consciousness of his own weakness, made him habitually apprehensive of sin, and led him most carefully to avoid every temptation. His self-examination was regular, universal, and in a sense constant. Every morning he endeavoured to foresee, and to guard against, the dangers of the day. Every night he carefully reviewed the conduct of his mind, during its progress, and inquired, wherein he had been negligent; what sin he had committed; wherein he had denied himself; and regularly kept an account of every thing which he found to be wrong. This record he reviewed at the close of the week, of the month, and of the year, and on the occurrence of every important change in life; that he might know his own condition, and that he might carry his sins in humble confession before God. Whenever he so much questioned whether he had done his duty, as that the quiet of his mind was thereby disturbed, he regularly set it down, that he might examine its real nature; and, if found in any respect to be wrong, might put it away. Every course of conduct, which led him in the least to doubt of the love of God; every action of his mind, the review of which would give him uneasiness in the hour of death, and on his final trial; he endeavoured, with all his strength, to avoid. Every obvious sin he traced back to its original, that he might afterward know where his danger lay. Every desire, which might prove the occasion of sin,—the desire of wealth, of ease, of pleasure, of influence, of fame, of popularity,—as well as every bodily appetite, he strove not only to watch against, but habitually and unceasingly to mortify; regarding occasions of great self-denial as glorious opportunities of destroying sin, and of confirming himself in holiness; and uniformly finding that his greatest mortifications were succeeded by the greatest comforts. On the approach of affliction he searched out the sin, which he ought especially to regard, as calling for such a testimony of the divine displeasure, that he might receive the chastisement with entire submission, and be concerned about nothing but his duty and his sin. The virtues and sins of others led him to examine himself, whether he possessed the former, and whether he did not practise the latter. Thus his whole life was a continued course of self-examination; and in the duty of secret fasting, and humiliation, which he very frequently observed,—a duty enjoined by Christ, on his followers, as explicitly, and in the same terms, as the duty of secret prayer; enjoined too, for the very purpose of discovery, confession, and purification,—he was accustomed, with the greatest unreservedness of which he was capable, to declare his ways to God, and to lay open his soul before him, all his sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, and fears, as well as his desires and hopes; that the light of God’s countenance might shine upon him without obstruction.
The fear of God had a controlling influence, also, in regulating his intercourse with mankind. The basis of that intercourse, in all the relations of life, and indeed of his whole character, was evangelical integrity,—a settled unbending resolution to do what he thought right, whatever self-denial or sacrifices it might cost him. This trait of character he early discovered, in the unfavourable estimate, which he formed, of his youthful attainments in religion; and in the severe judgment, which he passed upon the period of his official connexion with college, as a period of marked declension in his Christian life. He discovered it, during that connexion, in his most conscientious and honourable efforts to promote the welfare of that institution, under uncommon difficulties and trials. He discovered it during his ministry at Northampton, in the very laborious performance of every ministerial duty, and in his firm and fearless defence of the truth, in opposition to numbers, power, and influence. He discovered it eminently in the affair of his dismission. His conscience at first hesitated, as to the lawfulness of the prevailing mode of admission to the church. Still, he regarded the question as altogether doubtful. It had been once publicly discussed; his own colleague and grandfather, who had introduced it at Northampton, being one of the combatants; and the victory had been supposed to be on his side, and in favour of the existing mode. The churches of the county had adopted it; and the whole current of public opinion,—the united voice of wealth, fashion, numbers, learning, and influence,—was in its favour. If he decided against continuing the practice, all these would certainly be combined against him; his people would demand his dismission, before a tribunal which had prejudged the case; his only means of supporting a young and numerous family would be taken away, at a time of life, when an adequate provision for their wants would probably involve him in extreme embarrassment. Yet none of these things moved him; and his only anxiety was, to ascertain and to perform his duty. He discovered it, in the same manner, in the controversy at Stockbridge. There, the same influence, which, in the former case, had effected his dismission, he knew would be combined against him, with increased hostility, and in all probability would deprive his family a second time of their support; unless he sat quietly, and saw the charities of Christian philanthropy perverted to sources of private emolument. But in such a crisis he could not deliberate for a moment.
“He had a strict and inviolable regard to justice, in all his dealings with his neighbors, and was very careful to provide things honest in the sight of all men; so that scarcely a man had any dealings with him, who was not conscious of his uprightness.
“His great benevolence to mankind discovered itself, among other ways, by the uncommon regard he showed to liberality, and charity to the poor and distressed. He was much in recommending this, both in his public discourses, and in private conversation. He often declared it to be his opinion, that professed Christians were greatly deficient in this duty, and much more so than in most other parts of external Christianity. He often observed how much this is spoken of, recommended, and encouraged, in the Holy Scriptures, especially in the New Testament. And it was his opinion, that every particular church ought, by frequent and liberal contributions, to maintain a public stock, that might be ready for the poor and necessitous members of that church; and that the principal business of deacons is, to take care of the poor, in the faithful and judicious improvement and distribution of the church’s contributions, lodged in their hands. And he did not content himself with merely recommending charity to others, but practised it much himself; though, according to his Master’s advice, he took great care to conceal his clxxxv acts of charity; by which means, doubtless, most of his alms-deeds will be unknown till the resurrection, but which, if known, would prove him to have been as honourable an example of charity, as almost any that can be produced. This is not mere conjecture, but is evident many ways. He was forward to give, on all public occasions of charity; though, when it could properly be done, he always concealed the sum given. And some instances of his giving more privately have accidentally come to the knowledge of others, in which his liberality appeared in a very extraordinary degree. One of the instances was this: upon his hearing that a poor obscure man, whom he never saw, or any of his kindred, was, by an extraordinary bodily disorder, brought to great straits; he, unasked, gave a considerable sum to a friend, to be delivered to the distressed person; having first required a promise of him, that he would let neither the person, who was the object of his charity, nor any one else, know by whom it was given. This may serve both as an instance of his extraordinary charity, and of his great care to conceal it.” 8181 “As both the giver, and the object of his charity, are dead, and all the ends of the proposed secrecy are answered; it is thought not inconsistent with the above-mentioned promise, to make known the fact, as it is here related.”
Not less exemplary was his practice of the kindred virtue of hospitality, so much enjoined on all Christians, in the sacred Scriptures. As his acquaintance was very extensive, his house was the frequent resort of gentlemen from all parts of the colonies; and the friend, and the stranger of worth, ever found a kind and cordial welcome at his table, and in the midst of his family.
“He was thought by some to be distant and unsociable in his manners; but this was owing to the want of a better acquaintance. He was not, indeed, a man of many words, and was somewhat reserved in the company of strangers, and of those, on whose candour and friendship he did not know that he could rely. And this was probably owing to two causes. First, the strict guard he set over his tongue, from his youth. From experience and observation he early discovered, that the sins of the tongue make up a very formidable proportion of all the sins committed by men, and lead to a very large proportion of their remaining sins. He therefore resolved to take the utmost care, never to sin with his tongue; to avoid not only uttering reproaches himself, but receiving them, and listening to them from others; to say nothing for the sake of giving pain, or wounding the feelings or reputation of others; to say nothing evil concerning them, except when an obvious duty required him to do it, and then to speak, as if nobody had been as vile as himself, and as if he had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; never to employ himself in idle, trivial, and impertinent talk, which generally makes up a great part of the conversation of those, who are full of words, in all companies; and to make sure of that mark of a perfect man, given by James, ‘if any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able, also, to bridle the whole body.’ He was sensible, that ‘in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin,’ and therefore refrained his lips, and habituated himself to think before he spoke, and to propose some good end in all his words; which led him, conformably to an apostolic precept, to be, above many others, slow to speak.—Secondly, this was in part the effect of his bodily constitution. He possessed but a comparatively small stock of animal life: his spirits were low, and he had neither the vivacity nor strength of lungs to spare, that would have been requisite in order to render him what might be called an affable, sprightly companion, in all circles. They who have a great flow of animal spirits, and so can speak with more ease, and less expense and exhaustion, than others, may doubtless lawfully engage in free conversation, in all companies, for a lower end than that which he proposed: e. g. to please, or to render themselves agreeable to others. But not so he who has not such an abundant supply: it becomes him to reserve what he has for higher and more important service. Besides, the want of animal spirit lays a man under a natural inability of exercising that freedom of conversation, at all times, and in whatever company he is, which those possessed of more vivacity naturally and easily glide into; and the greatest degree of humility and benevolence, of good sense and social feeling, will not remove this obstacle.
“He was not forward to enter into any dispute before strangers, and in companies where there might be persons of different sentiments; being sensible that such disputes are generally unprofitable, and often sinful, and of bad consequence. He thought he could dispute to the best advantage with his pen; yet he was always free to give his sentiments, on any subject proposed to him, and to remove any difficulties or objections offered by way of inquiry, as lying in the way of what he looked upon to be the truth. But how groundless, with regard to him, the imputation of being distant and unsociable was, his known and tried friends best knew. They always found him easy of access, kind and condescending; and though not talkative, yet affable and free. Among those, whose candour and friendship he had experienced, he threw off all that, which to others had the appearance of reserve, and was most open and communicative; and was always patient of contradiction, while the utmost opposition was made to his sentiments, that could be made by any arguments or objections, whether plausible or solid. And indeed he was, on all occasions, quite sociable and free with all who had any special business with him.
“His conversation with his friends was always savoury and profitable: in this he was remarkable, and almost singular. He was not accustomed to spend his time with them in evil speaking, or foolish jesting, idle chit-chat, and telling stories; but his mouth was that of the just, which bringeth forth wisdom, and whose lips dispense knowledge. His tongue was as the pen of a ready writer, while he conversed about important heavenly and divine things, of which his heart was so full, in a manner so new and original, so natural and familiar, as to be most entertaining and instructive; so that none of his friends could enjoy his company without instruction and profit unless it was by their own fault.
“He was cautious in choosing his intimate friends, and therefore had not many that might properly he called such; but to them he showed himself friendly in a peculiar manner. He was, indeed, a faithful friend, and able above most others to keep a secret. To them he discovered himself, more than to others, and led them into his views and ends in his conduct in particular instances: by which they had abundant evidence that he well understood human nature, and that his general reservedness, and many particular instances of his conduct, which a stranger might clxxxvi impute to ignorance of men, were really owing to his uncommon knowledge of mankind.
“In his family, he practised that conscientious exactness, which was conspicuous in all his ways. He maintained a great esteem and regard for his amiable and excellent consort. Much of the tender and affectionate was expressed in his conversation with her, and in all his conduct towards her. He was often visited by her in his study, and conversed freely with her on matters of religion; and he used commonly to pray with her in his study, at least once a day, unless something extraordinary prevented. The season for this, commonly, was in the evening, after prayers in the family, just before going to bed. As he rose very early himself, he was wont to have his family up betimes in the morning; after which, before they entered on the business of the day, he attended on family prayers; when a chapter in the Bible was read, commonly by candle-light in the winter; upon which he asked his children questions, according to their age and capacity; and took occasion to explain some passages in it, or enforce any duty recommended, as he thought most proper.
He was careful and thorough in the government of his children; and, as a consequence of this, they reverenced, esteemed, and loved him. He took the utmost care to begin his government of them, when they were very young. When they first discovered any degree of self-will and stubbornness, he would attend to them, until he had thoroughly subdued them, and brought them to submit. Such prudent discipline, exercised with the greatest calmness, being repeated once or twice, was generally sufficient for that child; and effectually established his parental authority, and produced a cheerful obedience ever after.
“He kept a watchful eye over his children, that he might admonish them of the first wrong step, and direct them in the right way. He took opportunities to converse with them singly and closely, about the concerns of their souls, and to give them warnings, exhortations, and directions, as he saw them severally need.” The salvation of his children was his chief and constant desire, and aim, and effort concerning them. In the evening, after tea, he customarily sat in the parlour, with his family, for an hour, unbending from the severity of study, entering freely into the feelings and concerns of his children, and relaxing into cheerful and animated conversation, accompanied frequently with sprightly remarks, and sallies of wit and humour. But, before retiring to his study, he usually gave the conversation, by degrees, a more serious turn, addressing his children, with great tenderness and earnestness, on the subject of their salvation; when the thought that they were still strangers to religion would often affect him so powerfully, as to oblige him to withdraw, in order to conceal his emotions.—“He took much pains to instruct his children in the principles and duties of religion, in which he made use of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism: not merely by taking care that they learned it by heart, but by leading them into an understanding of the doctrines therein taught, by asking them questions on each answer, and explaining it to them. His usual time to attend to this was on the evening before the sabbath. And, as he believed that the sabbath, or holy time, began at sunset, on the evening preceding the first day of the week, he ordered his family to finish all their secular business by that time, or before; when all were called together, a psalm was sung, and prayer offered, as an introduction to the sanctification of the sabbath. This care and exactness effectually prevented that intruding on holy time, by attending to secular business, which is too common even in families where the evening before the sabbath is professedly observed.
“He was utterly opposed to every thing like unseasonable hours, on the part of young people, in their visiting and amusements; which he regarded as a dangerous step towards corrupting them, and bringing them to ruin. And he thought the excuse offered by many parents, for tolerating this practice in their children,—that it is the custom, and that the children of other people are allowed thus to practise, and therefore it is difficult, and even impossible, to restrain theirs,—was insufficient and frivolous, and manifested a great degree of stupidity, on the supposition that the practice was hurtful and pernicious to their souls. And when his children grew up, he found no difficulty in restraining them from this improper and mischievous practice; but they cheerfully complied with the will of their parents. He allowed none of his children to be absent from home after nine o’clock at night, when they went abroad to see their friends and companions; neither were they allowed to sit up much after that time, in his own house, when any of their friends came to visit them. If any gentleman desired to address either of his daughters, after the requisite introduction and preliminaries, he was allowed all proper opportunities of becoming thoroughly acquainted with the manners and disposition of the young lady, but must not intrude on the customary hours of rest and sleep, nor on the religion and order of the family.”
Perhaps there never was a man more constantly retired from the world, giving himself to reading and contemplation; and it was a wonder that his feeble frame could subsist under such fatigues, daily repeated, and so long continued. Yet, upon this being alluded to by one of his friends, only a few months before his death, he said to him, “I do not find but that I now am as well able to bear the closest study, as I was thirty years ago; and can go through the exercises of the pulpit with as little uneasiness or difficulty.”—In his youth he appeared healthy, and with a good degree of vivacity, but was never robust. In middle life he appeared very much emaciated, by severe study, and intense mental application. In his person he was tall of stature, and of a slender form. 8282 His height was about six feet one inch. He had a high, broad, bold forehead, and an eye unusually piercing and luminous; and on his whole countenance the features of his mind—perspicacity, sincerity, and benevolence—were so strongly impressed, that no one could behold it without at once discovering the clearest indications of great intellectual and moral elevation. His manners were those of the Christian gentleman, easy, tranquil, modest, and dignified; yet they were the manners of the student, grave, sedate, and contemplative; and evinced an exact sense of propriety, and an undeviating attention to the rules of decorum. “He had,” observes one of his contemporaries, “a natural steadiness of temper, and fortitude of mind; which, being sanctified by the Spirit of God, was ever of vast advantage to him, to carry him through difficult services, and to support him under trying afflictions in the course of his life.—Personal injuries he bore with a becoming meekness and patience, and a disposition to forgiveness.” According to Dr. Hopkins himself clxxxvii an eye-witness, these traits of character were eminently discovered, throughout the whole of his long-continued trials at Northampton. His own narrative of that transaction, his remarks before the council, his letters relating to it, and his farewell sermon, all written in the midst of the passing occurrences, bespeak as calm, and meek, and unperturbed a state of mind, as they would have done, had they been written by a third person, long after the events took place.—“The humility, modesty, and serenity of his behaviour, much endeared him to his acquaintance, and made him appear amiable in the eyes of such as had the privilege of conversing with them.—The several relations sustained by him, he adorned with exemplary fidelity; and was solicitous to fill every station with its proper duty.—In his private walk as a Christian, he appeared an example of truly rational, consistent, uniform religion and virtue; a shining instance of the power and efficacy of that holy faith, to which he was so firmly attached, and of which he was so zealous a defender. He exhibited much of spirituality, and a heavenly bent of soul. In him one saw the loveliest appearance—a rare assemblage of christian graces, united with the richest gifts, and mutually subserving and recommending one another.”
“He had an uncommon thirst for knowledge, in the pursuit of which he spared no cost nor pains. He read all the books, especially books treating of theology, that he could procure, from which he could hope to derive any assistance in the discovery of truth. And in this, he did not confine himself to authors of any particular sect or denomination; but even took much pains to procure the works of the most distinguished writers, who advanced views of religion or morals most contrary to his own principles; particularly the ablest Arminian, Socinian, and infidel writers. But he studied the Bible more than all other books, and more than most other divines do.” He studied the Bible, to receive implicitly what it teaches; but he read other books to examine their soundness, and to employ them as helps in the investigation of principles, and the discovery of truth. His uncommon acquaintance with the Bible, appears in his sermons, in his treatises,—particularly in the treatises on the Affections, on the History of Redemption, on United and Extraordinary Prayer, on the Types of the Messiah, on the Qualifications for Communion, and on God’s Last End in the Creation,—in his Notes on the Scriptures, and in his Miscellaneous Observations and Remarks. Any person who will read his works with close attention, and then will compare them with those of other theological writers, since the days of the apostles, will easily be satisfied that no other divine has as yet appeared, who has studied the Scriptures more thoroughly, or who has been more successful in discovering the mind of the Holy Spirit. He took his religious principles from the Bible, and not from treatises, or systems of theology, or any work of man. On the maturest examination of the different schemes of faith, prevailing in the world, and on comparing them with the sacred Scriptures, he adhered to the main articles of the reformed religion, with an unshaken firmness and with a fervent zeal, yet tempered with charity and candour, and governed by discretion. Few men are less under the bias of education, or the influence of bigotry: few receive the articles of their creed so little upon trust, or discover so much liberality or thoroughness in examining their foundation. His principles have been extensively styled Calvinistic, yet they differ widely from what has usually been denominated Calvinism, in various important points; particularly, in all immediately connected with moral agency; and he followed implicitly, if any man ever followed, the apostolic injunction, to call no man, Father, by receiving nothing on human authority, and examining scrupulously every principle which he adopted. He thought, and investigated, and judged for himself; and from the strength of his reasoning powers, as well as from his very plan of study, he became truly an original writer. As we have already sufficiently seen, reading was not the only, nor the chief, method which he took of improving his mind; but he devoted the strength of his time and of his faculties to writing, without which no student, and, be it remembered, no minister, can make improvements to the best advantage. He preached extensively on subjects, continued through a series of discourses;—many of his treatises having been a course of sermons actually delivered from the desk. In this practice, every minister who has a mind fitted for investigation, would do well to follow him. “Agreeably to the 11th Resolution, he applied himself, with all his might, to find out truth: he searched for it as for silver, and digged for it as for hidden treasures. Every thought, on any subject, which appeared to him worth pursuing and preserving, he pursued as far as he then could, with a pen in his hand. Thus he was, all his days, like the industrious bee, collecting honey from every opening flower, and storing up a stock of knowledge, which was indeed sweet to him, as honey and the honey-comb.”
As a scholar, his intellectual furniture exceeded what was common, under the disadvantages experienced at that time, in these remote colonies. He had an extensive acquaintance with the arts and sciences—with classical and Hebrew literature, with physics, mathematics, history, chronology, ethics, and mental philosophy. By the blessing of God on his indefatigable labours, to the last, he was constantly treasuring up useful knowledge, both human and divine.
“Thus he appears to have been uncommonly accomplished for the arduous and momentous province to which he was finally called. And had his precious life been spared, there is every reason to believe, that he would have graced the station on which he had but entered, and proved a signal blessing to the college of New Jersey, and therein extensively served his generation according to the will of God”
His inattention to his style is certainly to be regretted. In earlier life, he appears to have thought neatness and correctness in writing of little consequence, 8383 See Preface to Five Sermons, vol. i. p. 621. and to have sent his works to the press very much in the state in which they were first written. Let it here be remembered, that the cultivation of style was not then attended to in the colonies; that the people at large were accustomed to discourses written in the plainest manner; and that it is extremely doubtful, whether, in the then existing state of the country, it would have been possible for him to have devoted much attention to the style of his sermons, without greatly diminishing their amount of impression. About the time of his leaving Northampton, he received one of the works of Richardson, 8484 Sir Charles Grandison. I had this anecdote through his eldest son. which he read with deep interest, and regarded as wholly favourable to good morals and purity of character. The perusal of it led him to attempt clxxxviii the formation of a more correct style, his previous inattention to which he then deeply regretted; and in this attempt he had much success. The style of the Freedom of the Will, though obviously that of a student, and not of a man of the world, is otherwise as correct as that of most of the metaphysical treatises to be found in the language. The same is true, generally, of the Treatise on Original Sin; although it was in the press when he died, and never received his last corrections. 8585 The treatise on Affections, and on United Extraordinary Prayer, are the most incorrect of all his works, published by himself. In his sermons, published in his life-time, somewhat of the linae labor is discernable. The works published by his son, Dr. Edwards, in this country, are but little altered from the rough draught, but those first published in Edinburgh, are generally more so. The History of Redemption was considerably corrected by my father, and afterwards thrown in the form of a treatise by Dr. Erskine. The Sermons published by Dr. Hopkins, are the least correct of all his works. In the two highest excellences of style, perspicuity and precision, he was probably never excelled.
Of the powers of his mind, enough, perhaps, has been said already. They were certainly very varied, and fitted him for high distinction in any of the pursuits of learning or science.—His memory was strong, exact, uniform, and comprehensive.—His imagination was rich and powerful. I know that the contrary opinion has extensively prevailed, and that for three reasons. First, he paid little or no attention to his style of writing. Secondly, he never cultivated his imagination, and never indulged it but sparingly, and probably in no instance, for mere ornament. Thirdly, his great works are treatises on metaphysical subjects. A writer without imagination, always thinks and writes in a dry manner; and, if his powers are great, like those of Aristotle, he writes like a pure intelligence. Those who are conversant with the writings of Edwards, need not be informed that all his works, even the most metaphysical, are rich in illustration, or that his sermons abound with imagery of every kind, adapted to make a powerful and lasting impression. In his earlier writings, this faculty of his mind was suffered to act with less restraint. The first production of his pen, on the materiality of the soul, is a constant play of imagination and wit. The boy who could speak of the spiders of the forest, as “those wondrous animals, from whose glistening web so much of the wisdom of the Creator shines,”—who, in describing their operations, could say, “I have seen a vast multitude of little shining webs, and glistening strings, brightly reflecting the sun-beams, and some of them of great length, and of such a height, that one would think they were tacked to the vault of the heavens, and would be burnt like tow in the sun;”—and who, in exposing the absurdity of the supposition, that there can be absolutely nothing, observes, “When we go to form an idea of perfect nothing, we must not suffer our thoughts to take sanctuary in a mathematical point, but we must think of the same, that the sleeping rocks do dream of;”—possessed an imagination at once rich, brilliant, and creative.—His taste, if we do not refer to style of writing, but merely to the judgment of the mind, concerning all the varieties of sublimity and beauty, was at once delicate and correct.—Few of mankind, hitherto, have possessed either invention, ratiocination, or judgment in so high a degree; and it is difficult to say for which of these he is most distinguished. In comparing him with the metaphysicians of the old world, we must not forget his and their respective advantages for the culture of the mind. He was born in an obscure village, in which the ancient reign of barbarism was only beginning to yield to the inroads of culture and civilization; in a colony comprising but here and there a settlement; and in a country literally in its infancy, constituting with the exception of now and then a white plantation, one vast continuous forest, and distant three thousand miles from Europe, the seat of arts, refinement, and knowledge. He was educated at a seminary but three years older than himself; which had as yet no domical, and which furnished advantages totally inferior to those now enjoyed at the respectable academies of New England. The rest of his life was passed amid the cares of a most laborious profession, and on the very frontiers (and the latter part of it in the very midst) of savage life; with no libraries to explore, and with no men of eminence with whose minds his could come into daily contact. His greatest work was written in four months and a half while each sabbath he delivered two sermons to his English flock, and two others by interpreters, to two distinct auditories of Indians, and catechised the children of both tribes, and carried on all the correspondence of the mission, and was forced to guard against the measures of a powerful combination, busily occupied in endeavouring to drive him from his office, and thus to deprive his family of their daily bread.—With these things in view, instead of drawing any such comparison myself, I will refer my readers to the opinion of a writer of no light authority on such a subject,—I mean Dugald Stewart;—who, after having detailed tie systems of Locke, and Leibnitz, and Berkeley, and Condillac, speaks thus of the subject of this Memoir:—“There is, however, one metaphysician, of whom America has to boast, who, in logical acuteness and subtilty, does not yield to any disputant bred in the universities of Europe. I need not say that I allude to Jonathan Edwards.”
Mr. Edwards acquired a very high character, as a divine and as a preacher, during his life. “Among the luminaries of the church, in these American regions,” says one of his contemporaries, 8686 I suppose the writer referred to here, and in various other places, to have been Dr. Finley. “he was justly reputed a star of the first magnitude; thoroughly versed in all the branches of theology, didactic, polemic, casuistic, experimental, and practical. In point of divine knowledge and skill, he had few equals, and perhaps no superior; at least in those foreign parts.”—“Mr. Edwards,” says Dr. Hopkins, “had the most universal character of a good preacher, of almost any minister in America. There were but few that heard him, who did not call him a good preacher, however they might dislike his religious principles, and be much offended at the same truths when delivered by others; and most people admired him above all the preachers that ever they heard.” His character as a laborious and faithful minister, and especially as a powerful and successful preacher, if we may judge from the history of his life, and of the time in which he lived, was such for many years before his death, as to leave him here without a competitor. 8787 For many of the remarks on the character of Mr. Edwards, as a preacher and writer, I am indebted to a well written review of the Worchester edition of his works, in the Christian Spectator; but they are usually so blended with my own, that it is impossible to designate the passages. This was owing chiefly to his preaching and pastoral labours; for most of his laboured productions were published either a little before, or after, his death; yet, long ere this, his fame as a preacher and minister of Christ, had pervaded the colonies, clxxxix and was extensively known in Great Britain. Until within these few years, there were many living witnesses, who had heard him in their youth, and who distinctly remembered the powerful impressions left on their minds by his preaching, and particularly described his appearance in the pulpit, the still, unmoved solemnity of his manner, the weight of his sentiments first fixing the attention, and then overwhelming the feelings, of his audience. One of his youthful auditors, afterwards a gentleman of great respectability, informed my father that he was present, when he delivered the sermon in the History of Redemption, in which he describes the day of judgment; and that so vivid and solemn was the impression made on his own mind, that he fully supposed, that as soon as Mr. Edwards should close his discourse, the Judge would descend, and the final separation take place. The late Dr. West, of Stockbridge, who heard him in his childhood, in that village, gave me an account generally similar of the effects of his preaching. On one occasion, when the sermon exceeded two hours in its length, he told me that from the time that Mr. Edwards had fairly unfolded his subject, the attention of the audience was fixed and motionless, until its close; when they seemed disappointed that it should terminate so soon. There was such a bearing down of truth upon the mind, he observed, that there was no resisting it.—In his own congregation, the visible effects of his preaching were such as were never paralleled an New England. Often, also, he was invited to great distances to preach; and these occasional sermons sometimes produced a wonderful effect. One of these instances, which occurred at Enfield, at a time of great religious indifference there, is thus mentioned by the Rev. Dr. Trumbull. “When they went into the meeting-house, the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain. The people hardly conducted themselves with common decency. The Rev Mr. Edwards, of Northampton, preached; and before the sermon was ended, the assembly appeared deeply impressed, and bowed down with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard.” This was the commencement of a general and powerful revival of religion.
To what, it may not improperly be asked, are this reputation and this success to be ascribed? It was not to his style of writing: that had no claims to elegance, or even to neatness.—It was not to his voice; that, far from being strong and full, was, in consequence of his feeble health, a little languid, and too low for a large assembly; though relieved and aided by a proper emphasis, just cadence, well placed pauses, and great clearness, distinctness, and precision of enunciation.—It was not owing to attitude or gesture, to his appearance in the pulpit, or to any of the customary arts of eloquence. His appearance in the pulpit was with a good grace, and his delivery easy, perfectly natural, and very solemn. He wrote his sermons; and in so fine and so illegible a hand, that they could be read only by being brought near to the eye. “He carried his notes with him into the pulpit, and read most that he wrote: still, he was not confined to them; and if some thoughts were suggested to him while he was preaching, which did not occur to him when writing, and appeared pertinent, he would deliver them with as great propriety and fluency, and often with greater pathos, and attended with a more sensibly good effect on his hearers, than what he had written.” 8888 “Though, as has been observed,” says Dr. Hopkins, “he was wont to read so considerable a part of what he delivered, yet was far from thinking this the best way of preaching in general; and looking up on using his notes, so much as he did, a deficiency and infirmity, and in the latter part of his life, he was inclined to think it had been better, if he had never been accustomed to use his notes at all. It appeared to him, that preaching wholly without notes, agreeable to the custom in most protestant countries, and in what seems evidently to have been the manner of the apostles and primitive ministers of the gospel, was by far the more natural way, and had the greatest tendency, on the whole, to answer the end of preaching; and supposed that no one, who had talents, equal to the work of the ministry, was incapable of speaking momoriter, if he took suitable pains for this attainment from his youth. He would have the young preacher write all his sermons, or at least most of them, out, at large; and, instead of reading them to his hearers, take pains to commit them to memory; which, though it would require a great deal of labour at first, yet would soon become easier by use, and help him to speak more correctly and freely, and be of great service to him all his days.” While preaching, he customarily stood, holding his small manuscript volume in his left hand, the elbow resting on the cushion or the Bible, his right hand rarely raised but to turn the leaves, and his person almost motionless—It was not owing to the pictures of fancy, or to any ostentation of learning, or of talents. In his preaching, usually all was plain, familiar, sententious, and practical.
One of the positive causes of his high character, and great success, as a preacher, was the deep and pervading solemnity of his mind. He had, at all times, a solemn consciousness of the presence of God. This was visible in his looks arid general demeanour. It obviously had a controlling influence over all his preparations for the pulpit; and was most manifest in all his public services. Its effect on an audience is immediate, and not to be resisted. “He appeared,” says Dr. Hopkins, “with such gravity and solemnity, and his words were so full of ideas, that few speakers have been able to command the attention of an audience as he did.”—His knowledge of the Bible, evinced in his sermons—in the number of relevant passages which he brings to enforce every position, in his exact discernment of the true scope of each, in his familiar acquaintance with the drift of the whole Scriptures on the subject, and in the logical precision with which he derives his principles from them—is probably unrivalled.—His knowledge of the human heart, and its operations, has scarcely been equalled by that of any uninspired preacher. He derived this knowledge from his familiarity with the testimony of God concerning it in the Bible; from his thorough acquaintance with his own heart; and from his profound knowledge of mental philosophy. The effect of it was, to enable him to speak to the consciousness of every one who heard him; so that each one was compelled to reflect, in language like that of the woman of Sychar, “Here is a man, who is revealing to me the secrets of my own heart and life: is not this man from God?”—His knowledge of theology was so exact and universal, and the extensiveness of his views and of his information was so great, that while he could shed unusual variety and richness of thought over every discourse, he could also bring the most striking and impressive truths, facts, and circumstances, to bear upon the point, which he was endeavouring to illustrate or enforce.—His aim, in preparing and delivering his sermons, was single. This is so obvious, that no man probably ever suspected him of writing or delivering a sermon, for the sake of display, or reputation. From the first step to the last, he aimed at nothing but the salvation of his hearers, and at the glory of God as revealed in it. This enabled him to bring all his powers of mind and heart to bear on this one object.—His feelings on this subject were most intense. The love cxc of Christ constrained him; and the strong desire of his soul was, that they for whom Christ died might live for Him who died for them. “His words,” says Dr. Hopkins, “often discovered a great degree of inward fervour, without much noise or external emotion, and fell with great weight on the minds of his hearers; and he spake so as to reveal the strong emotions of his own heart, which tended, in the most natural and effectual manner, to move and affect others”—The plan of his sermons is most excellent. In his introduction, which is always an explanation of the passage, he exhibits uncommon skill, and the sagacity with which he discovers, and the power with which he seizes at once, the whole drift and weaning of the passage in all its bearings, has rarely if ever been equalled. In the body of the discourse, he never attempts an elaborate proof of his doctrine, from revelation and reason; but rather gives an explanation of the doctrine, or places the truth on which he is discoursing directly before the mind, as a fact, and paints it to the imagination of his hearers. In the application, where he usually lays out his strength, he addresses himself with peculiar plainness to the consciences of his hearers, takes up and applies to them minutely all the important ideas contained in the body of the discourse, and appropriates them to persons of different characters and situations in life, by a particular explanation of their duties and their dangers: and lastly, by a solemn, earnest, and impressive appeal to every feeling and active principle of our nature, he counsels, exhorts, warns, expostulates, as if he were determined not to suffer his hearers to depart, until they were convinced of their duty, and persuaded to choose and to perform it.—His graphic manner of exhibiting truth, is, perhaps, his peculiar excellence. The doctrines of the gospel, in his hands, are not mere abstract propositions, but living realities, distinctly seen by the author’s faith, and painted with so much truth and life, and warmth of colouring, as cannot fail to give his hearers the same strong impression of them, which already exists in his own mind. With all this, he preached the real truth of God, in its simplicity and purity, keeping nothing back, with so much weight of thought and argument, so much strength of feeling, and such sincerity of purpose, as must enlighten every understanding, convince every conscience, and almost convert every heart.—I inquired of Dr West, Whether Mr. Edwards was an eloquent preacher. He replied, “If you mean, by eloquence, what is usually intended by it in our cities; he had no pretensions to it. He had no studied varieties of the voice, and no strong emphasis. He scarcely gestured, or even moved; and he made no attempt, by the elegance of his style, or the beauty of his pictures, to gratify the taste, and fascinate the imagination. But, if you mean by eloquence, the power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is rivetted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced; Mr. Edwards was the most eloquent man I ever heard speak.”—As the result of the whole, we are led to regard him as, beyond most others, an instructive preacher, a solemn and faithful preacher, an animated and earnest preacher, a most powerful and impressive preacher in the sense explained, and the only true sense, a singularly eloquent preacher, and, through the blessing of God, one of the most successful preachers since the days of the apostles. It ought here to be added, that the sermons of Mr. Edwards have been, to his immediate pupils, and to his followers, the models of a style of preaching, which has been most signally blessed by God to the conversion of sinners, and which should be looked to as a standard, by those who wish, like him, to turn many to righteousness, that with him they may shine, as the stars, for ever and ever.
His prayers,” says Dr. Hopkins, “were indeed extempore. He was the farthest from any appearance of a form, as to his words and manner of expression, of almost any man. He was quite singular and inimitable in this, by any, who have not a spirit of real and undissembled devotion; yet he always expressed himself with decency and propriety. He appeared to have much of the grace and spirit of prayer; to pray with the spirit and with the understanding; and he performed this part of duty much to the acceptance and edification of those who joined with him. He was not wont, in ordinary cases, to be long in his prayers: an error which, he observed, was often hurtful to public and social prayer, as it tends rather to damp, than to promote, true devotion.”
His practice, not to visit his people in their own houses, except in cases of sickness or affliction, is an example, not of course to be imitated by all. That, on this subject, ministers ought to consult their own talents and circumstances, and visit more or less, according to the degree in which they can thereby promote the great ends of their ministry, cannot be doubted. That his time was too precious to the church at large, to have been devoted, in any considerable degree, to visiting, all will admit. Yet it is highly probable, that, if he had been somewhat less in his study, and seen his people occasionally in the midst of their families, and known more of their circumstances and wants, and entered more into their feelings, his hold on their affections would have been stronger, and more permanent. Certainly this will be true with ministers at large.—In other pastoral duties, in preaching public and private lectures, in extraordinary labours during seasons of attention to religion, and in conversing with the anxious and inquiring, he was an uncommon example of faithfulness and success. “At such seasons, his study was thronged with persons, who came to lay open their spiritual concerns to him, and seek his advice and direction. He was a peculiarly skilful guide to those who were under spiritual difficulties; and was therefore sought unto, not only by his own people, but by many at a great distance.” For this duty he was eminently fitted, from his own deep personal experience of religion, from his unwearied study of the word of God, from his having had so much intercourse with those who were in spiritual troubles, from his uncommon acquaintance with the human heart, with the nature of conversion, and with revivals of religion, and from his skill in detecting and exposing every thing like enthusiasm and counterfeit religion How great a blessing was it to a church, to a people, and to every anxious inquirer, to enjoy the counsels and the prayers of such a minister!
But it is the theological treatises of Mr. Edwards, especially, by which he is most extensively known, to which he owes his commanding influence, and on which his highest reputation will ultimately depend. It is proper, therefore, before we conclude, to sketch his character as a theologian and controversialist, and to state the actual effects of his writings.
As a theologian, he is distinguished for his scriptural cxci views of divine truth. Even the casual reader of his works can scarcely fail to perceive that, with great labour, patience, and skill, he derived his principles from an extensive and most accurate observation of the word of God. The number of passages which he adduces from the Scriptures, on every important doctrine, the critical attention he has evidently given them, the labour in arranging them, and the skill and integrity with which he derives his general conclusions from them, is truly astonishing. We see no intermixture of his own hypotheses; no confidence in his own reason, except as applied to the interpretation of the oracles of God; nor even that disposition to make extended and momentous inferences, which characterizes some of his successors and admirers.
Another characteristic of his theology, is the extensiveness of his views. In his theology, as in his mind, there was nothing narrow, no partial, contracted views of a subject: all was simple, great, and sublime. His mind was too expanded to regard the distinctions of sects and churches. He belonged, in his feelings, to no church but the church of Christ, he contended for nothing but the truth; he aimed at nothing but to promote holiness and salvation. The effect of his labours so exactly coincides with the effects of the gospel, that no denomination can ever appropriate his name to itself, or claim him as its own.
Viewing Mr. Edwards as a controversialist, the most excellent, if not the most striking, trait in his character, is his integrity. Those who have been most opposed to his conclusions, and have most powerfully felt the force of his arguments, have acknowledged that he is a perfectly fair disputant. He saw so certainly the truth of his positions, and had such confidence in his ability to defend them by fair means, that the thought of employing sophistry in their defence never occurred to him. But, if he had felt the want of sound arguments, he would not have employed it. His conscience was too enlightened, and his mind too sincere. His aim, in all his investigations, was the discovery and the defence of truth. He valued his positions, only because they were true; and he gave them up at once, when he found that they were not supported by argument and evidence.
Another trait in his character, as a reasoner, is originality, or invention. Before his time, the theological writers of each given class or party, had, with scarcely an exception, followed on, one after another, in the same beaten path, and, whenever any one had deviated from it, he had soon lost himself in the mazes of error. Mr. Edwards had a mind too creative to be thus dependent on others. If the reader will examine carefully his controversial and other theological works, and compare them with those of his predecessors on the same subjects; he will find that his positions are new, that his definitions are new, that his plans are new, that his arguments are new, that his conclusions are new, that his mode of reasoning and his methods of discovering truth are perfectly his own; and that he has done more to render theology a new science, than, with perhaps one or two exceptions, all the writers who have lived since the days of the fathers.
Another characteristic of his controversial writings, is the excellent spirit which every where pervades them. So strikingly is this true, that we cannot but urge every one, who peruses them, to examine for himself, whether he can discover, in them all, a solitary deviation from Christian kindness and sincerity. By such an examination he will discover in them, if I mistake not, a fairness in proposing the real point in dispute, a candour in examining the arguments of his opponents, in stating their objections, and in suggesting others in which had escaped them, and a care in avoiding every thing like personality, and the imputation of unworthy motives, rarely paralleled in the annals of controversy. It should here be remembered, that he wrote his treatise on the Affections, and his several works on revivals of religion, in the very heat of a violent contest, which divided and agitated this whole country; that in his treatises on the Freedom of the Will, on Original Sin, and on Justification, he handles subjects, which unavoidably awaken the most bitter opposition in the human heart, and opposes those, who had boasted of their victories over what he believed to be the cause of truth, “with no little glorying and insult;” that his treatise on the Qualifications for Communion, was written amid all the violence, and abuse, and injury of a furious parochial controversy; and that, in the Answer to Williams, he was called to reply to the most gross personalities, and to the most palpable misrepresentations of his arguments, his principles, and his motives.
He has, I know, been charged sometimes with handling his antagonists with needless severity. But let it be remembered, that his severity is never directed against their personal character, but merely against their principles and arguments; that his wit is only an irresistible exposition of the absurdity which he is opposing; 8989 Few men have possessed a greater fund of genuine wit, than Mr. Edwards. In early life, he found it difficult to restrain it. The clear reductio ad absurdum, to which he subjects every scheme and argument of his antagonists, in the Freedom of the Will, is usually a brilliant example of true logical wit. The Answer to Williams abounds with it. I doubt whether the annals of metaphysics can show a finer specimen of it, than the following; which is the conclusion of his exposure of the metaphysical notion of an action or act, as defined by Chubb, and his associates: “So that, according to their notion of an act, considered with regard to its consequences, these following things are all essential to it: viz. That it should be necessary and yet not necessary; that it should be from a cause and yet from no cause; that it should be the fruit of choice and design, and yet not the fruit of choice and design; that it should be the beginning of motion or exertion, and yet consequent on previous exertion; that it should be before it is; that it should spring immediately out of indifference and equilibrium, and yet be the effect of preponderation; that it should be self-originated, and also have its original from something else; that it is what the mind causes itself of its own will, and can produce or prevent according to its choice or pleasure, and yet what the mind has no power to prevent, precluding all previous choice in the affair. “So that an act according to their metaphysical notion of it, is something of which there is no idea; it is nothing but a confusion of the mind, excited by words without any distinct meaning, and is an absolute nonentity; and that in two respects: 1 There is nothing in the world that ever was, is, or can be, to answer the things which must belong to its description, according to what they suppose to be essential to it. And, 2. There neither is, nor ever was, nor can be, any notion or idea to answer the word as they use and explain it. For if we should suppose any such notion, it would many ways destroy itself. But it is impossible that any idea or notion should subsist in the mind, whose very nature and essence, which constitutes it, destroys it. — If some learned philosopher, who has been abroad, in giving an account of the curious observations he had made in his travels, should say, ’ He has been in Terra del Fuego, and there had seen an animal, which he calls by a certain name, that begat and brought forth himself, and yet had a sire and dam distinct from himself: that he had an appetite, and was hungry, before he had a being: that his master, who led him, and governed him at his pleasure, was always governed by him, and driven by him where he pleased: that when he moved, he always took a step before the first step: that he went with his head first, and yet always went tail foremost, and this, though he had neither head nor tail:’ it would be no impudence at all to tell such a traveller, though a man of profound learning, that he himself had no idea of such an animal as he gave an account of, and never had, nor ever would have.” that he stood forth as the champion of truth, and the opponent of error; and that, in this character, it was his duty not merely to prostrate error, but to give it a death-blow, that it might never rise again.
But the characteristic of his controversial, and indeed of all his theological, writings, which gives them their chief value and effect, is the unanswerableness of his arguments. He not only drives his enemy from the field, but he erects a rampart, so strong and impregnable, that no one afterwards has any courage to assail it; and his companions in arms find the great work of defending the positions, which he has occupied, already done to their hands. cxcii
This impossibility of answering his arguments, arises, in the first place, from the strength and conclusiveness of his reasoning. By first fixing in his own mind, and then exactly defining, the meaning of his terms, by stating his propositions with logical precision, and by clearly discerning and stating the connexion between his premises and conclusions, he has given to metaphysical reasoning very much of the exactness and certainty of mathematical demonstration.
Another cause of the unanswerable character of his reasonings, is, that he usually follows several distinct trains of argument, which all terminate in the same conclusion. Each of them is satisfactory; but the union of all, commencing at different points, and arriving at the same identical result, cannot fail to convince the mind, that that result is not to he shaken.
A third cause of this is, that he himself anticipates, and effectually answers, not only all the objections that have been made, but all that apparently can be made, to the points for which he contends. These he places in the strongest light and examines under every shape which they can assume in the hands of an evasive antagonist, and shows that, in every possible form, they are wholly inconclusive.
A fourth cause is his method of treating the opinions of his opponents. It is the identical method of Euclid. Assuming them as premises, he with great ingenuity shows, that they lead to palpable absurdity. He demonstrates that his opponents are inconsistent with themselves, as well as with truth and common sense;—and rarely stops, until he has exposed their error to contempt and ridicule.
This unanswerableness of Mr. Edwards’s reasonings, in his controversial works, has been most publicly confessed. The Essay on the Will treats of subjects the most contested within the limits of theology; and, unless it can be answered, prostrates in the dust the scheme of doctrines, for which his antagonists so earnestly contend. Yet, hitherto, it stands unmoved and unassailed; and the waves of controversy break harmless at its base. 9090 Dugald Stewart, alluding to it in conversation, is said, on good authority, to have spoken of it thus:—“Edwards on the Will, a work which never was answered, and which never will be answered.” The treatise on Original Sin, though written chiefly to overthrow the hypothesis of an individual, is perhaps not less conclusive in its reasonings. That he succeeded in that design, as well as in establishing the great principles for which he contends will not be doubted by any one who examines the controversy; and is said to have been virtually confessed, in a melancholy manner, by Taylor himself. He had indiscreetly boasted, in his larger work, that it never would be answered. The answer was so complete, that it admitted of no reply. His consequent mortification is said to have shortened his days. Whether it was true, or not, that the grasp of his antagonist was literally death, it was at least death to the controversy. The treatise on the Qualifications for Communion, attacked the most favourite scheme of all the lax religionists of this country, the only plausible scheme, ever yet devised, of establishing a communion between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. They regarded this attack with indignation, from one end of the country to the other. One solitary combatant appeared in the field; and, being left in a state of irrecoverable prostration, he has hitherto found no one adventurous enough to come to his aid. The Treatise, and Reply, of Mr. Edwards, by the conclusiveness of their reasonings, have so changed the opinion and practice of the ministers, and the churches, of New England, that a mode of admission, once almost universal, now scarcely finds a solitary advocate.
But it may not unnaturally be asked, What are the changes in theology, which have been affected by the writings of President Edwards. It gives me peculiar pleasure that I can answer this question, in the words of his son, the late Dr. Edwards, President of Union College, Schenectady.
OF THEOLOGICAL TRUTH,
MADE BY PRESIDENT EDWARDS, AND THOSE WHO HAVE FOLLOWED HIS COURSE OF THOUGHT.
“1. The important question, concerning the ultimate end of the creation, is a question, upon which Mr. Edwards has shed much light. For ages it had been disputed, whether the end of creation was the happiness of creatures themselves, or the declarative glory of the Creator. Nor did it appear that the dispute was likely to be brought to an issue. On the one hand, it was urged, that reason declared in favour of the former hypothesis. It was said that, as God is a benevolent being, he doubtless acted under the influence of his own infinite benevolence in the creation; and that he could not but form creatures for the purpose of making them happy. Many passages of Scripture also were quoted in support of this opinion. On the other hand, numerous and very explicit declarations of Scripture were produced to prove that God made all things for his own glory. Mr. Edwards was the first, who clearly showed, that both these were the ultimate end of the creation, that they are only one end, and that they are really one and the same thing. According to him, the declarative glory of God is the creation, taken, not distributively, but collectively, as a system raised to a high degree of happiness. The creation, thus raised and preserved, is the declarative glory of God. In other words, it is the exhibition of his essential glory.
“2. On the great subject of Liberty and Necessity, Mr. Edwards made very important improvements. Before him, the Calvinists were nearly driven out of the field, by the Arminians, Pelagians and Socinians. The Calvinists, it is true, appealed to Scripture, the best of all authority, in support of their peculiar tenets. But how was the Scripture to be understood. They were pressed and embarrassed by the objection,—That the sense, in which they interpreted the sacred writings, was inconsistent with human liberty, moral agency, accountableness, praise and blame. It was consequently inconsistent with all command and exhortation, with all reward and punishment. Their interpretation must of course be erroneous, and an entire perversion of Scripture. How absurd, it was urged, that a man totally dead, should be called upon to arise and perform the duties of the living and sound—that we should need a divine influence to give us a new heart, and yet be commanded to make us a new heart, and a right spirit—that a man has no power to come to Christ, and yet be commanded to come to him on pain of damnation! The Calvinists themselves began to be ashamed of their own cause and to give it up, so far at least as relates to liberty and necessity. This was true especially of Dr. Watts and Doddridge, who, in their day, were accounted leaders cxciii of the Calvinists. They must needs bow in the house of Rimmon, and admit the self-determining power; which, once admitted and pursued to its ultimate results, entirely overthrows the doctrines of regeneration, of our dependence for renewing and sanctifying grace, of absolute decrees, of the saints perseverance, and the whole system of doctrines, usually denominated the doctrines of grace.—But Mr. Edwards put an end to this seeming triumph of those, who were thus hostile to that system of doctrines. This he accomplished, by pointing out the difference between natural and moral, necessity and inability, by showing the absurdity, the manifold contradictions, the inconceivableness, and the impossibility, of a self-determining power, and by proving that the essence of the virtue and vice, existing in the disposition of the heart and the acts of the will, lies not in their cause, but in their nature. Therefore, though we are not the efficient causes of our own acts of will, yet they may be either virtuous or vicious; and also that liberty of contingence, as it is an exemption from all previous certainty, implies that free actions have no cause, and come into existence by mere chance. But if we admit that any event may come into existence by chance, and without a cause, the existence of the world may be accounted for in this same way; and atheism is established.—Mr. Edwards and his followers have further illustrated this subject by showing, that free action consists in volition itself, and that liberty consists in spontaneity. Wherever, therefore, there is volition, there is free action; wherever there is spontaneity there is liberty; however and by whomsoever that liberty and spontaneity are caused. Beasts, therefore, according to their measure of intelligence, are as free as men. Intelligence, therefore, and not liberty, is the only thing wanting, to constitute them moral agents.—The power of self-determination, alone, cannot answer the purpose of them who undertake its defence; for self-determination must be free from all control and previous certainty, as to its operations, otherwise it must be subject to what its advocates denominate a fatal necessity, and therefore must act by contingence and mere chance. But even the defenders of self-determination themselves, are not willing to allow the principle, that our actions, in order to be free, must happen by chance.—Thus Mr. Edwards and his followers understand, that the whole controversy concerning liberty and necessity, depends on the explanation of the word liberty, or the sense in which that word is used. They find that all the senses in which the word has been used, with respect to the mind and its acts, may be reduced to these two: 1. Either an entire exemption from previous certainty, or the certain futurity of the acts which it will perform: or, 2. Spontaneity.—Those, who use it in the former sense, cannot avoid the consequence, that, in order to act freely, we must act by chance, which is absurd, and what no man will dare to avow. If then liberty means an exemption from an influence, to which the will is or can be opposed, every volition is free, whatever may be the manner of its coming into existence. If, furthermore, God, by his grace, create in man a clean heart and holy volitions, such volitions being, by the very signification of the term itself, voluntary, and in no sense opposed to the divine influence which causes them, they are evidently as free as they could have been, if they had come into existence by mere chance and without cause. We have, of course no need of being the efficient causes of those acts, which our wills perform, to render them either virtuous or vicious. As to the liberty, then, of self-determination or contingence, it implies, as already observed, that actions, in order to be free, must have no cause; but are brought into existence by chance. Thus have they illustrated the real and wide difference between natural and moral necessity. They have proved that this difference consists, not in the degree of previous certainty that an action will be performed—but in the fact, that natural necessity admits an entire opposition of the will, while moral necessity implies, and, in all cases, secures, the consent of the will. It follows that all necessity of the will, and of its acts, is of the moral kind; and that natural necessity cannot possibly affect the will or any of its exercises. It likewise follows, that if liberty, as applied to a moral agent, mean an exemption from all previous certainty that an action will be performed, then no action of man or any other creature can be free; for on this supposition, every action must come to pass without divine prescience, by mere chance, and consequently without a cause.—Now, therefore, the Calvinists find themselves placed upon firm and high ground. They fear not the attacks of their opponents. They face them on the ground of reason, as well as of Scripture. They act not merely on the defensive. Rather they have carried the war into Italy, and to the very gates of Rome.—But all this is peculiar to America; except that a few European writers have adopted, from American authors, the sentiments here stated. Even the famous Assembly of Divines had very imperfect views of this subject. This they prove, when they say, “Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the state wherein they were created;”—and “God foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so as the contingency of second causes is not taken away, but rather established.”—These divines unquestionably meant, that our first parents, in the instance, at least, of their fall, acted from self-determination, and by mere contingence or chance. But there is no more reason to believe or even suppose this, than there is to suppose it true of every sinner, in every sin which he commits.
“3. Mr. Edwards very happily illustrated and explained The nature of True Virtue, or Holiness.—What is the nature of true virtue, or holiness?—In what does it consist?—and, Whence arises our obligation to be truly virtuous or holy?—are questions which moral writers have agitated in all past ages. Some have placed virtue in self-love;—some in acting agreeably to the fitness of things;—some in following conscience, or moral sense;—some in following truth;—and some in acting agreeably to the will of God. Those who place or found virtue in fitness, and those who found it in truth, do but use one synonymous word for another. For they doubtless mean moral fitness, and moral truth; these are no other than virtuous fitness, and virtuous truth. No one would pretend that it is a virtuous action to give a man poison, because it is fit or direct mode of destroying his life. No person will pretend that the crucifying of Christ was virtuous, because it was true, compared with the ancient prophecies.—To found virtue in acting agreeably to conscience, or moral sense, justifies the persecutions of Christians by Saul of Tarsus, as well as a great proportion of heathenish idolatry.—If we found virtue in the will of God, the question arises, Whether the will of God be our rule, because it is in fact what it is, wise, good and benevolent; or whether it be our rule, merely because it is his will, without any consideration of its nature and tendency; cxciv and whether it would be a rule equally binding, as to observance, if it were foolish and malicious?—Mr. Edwards teaches, that virtue consists in benevolence. He proves that every voluntary action, which, in its general tendency and ultimate consequences, leads to happiness, is virtuous, and that every such action, which has not this tendency, and does not lead to this consequence, is vicious. By happiness, in this case, he does not mean the happiness of the agent only, or principally, but happiness in general, happiness on the large scale. Virtuous or holy benevolence embraces both the agent himself and others—all intelligences, wherever found, who are capable of a rational and moral blessedness. All actions, proceeding from such a principle, he holds to be fit, or agreeable to the fitness of things—agreeable equally to reason, and, to a well-informed conscience, or moral sense, and to moral truth;—and agreeable especially to the will of God, who “is love,” or benevolence.—In this scheme of virtue or holiness, Mr. Edwards appears to have been original. Much indeed has been said, by most moral writers, in favour of benevolence. Many things they had published, which imply, in their consequences, Mr. Edward’s scheme of virtue. But no one before him had traced these consequences to their proper issue. No one had formed a system of virtue, and of morals, built on that foundation.
“4. Mr. Edwards has thrown much light on the inquiry concerning The Origin of Moral Evil. This question, comprehending the influence which the Deity had in the event of moral evil, has always been esteemed most difficult and intricate. That God is the author of sin, has been constantly objected to the Calvinists, as the consequence of their principles, by their opponents. To avoid this objection, some have holden that God is the author of the sinful act, which the sinner commits, but that the sinner himself is the author of its sinfulness. But how we shall abstract the sinfulness of a malicious act from the malicious act itself; and how God can be the author of a malicious act, and not be the author of the malice, which is the sinfulness of that act; is hard to be conceived. Mr. Edwards rejects, with abhorrence, the idea that God either is, or can be, the agent, or actor, of sin. He illustrates and explains this difficult subject, by showing that God may dispose things in such a manner, that sin will certainly take place in consequence of such a disposal. In maintaining this, he only adheres to his own important doctrine of moral necessity. The divine disposal, by which sin certainly comes into existence, is only establishing a certainty of its future existence. If that certainty, which is no other than moral necessity, be not inconsistent with human liberty; then surely the cause of that certainty, which is no other than the divine disposal, cannot be inconsistent with such liberty.
“5. The followers of Mr. Edwards have thrown new and important light upon ‘The Doctrine of Atonement. It has been commonly represented, that the atonement, which Christ made, was the payment of a debt, due from his people. By this payment, they were purchased from slavery and condemnation. Hence arose this question,—If the sinner’s debt be paid, how does it appear that there is any pardon or grace in his deliverance?—The followers of Mr. Edwards have proved, that the atonement does not consist in the payment of a debt, properly so called. It consists rather in doing that, which, for the purpose of establishing the authority of the divine law, and of supporting in due time the divine government, is equivalent to the punishment of the sinner according to the letter of the law. Now, therefore, God, without the prostration of his authority and government, can pardon and save those who believe. As what was done to support the divine government, was not done by the sinner, so it does not at all diminish the free grace of his pardon and salvation. 9191 It is proper to remark, that the above statement is not altogether correct. The same views of the atonement appear in Bates on the Harmony of the Divine Attributes in Redemption; in the writings of Howe, Baxter, and some other eminent divines of the seventeenth century.
“6. With respect to The Imputation of Adam’s Sin, and The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness, their statements also have been more accurate. The common doctrine had been, that Adam’s sin is so transferred to his posterity, that it properly becomes their sin. The righteousness of Christ, likewise, is so transferred or made over to the believer, that it properly becomes his righteousness. To the believer it is reckoned in the divine account.—On this the question arises, How can the righteousness or good conduct of one person be the righteousness or good conduct of another? If, in truth, it cannot be the conduct of that other; how can God, who is omniscient, and cannot mistake, reckon, judge, or think it to be the conduct of that other?—The followers of Mr. Edwards find relief from this difficulty, by proving that to impute righteousness, is, in the language of Scripture, to justify; and that, to impute the righteousness of Christ, is to justify on account of Christ’s righteousness. The imputation of righteousness can, therefore, be no transfer of righteousness. They are the beneficial consequences of righteousness, which are transferred. Not therefore the righteousness of Christ itself, but its beneficial consequences and advantages are transferred to the believer.—In the same manner they reason with respect to the imputation of Adam’s sin. The baneful consequences of Adam’s sin, which came upon himself, came also upon his posterity. These consequences were, that, after his first transgression, God left him to an habitual disposition to sin, to a series of actual transgressions, and to a liableness to the curse of the law, denounced against such transgression.—The same consequences took place with regard to Adam’s posterity. By divine constitution, they, as descending from Adam, become, like himself, the subjects of an habitual disposition to sin. This disposition is commonly called original depravity. Under its influence they sin, as soon as, in a moral point of view, they act at all. This depravity, this disposition to sin, leads them naturally to a series of actual transgressions, and exposes them to the whole curse of the law.—On this subject two questions have been much agitated in the Christian world:—1. Do the posterity of Adam, unless saved by Christ, suffer final damnation on account of Adam’s sin?—and, if this be asserted, how can it be reconciled with justice?—2. How shall we reconcile it with justice, that Adam’s posterity should be doomed, in consequence of his sin, to come into the world, with an habitual disposition themselves to sin?—On the former of these questions, the common doctrine has been, that Adam’s posterity, unless saved by Christ, are damned on account of Adam’s sin, and that this is just, because his sin is imputed or transferred to them. By imputation, his sin becomes their sin. When the justice of such a transfer is demanded, it is said that the constitution, which God has established, makes the transfer just.—To this it may be replied, that in the same way it may be proved to be just, to damn a man without any sin at all, either personal cxcv or imputed. We need only to resolve it into a sovereign constitution of God. From this difficulty the followers of Mr. Edwards relieve themselves, by holding that, though Adam was so constituted the federal head of his posterity, that in consequence of his sin they all sin or become sinners, yet they are damned on account of their own personal sin merely, and not on account of Adam’s sin, as though they were individually guilty of his identical transgression. This leads us to the second question stated above:—viz. How shall we reconcile it with perfect justice, that Adam’s posterity should, by a divine constitution, be depraved and sinful, or become sinners, in consequence of Adam’s apostacy?—But this question involves no difficulty, beside that, which attends the doctrine of divine decrees. And this is satisfactory; because for God to decree that an event shall take place, is, in other words, the same thing as if he make a constitution, under the operation of which that event shall take place. If God has decreed whatever comes to pass, he decreed the fall of Adam. It is obvious that, in equal consistency with justice, he may decree any other sin. Consequently he may decree that every man shall sin; and this too, as soon as he shall become capable of moral action. Now if God could, consistently with justice, establish, decree, or make a constitution, according to which this depravity, this sinfulness of disposition, should exist, without any respect to Adam’s sin, he might evidently, with the same justice, decree that it should take place in consequence of Adam’s sin. If God might consistently with justice decree, that the Jews should crucify Christ, without the treachery of Judas preceding, he might with the same justice decree, that they should do the same evil deed, in consequence of that treachery.—Thus the whole difficulty, attending the connexion between Adam and his posterity, is resolved into the doctrine of the divine decrees; and the followers of Mr. Edwards feel themselves placed upon strong ground—ground upon which they are willing, at any time, to meet their opponents.—They conceive, furthermore, that, by resolving several complicated difficulties into one simple vindicable principle, a very considerable improvement is made in the representations of theological truth. Since the discovery and elucidation of the distinction, between natural and moral necessity, and inability; and since the effectual confutation of that doctrine, which founds moral liberty on self-determination; they do not feel themselves pressed with the objections, which are made to divine and absolute decrees.
“7. With respect to The State of the Unregenerate, The Use of Means, and The Exhortations, which ought to be addressed to the Impenitent, the disciples of Mr. Edwards, founding themselves on the great principles of moral agency, established in the Freedom of the Will, have since his day made considerable improvement upon former views.—This improvement was chiefly occasioned by the writings of Robert Sandeman, a Scotchman, which were published after the death of Mr. Edwards. Sandeman, in the most striking colours, pointed out the inconsistency of the popular preachers, as he called them; by whom he meant Calvinistic divines in general. He proved them inconsistent, in teaching that the unregenerate are, by total depravity, ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’—and yet supposing that such sinners do often attain those sincere desires, make those sincere resolutions, and offer those sincere prayers, which are well pleasing in the sight of God, and which are the sure presages of renewing grace and salvation. He argued, that, if the unregenerate be dead in sin, then all that they do must be sin; and that sin can never be pleasing and acceptable to God. Hence he taught, not only that all the exercises and strivings of the unregenerate are abominable in the Divine view, but that there is no more likelihood, in consequence of their strictest attendance on the means of grace, that they will become partakers of salvation, than there would be in the total neglect of those means. These sentiments were entirely new. As soon as they were published, they gave a prodigious shock to all serious men, both ministers and others. The addresses to the unregenerate, which had hitherto consisted chiefly in exhortations to attend on the outward means of grace, and to form such resolutions, and put forth such desires, as all supposed consistent with unregeneracy, were examined. It appearing that such exhortations were addresses to no real spiritual good; many ministers refrained from all exhortations to the unregenerate. The perplexing inquiry with such sinners consequently was—‘What then have we to do? All we do is sin. To sin is certainly wrong. We ought therefore to remain still, doing nothing, until God bestow upon us renewing grace.’ In this state of things, Dr. Hopkins took up the subject. He inquired particularly into the exhortations delivered by the inspired writers. He published several pieces on The character of the Unregenerate; on Using the Means of Grace; and on The Exhortations, which ought to be addressed to the Unregenerate. He clearly showed that, although they are dead in depravity and sin, yet, as this lays them under a mere moral inability to the exercise and practice of true holiness,—and as such exercise and practice are their unquestionable duty,—to this duty they are to be exhorted. To this duty only, and to those things which imply it, the inspired writers constantly exhort the unregenerate. Every thing short of this duty is sin. Nevertheless, ‘as faith cometh by hearing,’ those who ‘hear,’ and attend on the means of grace, even in their unregeneracy, and from natural principles, are more likely than others to become the subjects of divine grace. The Scriptures sufficiently prove, that this is the constitution which Christ has established. It likewise accords perfectly with experience and observation, both in apostolic and subsequent ages.
“8. Mr. Edwards greatly illustrated The Nature of Experimental Religion. He pointed out, more clearly than had been done before, the distinguishing marks of genuine Christian experience, and those religious affections and exercises, which are peculiar to the true Christian. The accounts of Christian affection and experience, which had before been given, both by American and European writers, were general, indiscriminate, and confused. They seldom, if ever, distinguished the exercises of self-love, natural conscience, and other natural principles of the human mind under conviction of divine truth, from those of the new nature, given in regeneration. In other words, they seldom distinguished the exercises of the sinner under the law work, and the joys afterwards often derived from a groundless persuasion of his forgiveness, from those sincere and evangelical affections, which are peculiar to the real convert. They did not show how far the unregenerate sinner can proceed in religious exercises, and yet fall short of saving grace. But this whole subject, and the necessary distinction, with respect to it, are set in a striking light by Mr. Edwards, in his treatise concerning Religious Affections. cxcvi
“9. Mr. Edwards has thrown much light upon the subject of affection as disinterested. The word disinterested, is, indeed, capable of such a sense, as affords a ground of argument against disinterested affections; and scarcely perhaps is an instance of its use to be found, in which it does not admit of an equivocation. It seems to be a mere equivocation to say, that disinterested affection is an impossibility; and that, if we are not interested in favour of religion, we are indifferent with respect to it, and do not love it at all. But who ever thought that, when a person professes a disinterested regard for another, he has no regard for him at all. 9292 The whole difficulty is removed by reflecting that disinterested is the converse of selfish; and uninterested, the converse of interested. The plain meaning is, that his regard for him is direct and benevolent, not selfish, nor arising from selfish motives. In this sense, Mr. Edwards maintained that our religious affections, if genuine, are disinterested; that our love to God arises chiefly—not from the motive that God has bestowed, or is about to bestow, on us favours, whether temporal or eternal, but—from his own infinite excellence and glory. The same explanation applies to the love which every truly pious person feels for the Lord Jesus Christ, for every truth of divine revelation, and for the whole scheme of the gospel. Very different from this is the representation given by most theological writers before Mr. Edwards. The motives presented by them, to persuade men to love and serve God, to come unto Christ, to repent of their sin; and to embrace and practise religion, are chiefly of the selfish kind. There is, in their works, no careful and exact discrimination upon this subject.
“10. He has thrown great light on the important doctrine of Regeneration. Most writers before him treat this subject very loosely. They do indeed describe a variety of awakenings and convictions, fears and distresses, comforts and joys, as implied in it; and they call the whole, regeneration. They represent the man before regeneration as dead, and no more capable of spiritual action, than a man naturally dead is capable of performing those deeds, which require natural life and strength. From their description, a person is led to conceive, that the former is as excusable, in his omission of those holy exercises, which constitute the christian character and life, as the latter is, in the neglect of those labours, which cannot be performed without natural life. From their account, no one can determine in what the change, effected by regeneration, consists. They do not show the inquirer, whether every awakened and convinced sinner, who afterwards has lively gratitude and joy, is regenerated; or whether a gracious change of heart implies joys of a peculiar kind: neither, if the renewed have joys peculiar to themselves, do the teachers, now referred to, describe that peculiarity; nor do they tell from what motives the joys, that are evidence of regeneration, arise. They represent the whole man, his understanding, and his sensitive faculties, as renewed, no less than his heart and affections. According to them generally, this change is effected by light. As to this indeed they are not perfectly agreed. Some of them hold, that the change is produced by the bare light and motives exhibited in the gospel. Others pretend, that a man is persuaded to become a Christian, as he is persuaded to become a friend to republican government. Yet others there are, who hold that regeneration is caused by a supernatural and divine light immediately communicated. Their representation of this seems to imply, and their readers understand it as implying, an immediate and new revelation. But, according to Mr. Edwards, and those who adopt his views of the subject, regeneration consists in the communication of a new spiritual sense or taste. In other words, a new heart is given. This communication is made, this work is accomplished, by the Spirit of God. It is their opinion, that the intellect, and the sensitive faculties, are not the immediate subject of any change in regeneration. They believe, however, that, in consequence of the change which the renewed heart experiences, and of its reconciliation to God, light breaks in upon the understanding. The subject of regeneration sees, therefore, the glory of God’s character, and the glory of all divine truth. This may be an illustration. A man becomes cordially reconciled to his neighbour, against whom he had previously felt a strong enmity. He now sees the real excellencies of his neighbour’s character, to which he was blinded before by enmity and prejudice. These new views of his neighbour, and these different feelings towards him, are the consequence of the change: its evidence, but not the change itself.—At the same time, Mr. Edwards and others believe, that in saving experience, the sensitive faculties are brought under the due regulation by the new heart or holy temper. None of the awakenings, fears, and convictions, which precede the new heart, are, according to this scheme, any part of regeneration; though they are, in some sense, a preparation for it, as all doctrinal knowledge is. The sinner, before regeneration, is allowed to be totally dead to the exercises and duties of the spiritual life. He is nevertheless accounted a moral agent. He is therefore entirely blamable in his impenitence, his unbelief, and his alienation from God. He is therefore, with perfect propriety, exhorted to repent, to become reconciled to God in Christ, and to arise from his spiritual death, that “Christ may give him light.”—According to this system, regeneration is produced, neither by moral suasion, i.e. by the arguments and motives of the gospel, nor by any supernatural, spiritual light; but by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit. Yet the light and knowledge of the gospel are, by divine constitution, usually necessary to regeneration, as the blowing of the rams’ horns was necessary to the falling of the walls of Jericho; and the moving of the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre, was necessary to the raising of Lazarus.”
Thus it appears, that Mr. Edwards taught us in his writings, in a manner so clear, that mankind have hitherto been satisfied with the instruction, Why God created this material and spiritual universe;—What is the nature of that government which he exercises over minds, and how it is consistent with their perfect freedom;—What is the nature of that virtue, which they must possess, if they are to secure his approbation;—What is the nature, the source, the extent, and the evidences of that depravity,. which characterizes man, as a fallen being;—What is the series of events by which his redemption is accomplished;—What are the qualifications for that church, to which the redeemed belong;—What are the grounds on which they are justified;—What are the nature and evidences of that religion, which is imparted to them by the Spirit of grace;—What are the nature and effects of that revival of religion which accompanies an effusion of his cxcvii divine influences on a people;—And what are the inducements to united and extraordinary prayer, that such effusions may be abundantly enjoyed by the church of God. 9393 For a Catalogue of the works of Mr. Edwards, published previous to this edition, see Appendix, No. VI. —By what is thus said, we do not intend, that all his reasonings are solid, or all his opinions sound and scriptural; but we know of no writer, since the days of the apostles, who has better comprehended the word of God; who has more fully unfolded the nature and design of the revelation of his mind, which it contains; who has more ably explained and defended the great doctrines which it teaches; who has more clearly illustrated the religion which it requires; who has done more for the purification and enlargement of that church which it establishes; or who, in consequence of his unfoldings of divine truth, will find, when the work of every man is weighed in the balances of eternity, a larger number to be “his hope, and joy, and crown of rejoicing in that day.”—And when we remember, in addition to all this, that we can probably select no individual, of all who have lived in that long period, who has manifested a more ardent or elevated piety towards God, a warmer or more expanded benevolence towards man, or greater purity, or disinterestedness, or integrity of character—one, who gave the concentrated strength of all his powers, more absolutely, to the one end of glorifying God in the salvation of man;—and then reflect that at the age of fifty-four, in the highest vigour of all his faculties, in the fulness of his usefulness, when he was just entering on the most important station of his life, he yielded to the stroke of death; we look towards his grave, in mute astonishment, unable to penetrate those clouds and darkness, which hover around it. One of his weeping friends 9494 Dr. Finley thus explained this most surprising dispensation:—“He was pouring in a flood of light upon mankind, which their eyes, as yet, were too feeble to bear.”—If this was not the reason; we can only say—“Even so, Father! for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
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