God Assures

For God is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth.
~ Psalm 74:12

And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.
~ 2 Kings 19:30

For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
~ Hebrews 3:14, Hebrews 4:11

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
~ Hebrews 10:38-39

But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
~ Matthew 24:13, 1 John 3:21

And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
~ Ephesians 1:19

A Letter to Reverend James Robe, by Jonathan Edwards.

To James Robe. Northampton, May 12, 1743.

Rev. and Dear Sir,

Last week I was surprised with the unexpected favour of your letter, with one from Mr. MacLaurin.1 It may well make me blush at the consideration of my vileness, to receive such undeserved testimonies of respect from servants of the Lord, at so great a distance, and that have been so highly favoured and honoured of God as you have been. Pleasant and joyful are the accounts which we have lately had from Scotland, concerning the kingdom of our God there, for which we and the world are specially indebted to you, who have honoured your dear Lord, and refreshed and served his church, by the accounts you have published in your narrative and journals of the work of God in Kilsyth, and other parts in the West of Scotland.2 Future generations will own themselves indebted to you for those accounts. I congratulate you, dear Sir, on the advantages God has put you under to favour the church of God with a narrative of his glorious works, by having made you the instrument of so much of them, and giving you such glorious success in your own congregation. The accounts which we have received from you are, on some accounts, more pleasant and agreeable than what we have had to send to you. The work of God with you has been less mixed with error and extravagance; you have taken a more wise and prudent care to prevent things of that nature, or to suppress them as soon as they have appeared; and ministers that have been the principal promoters of the work have seemed to be more happily united in their sentiments, and so under greater advantage to assist one another, and to act as coworkers and fellow helpers.

You have heard great things from New England of late, which, I doubt not, have refreshed and rejoiced your hearts; and indeed, great and wonderful have the things been in which God has passed before us. But now we have not such joyful news to send you. The clouds have lately thickened and our hemisphere is now much darkened with them. There is a great decay of the work of God amongst us, especially as to the awakening and converting influence of the Spirit of God; and the prejudices there are, in a great part of the country, are riveted and inveterate. The people are divided into two parties, those that favour the work and those that are against it, and the distinction has long been growing more and more visible, and the distance greater, till there is at length raised a wall between them up to heaven; so that one party is very much out of the reach of all influence of the other. This is very much owing to imprudent management in the friends of the work, and a corrupt mixture which Satan has found means to introduce, and our manifold sinful errors by which we have grieved and quenched the Spirit of God.

It can scarcely be conceived of what consequence it is, to the continuance and propagation of a revival of religion, that the utmost care be used to prevent error and disorder among those that appear to be the subjects of such a work. As also that all imaginable care be taken by ministers in conducting souls under the work; and particularly that there be the greatest caution used in comforting and establishing persons as being safe and past danger of hell. Many among us have been ready to think that all high raptures are divine; but experience plainly shows that it is not the degree of rapture and ecstasy (though it should be to the third heavens), but the nature and kind that must determine us in their favour. It would have been better for us, if all ministers here had taken care diligently to distinguish such joys and raised affections, as were attended with deep humiliation, brokenness of heart, poverty of spirit, mourning for sin, solemnity of spirit, a trembling reverence towards God, tenderness of spirit, self-jealousy and fear, and great engagedness of heart after holiness of life, and a readiness to esteem others better than themselves; and that sort of humility that is not a noisy showy humility, but rather this which disposes to walk softly and speak trembling. And if we had encouraged no discoveries or joys but such as manifestly wrought this way, it would have been well for us.

And I am persuaded we shall generally be sensible, before long, that we run too fast when we endeavour by our positive determinations to banish all fears of damnation from the minds of men, though they may be true saints, if they are not such as are eminently humble and mortified, and (what the Apostle calls) “rooted and grounded in love” [Ephesians 3:17]. It seems to be running before the Spirit of God. God by his Spirit does not give assurance any other way, than by advancing these things in the soul. He does not wholly cast out fear, the legal principle, but by advancing and filling the soul full of love, the evangelical principle. When love is low in the true saints, they need the fear of hell to deter them from sin, and engage them to exactness in their walk, and stir them up to seek heaven. But when love is high, and the soul full of it, we don’t need fear. And therefore a wise God has so ordered it that love and fear should rise and fall like the scales of a balance. When one rises, the other falls, as there is need, or as light and darkness take place of each other in a room, as light decays, darkness comes in, and as light increases and fills the room, darkness is cast out. So love, or the spirit of adoption, casts out fear, the spirit of bondage. And experience convinces me that even in the brightest and most promising appearances of new converts, it would have been better for us to have encouraged them only as it were conditionally, after the example of the Apostle, Hebrews 3:6, “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end,” and verse 14, “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” And after the example of Christ, Revelation 2:10, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” So Luke 21:34-36, and in many other places. ‘Tis probable that one reason why God has suffered us to err is to teach us wisdom by experience of the ill consequence of our errors.

…I have reason to admire divine condescension in making any use of anything I have written for the defence of the work of God in Scotland. As to what you propose concerning my writing a narrative, etc., I am not conveniently situated for it, living in an extreme part of the land, and an hundred miles from the press, as well as on many other accounts unfit for it. But Mr. Prince of Boston, who is every way fit, and under good advantages for it, has already undertaken it, and, I suppose, will prosecute the undertaking, so far as it shall be thought for God’s glory.3

I hope, dear Sir, you’ll remember me in your prayers. Never was I so sensible in any measure how vain a creature man is, what a leaf driven of the wind, what dry stubble, what poor dust, a bubble, a shadow, a nothing, and more vain than nothing, and what a vain and vile helpless creature I am, and how much I need God’s help in everything, as of late. Dear Sir, don’t forget New England, and don’t forget your affectionate and obliged brother and servant, and unworthy fellow labourer,

— Jonathan Edwards.


*From The Christian Monthly History, 2 (1745), 127-130. James Robe (1688-1753) was the Presbyterian minister of Kilsyth, Scotland and had seen revival in his parish in 1740. See C.W. Mitchell, “Robe, James,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, eds. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 47:76.
For Edwards’ correspondence with various Scottish ministers, see Christopher W. Mitchell, “Jonathan Edwards’s Scottish Connection” in David W. Kling and Douglas A. Sweeney, eds., Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad: Historical Memories, Cultural Movements, Global Horizons (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 222-247 and D.W. Bebbington, “The reputation of Edwards abroad” in Stephen J. Stein, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 240-241. Mitchell points out that Edwards and his Scottish correspondents shared a mutual passion for “true religion” and for its re-establishment in its pristine form of evangelical Calvinism. For some details about Edwards’ correspondence with Robe, see Mitchell,“Jonathan Edwards’s Scottish Connection,” 228-229.

1. John MacLaurin (1693-1754) was a prominent Scottish Presbyterian minister, the pastor of the Ramshorn Church in northwest Glasgow from 1723 to 1754. See Mitchell, “Jonathan Edwards’s Scottish Connection,” 227-228. According to Dwight (“Memoirs,” lxxii), it was MacLaurin who made the first contact with Edwards and so initiated Edwards’ epistolary links with various Scottish ministers. For a brief biographical sketch of MacLaurin, see James Ramsay Macdonald, “MacLaurin, John,” The Compact Edition of the Dictionary of National Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), I, 1286.

2. Edwards is referring to James Robe’s A Faithful Narrative of the Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God at Kilsyth, and Other Congregations in the Neighborhood near Glasgow (Glasgow, 1742).

3. On Prince, see above, pages 16-17, and n. 43.