And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.
~ Deuteronomy 5:24-27
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
~ John 14:12
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
~ Acts 2:42-44
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost:
~ 1 Thessalonians 1:6
Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
~ Jonah 3:9
Letters to Ministers, by Jonathan Edwards. Mr Edwards wrote these letters during the Great Awakening in New England, and after his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in 1741.
34. TO DEACON MOSES LYMAN
When Edwards wrote this letter, New England was still being shaken by revivals. Although he disagreed with extremists like James Davenport, with his boisterous spirit, emotional extremism, and vituperative attacks, Edwards was not about to disown the movement he had done so much to foster. From this brief reply to a former resident of Northampton who had moved to Goshen, Connecticut, in 1739, Edwards would expand and refine his views over the next five years, beginning with Distinguishing Marks, preached the next month at Yale College, and continuing through Some Thoughts and Religions Affections. As an advocate of Whitefield’s, Edwards was obligated to uphold the principle of itinerancy, but it was doomed to be restricted by act of the Connecticut legislature in May 1742.1
(Trask Library, ALS, one folio leaf. No address by Edwards, but a cataloguer has penciled in that the recipient was Lyman.)
Northampton, August 31, 1741
In my prodigious fullness of business and great infirmity of body, I have time to write but very briefly concerning those things you mention. Concerning the great stir that is in the land, and those extraordinary circumstances and events that it is attended with, such as persons crying out, and being set into great agonies, with a sense of sin and wrath, and having their strength taken away, and their minds extraordinarily transported with light, love and comfort, I have been abundantly amongst such things, and have had great opportunity to observe them, here and elsewhere, in their beginning, progress, issue and consequences, and however there may be some mixtures of natural affection, and sometimes of temptation, and some imprudences and irregularities, as there always was, and always will be in this imperfect state; yet as to the work in general, and the main of what is to be observed in these extraordinary things, they have all the clear and incontestable evidences of a true divine work. If this ben’t the work of God, I have all my religion to learn over again, and know not what use to make of the Bible.
As to any absolute promises made to natural men, the matter is exceeding plain. God makes no promises of any future eternal good to fallen man in any other covenant but the covenant of grace; but how can they have any interest in the promises of the covenant of grace, that have no interest in the Mediator of that covenant, and never have performed the condition of that covenant, which is faith in the Mediator? The Scripture is ignorant of any other way of coming to a title to any promises of God, but only laying hold of the promises by faith, which surely men that have no faith don’t do.
As to the ministers that go about the country to preach, I believe most of the clamor that is made against them must needs be from some other principle than a regard to the interest of religion; because I observe now there is vastly a greater outcry against ministers riding about to preach the gospel, than used to be heretofore when ministers rode about on the business of a physician, though that be so much more alien from their proper work and though they were gone from their own people five times as much. But I observe that nowadays, no irregularities are so much cried out against as exceeding in religion. As to ministers that ride about the country, I can’t say how the case is circumstanced with all of ’em; but I believe they are exceedingly misrepresented. Mr. (Benjamin) Pomeroy and Mr. (Eleazar) Wheelock have been cried out of as much as most; and by particular opportunity I have had to know how it has been with them: they scarcely ever are absent from their people on the sabbath, and are very careful not to leave them destitute, and are not wont to go abroad but only where they are invited, and not to go into other ministers’ pulpits without their consent, and rarely without being desired of them, and at the same time are more abundant in labors among their own people than ever.
I rejoice to hear of the flourishing of the work of God in your parts: I hope God will cause it to prevail against all opposition. Let us look to God to plead his own cause, and to get to himself the victory. Seek to him to direct you and give you wisdom, humility and zeal. I desire your prayers for me.
I am your sincere and entire friend, Jonathan Edwards. P.S. The Reverend Mr. (William) Williams of Hatfield died this morning.
41. TO THE REVEREND JAMES ROBE
The 1740 revival at Kilsyth, Scotland, offered striking similarities to the one in Northampton in 1735. Robe ever published his own Faithful Narrative, serialized in part in Thomas Prince, Jr. ‘s Christian History (Boston, 1743—44). Here Edwards initiates correspondence with his overseas counterpart, praising progress there and lamenting decline at home. After a litany of errors made, he recommends the signs to be sought of positive spiritual life.
(Published in CMH 2 (1745), 127—30; and in Works, 4, 535—38.)
Northampton, May 12, 1743
Rev. and Dear Sir,
Last week I was surprised with the unexpected favor of your letter, with one from Mr. (John) MacLaurin. 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 favored and honored 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 honored 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.1 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 favor 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 co-workers 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 favor 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; and 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 (although it should be to the third heavens), but the nature and kind that must determine us in their favor. 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 endeavor 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 3:5. “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end”; and v. Hebrews 3:14, “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, Luke 21:36, 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. What you relate of the opposition of the seceding ministers is very surprising; especially of the two Erskines, whose writings, especially Mr. Ralph Erskine’s Gospel Sonnets,2 have been in great repute among God’s people here: but this is a day of wonders of various kinds. I have reason to admire divine condescension in making any use of anything I have written for the defense 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. (Thomas) 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.
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-laborer, Jonathan Edwards.
1. James Robe et al., Narratives of the Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God, at Cambuslang, at Kilsyth, etc. Begun in 1742 (Glasgow, rep. 1790).
2. Ebenezer and Ralph Erskine, who were among the leaders of the Seceders. Ralph Erskine’s Gospel Sonnets (2nd ed., Edinburgh, 1726) was a favorite in the colonies.
40. TO THE REVEREND WILLIAM McCULLOCH
Edwards’ friendship with Scottish ministers was of major and enduring value. This letter and one written to James Robe the same day are the earliest recorded communications to the ministers. The glory days of revival were past for Edwards. His interest in the movement remained keen, but after face-to-face encounters with extremists he took a decidedly more cautious, realistic attitude toward the idea.
In this letter, Edwards expresses elation at news of the Cambuslang revival, said to have originated in McCulloch’s parish near Glasgow. By contrast, he considers the American awakening flawed: talk without action, polarization, and emotion for its own sake. The root cause for the problems, he confesses, is lack of ministerial leadership.
(Trask Library, ALS, three quarto leaves, addressed on verso of third leaf to the Reverend William McCulloch at Cambuslang, near Glasgow, Scotland. Published in Dwight ed., 1, 196—98; and in Works, 4, 539—41.)
Northampton, May 12, 1743
Rev. and Dear Sir,
Mr. (John) MacLaurin of Glasgow, in a letter he has lately sent me, informs me of your proposing to write a letter to me, and being prevented by the failing of the expected opportunity: I thank you, reverend Sir, that you had such a thing in your heart. We were informed the last year by the printed, and well-attested narrative, of the glorious work of God in your parish, which we have since understood has spread into many other towns and parishes in that part of Scotland. Especially are we informed of this by Mr. (James) Robe’s Narrative;1 and I perceive by some papers of the Weekly History, sent me by Mr. MacLaurin of Glasgow, that the work has continued to make glorious progress at Cambuslang, even till it has prevailed to a wonderful degree indeed. God has highly favored and honored you, dear Sir, which may justly render your name precious to all that love our Lord Jesus Christ.
We live in a day wherein God is doing marvelous things; in that respect we are distinguished from former generations. God has wrought great things in New England, which, though exceeding glorious, have all along been attended with some threatening clouds; which from the beginning caused me to apprehend some great stop or check to be put to the work, before it should be begun and carried on in its genuine purity and beauty, to subdue all before it, and to prevail with an irresistible and continual progress and triumph; and it is come to pass according to my apprehensions. But yet I cannot think otherwise, than that what has now been doing, is the forerunner of something vastly greater, more pure, and more extensive. I can’t think that God has come down from heaven, and done such great things before our eyes, and gone so much beside and beyond his usual way of working, and wrought so wonderfully, and that he has gone away with a design to leave things thus. “Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things?” And will God, when he has wrought so unusually, and made the earth “to bring forth in one day, (…) bring to the birth and not cause to bring forth?” And shall he “cause to bring forth and shut the womb?” (Isaiah 66:8-9). I live upon the brink of the grave, in great infirmity of body, and nothing is more uncertain than whether I shall live to see it: but I believe God will revive his work again before long, and that it will not wholly cease till it has subdued the whole earth.
But God is now going and returning to his place, till we acknowledge our offense, and, I hope, to humble his church in New England, and purify it, and so fit it for yet greater comfort, that he designs in due time to bestow upon it. God may deal with his church, as he deals with a particular saint; commonly after his first comfort, the clouds return, and there (is) a season of remarkable darkness, and hidings of God’s face, and buffetings of Satan; but all to fit for greater mercy; and as it was with Christ himself, who presently after the heavens were opened over his head, and the Spirit was poured out upon him, and God wonderfully testified his love to him, was driven into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil forty days (Matthew 3:16-4:1). I hope God will show us our errors, and teach us wisdom by his present withdrawings. Now in the day of adversity we have time and cause to consider, and begin now to have opportunity to see the consequences of our conduct.
I wish that God’s ministers and people every where would take warning by errors, and the calamities that are the issue of them. I have mentioned several things in my letters to Mr. MacLaurin and Mr. Robe; another I might have mentioned, that most evidently proves of ill consequence, i.e. we have run from one extreme to another, with respect to talking of experiences; that whereas formerly there was too great a reservedness in that matter, of late many have gone to an unbounded openness, frequency, and constancy in talking of their experiences, declaring almost everything that passes between God and their own souls, everywhere and before everybody. Among other ill consequences of such a practice this is one, that religion runs all into that channel; and religion is placed very much in it, so that the strength of it seems to be spent in it; that other duties that are of vastly greater importance, have been looked upon light in comparison of this, so that other parts of religion have (been) really much injured thereby; as when we see a tree excessively full of leaves, we find so much less fruit; and when a cloud arises with an excessive degree of wind, we have the less rain.
How much, dear Sir, does God’s church at such a day need the constant, gracious care and guidance of our Good Shepherd! And especially we that are ministers.
I should be glad, dear Sir, of a remembrance in your prayers, and also of your help, by information and instructions, by what you find in your experience in Scotland. I believe it to be the duty of one part of the church of God thus to help another. I am, dear Sir, your affectionate
Brother and servant in Jesus Christ, Jonathan Edwards.
1. James Robe, A Short Narrative of the Extraordinary Work at Cambuslang (Boston, 1742). See Fawcett, The Cambuslang Revival.
42. TO THE ASSEMBLY OF PASTORS OF CHURCHES IN NEW ENGLAND
The convention of clergy in Boston on July 7 and 8, 1743, was a notable event in the history of the revival movement in colonial New England. Here Edwards and his colleagues from Hampshire County join the chorus of affirmation.
(Published in The Testimony and Advice of an Assembly of Pastors of Churches in New-England (Boston, 1743); The Christian History, no. 22 (Aug. 6, 1743), 178—80. Reprinted in CMH 3 (1744), 32—34; and Works, 4, 542—43.
County of Hampshire, June 30, 1743Rev. and Honored Sirs,
Whereas an advertisement hath lately been published, wherein it is signified, that it is the desire of a number of ministers that there should be a meeting of all such ministers in this province as are persuaded that there has of late been a happy revival of religion in the land, at Boston, the day after (Harvard’s) commencement, to give a joint testimony to the late glorious work of God’s grace, and to consult what should be done to promote this work, and to suppress those things that bring a reproach upon it and hinder it; and in the same advertisement it is desired that if any such ministers are not able to be present at this interview, they would not fail to send their testimony and thoughts in writing: we whose names are subscribed to this, living at a great distance, and our circumstances not well allowing us to go so great a journey at the time proposed, would hereby signify, that according to what understanding we have of the nature of Christianity, and the observation we have had opportunity to make, we judge that there has been within the last two years and an half, a blessed outpouring of the Spirit of God in this county in awakening and converting sinners, and in enlightening, quickening and building up saints in faith, holiness and comfort; which has been attended in great numbers with an abiding alteration and reformation of disposition and behavior. And particularly we would hereby declare to the glory of God’s grace, that we judge that there has been a happy revival of religion in the congregations that have been committed to our pastoral care, and that there are many in them that, by abiding manifestations of a serious, religious and humble spirit, and a conscientious care and watchfulness in their behavior towards God and man, give all grounds of charity towards them, as having been sincere in the profession they have made. And however there has been, especially in some places, a mixture of enthusiasm and false religion, and some have run into great errors in their conduct, and some have fallen away, and there is a declension in others that is to be lamented; yet we think the effect has been such, and still continues to be such, as leaves no room reasonably to doubt of God’s having been wonderfully in the midst of us, and such as has laid us under great obligations forever to admire and extol the riches of his grace in doing such great things for us.
Thus, reverend Sirs, begging of him that he would be with you in your meeting, and guide you in your thoughts and conclusions with respect to these things, and direct you to that which may be for his glory and the prosperity of Zion, and desiring your prayers to God for us, and the flocks committed to our care, we remain, honored and dear Sirs, your brethren and fellow servants in the gospel ministry,
Stephen Williams, pastor of a church in Springfield. Peter Reynolds, pastor of the church in Enfield. Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the church in Northampton. Samuel Allis, pastor of the church in Somers. John Woodbridge, pastor of the Second Church in Hadley. David Parsons, Jr., pastor of the Third Church in Hadley. Edward Billing, pastor of the church in Cold Spring.