A Sweet Flame

Article by   August 2007

Introduction

Edwards is best known for his intense study life and intellectual prowess. But if one were only armed with such limited knowledge of Edwards, it could appear that he did not engage his people, opting merely for a life of study. But these skillfully edited letters give a window into the pastoral, fatherly heart of Jonathan Edwards and thus shatter any such false notions of him being an un-relational pastor. After reading this book, no minister could honestly think he was following the pastoral pattern of Edwards by being aloof to the needs of his people.

This compilation of Edwards' letters are chock full of devotional material and pastoral wisdom. Whether he was dealing with a daughter, who was away, or comforting a bereaved mother, I found myself constantly challenged with his undying passion for God.

Paternal Piety

One letter particularly offers insight into Edwards as a father. When Mary, one of his daughters, was away, he was concerned--as any father would be--for her safety and well being. Edwards even mentions that he is concerned that she might get sick and lie in the grave before they heard of her being ill. But then Edwards writes,

"But yet, my greatest concern is not for your health, or temporal welfare, but for the good of your soul. Though you are at so great a distance from us, yet God is everywhere. You are much out of the reach of our care, but you are every moment in his hands. We have not the comfort of seeing you, but he sees you. His eye is always upon you. And if you may but live sensibly near to God, and have his gracious presence, it is no matter if you are far distant from us. I had rather you should remain hundreds of mile distant from us, and have God near to you by his Spirit, than to have you always with us, and live at a distance from God" (107).

Edwards' godly, fatherly care had profound affect on his children. Esther Burr, his third daughter, wrote this of her father following some counsel he had given her, "What mercy that I have such a Father! Such a Guide" (12). There is much for the reader to learn from Edwards' paternal piety.

Pastoral Piety

Another remarkable aspect of this compilation of letters is Edwards' way of transporting your heart to heaven through stirring language about the Lord Jesus Christ. When writing to Lady Pepperell to console her after the death of her son, Edwards was focusing her attention not to her own strength or the comfort this world offers as distraction; instead, he lifted her eyes to the Lord Jesus Christ. As I read, I was marking things that stood out to me as supremely devotional, and I noticed that I was marking almost every single bit of this letter. Edwards writes,

"Let us then, dear Madam, contemplate the loveliness of our blessed Redeemer, which entitles him to our highest love, and, when clearly seen, leads us to find a sweet complacency and satisfaction of soul in him, of whatever else we are deprived" (124).

But Edwards does not just recommend the contemplation of the loveliness of Jesus Christ; instead, he eloquently expounds to the widow the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Edwards writes,

"He [Jesus] suffered that we might be delivered. His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, to take away the sting of sorrow, and to impart everlasting consolation. He was oppressed and afflicted, that we might be supported. He was overwhelmed in the darkness of death, that we might have the light of life. He was cast into the furnace of God's wrath, that we might drink of the rivers of his pleasures. His soul was overwhelmed with a flood of sorrow, that our hearts might be overwhelmed with a flood of eternal joy" (129-130).

This is just one of the many gospel-filled, Christ-exalting, God-savoring sections of this powerful letter.

These letters not only offer an insight into Edwards' pastoral engagement with individuals, but they also give us an understanding of how Edwards diligently sought to engage the culture around him and the world abroad. The reader can enjoy Edwards' correspondence with George Whitefield, John Erskine, and the like.

Conclusion

Michael Haykin has done a superb job bringing together this collection of letters. He not only offers helpful footnotes on each letter, which gives the reader an idea of the context in which these letters were written, but also gives an insightful biographical introduction to this work.

"A Sweet Flame" is part of the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series which attempts to "introduce the spirituality and piety of the Reformed tradition by presenting descriptions of the lives of notable Christians with select passages from their works" (xiii).

I heartily commend this book to you, for it offers an opportunity to sit at the feet of a superb pastor-theologian. But like any great Christian, Edwards' writings do not leave you stirred with the thoughts of the greatness of the man; instead, you walk away humbled having been guided into the glorious presence of our God and King. This book imparts much wisdom and knowledge, but ultimately is about worshipping and enjoying the Living God in the face of trial, turmoil, death, and life.

By Michael A.G. Haykin / (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2007)
Review by J. Nicholas Reid - Nick Reid is an MDiv student at Reformed Theological Seminary


 


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