Today is Jonathan Edwards’ 313th birthday. In honor of his birthday here are some interesting and less known things about him.
Jonathan was the only son of eleven children, and ended up having eleven of his own.
His father, Rev. Timothy Edwards ran a boys school that he and his daughters ran out of his house to prepare them for college. If you graduated from his program, Yale waived its entrance exams for you.
Edwards’ family had its share of skeletons in the closet. Edwards’ grandmother (on his father Timothy’s side, Elizabeth Tuthill Edwards was an adulteress and given to fits of rage that led her husband Richard, Edwards’ grandfather to sue for divorce. Not only that, his great aunt committed infanticide, and his grand uncle was an axe murderer.
Edwards first met his wife Sarah when he was a student at Yale College. She was much younger than him, only thirteen. But she had quite the reputation and made quite the impression. Edwards wrote this little bit about her at that time.
They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is beloved of that almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him–that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love, favor and delight, forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and sweetness of temper, uncommon purity in her affections; is most just and praiseworthy in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything thought wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those times in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to [place]; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, and to wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her (WJE 16:789-790).
Edwards always had notes or a full manuscript with him when he preached. Edwards’ grandfather, Rev. Solomon Stoddard, disapproved of preachers who needed to use notes or a manuscript. So when Edwards was called to be Stoddard’s associate at Northampton in 1727, he started writing out his sermons onto little 4×4 inch paper that he stitched himself so they were not easily seen.
Edwards is best known for his famous (or infamous) sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God which he delivered at the church in Enfield, CT during the Great Awakening in 1741. People were so affected and convicted through his message that he had to stop preaching. What is not well known is that he preached the same message to his own people at Northampton sever weeks before and got no response whatsoever.
Sarah and Edwards’ girls made extra money by making paper fans that they sold in Boston. Ever the poster boy of Yankee thriftiness, Edwards collected the leftover scraps of paper and stitched them together into notebooks for himself.
Edwards’ had a very sensitive stomach, but had a wicked sweet tooth for chocolate. In fact his whole family did. Edwards would often pay people who were coming to visit his family to pick up chocolate on the way over.
While Edwards did spend a lot of time in his study, sometimes as much as twelve hours of the day, his wife Sarah had open access to him whenever she wanted, and he took regular time every day to be with his children. He enjoyed a very close relationship with his wife and all of his kids. They were a very happy family.
While Edwards’ own education was very lecture oriented, he preferred to teach in a much more hands on and Socratic way. Here is an example.
I once told a boy of about thirteen years of age that a piece of any matter of two inches square was eight times so big as one of but one inch square, or that it might be cut into eight pieces, all of them as big as that of but an inch square. He seemed at first to think me not in earnest, and to suspect that I only went to make a game of him. But when I had taken considerable pains to convince him that I was in earnest, and that I knew what I said to be true, he seemed to be astonished at my positiveness, and cried out of the impossibility and absurdity of it, and would argue how was it possible for two inches to be eight inches; and all that I could say did [not] at all prevail upon him to make him believe it. I suppose it seemed to him as great and evident a contradiction as that twice one makes eight, or any other absurdity whatsoever, that that [which] was but just twice so long, and twice so broad, and twice so thick, but just so big everyway, should yet be eight times so big. And when I afterwards showed him the truth of it by cutting out two cubes, one an inch and another two inches square, and let him examine the measures and see that the measures were exact, and that there was no deceit, and took and cut the two-inch cube into eight equal parts, and he counted the parts over and over, and took the parts one by one and compared them with the one inch cube, and spent some time in counting and comparing; he seemed to [be] astonished as though there were some witchcraft in the case and hardly to believe it after all, for he did not yet at all see the reason of it. I believe it was a much more difficult mystery to him than the Trinity ordinarily is to men. And there seemed to him more evidently to be a contradiction in it than ever there did in any mystery of religion to a Socinian or deist.
And why should we not suppose that there may be some things that are true, that may be as much above our understandings and as difficult to them, as this truth was to this boy. Doubtless, there is a vastly greater distance between our understanding and God’s, than between this boy’s and that of the greatest philosopher or mathematician (WJE 18:192-193).