What would Jonathan Edwards say to the downtrodden?
As many of you may know, I am a Jonathan Edwards scholar. In the grand scheme of things, that doesn’t mean all that much, expect that I read a lot of Edwards’s work and spend a great deal of time thinking alongside of him about the nature of the Gospel of God for our salvation. From time to time, I come across a really great nuggest in Edwards’s theology. What I mean by “nugget” is this, what I consider one of the great misfortunes of Edwards’s legacy is that we have next to nothing on what he was supposedly best at – spiritual direction. His daughter, in a letter to a friend, once commented on how blessed she was to have someone like her father to help her navigate her relationship with God. Edwards was, it would seem, a fantastic and discerning director of souls. Fortunately, we do have some evidence of this. Edwards wrote a letter to a woman who just saw her only son die. In it, he tells her that he writes about the one thing he knows for a time like hers – Christ. You can read the letter in its entirety here, but I have copied the last portion below.
Now, Madam, let us consider what suitable provision God has made for our consolation under all our afflictions in giving us a Redeemer of such glory and such love, especially when it is considered what were the ends of that great manifestation of his beauty and love in his death. He suffered that we might be delivered. His soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death, to take away the sting of sorrow and that we might have everlasting consolation. He was oppressed and afflicted that we might be supported. He was overwhelmed in the darkness of death and of hell, that we might have the light of life. He was cast into the furnace of God’s wrath, that we might swim in the rivers of pleasure. His heart was overwhelmed in a flood of sorrow and anguish, that our hearts might be filled and overwhelmed with a flood of eternal joy.
And now let it be considered what circumstances our Redeemer now is in. He was dead but is alive, and he lives forevermore. Death may deprive of dear friends, but it can’t deprive us of this, our best friend.
And we have this friend, this mighty Redeemer, to go to under all affliction, who is not one that can’t be touched with the feeling of our afflictions, he having suffered far greater sorrows than we ever have done. And if we are vitally united to him, the union can never be broken; it will remain when we die and when heaven and earth are dissolved. Therefore, in this we may be confident, we need not fear though the earth be removed. In him we may triumph with everlasting joy; even when storms and tempests arise we may have resort to him who is an hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest. When we are thirsty, we may come to him who is as rivers of waters in a dry place. When we are weary, we may go to him who is as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Having found him who is as the apple tree among the trees of the wood, we may sit under his shadow with great delight and his fruit may be sweet to our taste. Christ told his disciples that in the world [they] should have trouble, but says he, “In me ye shall have peace.” If we are united to him, our souls will be like a tree planted by a river that never dieth. He will be their light in darkness and their morning star that is a bright harbinger of day. And in a little [while], he will arise on our souls as the sun in full glory. And our sun shall no more go down, and there shall be no interposing cloud, no veil on his face or on our hearts, but the Lord shall be our everlasting light and our Redeemer, our glory.
That this glorious Redeemer would manifest his glory and love to you, and apply the little that has been said of these things to your consolation in all your affliction, and abundantly reward your generous favors, as when I was at Kittery, is the fervent [prayer] of, Madam, Your Ladyship’s most obliged and affectionate friend,
And most humble servant, Jonathan Edwards.