Full Text for Jonathan Edwards: A Case of Medium-Message Conflict (Text)

CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Wume 48. Number 4 Announcement .......................................- Authority in English Theology fmm the Oxford Movement ........................... to the hesent .John Stephenson 265 Jonathan Edwards: A Case of Medium-Message Conflict ..................... Klernet Preus 219 ...................................... Theological Observer .2W ....................................... Homiletical Studies .303 Jonathan Edwards : A Case of Medium-Message Conflict Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinist theologian, in the waning yem of Puritan influence in America attempted to bring people to a conviction of his mbsage by emplqring revivals as his primary medium. While successful initially, the ultimate results of his effixt werehisowndismissal~mhisparish,the~decayofstrict Calvinism as a theological force in America and the popularization of the revivals as a dktktively American phenomenon. Ed- lesson for theologians and preachers of today is that a theological message of doctrine is often subject to limitations which its medium places upon it. The doctrinal message of any given church is under- mined if placed into media which are inconsistent with it. Most chur- ches, in order to survive, have developed media appropriate to and consistent with their particular dactrinal stance? Eddtragedy was his inability to lecognize that revivals and strict Calvinism were culturally and inherently incompatible. The message which Jonathan Edwards preached tenaciously and i==w~~yearsof~m~1)atN~, was theQctrineofs&hCalvhbm. Edwards- both his theology and his ecclesiastical predilections from the strict Puritans who came from Englad to establish a theocracy in the "Pro- mised Land" of the new wold. Theirs was a world view in which thedoctrineofGod'sabsolute~(~~ereigntypermeatedalloftheology and all contemporary tbought and life. The doctrines of man, sin, grace, faith, salvation, Christ, the means of grace, eternal election, and eternal life are all the necessary results of an intensely logical system of theology which refuses to compmmise or vitiate the im- mutable sovereignty of God. It is difficult for the twentieth century mind to appreciate fully the manner in which a man like Jonathan Edwards applied the doctrine of God's sovereignty to everything he encountered. His extensive mubgs in mcs, Newton's astrowrqy, gmgmphy, andeqe45auy the philosophical works OfJohn hke were all intqrated into his Unlike his theological descendants he would not divide his think- inn into various schooIs or disciplines. Edd was kt, last, and 280 CONCORDIA THEOLlXiICAL QUARTERLY always the theologian who wished to glonfy the savereign God. He was, claimed Peny Miller: The last great American, perhaps the last European, for whom there could be no warfare between religion and science or bet- ween ethics and nature. He was incapable of accepting Chis- tianity and physics on separate premises. His mind was so constituted . . . that he went directly to the issues of his age, definedthemandassertedthehistoricPrdestaotdodrineinfuU cognizance ofthe latest disclosures in both psychology and nat- ural science? God had preeminence wer all the lowwledge or dixmeries of men, and these achievements must be viewed only in the context of the unapproachable, hamp&emible, absolute, ahitmy, -, sovereign God. Although the depravity of man seems to be the emphasis for which he is best known, to Ed- sin was an empty concept if divorced fromthesovereigntyofGod. God'spurposeinthedmandpreser- vation of this world was that certain people would honor Him and acknowledge His suvereign decrees. When mankind sinned and tran- sgressed God's laws, the human race was plunged into the "innate sinful depravity of the heart."4 This innate wickedness is all the more profound, and man's guilt all the more "heinous," since the absolute inlinite and sovereign God is the offended party. Man's fall is dam- nable, firstly, because God's purposes in creation were apparently thwarted, and, secondly, because "there is no want ofpuwer in God to cast wicked men into hell at any m~ment."~ So dishonorable to- wards God is our sin and so repugnant to Him that His spokesman, Edwards, could rail against the wickedness of mankind with fierce eloquence: And there is actual wickedness without number or measm. There are breaches for every command, in thought, wod, and deed; a life of sin; days and nights filled up with sin, mercies abused and fnrwns despised; mercy and justice and all divine perfections trampled on, and the honor of each person in the Trinity trod in the dirt. Now if one sinful word or thought has so much evil in it as to deserve eternal destruction, how do they deserve to be eternally cast off and destroyed, that are guilty of so much sin!' Edwards' Calvinistic soteriology is likewise predicated upon a belief in God's absolute sovereignty. According to an immutable decree God atoned for those whom He "from eternity had designed to save."' Out of infinite mercy God sent His Son Jesus Christ to bear the humili- ty of our race, to condescend to us in His passion and death as well MEDIUM hE!SAGE CONFIlCC 281 asHisimamationandbirth. Thiscmxkscension, whichisGod'spart of the menant, makes Jesus more approachable and mrthy of our ~.SuchafkctionateaccepanceorfaithisourpartofGod's anenant. "Whatareyouafraidof,"queriedEdwards, "thatyouda!e wt~ywrsouluponChrist? ... AreyouafraidthatHewill ~beabletostoopsolmasto~anygraci~~~noteof~? . . . Behold Him hanging on the cross! Do you think that He that had con- descensionenoughtostooptothesethings, ... willbeumdlmgto accept you if you come to Him? Christ's lwe commends the Savior to us as merciful, Who, if we accept and trust,will we us."Such trust is the condition for salvation. "If you come, you need not fear but that you will be accepted."8 "He will be united with you, if you accept Him.'* Faith, theumditionofsalvationonthepartofmanlrind, was, huw- ever, purelyadonandgii3fixnnGod. Oalythewhoficometer- nity had been predestined to salvation could expect to wme to faith, regardless of tbeir best intentions or efforts at self-conversion: Some hope by their striving to obtain salvation of themselves. They be a secret hagination that they shall by degrees work in themselves sorrows and repentance for sin, and lave towards God and Jesus Christ. Their striving is not so much an earnest seelung to God, as a striving to do themselves that which is the mrk of God?O God arbitrarily predekmnkd some to salvation and some to dam- aation, He~i~yatonedforthesinsofdythosewhowereel~, and He arbitrarily worked faith in their hearts but not in the hearts ofthe reprobate. On behalf of His elect God fullilled both His part of the menant and also the part of the sinful ~eople. But for the reprobate God iidfilled neither His part nor their part. The strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God coupled with man's inhernut wickedness led Ed- to state, in as radical a manner as possible, the utter dependency of mankind upon God: Mk are more apparently ckpndent on God for holiness, because we are first sinful, and utterly polluted, and aftemad holy . . . So we are more apparently dependent on free grace for the fa- vor of God, for we are first just the objects of his displeasure, and afterwards received into bwr?l Even in such terrifying homiletical efforts as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Ed- primary concern was neither n drive people to s~icide,'~ nor to bring them only to the point of despair. His intention was to create in them the despondence which, accor- ding to his theology, was essential to their religion. God was por- trayed as offended, wrathful, and jealous but somehw swing His just &bution: The God that holds yam over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathome insect aver the fire, abhors yam, andisdreadfdypmmked.. . heisofpurereyestbantobear tohaveyaminhissight; ... and~itisnothingbuthishd thatho1dsyoufnwnfsllinPintothefireeverymoment.. . And thereisnootfrerreasontobegiven, whyyamhavenotdropped intohell since you aroseinthe morning. butthat God'shand hasheldyou up. There is no otber reason to be given why you havenotgonetohell,sioceyamhavesathereinthehouseof God,pmvokinghispureq~esbyyoursinfulwickedmannerof attending his solemn wodip. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop dawn into hell." As long as the fixes of hell were held at bay, the brror-stricken sinner had some faint hope and was breed to cast his complefe dependenceuponGod.ThegistofEdwa&s'sermonicrhebricwas stated clearly in his philosophical writings: The nature and contrivance of our redemption is such, that the redeemed ars in every thiqg directly, hwdhtely and entirely dependentonGod:'Wqrare~up~nhimineveryway!~ Edwards' theological consistency also fwced him to adopt the Calvinistic view that God is sovereign over His W. He believed that, while the Wrd of God could bring a person to an intellectual undem and acceptance of the Gospel, only by a swenign ad, irres~veofthe~hingofthePFord,wouldGodbestawupon an individual ""a divine and qxmubd light." Faith was not work- ed by the Wrd, but was "immediately the work of the Holy Spir- it."lS The Word, claimed Edwards, "conveys to our minds these and thosedoctrines, ... butnotthesenseofthedivineexcellemyof~ inourhearts ... butthatduesenseoftheheartwhereinthislight bdy mists, is hmxdhtely by the Spirit of God."16 Some scholars have su%gested "that Edwards joined that line of Puritan theologians who inched ;rway frmn outward means of grace by em- phasii the intends of grace in the immediate upemtion of the Holy Spirit ."I7 But Edwards was merely qmt@ the teahqp of his men- tor, John Calvin, on this point?' Both men held to this doctrine, not out of any latent mysticism, but because of the desk to protect the ~ofthe~~ofGod.Conradcherrysunrmarized , LL ... this is Edwards' prhqal point of the subject-God has sove~ign disposal wer the means (i-e., the Wrd) and the striving attached to them. It is the power of God alone which decides the efficacy of the means." l9 MEDIUM WE CO-rn 283 TbeCalvinisticdochrineofGod's~encroacheduponthe Puritan views of God's covenant and God's ccnrenant people. Accor- dingtoearlyPuritans,suchasJohnW~Jobn~andRichard hhher, God had cuvenanted with the New England Puritans that He dd be their God and He dd establish His kingdom in the New Wbrld.m ""R shall be as a City upon a Hill, the qes of all people are upon us," wanred John Wirdhrop while his company was still in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean aboard the ArbcIla in 1630. Similar to God's crenanowdefinition.lEey~religious~ in which the message of "salvation" was attended with specific and well defined evangelistic and rhetorical techniques. The first "Great Awakening" occurred in 1734 and, wher its causes, was probably the only revival which genuinely surprised both pastor and people. Jonathan Ed& viewed the revival as a spontaneous work of Ws wereign grace. The hundreds ofpeople who were "saviogly wzuught upon" also considered the events as a "surprising work of God." Ed- wads claimed with truth and - that ''- a single person in the whole town was left unconcern about the great things of the eternal Word."Z9 On one Sunday aver 100 people wee bro~ght as members into the Northampton parrsh. The news of the revival, at first greeted with skept~cism by neighbomg churches, soon kgm to bear the same fruits outside of Northampton. Edwds claimed that aUbutturoofthetawnsintbe~cutRiverWeyhad~- ed significant conve~sions during 1735 and even one of these 0x1 al- most doubled its size during the six months of the revivalsm MEDIUM MESSACiE CONFIlCT 281 TheNewEnghdco~inthesover@ptyofGoddidnot allow the people to consider causes of the revival which might be slightly more mundane. Actually New England and especWy Nor- thampton "had been obscurely tend& toward revival fw a hundred years."31 Stoddard had claimed five small bbharvests," the most re- cent in 1718 The existence d the ''hahay" community had necessitated a novel homiletical fom so that "by 1730 a type of ser- mon designed for communal response was almost a perfect literary form, waiting only for somw~e to take it in band."32 Latent hrs anduacertaintieswithintbe~vemiudofsocietyfurther~ Ed- people fw the revival. -ties for weaItb through human endemor due to land speculation, opening trade relati- and popuJation gmwth led to prideful ambition and swxess. But disease, Indian raids, and a host of other daily dangers reminded the people of God's sameign cootzol and enabled Edwards to dnh their ambitious pride. 33 An 'IUIICOII1I)30ny homileticiao, Ed-, armed with a "pe&dd sermonic hm" and an autbontanan *. countenance,broughtthepeopletosuchan"agitatedstateofantiCipa- tion" thattheexpededdoneqerhcawemalmostaibnzgm conclusion. While more dramatic than dmse d a half a decade earlier, the kvals of 1?4&1Wl a surprise to fkw hrritan leaders. Revidis& soon ld that the rhetorical techniques of revivals could be mar- Med and the results therefore predicted. Since divine prediabili- ty was a precious commodity fw the preservation of Puritan society, revivalsachievedwidespreaduse.Tbemostcrucial~fwthesuc- cess of these revivals was Edwards' publishing in 1731 of A Namaive, which was a gluwing account and defense of the hvals of 1734. While subsequent revivals differed from the first in many ways, tbe conversion experiences of 1734 muunted by Edwards "became 6dy fmed in the popular mind." 3s The success of the 1341 "awakening" was guarardeed by other bct~rs. This time George Whitefield traveled from -to New England and conducted tbe revival for thirty carefully planned days. LESS rigid and logical in his sermonizing than the clergy of New England, Whitefield appealed almost exclusively to the dons of the audience. His eloquence was acknowledged by both supporters and demctors. The revivals lasted only a couple of days at each parish, after which Whitefield was off to other "harvests," leaving the local clergy to care fbr the souls which had been won. Critical evaluation was precluded. His itinerancy was so successful that the clergy d New England gladly emulated the foreigner. Ola Wmlow asserted that the New England "ministry was all on homeback during the summer 1341, with ser- mons in their pockets for any emergency invitations."36 The mcldus opcmndi was to pnxde the coming of the revivakl with liberal and often ezaggemted claims of his homiletical prowess, high sphituali- ty, and past wlccesses at the salvation of men's souls. Following the revival, reports would be sent to other tawns which contained such pertinent data as "the size of the audience, the distance many had tmeled b hear him, the hcl that thy bad stood in the rain, or assembl- ed at fivea.m., that many had hinted, that the outcries oftbeqen- tanthadQawnedthevoiceofthespeaker,andthatthecollectionplate had not been large enough for the offerings poured into it.yy37 The local nmqqem also published phefs with "'Molls on haw to hear senmws preackd by the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield. Anoth- er fador which contributed to the success of the revivals of 1740 was theconstant~nsand~ofthelocalclergyand~ kwathan Edwards to return to the now dormant zeal of 1734. These elements led to revivals so successful that they became the norm, at least in outwd appearances, for subsequent revivals. The revivals of 1740-1'741 impressed certain expectations and ideas on the collective soul of New England so as to preclude the mahtamx of Calvinistic theology. The theology of revivalism was a type of Americanized Afminianism; its primary emphasis was on man's innate ability to effect his own destiny and salvation?* That such a theology should be associated with revivalism is not a mere accident of hi-. Though promoted by Calvinists, revivals wem both culturally and inherently Arminian in nature. Named after the Dutch theologian, Jacob Mus (1560-I-), .. . Annuuaolsm attacked Calvinistic doctrine at almost every crucial point. It taught that salvation was not the result of God's sovereign decree of election, but of man's free choice. The natural condition of man was not depraved, as Edwards and Calvin taught, but each man was a free moral agent and the master of his own destiny. The "means of graceyy were dependent for their power, not upon Ws sovereign decree, but upon the arbitrary choice of the people who heard these means. The final result was a view of the relationship between God and man in which the roles had been reversed from Calvinistic theology. God, no longer the arbitrary Savereign who damned and saved as He pleased, had, in Arminian theology, lost Hisdivinepnmgati~andspentHisexistencerespoodingtothewhims and choices of His ~reatures?~ A final aspect of Arminianism wor- thy of note was its emphasis on the role and responsibility of the in- dividual, often heqective of corporate involvement and commitment. Unifonnty, in in thought, was not a virtue. While Atminianism in New England was not formally taught as a system of theology, by MEDIUM MESSCUiE CONFLItT 289 Edwards' time it had nevertheless become entnznched among both clergy and laity. It was a popular and "native American variety d humanself+diciencywhich~~lfwithinthefonnsd~ enant theology."~ George Whitefield, tended to make revivals culturally imomptible with Calvinistic theology. Whiteiield, like almost all churchmen of his day, claimed to be a Calvinist. His lwty, howewer, was not to any doctrinal system and his preaching often assumed an Arminian flavor. Salvation, to Whitedield, was given to whomever desired it. His "whosoever will" emphasis, while well received on American soil due to its &mmatk was an explicit denial d Calvinism. Whitefield's sermons placed the responsibility iw am- vemion upon man. An example is his sermon, "Abraham's Ofking Up His Son Isaac." A winsome masterpiece of oratorical skill, he aarrated the sacrifice of Abraham and related it to the sacrifice d God'sSon.Butinhisco~lclusionhespoked~~asthough its existence were the responsibility of the believer rather than God: But if you are only tm believers, have only a faith of the headandneverfeltthepcrwerofitinyourhearts, ... dess you get a faith of the heart, a faith working by kcwe, you shall never sit with . . . Jesus Christ in the khgdan of heaven?2 !%&mnts like "uniess you get a faith. . . ," outwdly retunred the people to the Puritan fold, but also inculcated in them ideas that their salvation was, to some degree, their own ~chievement. Ola Wdm explained the effect Whitefield's preaching had upon the lost sheep d New England: Under his impassioned preaching each hearer felt himself done in the whole wrld pursued by God. If he were to escape dam- nation and obtain the key to heaven, he must do it k-~diy?~ The most popular revivalist of all time had changed the theology to which his audience was accustomed. Later revivalists such as James Davenport, Tennant, and Charles Pi in the heteenth century were more extreme in their Anninianism.Adffctorha cultural perspective, which made Calvinism and revivalism incon- sistent was the necessity d human impetus for the success of the re- vival. No true and consistent Calvinist could ever plan salMtim; only God could umlerk& such a venm. Yet the revivals d 1740-1741 and all subsequent revivals mere p;uns&kingly plarmed to the smaIlest detail Mre they commenced. Whitefield's American tour was amomced in both press and pulpit, The preachers encowaged people to expect some great wrk of God through the efkrts of the Such planning gave the impression that the normally feeble efforts of man- kind had now tapped the awesome puwers of God. Edwards -If, rturingtheyears~thetwob'~"atNorthampton, was not duc&nt to chide the people for losing the fervw of 1735.45 These chidhgs,aswellashisoonstantexhortationstorepeattheexpelience, laid the responsibility fix '"the surprising wrk of God" upon the UdersdHis-. Eventheendofthe 1735 revivalwas the zesult of human activity. On June 1, 1735, Edwards' uncle, Josej& Hwvley, killedhimselfbysiittiaghisownthat. WhileEdwardsblam- ed the actiosl on the rage of Satan,- and attriiuted Hawley's actions to '"the disease of melancholy,"47this suicide proved to be the turn- ing point in the religious exchnentthathadpmessdthetclwnfor months. a Not only wtxe the revivals cammmcd by man, but their amclusio~ls were often effeded by distinctvely ungodly forces. Fur- tberevidencethathumanimpetuscausedthe success was theitineramy to which revivals became so closely associated. In Calvinist theology God is not bound to a visiting clergy, but this irmcnation became a mark of the revival after 1741 because it had worked so successfully fnr White.fieM. Revid were also cultudly immshx~ with strict Calvinistic tbedogybecameofthe~J~Ed~placedupon them relative to the millenialktic fervor of the age. Edwards iden- tified New England as the site which God had chosen to bring about His second glorious rule of Christ on earth?9 He also interpre4ed the success of his revivals as proof that his rnillenialktic interpretations ~accurate.Butsincetherevidweredependeztuponmanfor their cmmmee, continuance, and andnce, it was easy for New E- to think that the ushering in of the kingdom of God was their own mpnsibility. Until the time of Edwards most theologians believed that the millennium would be preceded by an age of gnat trials and apo&qrn By challenging this view Ed- wards not only established himself as America's first post-millennia1 thinker; he also opened the door for the liberal, and decidedly Anni- nian, view that America was the master of her own destiny. "The encowagernent it doctrine] gave to the efficacy of human effort made it a natural ally to the new doctrine of human abm which already had begun to make inroads osl tbe older Calvinism."51 The Ccmnedcut Wey revivals of Edwards and Whitefield did not have to halve itinerant preachers, employ Amman . . theo1-, pqmblicize the ads of God, CK WXI stms Edwards' post-millenididc views. Edwards' first revivals of 1735 lacked all such incidentals. The Northampton pastor was the first to understand that many of the out- ward -011s of the revivals neither proved nor disproved their validity. In In hisous apology for the New England revivals, Zhe LWhguishing Marks, he listed nine such phenomena. Tfungs like MEDIUM MESSAGE CO-Cl- 291 I the unusuaI manner in which conversions took place, actions of an impnaBent natwe, enws of judgment, the backsliding of many con- verts, or too much bbhellfire and damnation" prwed wtfuog to Ed- wardsrZ What Joaathan Edd did not discount were the actual revivals themselves. To his chagrin most criticisms of the revivals during the 1740's centered in the mety of these incidental fktors which Edwards himself conceded were no proof of the Spirit's ac- tivity. Men of less modemtion such as James Davenport managed to abhate the whole issue by insistirrg on prow the type of hysteria that even Edwards cuuld not abide.53 The value of the revival, divorced from many of its exaxies, was never discussed. It was this type of revival which Ed- cklbded. In his eshdon it resulted in many spiritual blessings such as a thirst for Scripture, a higher esteem for Jesus, and a lave for God and man. "These marks are sufficient to outweigh a thousaml such little objections, as many oddities, ir- ~anderrwsinconduct,and&lusionsandscamlalsofsome pdkssm."" But bad these ktm been absent in the New England of 1740, the revivals would still have conflicted with Calvinism, for the twr, are inherently incompatible. Calvhism and revivalism wae inherently contradictory because Calvinism, in principle, cannot bind God to a medium through which spiritual blessings are guaranteed. Edwards' mistake in his positive evaluation of the revivals was that he i&&ed the work of the Spirit too closely to a specific medium. He effectively bound God to the revival, a medium over which, by Calvinistic &hition, the Almighty had to be S