The marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards is a study in contrasts. She was vibrant, sociable, skilled at small talk; he was given to "black patches of introspection," with few social graces.
Sarah Pierrepont Edwards came to the role of minister's wife well prepared. The daughter of the leading minister of New Haven, Connecticut and a founder of Yale, Sarah was used to being a socially prominent figure. Tutored by her parents, she was better educated than most women of her day, a quality that would play an important part in her union with the scholarly intellect and "Great Awakening" preacher Jonathan Edwards.
Their marriage in 1727 came after four years of courtship. They moved to Northampton where Jonathan began to take over the responsibilities and preaching for the congregation of Solomon Stoddard, an enormously popular minister and his grandfather.
Throughout the marriage, Sarah was indeed a "help-mate," allowing Jonathan to have both the physical help and emotional support needed to carry out his ministry. Sarah was largely responsible for the running of their household, allowing Edwards to spend a great deal of time working through theological ideas and questions. She gave steady love and a stable home. Yet theirs was a relationship of the intellect and emotions as well. They frequently went riding together to discuss congregational problems and theological ideas. The end of every day was their special time of devotion and prayer. Though she carried the practical management of the home, she drew her great strength from him through his spiritual nourishment.
Her hospitality was widely known. Preachers passing through made certain to stop for a meal or an evening. Edwards' apprentices were drawn in like one of the family, building deep and lasting friendships which would hold through the stormy days ahead.
Yet not all was easy. As Edwards' speaking engagements and travel increased, more of the burden of raising a family of eleven children fell upon Sarah. The historic "Great Awakening" and spiritual revival added extra weight as they both struggled to achieve balance between emotional and rational responses to God in their congregation.
Then came a dark period in Sarah's life, known largely only to her husband. To everyone else she showed the same uncomplaining spirit and continued to seek to please everyone.
She reached a breaking point in January, 1742. It was a complete reversal of personality: needful, impatient, jabbering, hullucinating, fainting. During this dark month, Edwards stayed as close by as he could, helping her to reason through her distress. God worked in her for she "stopped straining to please God and began to live in the assurance of a salvation she didn't have to try to deserve." Sarah Edwards came out of the experience stronger in her faith, and prepared for the future.
Shortly afterward, Edwards came into disfavor with some of hiscolleagues, most notably with Thomas Clap, president of Yale. Sarah stood by him as he preached his conviction that church membership be based solely on a "profession of godliness." Because only church members could vote in town matters, this was an explosive issue. The tensions grew to the point of arbitration by the Minister's Association. Sarah, indeed the whole family, became even more the center of gossip.
This issue of membership broke wide open in 1750 and resulted in Edwards' being voted out of his congregation. While this was a serious blow, the family pulled together and waited until a call came to go to Stockbridge, Massachusetts as missionaries to the Indians. In this new setting, freed from the normal tensions of a congregation, Edwards concentrated on writing. And Sarah, free of toddlers, spent more time enjoying her husband and children.
Family tragedy brought this peaceful existence to a halt in 1757. Aaron Burr, their son-in-law and president of Princeton, died suddenly. Edwards was persuaded to take his position at the college immediately and left Sarah behind to arrange the move to New Jersey. He had only been there a short time when he died of a small pox innoculation. Then their daughter Esther died, leaving Sarah to arrive and make all of the family arrangements. While there she too became ill and died within a few days in the home of a friend in Philadelphia.
The union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards was more than a love story; they produced eleven children who would go on to make incredible contributions to society. A study conducted in 1900 showed that of their descendants, 13 were college presidents, 65 professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 66 physicians, and 80 holders of public office, including three United States Senators, three mayors, three state governors, one United States vice president, and one controller of the United States Treasury. In addition, numerous men entered the ministry and 100 family members served as overseas missionaries.
Charity and Its Fruits; or Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life.
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophesy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
The virtue that is saving, and that distinguishes true Christians from others, is summed up in Christian lover. This appears from the words of the text, because so many other things are mentioned that natural men may have, and the things mentioned are of the highest kind it is possible they should have, both of privilege and performance and yet it is said they all avail nothing without this, whereas if any of them were saving, they would avail something without it.
And by the apostle's mentioning so many and so high things, and the saying of them all that they profited nothing without charity, we may justly conclude, that there is nothing at all that avails anything without it. Let a man have what he will, and do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity, which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not charity in some way contained or implied in it is nothing, and that this charity is the life and soul of all religion without which all things that wear the name of virtues are empty and vain.
In speaking of this doctrine, I would first notice that nature of the divine love, and then show the truth of the doctrine respecting it. And
I. I would speak of the nature of a truly Christian love. And here I would observe:
That all true Christian love is one and the same in its principle. It may be various in its forms and objects, and may be exercised either toward God or men, but it is the same principle in the heart that is the foundation of every exercise of a truly Christian love, whatever may be its object. It is not with the holy love in the heart of the Christian, as it is with the love of other men. Their love toward different objects, may be from different principles and motives, and with different views; but a truly Christian love is different from this. It is one as to its principle. Whatever the object about which it is exercised; it is from the same spring or fountain in the heart, though it may flow out in different channels and diverse directions, and therefore it is all fitly comprehended in the one same of charity, as in the text. That this Christian love is one, whatever the objects toward which it may flow forth, appears by the following things:
First, It is all from the same Spirit influencing the heart. It is from the breathing of the same Spirit that true Christian love arises, both toward God and man The Spirit of God is a Spirit of love, and when the former enters the soul, love also enters with it. God is love, and he that has God dwelling in him by his Spirit, will have love dwelling in him also. The nature of the Holy Spirit is love; and it is by communicating himself in his own nature, to the saints, that their hearts are filled with divine charity.
Second, Christian love both to God and man, is wrought in the heart by the same work of the Spirit. There are not two works of the Spirit of God, one to infuse a spirit of love to God, and the other to infuse a spirit of love to men, but in producing one, the Spirit produces the other also. In the work of conversion, the Holy Spirit renews the heart by giving it a divine temper (Ephesians 4:23), and it is one and the same divine temper that wrought in the heart, that flows out in love both to God and man.
Third, When God and man are loved with a truly Christian love, they are both loved from the same motives. When God is loved aright, he is loved for his excellency, and the beauty of his nature, especially the holiness of his nature; and it is from the same motive that the saints are loved, for holiness' sake. And all things that are loved with a truly holy love, are loved from the same respect to God. Love to God is the foundation of gracious love to men; and men are loved, either because they are in some respect like God in the possession of his nature and spiritual image, or because of the relation they stand in to him as his children or creation as those who are blessed of him, or to whom his mercy is offered, or in some other way from regard to him. Only remarking that though Christians love be one in its principle, yet it is distinguished and variously denominated in two ways, with respect to its objects, and the kinds of its exercize, as for example, its degrees, etc. I now proceed,
II. To show the truth of the doctrine, that all virtue that is saving or distinguishing of true Christians, is summed up in Christian love. And if we duly consider its nature two things will appear.
First, That love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man. This is evident because a true respect to either God or man consists in love. If a man sincerely loves God, it will dispose him to tender all proper respect to him; and men need no other incitement to show each other all the respect that is due than love. Love to God will dispose a man to honor him, to worship and adore him, and heartily to acknowledge his greatness, and glory, and dominion. And so it will dispose all acts of obedience to God; for the servant that loves his master and the subject that loves his sovereign, will be disposed to proper subjection and obedience. Love will dispose the Christian to behave toward God as a child to a father; amid difficulties to resort to him for help, and put all his trust in him; just as it is natural for us, in case of need or affliction to go to one that we love for pity and help. It will lead us, too, to give credit to his word, and to put confidence in him; for we are not to suspect the veracity of those we have entire friendship for. It will dispose us to praise God for the mercies we receive from him, just as we disposed to gratitude for any kindness we receive from our fellow men that we love. Love, again, will dispose our hearts to submission to the will of God, for we are more willing that the will of those we love should be done than of others. We naturally desire that those we love should be suited and that we should be agreeable to them; and true affection and love to God will dispose the heart to acknowledge God's right to govern, and that he is worthy to do it, and so will dispose to submission. Love to God will dispose us to walk humbly with him, for he that loves God will be disposed to acknowledge the vast distance between God and himself. He will be agreeable to such an one, to exalt God, and set him on high above all and to lie low before him. A true Christian delights to have God exalted on his own abasement, because he loves him. He is willing to own that God is worthy of this, and it is with delight that he casts himself in the dust before the Most High, from his sincere love to him.
And so a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it disposes men to all duties toward their neighbors. If men have a sincere love to their neighbors, it will dispose them to all acts of justice toward the neighbors — for real love and friendship always dispose us to give those we love their due, and never to wrong them. Romans 8:10: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor." And the same love will dispose to truth toward neighbors, and will tend to prevent all lying, and fraud, and deceit. Men are not disposed to exercise fraud and treachery toward those they love; for thus to treat men is to treat them like enemies, but love destroys enmity. Thus the apostle makes use of the oneness that there ought to be among Christians, as an argument to induce them to truth between God and man (Ephesians 4:25). Love will dispose to walk humbly amongst men, for a real and true love will incline us to high thoughts of others, and to think them better than ourselves.
Thus love would dispose to all duties both toward God and toward man. And if it will thus dispose to all duties, then it follows that it is the root, and spring, and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle, which if it be implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good practice; and every right disposition toward God and man is summed up in it, and comes from it, as the fruit from the tree is the stream from the fountain.
Second, Reason teaches that whatever performances or seeming virtues there are without love. are unsound and hypocritical. If there be no love in what men do, then there is no true respect to God or men in his conduct; and if so, then certainly there is no sincerity. Religion is nothing without proper respect to God. The very notion of religion among mankind, is, that it is the creature's exercise and expression of such respect toward the creator. But if there be no true respect or love, then all that is called religion is but a seeming show, and there is no real religion in it, but it is unreal and vain. Thus if a man's faith be of such a sort that there is no true respect to God in it, reason teaches that it must be in vain for if there be no love to God in it, there can be no true respect in him. From this it appears that love it always contained in a true and living faith and that it is its true and proper life and soul, without which faith is dead as the body is without its soul; and that it is that which especially distinguishes a living faith from every other: but of this more particularly hereafter. Without love to God, again, there can be no true honor to him. A man is never hearty in the honor he seems to render to another whom he does not love; so that all the seeming honor or worship that is ever paid without love, is but hypocritical. And so reason teaches that there is no sincerity in the obedience that is performed without love for if there be no love, nothing that is done can be spontaneous and free, but all must be forced. So without love, there can be no hearty submission to the will of God, and there can be no real and cordial trust and confidence in him. He that does not love God will not trust him: he never will, with true acquiescence of soul, cast himself into the hands of God or into the arms of his mercy.
And so, whatever good carriage, there may be in men toward their neighbors, yet reason teaches that it is all unacceptable and in vain if at the same time there be no real respect in the heart toward those neighbors; if the outward conduct is not prompted by inward love. And from these two things taken together, viz, that love is of such a nature that it will produce all virtues, and dispose to all duties to God and men, and that without it there can be no sincere virtue, and no duty at all properly performed, the truth of the doctrine follows, that all true and distinguishing Christian virtue and grace may be summed up in love.
From Puritan Sage, Collected Writings of Jonathan Edwards,ed., Vergilius Ferm (New York I.ibrary Publishers. 1953).
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