Jonathan Edwards, Spokesperson for Lectio?

Like many Americans, I know Jonathan Edwards primarily through his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, in which he compares our Creator to a psychopath holding a spider above a flame, just itching to drop the hapless creature to its fiery death. Needless to say, I figured that Edwards was probably as screwed up as the deity of whom he preached. So I was quite surprised when a spiritual director of mine back in my Episcopalian days suggested that Edwards was the great American mystic. “Read his Religious Affections,” he counseled me. I must confess I never did (although I do own a copy and hope to get to it someday). But now that I’m reading Fremantle’s anthology of Protestant Mystics, I’m impressed by the excerpts from Edwards’ autobiography included in that anthology. Clearly, when he wasn’t preaching scary sermons, Jonathan Edwards had a rich and joyful sense of Divine Intimacy in his life. He also seemed to be familiar with lectio divina, if not explicitly, then at least through his own discovery by engaging with scripture. Consider this tidbit, from the winter of his nineteenth year:

I had then, and at other times, the greatest delight in the holy scriptures, of any book whatsoever. Oftentimes in reading it, every word seemed to touch my heart. I felt a harmony between something in my heart, and those sweet and powerful words. I seemed often to see so much light exhibited by every sentence, and such a refreshing ravishing food communicated, that I could not get along in reading. Used oftentimes to dwell long on one sentence, to see the wonders contained in it; and yet almost every sentence seemed to be full of wonders.

Would that we all could find so much illumination in the encounter with the sacred text of our tradition!

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About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Paul Rack

    Edwards was also about as close as a Calvinist of that time could be to being a nature mystic. That’s not saying much, but is is saying something, especially when you compare him to his peers.

  • brazenbird

    Lately I’m being taught or shown, over and over again, to stop compartmentalizing folks into one or another camp of thought. I’m fighting my tendency to name everything either good or bad. It simply isn’t that simple. Sometimes it is – sometimes evil is just so glaringly obvious, of course. But people? Not usually. complex people and minds and hearts.

    All this to say – thank you for this different insight to Edwards. I had put him in a certain camp. Now I have to take him out and consider him on his own merit and simply let him be.

  • dFish

    How consistent or enduring was his “advocacy”?

  • Jo

    Bravo, Brazenbird. I totally agree.

    I had read C.S. Lewis in my former fundamentalist days, and thought he was all over the board. He was wishy, washy and could not make up his mind what he stood for, if anything. I am reading him again for really what seems the virgin voyage. I realize I was mistaken. It is sheer honesty and he does not care if I follow or understand. He is searching and relating what he finds, not particularly concerned if you agree with him or not. A former atheist, he doesn’t even care if his former peers of the other realm, agree either.

    His book on the Psalms for me is thrilling, in that it states what I have thought my whole life. I do not need to make excuses for the Bible. I do not have to make it fit anymore. It is as it is. Written by who, when, why, to, for, and really not all about me. I, in all my vanity, am not the center of this world , though sadly, at the present, I am of mine. And the sooner I get over that, the better. The richer. The more exciting the adventure