I am reading Michael J. McClymond and Gerald R. McDermott’s The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford, 2011), and want to offer a few observations of their chps that sketch the major elements of that life — including the shape of his intellectual life, his intellectual context, and his spirituality. [I like this book; right pace and crystal clear prose.]
The only son, 10 sisters (all of whom were over 6 feet tall), with a father who was a rigorous pastor (Timothy Edwards) and a grandfather who was more open (Solomon Stoddard), precocious, intelligent, and heir to a spiritual tradition in Connecticutt and then pastor in Northamption Mass. He preached twice every Sunday (Sabbath) and gave a lecture of sorts on Wednesday; he studied constantly (12-14 hrs per day) and meticulously took notes and wrote miscellanies and books. He was an introvert, austere and disciplined. He was absorbed with union with God — the beauty of the Lord and holiness, the utter goodness of God, and absolute harmony of all things under (a sovereign) God. His theology was shaped by debates of his day, most notably with “Arminians” (a term with a wide and wider meaning).
Is Edwards’ spirituality sufficiently shaped by Jesus? Why do the authors have nothing about Edwards’ theology of love (God, others) in this sketch of spirituality? Is it encased in their emphasis on “enjoyment”? Did Edwards overdo holiness at the expense of love?
Puritanism is about an inner cultivation of a God-pleasing spiritual life and a subjection of all things, church and society, to Scripture. Puritanism went through quakes of demand and laxity, and among his predecessors — Stoddard and Timothy — there was a major debate about the half-way covenant. Baptism as a child (they were Calvinists) but the need of a relation for full membership; what of those who had children who had no “relation” or witness to a special experience of grace? Some said their children could be baptized; others said no. His father said No; his grandfather not only said Yes but also permitted open communion (it was a converting grace). Jonathan apparently tightened up from Stoddard’s view toward Timothy’s view – to no small consternation in his church.
As such, he was a man of deep affections (deeper than emotions, combining volition) and profound mystical experiences with God — he was a man of intense spiritual experience — and 100% committed to practice as the sign of genuine grace.
The authors see three major themes in Edwards’ spirituality: discipline, enjoyment and consummation.
Here is their sketch of his discipline: “… his concern for his own and others’ awakening from spiritual slumber, the need for mortification of sinful desires, the call to rigor, self-examination, and practice, the need for a continual seeking after greater grace, and a Platonic and otherworldly aspect, expressed in solitude with God and detachment from mundane concerns” (62). He clearly had some early life over-doing of it, and he admits to being too little dependent upon God, and he moved away from some of his early over-rigor but remained a man of holy rigor.
Do you think Jesus or Paul and John or James or anyone in the Bible framed the Christian life of discipline like this? Do you think there’s anything wrong with this?
When it comes to enjoyment, he believed knowing God was delightful and beautiful and enrapturing — and he knew this in his affections. True religion is entirely satisfying. True enjoyment led to a desire for more.
The theme of consummation for Edwards is about heaven and about union with God and with others. It is otherworldly, if not Platonic. His heaven is progression into deeper penetrating of God’s glory and holiness and joy.