Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love

Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love

Ronald Story
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love
    Book Description:

    Jonathan Edwards has long epitomized the Puritan preacher as fiery scold, fixated on the inner struggle of the soul and the eternal flames of hell. In this book, Ronald Story offers a fundamentally different view of Edwards, revealing a profoundly social minister who preached a gospel of charity and community bound by love. The first chapters trace Edwards’s life and impact, examine his reputation as an intellectual, Calvinist, and revivalist, and highlight the importance for him of the gentler, more compassionate concepts of light, harmony, beauty, and sweetness. Story then explains what Edwards means by the “Gospel of Love”—a Christian faith that is less individual than interpersonal, and whose central feature is the practice of charity to the poor and the quest for loving community in this world, the chief signs of true salvation. As Edwards preached in his sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love,” the afterlife itself is social in nature because love is social. Drawing on Edwards’s own sermons and notebooks, Story reveals the minister’s belief that divine love expressed in the human family should take us beyond tribalism, sectarianism, provincialism, and nationality. Edwards offers hope, in the manner of Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr., and other great “improvers,” for the coming of a world without want and war. Gracefully and compellingly written, this book represents a new departure in Edwards studies, revising the longstanding yet misleading stereotype of a man whose lessons of charity, community, and love we need now more than ever.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-224-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 LIFE
    (pp. 1-6)

    Jonathan Edwards is by now the most illustrious resident in the history of the town of Northampton, no small achievement for a little community that has harbored Calvin Coolidge, Sylvia Plath, Sojourner Truth, Sylvester Graham, and George Bancroft. Edwards trumps them all. He may be for us today one of the three or four most illustrious men in the history of pre-Revolutionary New England, standing with John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and Cotton Mather. For enduring influence, he may trump these figures as well. Here are highlights of his life and career.¹

    1703: Born in East Windsor, Connecticut, to Timothy Edwards,...

    (pp. 7-26)

    “Jonathan Edwards divided men in his lifetime,” says biographer Iain Murray, “and to no less degree he continues to divide his biographers…. The nature of his greatness, the significance of his life and thought, an assessment of his character and writings—on all these, and much else, judgments are divided.” One recent scholar sees Edwards as theologian, cosmologist, aesthete, reformer, and social and psychological analyst—a typically varied and largely correct though incomplete assessment that reflects, says another student, Edwards’s pronounced “intellectual and spiritual elusiveness.”¹

    In much of the historical literature, four images of Edwards loom especially large: Edwards as...

  6. 3 TROPES
    (pp. 27-50)

    Intellectual, Calvinist, revivalist, and scold are identities suggestive of a stern and judgmental individual, which Jonathan Edwards clearly could be when duty demanded, as it so often did given all that was at stake. Words such as “intense,” “tactless,” “grave,” “stiff,” “threatening,” “disturbing,” and above all “serious” run through the biographical studies.¹

    But these same biographers also use softer, less pejorative terms such as “overconfident,” “single-minded,” and “certain,” and Edwards’s own contemporaries saw for the most part a less than frightening figure. The powerful “Sinners” sermon filled the congregation with “cheerfulness and pleasantness” as well as shrieks, says a local...

  7. 4 CHARITY
    (pp. 51-74)

    To understand the centrality of charity in Edwards’s thought and ministry requires a few words more about Puritanism and “works,” of which charity was one of the most important. Puritans adhered to a doctrine of free unearned grace: God, omnipotent and omniscient, would bestow salvation on depraved sinners regardless of merit. Good works, whether for church or community or individuals, would play no role in regeneration. To think otherwise—to assume that human endeavor could affect one’s prospects for sainthood—would elevate individuals and denigrate the power of God. The result would be either the Arminian doctrine of individual human...

    (pp. 75-97)

    Jonathan Edwards was a towering minister of the gospel of charity, but he was equally a towering minister of the gospel of community. The notion of togetherness—social peace, amiableness, unity, harmony, collective worship, conversation, friendship, neighborliness, holy community, the oneness of mankind—was a major Edwardsian theme, important for its earthly significance, for its relation to salvation and holiness, and for the way it foreshadows the realm of Heavenly love, the glorious culmination, in Edwards’s view, of the whole of history.

    So forceful was Edwards on the need for community, peace, accommodation, and togetherness that he may seem at...

  9. 6 LOVE
    (pp. 98-121)

    Love pervades Jonathan Edwards’s ministry and writings, a point often overlooked given his lingering reputation as a preacher of damnation. In fact, Edwards, though understanding, as we have seen, that fear had its utility in the pulpit, was overwhelmingly a minister of the gospel of love rather than of fear. The doctrine of Christian love (“God is love,” “God so loved the world,” “the greatest of these is love”) achieved its fullest expression in the gospel and epistles of John and the letters of Paul, and Edwards referenced these books thousands of times over the course of his ministry and...

    (pp. 122-134)

    The positioning of Edwards as pre-eminently a minister of a gospel of love represents a significant modification of his age-old reputation as a hellfire revivalist, a pessimistic prophet of eternal damnation, and an insensitive critic of the weaknesses of the flesh. He could be all these on occasion, but those occasions were not only largely tactical, means to an end, but rarer than when he filled his sermons with the poetry of light, beauty, harmony and sweetness, and the ethics of true Christian faith. Neither was he simply a cloistered intellectual or rescuer of individual souls. He was, virtually from...

  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 135-136)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 137-158)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 159-160)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 161-164)
  15. Index of Edwards’s Writings Mentioned by Title
    (pp. 165-166)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 167-170)