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Johnathan Edwards

Article Index


Source: Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, by Jonathan Edwards, edited by H. Norman  Gardiner etext available at the Project Gutenberg website


The sermons in the present volume have been selected as representative of Edwards the preacher rather than of Edwards the theologian. Any such collection must include at least the following four: the sermon on Man's Dependence, the sermon on Spiritual Light, the Enfield Sermon and the Farewell Sermon. These are classic. Moreover, they represent Edwards in four of his most distinguishing aspects: as the powerful champion of a theology resting ultimately on the principle of a transcendent, righteous, sovereign Will; as the equally convinced advocate of the mystical principle of an immediate, intuitive apprehension, through supernatural illumination, of divine truth; as the flaming revivalist, with pitiless logic and terrible realism of description, arousing, startling, overwhelming the sinner with the sense of impending doom; finally, as the rejected minister appealing, without rancor or bitterness, from the judgment of this world to the judgment of an infallible tribunal and displaying what must ever make him more interesting, more precious as a heritage to the Church and the world, than any of his opinions or his works, the dignity and repose, the patience, strength and depth of a great character, perfected through suffering and apparent defeat, in what was virtually the Apologia of his ministerial life.

These sermons alone would suffice to justify Edwards's reputation as the foremost preacher of his age. Still, they cannot, of course, be taken as adequately representing the whole range and power of his discourses. In particular, the Enfield sermon, which has loomed so large in the popular imagination of Jonathan Edwards, and which, in fact, is but one--to be sure, the most extreme--of a number of the same type, cannot be taken as fairly representative even of Edwards's revival sermons. There has, therefore, been added, in this reference, a revival sermon of another type, the sermon on Ruth's Resolution. This sermon was chosen, not because it is better than some others, but because, while being an excellent sermon of its kind, it is also brief, and so better adapted to the scope of this volume. There has been further added, as representing a type distinctly different from any of the others, the funeral sermon entitled A Strong Rod Broken and Withered, which is certainly one of the noblest, in thought and expression, of Edwards's discourses, and which is probably unique among his writings as dealing with the subject of civil government and the management of affairs. Had space permitted, the picture of the Christian statesman in this sermon might have been matched by the picture of the Christian minister in one of the ordination sermons; but the omission is the less serious since the conception is so largely realized in Edwards himself.

The above six sermons were selected independently of the fact that they are among the ten published by their author; but this circumstance confirms the choice and, moreover, serves to authenticate the text. Edwards has suffered not a little at the hands of his editors, particularly Dwight, who seems to have been possessed by the idea that his author would appear to better advantage in a style and language more elegant and refined. "Don't do as Orpah did," pleads Edwards in the Ruth sermon; "Do not as Orpah did," is the feeble refinement of his editor. But even the generally accurate Worcester or First American Edition (1809) is not to be implicitly trusted; for instance, two whole pages are omitted at the end of the Enfield sermon, giving to that sermon a startling and bizarre close, wholly out of keeping with Edwards's habitual manner. Later editions import other errors and, even while professing to follow the Worcester edition, sometimes, in fact, follow not that edition, but Dwight's (e.g., in the Ruth sermon). The present text is based upon a careful comparison of the original editions, now very scarce, in the Boston Athenæum. The original expressions, 'tis, won't, don't, etc., as Edwards himself printed them, have been restored, a number of verbal errors in the later editions corrected and several omitted lines recovered, besides the long passage already mentioned, which is, however, in Dwight, at the end of the Enfield sermon. No attempt, however, has been made to give a facsimile reproduction of the first editions with all their printer's errors, capricious spelling, antiquated punctuation and uncouth use of capitals and italics. These externalities could but distract the modern reader, while adding nothing essential to accuracy. In these respects, therefore, the more modern usage has been followed. The aim has simply been to give the exact words of the originals and to preserve their spirit, treating the sermons as sermons to be preached and not as essays to be read. Accordingly, while avoiding the extremes of the first editions, italics have been used where Edwards used them to mark divisions, or for special emphasis, somewhat more freely than would be customary now. This edition also follows his, and the Biblical, use of ordinary type in personal pronouns referring to divine beings, the verbal reverence in the modern use of capitals being regarded as needless to enhance the real reverence of Edwards's thought and possibly a little out of place. Added words are enclosed within square brackets.

Besides the six sermons mentioned, the present collection includes one, the interesting if not exactly great sermon on the Many Mansions, which has not before been published. A copy of this sermon made for the late Professor Edwards A. Park, of Andover, was kindly put at the disposal of the editor by his son, the Rev. Dr. William E. Park, of Gloversville, N.Y.; but it has also been carefully collated with the original manuscript. The editor has also examined the original manuscripts of all the other sermons in this volume, except that of the Farewell Sermon, which could not be discovered. These manuscripts are all in the collection of between eleven and twelve hundred of Edwards's sermons now in the Yale University Library. Most of these manuscripts are written in an exceedingly minute hand, with many abbreviations and occasionally with insertions in shorthand, on sheets of paper about 3-5/8 × 4-1/8 in. in size, stoutly stitched together. The facsimile of the first page of the sermon on Spiritual Light given in this volume opposite p. 21 is representative; a relatively small number are slightly larger. Of the particular manuscripts some account will be found in the notes. The handling and deciphering of these manuscripts give one a curious sense of intimacy with the working of Edwards's brain and heart: one is with him in his workshop and sees, as it were, the very thing in the making. One seems to feel the intensity of the excitement as, with his audience present in imagination, and with keen delight in the activity of literary creation, he works out his theme. One observes how alternative forms of expression, alternative lines of development, suggest themselves, and how now whole paragraphs, whole pages are struck off at white heat, while now, oftenest towards the end, the barest outlines are jotted down, to be filled out in delivery. But the manuscripts of the sermons which Edwards himself published afford no help in the fixing of the text. The sermons as he printed them are invariably expanded and often greatly altered in other respects; and the copy prepared for the printer is no longer extant.[14] This circumstance should not be overlooked in judging of sermons printed directly from the manuscripts. In the Yale collection, there are sermons which were written out pretty fully; others are only fairly fully written out in parts, others again are mere skeletons. The majority of those of the Northampton period are of the second sort. Among the hundreds of Edwards's unpublished sermons, there are doubtless many that it would be interesting to have in print just as they stand; it is doubtful if there are any which would add materially to his reputation as a preacher in comparison with the great sermons already published.

The portrait of Edwards in this volume is from a recent photograph of the original painting of 1740. The photograph was kindly furnished by the present owner of the painting, Mr. Eugene P. Edwards, of Chicago, to whom the editor takes this opportunity of expressing his obligations. He also desires to express his thanks to Dr. William E. Park for the use of the copy of the sermon on the Many Mansions; to the publishers for allowing the extra space required for printing this new sermon; to Professor Franklin B. Dexter for generous help in the study of the manuscripts and for permission to photograph the sermon on Spiritual Light; to Mr. Charles K. Bolton, Librarian of the Boston Athenæum, for courtesies in the use of the first editions; and to Mr. George N. Whipple of Boston, for verifying a number of references.