Jonathan Edwards

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A New Scientific Procedure Takes a Spiritual Giant Away

Our focus is not on a Presbyterian per se, but rather a theological giant who accepted an invitation to become the third president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, which was a Presbyterian institution.

His name was Jonathan Edwards.  And at this time, this Congregational minister was easily the greatest Biblical theolgian and philosopher which the American colonies had produced.

He had been a pastor.  He had experienced the challenge of missionary work among the native Indian tribes.  He had an exemplary family life, from which would come,such following generations, many  great men of God who served in both church and state.  His theological works were famous even then. But best of all, he was the chief architect of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies.   In short, there was nothing to dislike in Jonathan Edwards, and everything to rejoice in with this choice by the College trustees.

Now the College of New Jersey had  its share of presidents and professors.  Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr, Sr., both Presbyterian pastors in colonial America, had taken on the extra burden of being educators of the  handful of students who enrolled at the College of New Jersey.  Rev. Dickinson lasted all of four plus months in that dual role.  And Rev. Burr lasted longer but not more than four years in teaching the small student body.  He was the one used of the Lord to make the strategic move to Princeton, New Jersey.  Now the invitation went out to Jonathan Edwards, in the fall of 1757, just five days after the death of the school’s second president, Aaron Burr, Sr.

John Brainerd, the brother of missionary David Brainerd, was one of two commissioners who was appointed to press the invitation to Edwards.  The latter was most reluctant to receive it.  Edwards felt that the book which needed to be written next by his pen was that of one on Arminianism.  So it took several days of approaching Edwards until finally, the New England minister, upon consultation with valued friends, replied in the affirmative on September 24, 1757.

He would take several months to prepare himself for the new ministry, so it wasn’t  until February 16, 1758 that he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey.  He began to speak in chapel and meet with the student body, to the delight of those privileged to sit at his feet.

With small pox prevalent in the area, it was decided to follow a new scientific method and inoculate President Edwards with a small portion of small pox, with the idea that he could then fight off the advances of the disease.  However a fever came upon him, and after serving just thirty-four days, Jonathan Edwards died from small pox on March 22, 1758.  It was a loss to the College, a loss to the American colonies, and a loss to the kingdom of Christ on earth.

Words to live by:
With a firm dependence on God’s sovereignty, one might be tempted to affirm that God had made a mistake in providence.  But there are no mistakes with the holy and wise God.  There is only the will of God, exercised sometimes in permissive providence before His people.  And this was certainly one example of it.  We may not know the reason why our God acts this or that way.   But we know the God of the past, present, and future, and so can say, “Thy will be done.”

For further reading : There are those who contend the President Edwards was, at least in principle and heart-affection, a Presbyterian. See, for instance, the account here : President Edwards a Presbyterian.

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We are pleased and honored to have a guest post today from Dr. Carl W. Bogue, who served as pastor of the Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Akron, Ohio, 1975-2007. Dr. Bogue received his M.Div. from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (1965), where he was mentored by Dr. John Gerstner, and he maintained a close friendship with Dr. Gerstner until the latter’s death in 1996. He has graciously allowed us to post here his recollections of the life and ministry of a dear saint greatly used by the Lord in the building of His kingdom.

Gerstner02This day, November 22, 2014, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. John H. Gerstner – pastor, professor, author, and friend of thousands to whom he ministered in so many ways throughout his life. I heard him preach at our church and at a youth conference as a teenager; in seminary he was an intellectual anchor as well as an inspiration; in grad school his love of Jonathan Edwards motivated me to do my doctoral dissertation on a central but much neglected theme in Edwards’s writing and preaching, and when I was ordained and installed at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, he graciously honored me by preaching the sermon for the occasion, challenging me “not to be ashamed of the Gospel.” Now that I am “officially retired,” one of my great encouragements is that a new generation is beginning to discover “the good doctor.” I hope it would not seem inappropriate for me to include here, an obituary I wrote in 1996 for my congregation, but which also appeared in a couple publications.

John H. Gerstner: Defender of the Faith

On Sabbath afternoon, March 24, 1996, Dr. John H. Gerstner went to be with the Lord. For most readers little more needs to be said. You know the man, and you know the respect and affection so many of us had for him. Nothing I can say here will adequately express what this man of God meant to me personally. But I also know that my loss is his gain, for all the glory of God and the beauty of the Savior which he so comprehensively taught to his students is now his to behold and enjoy without any of the limitations brought about by sin.

Dr. Gerstner’s life began in Tampa, Florida. His childhood years were spent in Philadelphia where he graduated from high school in 1932. It was that summer while visiting Philadelphia College of the Bible that he was wonderfully converted to the Gospel. That fall he began his studies at Westminster College. Gerstner next attended Westminster Theological Seminary at the time when many of its early giants were present. It was during the time at seminary that he met Edna Suckau, who was to become Mrs. Gerstner. They have three children.

After receiving a masters degree from Westminster Seminary, he pursued his doctoral studies at Harvard University where in 1945 he was awarded a Ph.D. Dr. Gerstner received further education at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Temple, Pennsylvania, Boston, Zurich, Barcelona, and Oxford. He served in the pastorate for a brief period prior to accepting a position as a professor at Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, later to become Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Gerstner01It would be difficult to begin to sum up the academic activity of Dr. Gerstner, and even more difficult to express the thousands of lives he has touched through his preaching and teaching ministry. In a Festschrift published in 1976 to honor Dr. Gerstner, a bibliography compiling his writings takes up a full 16 pages. In the 20 years since many additions could be made, including the whole new medium of audio and video tapes. His three volume work on Jonathan Edwards is more than the culmination of a life-long project; it is a labor of love.

The volume written to honor Dr. Gerstner was appropriately entitled, Soli Deo Gloria. One of my happy privileges was to have been invited to be a contributor to that volume. The opening sentence of my article was: “The student of John H. Gerstner is never adequately designated as a ‘former student.’” I never stopped learning from this “teacher of Israel,” and he surely never ceased to be the consummate teacher. Only those who know this first hand can adequately comprehend the loss many of us feel with his passing.

On various occasions I have heard Dr. Gerstner express his indebtedness to his beloved mentor from college, Dr. John Orr. Perhaps more than any other human being, Dr. Orr shaped the thinking of my beloved professor. Early in my ministry, Dr. Gerstner invited me to attend a special celebration at Westminster College to honor Dr. John Orr. Apart from being honored that Dr. Gerstner would invite me to anything, I was also working with a very forceful self-imposed guide in such matters. When Gerstner requested or even suggested something, it had, for all practical purposes, the force of a command with me. But on this occasion it was more that just an invitation. His words were approximately these: “Carl, if I have been a significant influence in your life and vocation (and he knew this was the case), if you are indebted to me at all, then you need to be there to honor Dr. Orr.” I had never met Dr. Orr, but typical of Gerstner’s humility, he would pass along my praise of him to the one who helped shape him for his teaching ministry.

In announcing Gerstner’s death to my congregation, I made this comparison: “Many of you are often very kind in your praise of me. I feel very unworthy of such praise, and I thank God for our many years together. I am not trying to put myself in the similar position or stature as that of Dr. Gerstner. But I would humbly draw this parallel. If I have been, by God’s grace, permitted any usefulness in your life, if you see an approximation of faithfulness to the Word of God, a zeal for the purity of the Church, a desire to proclaim the whole counsel of God – if I have been of any value to you, it would not be inappropriate for you to be thanking God for the ministry of Dr. Gerstner which happens to be through me. Humanly speaking, my claim on you is for you to join with me in praise to God for giving us such a soldier of the cross.”

I never had a better teacher; I never heard a better preacher, and to the extent that we may tentatively judge such things, I never witnessed greater piety. And it is at this point that the good doctor would gently remind us, that all the praise is to be given for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, by which we are permitted to enter into glory.

Rev. 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”

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brainerd02We have more than once made reference to the diary of David Brainerd in this historical devotional guide. Often times these entries filled a date in which no other Presbyterian person, place, or event could readily be found, so this writer was thankful for that. But it also set forth the true example of an individual who by his own statement wanted to wear out his life in God’s service and for His glory. How scarce are they found today in Christ’s church!

Talk about a Christian who, by all reports, was skinny and sickly. No modern missionary agency, whether for overseas or in our own country, would even approve of one like this for missionary service. So the very fact that he was a missionary in the first place to native Americans had to be of God. There simply was no other reason for it. God was in the whole plan as well as the details of the plan.

From the time of his ordination until his death was but about three years. As the inscription on his tombstone reads, “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd, a faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware, and Susquehanna Tribes of Indians.” And yet his influence upon them doesn’t really tell the whole story. His diary has caused countless in every century since that time to open themselves up to the call of God upon their lives. His life and ministry have stood the test of time, and a stream of workers for the kingdom of God have been sent forth to the nations of the world with the gospel of Christ, at least in part because of his example.

His closing days were precious in more than one way. After discovering that he had tuberculosis, he spent his months in the home of America’s greatest philosopher, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, in Northampton, Connecticut. While there, Dr. Edwards youngest daughter, Jerusha, a mere teenager, took care for him in an atmosphere of spiritual love. Whether they were engaged has never been proved, but there was a loveliness in that relationship which brought words like “we will spend a happy eternity together,” on the day he died, which was October 9, 1747. That eternity came sooner than later, as Jerusha contracted the same dread disease, and died a year later. They are buried side by side in the cemetery in Northampton.

Words to live by: If you have never, dear reader, read the Diary of David Brainerd, it remains available in either book form or on  the web in digital format. Open your heart to the words of this young man who died at age 29. Not only will it convict you of your need for more holiness, but it will give you a sense of urgency to take the gospel to unsaved loved ones, to friends, and to strangers, as David Brainerd did in his day. And who knows? Maybe it will send you to far off shores as a missionary, as it has so many since that time now long ago in colonial America.

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brainerd02Reprise:

We have more than once made reference to the diary of David Brainerd in this historical devotional guide.  Often times it filled a date in which no other Presbyterian person, place, or event had occurred, so this writer was thankful for that.  But it also set forth the true example of an individual who by his own statement wanted to wear out his life in God’s service and for His glory.  How scarce are they found today in Christ’s church!

Talk about a Christian who, by all reports, was skinny and sickly. No modern missionary agency, whether for overseas or in our own country, would even approve of one like this for missionary service. So the very fact that he was a missionary in the first place to native Americans had to be of God. There simply was no other reason for it.  God was in the whole plan as well as the details of the plan.

From his ordination to his death was approximately three years.  As his inscription on his tombstone reads, “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd, a faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware, and Susquehanna Tribes of Indians.”  And yet his influence to them doesn’t really tell the whole story. His diary has caused countless in every century since that time to open themselves up to the call of God upon their lives.  He life and ministry had stood the test of time, and a stream of workers for the kingdom of God have been sent forth to the nations of the world with the gospel of Christ.

His closing days were precious in more than one way.  After discovering that he had tuberculosis, he spent his months in the home of America’s greatest philosopher, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, in Northampton, Connecticut.  While there, Dr. Edwards youngest daughter, Jerusha, a mere teenager, took care for him in an atmosphere of spiritual love.  Whether they were engaged has never been proved, but there was a loveliness in that relationship which brought words like “we will spend a happy eternity together,” on the day he died, which was October 9, 1747. That eternity came sooner than later, as Jerusha contracted the same dread disease, and died a year later.  They are buried side by side in the cemetery in Northampton.

Words to live by:  If you have never, dear reader, read the Diary of David Brainerd, it is available on both the web as well as books still being published today.  Open your heart to the words of this young man who died at age 29.  Not only will it convict you of your need for more holiness, but give you a sense of urgency to take the gospel to those unsaved loved ones, friends, and strangers, as David Brainerd did in his day.  And who knows? Maybe it will send you to far off shores as a missionary, as it had done for so many since that time in colonial America.

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It was on September 24th, in 1757, that Jonathan Edwards made his decision to accept the offer to become the third president of the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). While the school was decidedly Presbyterian in its affiliation, Edwards was commonly known as a Congregationalist. But two separate accounts exist, contending that Edwards did in fact affirm the Presbyterian form of government.

The first of our articles appeared in an issue of the Philadelphia-based newspaper, The Presbyterian. In this letter, the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green had originally written to R. J. Breckinridge, editor of the Baltimore Literary and Religious Magazine. Our access to the letter comes from its republication on the pages of The Presbyterian. 

Ashbel Green, “President Edwards a Presbyterian,” The Presbyterian (12 January 1839): 201.

Philadelphia, Nov. 12th 1838

EdwardsJonathanRev. and Dear Sir:—I have recollected, since I last saw you, that the fact has already been published, which I then mentioned to you in conversation;—and in regard to which you requested me to furnish you with a written statement. In the Christian Advocate, the 10th volume–the volume for the year 1832, and in the No. for March of that year, page 128—after having mentioned a class of Congregationalists, who, in my estimation, were eminent for genuine piety, I added as follows:—”We should have put down here, the name of the great President Edwards; but he was, in sentiment, a decided Presbyterian, and left a manuscript in favor of Presbyterian church government; as his son, the second President Edwards, distinctly admitted to us not long before his death. Beside, the elder Edwards was either a member of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, at the time of his death, or would soon have been so, if his lamented decease, shortly after his becoming President off the College at Princeton, had not prevented.”

The admission referred to in the foregoing extract, was made in consequence of an inquiry put, by me, to Dr. Edwards, as he and I were walking together to the place of meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church, then in session in this city. I do not recollect the year. I had heard a report, which I think must have come either from my father or from my colleague Dr. Sproat,–both of whom were contemporaries and admirers of the first President Edwards–that he had written a tract, or an essay, in favor of Presbyterian church government; and I was glad to take the opportunity which at this time offered, to ascertain from his son the truth or fallacy of the report. The inquiry resulted in the distinct admission that the report which I had heard was true.

I spoke to Dr. Edwards, of printing the tract or essay, in question; but he did not seem to favor the idea, and I forbore to press it. He said, that the manuscript referred to, was among several other unpublished papers of his father, which, as I understood him, were then in his hands. Into whose hands they have passed, since the death of Dr. Edwards, is unknown to me.

Respectfully and affectionately, Yours,

Ashbel Green

*     *     *     *
The second item appeared on the pages of The Christian Observer, in 1850. It relates a letter that President Edwards wrote to Dr. Ebenezer Erskine, of Scotland and provides a quotation from that letter, thus: 
PRES. EDWARDS, A PRESBYTERIAN.

In a letter to the Rev. Dr. Erskine of Scotland, President Edwards , (whom Robert Hall calls, “the greatest of the sons of men,”) gives the following statement of his views in respect to Presbyterianism :—

“You are pleased, dear sir, very kindly to ask me, whether I could sign the Westminster Confession of Faith, and submit to the Presbyterian Form of Government. As to my subscribing to the substance of the Westminster Confession, there would be no difficulty; and as to Presbyterian Government, I have long been perfectly out of conceit of our unsettled, independent, confused way of Church government in this land, and the Presbyterian way has ever appeared to me most agreeable to the word of God, and the reason and nature of things.”

Such were the views of many pastors in New England, twenty-five years ago—and such we presume, are the views of many at this time, notwithstanding the efforts of Dr. Bacon, the Independent and others, to create and waken up prejudice against Presbyterianism.—It is very natural for an agitator, a man of progress, or of loose views in theology, to prefer some type of Independency. Without a Session to advise with him in the spiritual oversight of the Congregation, he can (if a manager) have his own way in controlling everything in his church. If a careful and discreet ruler, he may acquire more power in his charge as an Independent, than he could hope to gain as a Presbyterian minister.—Amenable to no permanent judicatory for the doctrines which he teaches, he can follow the impulses of his own nature, and teach all the contradictions and transcendentalism found in Dr. Bushnell’s book without losing his place or influence in his church and association.

But if it be desirable that the members of the Church should be duly represented in the administration of its spiritual government,—if the pastor should have responsible counselors, well acquainted with the Church, and all its interests and peculiarities, to aid him in this work, the Presbyterian form of government is to be preferred. It is equally important as a shield to the minister in many cases of discipline, as well as to render him duly responsible for his personal and official conduct, teaching, and character.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer, Vol. XXIX, No. 38 (21 September 1850): 150, columns 2-3.]

A Small Learning Opportunity:
On occasion you may hear the term jure divino Presbyterianism. That phrase is a short-hand for the idea—or better, the doctrinal conviction —that the Presbyterian form of church government is the only form of church government taught in the Scriptures.

In the history of the Christian Church, there have been basically only three forms of church government found, though with some variations within each form.
The Episcopal form of church government is hierarchical, and typically has one or more archbishops overseeing bishops, who in turn oversee rectors, who are placed over congregations. Some of the Episcopal variations include the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church
With the Congregational form of government, each congregation is autonomous. Though congregational churches often form associations, the local church always retains its autonomy. Variations on this type include Baptist, Congregational, Evangelical Free, and Mennonite.
And finally, the Presbyterian form of church government, which is distinguished by a series of courts, rising from the local level to the national level: Session – Presbytery – Synod – General Assembly. At each of these levels, both teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders (non-ordained laity) sit as equal members.
Session: The pastor(s) and ruling elders of a congregation comprise the Session and govern an individual congregation.
Presbytery: Pastors and a representative number of ruling elders from each of the Presbyterian churches in a specified region comprise the Presbytery, and conduct the business of the Church on a regional level.
Synod: This court is comprised of several Presbyteries, and thus covers a larger region. Smaller Presbyterian denominations do not typically have the Synod structure, or may only meet nationally as a Synod, in which case they do not use the General Assembly structure.
General Assembly: The highest court of a Presbyterian denomination, this body meets as a national or trans-national court, with its members again consisting of elders, both ruling and teaching, sitting as representatives of the churches in the denomination.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

We have more than once made reference to the diary of David Brainerd in this historical devotional guide.  Often times it filled a date in which no other Presbyterian person, place, or event had occurred, so this writer was thankful for that.  But it also set forth the true example of an individual who by his own statement wanted to wear out his life in God’s service and for His glory.  How scarce are they found today in Christ’s church!

Talk about a Christian who, by all reports, was skinny and sickly. No modern missionary agency, whether for overseas or in our own country, would even approve of one like this for missionary service. So the very fact that he was a missionary in the first place to native Americans had to be of God. There simply was no other reason for it.  God was in the whole plan as well as the details of the plan.

From his ordination to his death was approximately three years.  As his inscription on his tombstone reads, “Sacred to the memory of the Rev. David Brainerd, a faithful and laborious missionary to the Stockbridge, Delaware, and Susquehanna Tribes of Indians.”  And yet his influence to them doesn’t really tell the whole story. His diary has caused countless in every century since that time to open themselves up to the call of God upon their lives.  He life and ministry had stood the test of time, and a stream of workers for the kingdom of God have been sent forth to the nations of the world with the gospel of Christ.

His closing days were precious in more than one way.  After discovering that he had tuberculosis, he spent his months in the home of America’s greatest philosopher, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, in Northampton, Connecticut.  While there, Dr. Edwards youngest daughter, Jerusha, a mere teenager, took care for him in an atmosphere of spiritual love.  Whether they were engaged has never been proved, but there was a loveliness in that relationship which brought words like “we will spend a happy eternity together,” on the day he died, which was October 9, 1747. That eternity came sooner than later, as Jerusha contracted the same dread disease, and died a year later.  They are buried side by side in the cemetery in Northampton.

Words to live by:  If you have never, dear reader, read the Diary of David Brainerd, it is available on both the web as well as books still being published today.  Open your heart to the words of this young man who died at age 29.  Not only will it convict you of your need for more holiness, but give you a sense of urgency to take the gospel to those unsaved loved ones, friends, and strangers, as David Brainerd did in his day.  And who knows? Maybe it will send you to far off shores as a missionary, as it had done for so many since that time in colonial America.

Through the Scriptures:  Ezra 8 – 10

Through the Standards: Proof texts of Marriage and Divorce

Genesis 2:18
“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (KJV)

Genesis 2:24
“Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave  unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”  (KJV)

Matthew 19:9
“And I (Jesus) say unto you, ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoso marries her which is put away does commit adultery.'”

1 Corinthians 7:15  (See context of vv 11 – 16)
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A New Scientific Procedure Takes a Spiritual Giant Away

Our focus is not on a Presbyterian per se, but rather a theological giant who accepted an invitation to become the third president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University, which was a Presbyterian institution.

His name was Jonathan Edwards.  And at this time, this Congregational minister was easily the greatest Biblical theolgian and philosopher which the American colonies had produced.

He had been a pastor.  He had experienced the challenge of missionary work among the native Indian tribes.  He had an exemplary family life, from which would come,such following generations, many  great men of God who served in both church and state.  His theological works were famous even then. But best of all, he was the chief architect of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies.   In short, there was nothing to dislike in Jonathan Edwards, and everything to rejoice in with this choice by the College trustees.

Now the College of New Jersey had  its share of presidents and professors.  Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr, Sr., both Presbyterian pastors in colonial America, had taken on the extra burden of being educators of the  handful of students who enrolled at the College of New Jersey.  Rev. Dickinson lasted all of four plus months in that dual role.  And Rev. Burr lasted longer but not more than four years in teaching the small student body.  He was the one used of the Lord to make the strategic move to Princeton, New Jersey.  Now the invitation went out to Jonathan Edwards, in the fall of 1757, just five days after the death of the school’s second president, Aaron Burr, Sr.

John Brainerd, the brother of missionary David Brainerd, was one of two commissioners who was appointed to press the invitation to Edwards.  The latter was most reluctant to receive it.  Edwards felt that the book which needed to be written next by his pen was that of one on Arminianism.  So it took several days of approaching Edwards until finally, the New England minister, upon consultation with valued friends, replied in the affirmative on September 24, 1757.

He would take several months to prepare himself for the new ministry, so it wasn’t  until February 16, 1758 that he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey.  He began to speak in chapel and meet with the student body, to the delight of those privileged to sit at his feet.

With small pox prevalent in the area, it was decided to follow a new scientific method and inoculate President Edwards with a small portion of small pox, with the idea that he could then fight off the advances of the disease.  However a fever came upon him, and after serving just thirty-four days, Jonathan Edwards died from small pox on March 22, 1758.  It was a loss to the College, a loss to the American colonies, and a loss to the kingdom of Christ on earth.

Words to live by: With a firm dependence on God’s sovereignty, one might be tempted to affirm that God had made a mistake in providence.  But there are no mistakes with the holy and wise God.  There is only the will of God, exercised sometimes in permissive providence before His people.  And this was certainly one example of it.  We may not know the reason why our God acts this or that way.   But we know the God of the past, present, and future, and so can say, “Thy will be done.”

For further reading : There are those who contend the President Edwards was, at least in principle and heart-affection, a Presbyterian. See, for instance, the account here : President Edwards a Presbyterian.

Through the Scriptures: Ezekiel 43 – 45

Through the Standards: Propriety and duty of oath-taking

WCF 22:2
“The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence.  Therefore, to swear vainly, or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name; or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred.  Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the new testament as well as under the old; so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority, in  such matters, ought to be taken.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Trust in God, and you shall not fear

The subject of today’s historical devotional was not a Presbyterian, but in the closing days of his life and ministry on earth, he was the president of the foremost Presbyterian college in America. Jonathan Edwards was born into a ministerial families in 1703. Trained in the home, he entered into scholarly pursuits by attending Yale College at age 13. In the latter portion of his collegiate training, the Holy Spirit convicted his heart and convinced him of his need of Jesus Christ. He received Jesus as Lord and Savior at that pivotal time. Graduating from Yale in 1720, he continued his studies for the gospel ministry. When a congregation in what is now the New England area of our country became vacant, he went as the pastor in 1729, following his father-in-law as the minister. It was there under the preaching of the Word, including the famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,” that the Great Awakening movement came to the church and area. Over three hundred souls were awakened to their sinfulness and brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Jonathan Edwards was not only effective as an awakening pastor, but through his writings, the then known world of Christendom was challenged as to the authority of God’s Word in the life of the church and the sphere of culture. He was America’s foremost apologist, or defender of the faith. Even in the midst of church controversy, such as developed in that Northampton congregation over the issue of qualified participants of the Lord’s Supper, he did not allow his departure to stop him in his ministry. He evangelized among the native Americans for six years in the Stockton, Massachusetts area.

It was in 1758, that a delegation came from the College of New Jersey, with an offer to become the president of that Presbyterian school of the prophets. After some objections were answered satisfactorily, he did accept the offer in January of 1758 and became associated with what would later become Princeton University. As smallpox was present in the area, a noted physician came down from Philadelphia on February 23, 1758 to inoculate President Edwards and two of his daughters. Edwards had never been in the best of health and as the effects of the inoculation were subsiding, a secondary fever took hold and Jonathan Edwards died of small pox approximately one month later, March 22, 1758.

Just before his death, some people were attending him on his death-bed, and remarked about the approaching effect of this certain demise on the Christian church. Jonathan Edwards, hearing those remarks, spoke to those attending him with his dying words “Trust in God, and ye need not fear.”

Words to Live By: Let us ever and always trust in God, indeed the God of providence, with whom there is no mistake in life or death.

Through the Scriptures: Numbers 21 – 24

Through the Standards:  Total inability in the Catechisms

WLC 23 — “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”

WLC 25 “Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called Original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.”

WSC 17 “Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.”

WSC 18 “Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereunto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consist in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness,and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called Original Sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.”

Image source : Frontispiece portrait from Volume 1 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M. London: William Tegg, 1860.

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