Excerpts from the Life of Jonathan Edwards

In this world, so full of darkenss and delusion, it is of great importance that all should be able to distinguish between true religion and that which is false. In this, perhaps none has taken more pains, or labored more successfully, than he whose life is set before the reader (from the Preface).

He had a strict and inviolable regard to justice in all his dealings with his neighbors, and was very careful to provide for things honest in the sight of all men; so that scarcely a man had any dealings with him, that was not conscious of his uprightness. He appeared to have a sacred regard to truth in his words, both in promises and narrations, agreeable to his Resolutions. This doubtless was one reason why he was not so full of words as many are. No man feared to rely on his veracity….

His conversation with his friends was always savory and profitable: in this he was remarkable, and almost singular.— He was not wont to spend his time with them, in scandal, evil-speaking and back-biting, or in foolish jesting, idle chat and telling stories: but his mouth was that of the just, which bringeth forth wisdom, and his lips dispersed knowledge. His tongue was as the pen of a ready writer, while he conversed about important, heavenly, divine things, which his heart was so full of, in such a natural and free manner, as to be the most entertaining and instructive: so that none of his friends could enjoy his company without instruction and profit, unless it was by their own fault.

His great benevolence to mankind discovered itself, among other ways, by the uncommon regard he showed to liberality, and charity to the poor and distressed. He was much in recommending this, both in public discourses and private conversation. He often declared it to be his opinion, that professed Christians, in these days are greatly deficient in this duty; and much more so, than in most other parts of external Christianity. He often observed how much this is spoken of, recommended and encouraged in the holy Scripture, especially in the New Testament. And it was his opinion, that every particular church ought by frequent and liberal contributions, to maintain a public stock, that might be ready for the poor and necessitous members of that church: and that the principal business of deacons is to take care of the poor in the faithful and judicious distribution and improvement of the church’s temporals, lodged in their hands. And he did not content himself with only recommending charity to others, but practiced it much himself; though, according to his Master’s advice, he took great care to conceal his deeds of charity; by which means doubtless most of his alms-deeds will be unknown till the resurrection, which if known, would prove him to be as great an instance of charity as any that can be produced in this age. This is not mere conjecture, but is evident many ways. He was forward to give on all public occasions of charity, though when it could properly be done, he always concealed the sum given. And some instances of his giving more privately have accidentally come to the knowledge of others, in which his liberality appeared in a very extraordinary degree. One of the instances was this. Upon hearing that a poor obscure man, whom he never saw, or any of his kindred, was by an extraordinary bodily disorder, brought to great straits; he unasked, gave a considerable sum to a friend to be delivered to the distressed person; having first required a promise of him, that he would let neither the person, who was the object of his charity, nor anyone else know by whom it was given. This may serve both as an instance of his extraordinary charity and of his great care to conceal it….

He was a great enemy to young people’s unseasonable company-keeping and frolicking, as he looked upon it as a great means of corrupting and ruining youth. And he thought the excuse many parents make for tolerating their children in it (viz. that it is the custom. and others’ children practice it, which renders it difficult, and even impossible to restrain theirs) was insufficient and frivolous; and manifested a great degree of stupidity, on supposition the practice was hurtful and pernicious to their souls. And when some of his children grew up he found no difficulty in restraining them from this pernicious practice; but they cheerfully complied with the will of their parents herein. He allowed not his children to be from home after nine o’clock at night, when they went abroad to see their friends and companions. Neither were they allowed to sit up much after that time, in his own house, when any came to make them a visit. If any gentleman desired acquaintance with his daughters; after handsomely introducing himself, by properly consulting the parents, he was allowed all proper opportunity for it; a room and fire, if needed: but must not intrude on the proper hours of rest and sleep, or the religion and order of the family.

By Samuel Hopkins

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #8 in 1985]

Samuel Hopkins was a student, friend, and admirer of Jonathan Edwards, and a frequent visitor to the Edwards home in Northampton. Impressed by Edwards and the serenity of the Edwards family, Hopkins penned the first biography of his famous teacher. The full title of the biography is The Life and Character of the Late Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards. It was first published in 1765. These excerpts are representative of Hopkins’ style.
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