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"There has been a great and just complaint, for many years, among the ministers and churches of Old England, and in New, (except about the time of the late Earthquake there,) that the work of conversion goes on very slowly, that the Spirit of God in his saving influences, is much withdrawn from the ministrations of his word; and there are few that receive the ministrations of the Gospel, with any eminent success upon their hearts. But as the Gospel is the same divine instrument of grace, still, as ever it was in the days of the Apostles, so our ascended Saviour, now and then, takes a special occasion to manifest the divinity of this Gospel, by a plentiful effusion of his Spirit, where it is preached: then sinners are turned into saints in numbers, and there is a new face of things spread over a town or country. The wilderness and the solitary places are glad, the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose; and surely, concerning this instance, we may add, that they have seen the glory of the Lord there, and the excellency of our God; they have seen the outgoings of God our King in his sanctuary."
This work was the first of a series of publications from Mr. Edwards, intended to explain the nature and effects of saving conversion, and the nature of a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in a community. As a religious Narrative, it is one of the most interesting I have hitherto met with; having all that exactness of description and vividness of colouring, which attend the account of an eye witness, when drawn up, not from recollection, but in the very passing of the scenes which he describes. It proved a most useful and seasonable publication. For a long period, Revivals of religion had been chiefly unknown, both in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe. The Church at large, had generally ceased to expect events of this nature, regarding them as confined to Apostolic times, and to the ultimate triumphs of Christianity; and appear to have entertained very imperfect views of their causes, their nature, and the manner in which they ought to be regarded. In no previous publication, had these important subjects been adequately explained. The particular event, which Mr. Edwards had the privilege of recording, viewed as a remarkable work of Divine grace, has, to this day, scarcely a parallel in the modern annals of the Church. His own views of these subjects, were alike removed from the apathy of unbelief, and the wildness of enthusiasm: they were derived, not merely from his familiarity with the facts, but from just conceptions of the intellectual and moral faculties of man, and from a thorough knowledge of the word of God. And while the Narrative of Surprising Conversions served to inspire the Church at large with a new and higher kind of faith, and hope and zeal, it also proved a safe directory of their views and their conduct. In a short time it was extensively circulated, both in England and Scotland; and in the latter country, as we shall soon have
occasion to remark, its diffusion was speedily followed by salutary and important consequences.
It may not be improper to insert in this place, the following letter of Mr. Edwards, giving an account of a surprising and alarming providence, which attended the people of Northampton, in the early part of 1737.
"Northampton, March 19, 1737.
"We in this town were, the last Lord's day, (March 13th) the spectators, and many of us the subjects, of one of the most amazing instances of Divine preservation, that perhaps was ever known in the world. Our meeting-house is old and decayed, so that we have been for some time building a new one, which is yet unfinished. It has been observed of late, that the house we have hitherto met in, has gradually spread at the bottom; the sills and walls giving way, especially in the foreside, by reason of the weight of timber at top pressing on the braces, that are inserted into the posts and beams of the house. It has done so more than ordinarily this spring: which seems to have been occasioned by the heaving of the ground, through the extreme frosts of the winter past, and its now settling again on that side which is next the sun, by the spring thaws. By this means, the underpinning has been considerably disordered, which people were not sensible of, till the ends of the joists, which bore up the front gallery, were drawn off from the girts on which they rested, by the walls giving way. So that in
the midst of the public exercise in the forenoon, soon after the beginning of the sermon, the whole gallery-full of people, with all the seats and timbers, suddenly and without any warning-sunk, and fell down, with the most amazing noise, upon the heads of those that sat under, to the astonishment of the congregation. The house was filled with dolorous shrieking and crying; and nothing else was expected than to find many people dead, or dashed to pieces.
"The gallery, in falling, seemed to break and sink first in the middle; so that those who were upon it were thrown together in heaps before the front door. But the whole was so sudden, that many of those who fell, knew nothing what it was, at the time, that had befallen them. Others in the congregation, thought it had been an amazing clap of thunder. The falling gallery seemed to be broken all to pieces, before it got down; so that some who fell with it, as well as those who were under, were buried in the ruins; and were found pressed under heavy loads of timber, and could do nothing to help themselves.
"But so mysteriously and wonderfully did it come to pass, that every life was preserved; and though many were greatly bruised, and their flesh torn, yet there is not, as I can understand, one bone
broken, or so much as put out of joint, among them all. Some, who were thought to be almost dead at first, are greatly recovered; and but one young woman, seems yet to remain in dangerous circumstances, by an inward hurt in her breast: but of late there appears more hope of her recovery.
"None can give an account, or conceive, by what means people's lives and limbs should be thus preserved, when so great a multitude were thus imminently exposed. It looked as though it was impossible, but that great numbers must instantly be crushed to death, or dashed in pieces. It seems unreasonable to ascribe it to any thing else but the care of Providence, in disposing the motions of every piece of timber, and the precise place of safety where every one should sit and fall, when none were in any capacity to care for their own preservation. The preservation seems to be most wonderful, with respect to the women and children in the middle alley, under the gallery where it came down first, and with greatest force, and where there was nothing to break the force of the falling weight.
"Such an event, may be a sufficient argument of a Divine providence over the lives of men. We thought ourselves called on to
set apart a day to be spent in the solemn worship of God, to humble ourselves under such a rebuke of God upon us, in time of public service in his house, by so dangerous and surprising an accident; and to praise his name for so wonderful, and as it were miraculous, a preservation. The last Wednesday was kept by us to that end; and a mercy, in which the hand of God is so remarkably evident, may be well worthy to affect the hearts of all who hear it."
In 1738, the Narrative of Surprising Conversions was republished in Boston, with a Preface by four of the senior ministers of that
To it were prefixed five discourses, on the following subjects: I. Justification by Faith alone. Rom. iv. 5.
II. Pressing into the kingdom of God. Luke xvi. 16.
III. Ruth's Resolution. Ruth i. 16.
IV. The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners. Rom. iii. 19.
V. The Excellency of Jesus Christ. Rev. v. 5, 6.
The first four of these discourses, were delivered during the Revival of Religion, and were published at the earnest desire of those to whom they were preached. In fixing on the particular discourses, necessary to make up the volume, he was guided by the choice of the people. "What has determined them in this choice," he observes," is the experience of special benefit to their souls from these discourses. Their desire to have them in their hands, from the press, has been long manifested, and often expressed to
their earnestness in it is evident from this, that though it be a year to them of the greatest charge that ever has been, by reason of the expense of building a new meeting house, yet they chose rather to be at this additional expense now, though it be very considerable, than to have it delayed another year." In publishing the discourse on JUSTIFICATION, he was also influenced by the urgent request of several clergymen, who were present when a part of it was delivered, and whose opinion and advice he thought deserving of great respect. This discourse, though when first written of a much less size than as it is printed, was preached at two successive public lectures, in the latter part of 1734. It was at a time, when the minds of the people, in all that section of country, were very much agitated by a controversy on that very subject; when some were brought to doubt of that way of acceptance with God, which they had been taught from their infancy, was the only way; and when many were engaged in looking more thoroughly into the grounds of those doctrines, in which they had been educated; that this discourse seemed to be remarkably blessed, not only in establishing the judgments of men in this truth, but in engaging their hearts in a more earnest pursuit of justification, by faith in the righteousness of Christ. "At that time," says the author, "while I was greatly reproached for defending this doctrine in the pulpit, and just upon my suffering a very open abuse for it, God's work wonderfully broke forth among us, and souls began to flock to Christ, as the Saviour in whose righteousness alone they hoped to be justified. So that this was the doctrine, on which this work, in its beginning, was founded, as it evidently was in the whole progress of it." He regarded these facts as a remarkable testimony of God's approbation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
This discourse, which is really a Treatise of more than one hundred closely printed pages, exhibited the subject in a light so new, clear and convincing, and so effectually removed the difficulties with which, till then, it was supposed to be attended, that on its first publication it met a very welcome reception, and from that time to the present has been regarded as the common Text-book of students in Theology. It would not be easy to find another treatise on the same subject, equally able and conclusive.
There are individuals, who, having received their theological views from the straitest sect of a given class of theologians, regard the Sermon on "Pressing into the kingdom of God," as inconsistent with those principles of Moral Agency, which are established in the Treatise on the Freedom of the Will; and charitably impute the error to the imperfect views of the Author, at this period. While a member of college, however, Mr. Edwards, in investigating the subject of Power, as he was reading the Essay of Locke, came to the settled conclusion, that men have, in the physical sense, the power of repenting and turning to God. A farther examination
might perhaps evince, that the points in question are less consis tent with some peculiar views of Theology, of a more modern date, than with any, logically deducible from the Treatise on the Will. The Sermon itself, like the rest, has uncommon ardour, unction and solemnity, and was one of the most useful which he delivered.
The Sermon on the Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, in the language of the Text, literally stops the mouth of every reader, and compels him, as he stands before his Judge, to admit, if he does not feel, the justice of his sentence. I know not where to find, in any language, a discourse so well adapted to strip the impenitent sinner of every excuse, to convince him of his guilt, and to bring him low before the justice and holiness of God. According to the estimate of Mr. Edwards, it was far the most powerful and effectual of his discourses; and we scarcely know of any other sermon which has been favoured with equal success.
The Sermon on the Excellency of Christ, was selected by Mr. Edwards himself, partly because he had been importuned to publish it by individuals in another town, in whose hearing it was occasionally preached; and partly because he thought that a discourse on such an evangelical subject, would properly follow others that were chiefly awakening, and that something of the excellency of the Saviour was proper to succeed those things, that were to show the necessity of salvation. No one who reads it will hesitate to believe, that it was most happily selected. I have met with no sermon hitherto, so admirably adapted to the circumstances of a sinner, when, on the commencement of his repentance, he renounces every other object of trust, but the righteousness of Christ. Taking the whole volume, as thus printed: the Narrative and the Five Discourses: we suppose it to have been one of the most effectual, in promoting the work of salvation, which has hitherto issued from the press.
The sixth child, and eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards was born July 25, 1738, and after his father was baptized by the name of TIMOTHY.
About this period, Mr. Joseph Bellamy, afterwards the Rev. Dr. Bellamy of Bethlem Connecticut, went to Northampton to pursue his theological studies under Mr. Edwards, and resided for a considerable period in his family. The very high respect, which he cherished for the eminent talents and piety of Mr. Edwards, and which drew him to Northampton, was reciprocated by the latter; and a friendship commenced between them, which terminated only with life.*
In the beginning of March, 1739, Mr. Edwards commenced a series of Sermons from Isaiah li. 8, "For the moth shall eat them
* Mr. Bellamy was settled at Bethlem in the spring of 1740, in the midst of a general attention to religion, on the part of the people of that place.