Jonathan Edwards’ Favorite Word

Let’s take a quiz. This is a simple one. Only one question: What is Jonathan Edwards’ favorite word?

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if some answered anger, or mean, or sin, or judgment. Some might even have said spiders. Those who answer this way likely know of Jonathan Edwards through a single text, a single sermon he preached during the Great Awakening. That sermon got published and has been anthologized in just about every American history or American literature textbook. This is his sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God.”

Jonathan EdwardsNow, I wouldn’t be surprised if you guessed those words, but I need to tell you something, and I hope we can still be friends. You would get an “F.” You would fail our one question quiz. I’ll give you the answer. Actually, the judges would accept quite a few variations as the answer.

Joy, sweetness, delight. These would all count. Even relish would count—and that’s not the stuff you put on a hot dog at the cookout. Here’s one that would even count: happified. What great word, happified. How are we made happy?

This little quiz and this question—How are we made happy?—is of utmost significance. For one, it helps us understand Jonathan Edwards. But for a far better reason, it helps us get at that nagging, ultimate question: Why am I here? What is my purpose?

Jonathan Edwards grew up on the Westminster Shorter Catechism—and whatever else they fed kids in the 1710s. And he learned that the chief end of man is “to Glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

There is this idea that true happiness and true joy comes from serving the self. But it’s a false idea. Jesus put the irony this way:

Whoever seeks his own soul will lose it.
Whoever loses his own soul, for my sake, will find it.

We were made for God, made with a singular purpose, to glorify him. And as we glorify him and as we live for and live toward him, we find our soul’s true joy.

This is how we are happified. And this is the key word of Jonathan Edwards. Let me just whet your appetite for you to go exploring him a bit more.

Edwards said:

“The doctrine of God’s sovereignty has very often appeared an exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet doctrine to me; and absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.”

“God himself is the great good which [the redeemed] are brought to the possession and enjoyment of by redemption. He is the highest good and the sum of all that good which purchased. God is the inheritance of the saints; he is the portion of their souls. God is their wealth and treasure, their food, their life, their dwelling place, their ornament and diadem, and their everlasting honor and glory.”

By talking about joy and sweetness and relishing and enjoying God, Edwards was in good company. So David tells us in Psalm 34:

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed—happy, truly happy—is the man who takes refuge in him.”

A bit further on, at Psalm 63, David writes:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you.
As in a dry and weary land where there is no water,
so I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

A few lines later, David adds:

In the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.

Edwards knew about sin. He knew of God’s wrath against sin. He preached about this often, no doubt. But comb through his sermons and books and you’ll see he gives far greater room to the good news of our happiness and joy in God. So, be happified. Serve and love and enjoy—and even relish God.

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    James Martin posted:
    9:54 am, September 4, 2013

    I would have guessed Grace :-)


    Stephen Nichols posted:
    3:58 pm, September 4, 2013

    James, good guess. I’ll give you credit for it! Now, we’ll have to do an episode on JE on grace.

    Thanks for listening.


    Edward Suffern posted:
    6:43 am, September 5, 2013

    After his first day in Advanced Placement English this fall my son told me, sort of surprised, “Hey Dad, guess what…we’re going to be reading something from Jonathan Edwards this year! It’s in the textbook.” “Let me guess, son, is it “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?”" Then this morning I received notification of your new podcast. So glad I can put “Jonathan Edwards’ Favorite Word” into his e-mail box today to give him the bigger picture. For that matter, how can he sign himself up to get future episodes directly to his box?


      Stephen Nichols posted:
      10:44 am, September 9, 2013

      Hi, Edward. Thanks for sharing. While I might know a thing or two of Jonathan Edwards, I know nothing when it comes to technology. I’ll pass on your comments to the good–and technologically competent–folks at Ligonier.

      Thanks for listening,


      Ligonier Ministries posted:
      10:59 am, September 9, 2013

      Edward Suffern: We don’t currently have an email solution as you describe. However, there are two options that may work for you:

      1) As 5 Minutes in Church History is primarily a podcast, he can get each week’s show delivered direct to his Mac/PC (or iPhone/iPad) using iTunes and subscribing via this link:

      2) A 3rd party service could email him when we update the blog. One example is If you visit that site and give them our blog feed ( and your son’s email, they’ll notify him each week.

      We hope this is helpful and thank you for listening to 5 Minutes in Church History.


    Blanca posted:
    8:27 am, September 5, 2013

    Thanks for the great message of love and joy! God is a awesome God who loves those who seek Him!


    Chris Asuncion posted:
    9:23 am, September 5, 2013

    The late Jonathan Edwards is not only an American hero…he is a hero of the Christian Faith. Thank you, Renewing Your Mind, for helping us be acquainted with such a giant who labored so much to share the truth of the Gospel.


    James Hughes posted:
    4:22 pm, September 9, 2013

    Dear Stephen

    Thank you for your work here. I very much love our church history. I will be reading much more as time allows.

    Request: Because we are naturally inclined to lessen God’s magnificence little by little, without intention, won’t you please give God His due respect. Please give his pronouns capitalization.

    Grace to you my friend, James


    Sabio Lantz posted:
    10:48 am, September 10, 2013

    I would have guessed “Grace” too. But, wow, I did not know much about him. Thanx. I also read his Wiki article after hearing this talk.

    “Joy” is a wonderful thing — it is too bad it has to be taught via anger or threat of hell to children. But people are complex. Edwards sounds like he had a very bright side — I just hope it was not at the expense of others who did not believe as he did.

    I did not realize he was the grandfather of one of our presidents


    Concierge 13.9.12 | posted:
    10:54 am, September 12, 2013

    […] Jonathan Edwards’ Favorite Word […]


    Corinna posted:
    11:30 am, September 17, 2013

    Thank you, Dr. Nichols. I listened to all 4 episodes. They are very interesting and helpful to me, as I recently started a seminary school. One of the classes I am taking is the Church History From Reformation. I love those little stories we would not necessary hear about in the classroom. So, thank you for sharing. Please keep me on the list for any future episodes and teaching.

    By the way, I would have guessed his favorite word was “love”, but I am very “happy” to learn a new word – happified. :)


    The City of God | 5 posted:
    10:36 am, October 1, 2014

    […] of the themes that Augustine tackles is happiness or felicity. The cities of God and man have two entirely different approaches to this question of […]