October 5 is Jonathan Edwards’ birthday. In 2016, he would have been 313 years old. Happy birthday, Jonathan Edwards, and in honor of your 313rd birthday, I thought we’d revisit you and talk a little bit about your life.
Edwards is no stranger to us at 5 Minutes in Church History. We’ve talked about him numerous times. I thought I’d go back and pick up five of his letters. These aren’t the typical letters we turn to; these are some letters that even engage the mundane and ordinary things of life, but they remind us that Edwards was, above all, a person, a man who lived in the 1700s. He was born October 5, 1703.
The first extant letter that we have from him comes from May 1716. Edwards is twelve years old, going on thirteen. He writes to his sister Mary and the first paragraph tells her about a revival happening in his father’s church: “Through the wonderful mercy and goodness of God, there hath, in this place, been a very remarkable stirring and pouring out of the Spirit of God and likewise now is. But I think I have reason to think it is in some measure diminished, but I hope not much. About thirteen have been joined to the church in an estate of full communion.” So, there it is, a little revival breaks out in the East Windsor, Conn., church and thirteen people profess faith and become full members of the church and partake of the Lord’s Supper. At the end of that paragraph, we get some insight into some family issues with the Edwardses. “Abigail, Hannah, and Lucy,” Edwards writes of his other sisters, “have had the chicken pox and are recovered but Jerusha has it now, but is almost well. I myself sometimes am much troubled with a toothache. These last two or three days I have not been troubled with it but very little.” So, there is a young Edwards, twelve years old, with a toothache.
We’ll pick up another letter, this time he is at college, He is fifteen years old, he is at Yale and he writes home to let his dad know about some of the books he needs to buy. He says, “I have inquired of Mr. Cutler,” one of the professors at Yale, “what books we should have need of the next year and he answered that he would have me get against that time—Alstead’s geometry and Gassendi’s astronomy, with which I would entreat you to get a pair of dividers or a mathematician’s compass, and a scale, which are absolutely necessary in order to learn mathematics. And also, The Art of Thinking, which I am persuaded would be no less profitable than the other necessary to me, who am, your dutiful son, Jonathan Edwards.” And then he says, “What we give a week for our board is five shillings.” In other words, I think Edwards is writing home to ask for money from his dad while he’s at college.
Another college letter is a fascinating one. It has to do with his father’s horse. Now, I think what happened here is that Edwards used his father horse to get to college and now it’s getting extremely expensive for him to keep the horse while he is at college and he wants to somehow get the horse back to his father, Timothy. So, his roommate, Elisha Micks, is going home and Edwards is writing to ask Elisha’s father, Stephen Micks, if Stephen could somehow take the horse from there the other ten miles to Edwards’ father. He says, “I have father’s horse and not having an opportunity to take him home have ordered him to be left at your house and I entreat you that you would take some care speedily to convey him to my father’s house.” So, Edwards is trying to figure out how to get his father’s horse home.
Let’s fast-forward a little bit to one of the last letters that Edwards writes. This one is of a bit more serious nature—this time he’s dying and he can’t even write anymore and so he has to dictate his last letter. He directs it to his wife. He says, “Therefore, give my kindest love to my dear wife and tell her that the uncommon union that has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore, will continue forever.”
Happy birthday, Jonathan Edwards.