We are returning to an old friend of ours, Jonathan Edwards. We are looking specifically at a moment in in his life in 1721: his conversion. We’ll use the journalistic questions, Who? What? Where? When? and How? The who, of course, is Jonathan Edwards, but he’s only on the surface. The real who is God; God brought about the conversion of Edwards. The what is the conversion of Jonathan Edwards itself. The where is beautiful, bucolic, colonial New England, along the riverbed of the Connecticut River and in the beautiful Connecticut River Valley. The when is 1721. Now, let’s get into the how of Jonathan Edwards’ conversion.
To do this, we have some help from Edwards himself. In 1734, a dozen or so years past his conversion, Aaron Burr Sr., who wasn’t “senior” at the time but just Aaron Burr, was a student at Yale. Burr wrote to Edwards, a Yale alum, asking him to help Burr and his fellow students by writing down his own conversion. Edwards agreed to that and wrote out what was called the Personal Narrative. This was reprinted many times. One particular copy I have accessed is from the early 1800s and was reprinted by the American Tract Society. It says at the bottom, “First Edition, 6,000 copies.” The Personal Narrative has been reprinted many times.
In the Personal Narrative, Edwards recounts his conversion. He says, “From my childhood up, my mind had been wont to be full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.”
You might think, “Wait a minute. This is Jonathan Edwards, the consummate Calvinist theologian, yet here he’s saying, ‘I do not like the doctrine of the sovereignty of God.’” But this was before his conversion. And what we see here is that though Edwards grew up in a pastor’s home, exposed to the Bible, he had his own objections to Christianity. He speaks of personal objections and he speaks of doctrinal objections. And so, that’s where he finds himself. But as the Personal Narrative continues, he refers to what he calls “a delightful conviction . . . [a] sweet delight in God, and divine things.” While he had that approach, God worked on his heart and his mind and changed him; He moved Edwards off of objections, doctrinally. Instead, not only did Edwards affirm these doctrines but, as he says, he came to take a “sweet delight” in these things.
In fact, Edwards goes on to say of his conversion, “The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind.” He goes on to say, “I . . . spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the meantime, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer.”
That is how Jonathan Edwards recalled in his Personal Narrative how God brought Edwards to himself.