Jonathan Edwards and the 1734-35 Northampton Revival

Jonathan Edwards

These are my reflections on an essay by Samuel T. Logan, Jr. in The Practical Calvinist entitled “Jonathan Edwards and the 1734-35 Northampton Revival.”

View book details on Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George M. Marsden

Reading about Jonathan Edwards and the 1734-35 Northampton Revival in which he played an instrumental role by God’s grace spawns numerous reflections.  First, it is refreshing to see the complete and total credit that Edwards gave to God for the revival.  In today’s pragmatic church environment that continues to be influenced by the revivalist tradition (e.g., Charles Finney), it is almost foreign to our ears to hear someone honestly give God all credit and glory for revival of hearts in our churches.  Edwards teaches me to be a practical Calvinist in preaching to your own congregation, in knowing the spiritual state of the flock God has entrusted to your care, and to beware the tendency to manipulate people by the use of emotion and rhetoric to produce effects similar (but not identical) to contrition, confession, and repentance.

Second, I am struck by the careful observation that Edwards exercised when it came to the sequence of the revival he witnessed and worked within.  This careful observation is a challenge to all would-be ministers of the gospel to discern true from false revival.  I think Edwards was absolutely correct to conclude that some fruit of revival was a genuine work of the Spirit of God, and other fruit was the counterfeit work of the devil or the flesh.  How often do Christians explode in excitement when someone we are praying for shows a newfound spiritual zeal, and to parade that person as an example of a truly Spirit-filled Christian, only to shortly thereafter observe that same person fall from grace or demonstrate that the whole episode was just an emotional experience void of lasting saving faith?  We should learn from Edwards that revivals and the people caught up in them often accompany “remarkable instances of persons led away with strange enthusiastic delusions” (p. 245).

Third, it is interesting that Edwards fed his parishioners on a hearty diet of spiritual food.  The sample Edwards sermon on which Logan intermittently comments would indeed be considered too heavy and heady for most 21st century audiences.  Perhaps a typical Edwards sermon was a little much for his audience of small town farmers and tradesmen, but it apparently they grew to appreciate and profit from his sermons.  Again, the example of Edwards is a challenge to modern day preachers to resist the temptation to reduce a sermon’s level of comprehension to an eighth grade level.  The Bible is written for everyday people, but it doesn’t assume that they cannot digest lofty doctrine, pointed rebukes, and clarion calls to repentance.

Logan writes, “Among the many valuable, Biblical lessons that we can learn from Edwards and the 1734-35 Northampton revival, this one stands out.  Preaching that honors Christ, preaching that the Spirit honors, is affectionate, doctrinal preaching, preaching which turns the face of the congregation to the glory of God in his Son, Jesus” (pp. 263-64).  Logan is right.  Preachers can learn much from Edwards’s methodical attention to the particular needs of his congregation, and can appropriate these lessons for our own time and environment, trusting God and God alone to bring revival.

This entry was posted in Book Review, History of Christianity II, Pastoral & Theological, Preaching, Seminary and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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