You might have heard of Jonathan Edwards. His thought and life is among the most documented of all Americans of the eighteen-century. There exist over 1100 sermons in their original manuscript, autobiographical material, a portion of his diary and about two hundred of his letters that survived till date. Eyewitnesses and other contemporaries have given their testimonies of his life, and more than half a dozen biographies have been published about Edwards since his death.
Yet, the world is seldom more divided over a man. Only as a ‘philosopher’, they say, could he retain some respectability. Perry Miller, the best-known twentieth-century writer on Edwards, puts it bluntly: ‘the life of Edwards is a tragedy… Because of his faith Edwards wrought incalculable harm.’ ‘The greatest tragic hero,’ says Peter Gay, intent upon ‘rescuing the essence of the Puritan faith, on clarifying it, defending it, and preaching it to an age that did not wish to listen.’ And still, Edwards is credited as ‘the originator, the director, the champion’ of the Great Awakening.
‘He was proud and overbearing and rash’, says Miller of Edwards’s character, whereas Samuel Finley in 1758 writes, ‘He had a natural steadiness of temper… the humility, modesty, and serenity of his behaviour much endeared him to his acquaintance.’ Edwards himself tells us, four years before his death, ‘I was often charged with acting only from sinister views, with stiffness of spirit, and from pride, and an arbitrary and tyrannical spirit.’
I revolt should anyone speak of me like that.
But this is the nature of Christianity. The world will always disagree over Christian experience and the Christian truth. Of those who received the faith of the gospel, Christ says to God the Father, ‘I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world’ (John 17:14). A ‘peculiar people’ is what the apostle Peter empathises of Christ-followers (1 Peter 2:9).
How then can I content when people walk away unmoved facing Christ in me? How do others speak of the way I follow Christ? Far too easily I am satisfied though my faith bears little impression on others. There is no place for well-mannered politeness in our pursuit of God. ‘Father, make of me a crisis man.’ Jim Elliot prayed, ‘Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.’
I fear I lack the courage in confronting men like that. My heart is too tethered to the opinions of men. Did I manage to impress? Did I tickle their ears? Father, forgive me for the times I thought of myself anything more than a life redeemed by Your love. My reputation should not matter in bringing You glory. Teach me that a life that follows You is one that is accustomed to criticism and ridicule. But may only others meet the Christ in me, that depending on where they stand in relation to You, shall they decide in interpreting my life that is, first of all, a follower of Jesus Christ.