I have two items for my write-up today on George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life.
1. On page 255, Marsden says the following about people's reactions to Jonathan Edwards' personality:
opponents found [Edwards'] scrupulousness cold and lacking in charity,
those in Edwards' own party saw it as admirable integrity. The
arguments that Edwards used in his attempts to demolish opponents'
positions might be seen as arrogant sophistry or as brilliant clarity.
The passion in his sermonic rhetoric might be seen as ruthless
manipulation or as warm, loving spirituality. His reserve in
conversation about personalities might be seen as cold disregard of
others or as self-renouncing discipline. His single-minded dedication
to his work could be seen as self-centered lack of sociability or as
selfless dedication to serve God and neighbor with all his heart, soul,
strength, and mind."
The lesson here, for me, is that there will
be people who will put a negative spin on anything you do, however
well-intentioned you are. But there may also be people who will put a
positive spin on anything you do! I try to disregard the former.
Regarding the latter, sometimes I scream on the inside that I'm not
perfect, and so not everything I do deserves a positive spin. But I do
appreciate it when people give me a pat on the back for trying my best.
Marsden discusses Edwards' stance on slavery. Essentially, Edwards had
slaves and thought that slavery was biblically permissible. But
Edwards also regarded the African slave trade as wrong, for he did not
believe that Europeans had a right "to steal from the Africans"
(Marsden's words on page 257), since all were neighbors. And yet,
Edwards spoke against criticisms of a certain clergyman for his
ownership of slaves, arguing that New England itself benefited from
slavery on account of its trade with "the slave economies of the
Caribbean" (Marsden's words on page 258). Edwards was asking the
critics of the clergyman: So it's wrong to own slaves, but it's all
right to benefit from slavery? But did Edwards believe that the logical
moral step was to stop benefiting from slavery? No. In
effect, according to Marsden, Edwards was saying that we live in a
sinful world and thus it's impossible not to benefit from other people's
evil, and so, "until the millennial conversions got to the heart of the
problem, one should simply make the best of imperfect social
arrangements" (Marsden on page 258). I should note, though, that Jonathan Edwards, Jr. was a vocal critic of slavery.
like to mention something that Edwards says about the millennial reign
of Christ, which pertains to Edwards view of Africans and Native
Americans. Edwards thought that African and Native American cultures
were inferior to the culture of Christendom, and he held that they had
lived for years under the rule of Satan; yet, he did not believe that
Africans and Native Americans were inherently inferior to whites, for
God made everyone with the same nature. Edwards even envisioned
that Africans and Native Americans would contribute to civilization
during the millennial rule of Jesus Christ. Edwards said: "It
may be hoped that then many of the Negroes and Indians will be divines,
and that excellent books will be published in Africa, in Ethiopia, in
Turkey----and not only very learned men, but others that are more
ordinary men, shall then be very knowing in religion." Here is the sermon where Edwards said this.
millennium is a topic of interest to me, since one of my relatives
believes that the millennium will be a time when people who did not have
a real chance to know Christ in this life will have that chance to be
saved. He associates this with the second resurrection in Revelation
20. Charles Taze Russell, whose movement led to the Jehovah's
Witnesses, wrote a book in which he argued that the millennium would be a
time when people who died without knowing Christ would get a chance to
know him. But does not Revelation 20 say that the second resurrection will occur after
the millennium, which precludes the millennium from being a time when
people from the second resurrection will learn about God and God's ways?
I don't have a clear idea about how my relative would answer that
question, but Russell addressed it by essentially arguing that
Revelation 20 should not be interpreted literally on this point. After
all, Russell points out, John 5:29 appears to present the resurrection
of the good and the bad as occurring simultaneously, rather than being
separated by a thousand years.
But there are prophetic texts that
treat the earthly reign of the Davidic king as a time when people would
learn about God. One way that Christians have handled those texts is to
say that they are fulfilled through the church----as Gentiles become a
part of the people of God. And, in my opinion, that view has
validity, for there are times when the New Testament appears to apply
texts in the prophets that concern the future inclusion of the Gentiles
in the worship of God to the work that God is doing through the church
(Acts 15:16-17; Romans 15:12). But another way that
Christians handle these texts has been to apply them to the earthly
reign of Christ during the millennium. My relative has this view. So
did Charles Taze Russell. And so, apparently, did Jonathan Edwards.
my question is this: If these texts apply to the millennial reign of
Christ, where exactly did the people who are learning about God during
the millennium come from? In the Book of Revelation, there
appear to be two groups of people: those who are saved, and those who
have the Mark of the Beast (Revelation 13:8). Will the people who are
learning about Christ during the millennial reign include people who had
the Mark of the Beast, or people who were saved but did not have the
time before Christ's Second Coming to grow in that salvation?
My relative and Russell would say that the people learning about Christ
during the millennium are people who have been resurrected----they died
without knowing Christ. But I doubt that Edwards believed that. Where
did he believe that the people learning about God during the millennium
would come from? Did he hold that not everyone who would take the Mark
of the Beast would be thrown into hell but would receive a second
chance? And, come to think of it, did he even think that the Africans
and Native Americans had the Mark of the Beast? Edwards believed that
the Beast was the pope, and most Africans and Native Americans were not