My latest reading of George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life was about Jonathan Edwards getting kicked out of the pastorate at his church in Northampton. Edwards had pursued a controversial policy of requiring people to demonstrate that they had a heartfelt faith before they could take the sacraments----and even before their infants could be entitled to receive baptism under the covenant.
pursuing a middle path between two policies. First, there was the
policy of Solomon Stoddard----his grandfather and his revered
predecessor at the Northampton church. Stoddard held that people could
take the sacraments even if they had not experienced grace, since the
sacraments could be a means that God could use to draw them to himself.
Stoddard still maintained that they had to demonstrate some morality or
commitment to Christian doctrine to be church members and partakers of
the sacraments, but he wasn't in favor of requiring them to jump through
a bunch of hoops before they could do so. Second, there was the policy
of Edwards' father Timothy, who had rigorous standards for judging
whether or not people had truly experienced grace. Overall,
Jonathan Edwards recognized that people were limited when it came to
judging the salvation of others, and so he advised against doing so.
And yet, Edwards believed that something was wrong when people were not
living according to the vows that they took during the Great Awakening,
or when people who claimed to be saved were displaying attitudes of envy
and rivalry, as were a number of people in the Northampton church.
Edwards also did not want for the sacred sacraments to be given to
those who were not committed to Jesus Christ, for that (in his eyes)
dishonored God. Edwards supported a policy that was stricter than
Stoddard's, but not as strict as his father's.
overwhelming opposition to Edwards. On page 360, Marsden said that only
23 out of the 230 male members of the church voted with Edwards. After
Edwards was kicked out of the pastorate, the townspeople voted not to
allow Edwards and his family "to use the pastureland that was usually
granted to him" (page 363), which hit Edwards particularly hard because
he was worried about the finances of his family, which had a lot of
children. Edwards continued to attend the Northampton church, and he was often asked to preach because the church needed someone
to preach after Edwards had been removed from the pastorate. But it
got to the point where Edwards was no longer asked to preach----when
many people preferred nobody in the pulpit to Edwards.
There was a variety of factors behind the opposition to Edwards. There
was a feeling that Edwards was on a power-trip and tended to make
mountains out of molehills, and that he was trying to determine people's
right to partake of the sacraments according to his subjective
standards. There was reverence for Solomon Stoddard, even
after his passing, and so many did not care for Edwards' attempt to
reverse Stoddard's policy. Edwards' social aloofness did not help him much, either,
as Edwards himself acknowledged. Some have argued that the
revolutionary atmosphere that eventually led to the American Revolution
could have played some role in Edwards' ousting, but, as Marsden notes,
there were supporters and opponents of Edwards who later fought for
After Edwards was kicked out of the
pastorate, he delivered a sermon about God's judgment. It had some
impact on people, but it apparently did not dissuade them from their
course of action. I think that the town should have been more
compassionate to Edwards, in terms of his finances, but I do relish the
times when congregations are immune to pastors' fear-mongering.
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