In my latest reading of George Marsden's Jonathan Edwards: A Life, Jonathan Edwards is serving in Stockbridge, a village that had both English people and Native Americans. Edwards saw this community as anticipatory of the millennium (the thousand year reign of Christ in Revelation 20), "when every tribe and nation would see the light of God's righteousness and dwell together in harmony (cf. Isaiah 60)" (page 375).
There were three things that stood out to me in my latest
reading. First, although Edwards had problems with some of his
co-workers at Stockbridge----viewing them as un-orthodox, or as misusing
the mission's funds----that did not bother him a great deal because it
was a step up from his experience at Northampton, where he had been
criticized, booted out of the pastorate, and ostracized. Jonathan
Edwards is not the only person who appreciates imperfect but better
experiences after enduring a particularly bad experience. I
think of people who had a bad first marriage but went on to have a good
second marriage, or who had bad jobs and went on to jobs where the
environment was not perfect, but better.
Second, one of Edwards'
relatives, Abigail Williams, worked at the mission at Stockbridge, and
she initially was not looking forward to Edwards coming to work there.
But she became impressed with him, calling him "learned, polite, and
free in conversation, and more catholic than [she] had supposed"
(Abigail's words on page 380). Marsden states that "Abigail may have
enjoyed anyone who could intelligently converse on deeper issues" (page
380). But Edwards may not have been as broad-minded as she thought, for
he had doubts about Abigail's orthodoxy. In any case, I could
identify with this story in my latest reading because there are people
with whom I may disagree on politics or religion, and yet I respect them
and enjoy interacting with their thoughts (and maybe even them) for a
variety of reasons: they are knowledgeable, they have profound insights,
they know how to share their opinions without putting people down, etc.
Third, on page 393, Marsden talks about Edwards' preaching to the Native Americans.
According to Marsden, while Edwards continued to preach about sin and
God's judgment to the Native Americans, he emphasized God's mercy much
more. Marsden states that Edwards initially emphasized their sins and
vices, but he moved away from that in the course of his preaching.
Marsden speculates that Edwards may have been influenced here by David
Brainerd, a friend of Edwards and a missionary to the Native Americans,
as well as the topic of a bestselling spiritual biography that Edwards
wrote after Brainerd's tragic death. Brainerd observed that, when he
was preaching to the Native Americans, their hearts were pierced more
when he spoke of Christ's compassion, without speaking a word of terror.