The True Impact of Jonathan Edwards Lies In A Missionary's Journal

Jonathan Edwards is world famous for preaching and theology but his biggest impact is often overlooked.

Jonathan Edwards is often remembered for the Great Awakening that sermons like, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," came from. 

But this ability to preach did not come from nowhere. He attended Yale at 13 and after he graduated, his grandfather gave him ten hours a day of reading to do until he was ready to join the church. Can you imagine graduating Yale and your grandpa thinking you were still that far behind in your studies?

Yet his grandfather wanted to make sure he was well read and well studied for his upper class church in New England. 

Early on Edwards' preaching was considered great. There were the beginning of flames of a revival. But tragedy struck when Edwards' uncle, who attended his church, committed suicide. 

Edwards' was devastated. People had accused him of being too fiery and fierce in his sermons. He saw his uncle's hopelessness as a result of this. 

This might have been the end of Edwards' story, but the most famous pastor in the world at that time had heard about the revival in New England and wanted to help. This man, George Whitefield came to Edwards' church and preached strong, Godly truth. Edwards was said to have bawled in the pew. He was renewed for his purpose.

He returned to preaching with confidence and soon revival swept New England. 

The sermon "Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God," was preached at a congregation that was known to be resistant to the revival. Try as they might, no one had been able to break through this nearly impossible fortress against God. Many people preached that day before Edwards did.

When Edwards preached that sermon he was not able to finish it over the sound of men and women whose stone-cold hearts had melted at the power of the Gospel. They wailed and shouted, "Stop! We can't handle any more!"

Soon he was a well known and famous man. His books and theology became top notch. 

But this was not the end of his story. After chastising some of the kids in his congregation for looking at and making lewd comments towards an anatomy book, he got into trouble with his church. The kids were children of the elders. He saw them fit for discipline. The elders saw him as being too strict. 

This led to a massive fight in his church that eventually got him ousted. 

He went out to the outskirts of New England and preached there. He also held services for the local native Americans. 

The story of a world-famous preacher seemed to be coming to a quiet end. 

But he had already done something that would change history.

For a few years before a man, ragged and sick, came to his home. David Brainerd had been a missionary to the Native Americans in the area. He had been at it for years, and it was a tough, terrible job. While staying at Edwards' house, it became clear that he had tuberculosis. This didn't stop him from becoming close, even romantic (despite his terribly poor condition) with Jerusha Edwards', Jonathan's daughter. Rumors even existed that they had become engaged.

David Brainerd died in the care of the Edwards' family. But not before he had passed the Tuberculosis onto Jonathan's daughter, which would eventually kill her, too. 

Brainerd had shared his journal with Edwards. He thought it was a powerful testimony, and asked for permission to publish it. And he thought the world might be inspired to follow his lead. 

Brainerd gave it to him.

Even though this man's disease had led to the death of his daughter, and even though Jonathan was in the midst of a massive struggle with his church that would eventually lead to his ousting, he published the book.

It became Edwards' best selling book. By a mile. In the 1700s you would have been far more likely to have that book than any other book by Edwards'. 

This book changed the world. John Wesley in England specifically said, "'Let every preacher read carefully over the Life of David Brainerd." And went out of his way to give copies of it to the world. 

Missionaries who changed and inspired the world such as William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Jim Elliot cited it as books that sent them to the field. 

One surprising influence was Asahel Nettleton who pointed to Brainerd and Edwards as the reason he became converted. Not well known today, he was the man whose sermon sparked the Second Great Awakening. He broke with the radical elements of the Second Great Awakening, but this means that Edwards' not only helped spark the First Great Awakening but a person converted by his writings started the second one. 

The Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and in many ways the great century of missions can trace much of their founding back to one man who remained faithful despite terrible circumstances: Jonathan Edwards. 

His book on David Brainerd begins with the following sentence which is the reason ALL should study Church History: "There are two ways of representing and recommending true religion and virtue to the world; the one, by doctrine and precept; the other, by instance and example."

Although today Edwards' is famous for teaching doctrine, in his day and to this day, the book that showed a man's example is what left the biggest impact. 

And his own example of faithfulness and boldness can teach us today, too.