The Sage of Northampton

I was reading my biography of Whitefield and arrived at his meeting with Jonathan Edwards. I was struck by the coming together of these two by the contrast presented in their characters, and how Edwards overshadowed Whitefield.

Whitefield was a man of great zeal but he was young. It was noted how simply he preached, and also how effectively. Whitefield got his doctrine from the articles of the Church of England, from studying the Bible and Matthew Henry for the most part. He was a learned man, having attended and studied hard at the university, but he led no scholar’s life. He was a good preacher because of his natural gifts, because, as Sarah Edward’s remarked, he aimed to reach the affections more than anything, and because he lived a life of close communion with God. Intelligence he had, and it is required of a minister, but intelligence is not the key to Scripture, it is obedience, and Whitefield’s life was one of obedience.

Edwards was a man of great learning and had had his youthful resolutions. When Whitefield came, he exhorted him against the practice of feeling impressions about the leading of God. Whitefield remained mostly silent before the older man, being, it appears, somewhat overawed and somewhat of another mind on this point (it was enough progress, perhaps, that he didn’t open his Bible randomly like the Wesleys, and did not practice the casting of lots). Edwards was humble, and he was eager for the benefits that God bestowed through Whitefield on his own congregation. And we read in Whitefield’s journal that Edwards and his people wept during his sermons much of the time.

It was a good anecdote to remind me of Edwards and remind me that I have been reading lesser men. I am getting tired of Whitefield’s biography, his youthful zeal reminds me of the youthful zeal of Edward’s resolutions with their compelling, exemplary fervor but without the temper of experience. One can read the resolutions, wonder a bit if an older man would have written them the same, but not spend 400 pages considering such a thing. It is well to read about Whitefield, the active life, and to be stirred up. But give me, in the end, a more substantial diet and the fruits of a life characterized by long thinking.* Time to return to the Edwards. Whitefield had along with his obedience, ignorance, something about which Edwards is not so easily accused.

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*I wonder how much of this has to do with their positions (obviously Edwards had a mind like few others, but one has to take into account also that he husbanded and cultivated that gift responsibly): Edwards was a public man in his capacity as a pastor; can it be said that Whitefield was only a pastor in his capacity as a public man?

3 thoughts on “The Sage of Northampton

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