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LIFE OF PRESIDENT EDWARDS,
EXTRACTS FROM HIS DIARY, AND OTHER PRIVATE
TOGETHER WITR HIS OWX
ACCOUNT OF HIS CONVERSION.
MR. JONATHAN EDWARDS was born on the 5th of October, 1703, at Windsor, in the state of Connecticut, North America. His father was minister of that place almost sixty years: he was descended from Mr. Richard Edwards, minister of the gospel in London, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, by whom it seems, his wife was employed for some part of her royal attire. In short, by his lineage it appears, that his ancestors came from the west of England, and allied themselves, upon their emigration, to some of the best families in the new country, whither they came.
Our author was entered at Yale College in 1716, and was made Bachelor of Arts in 1720, before he was seventeen years of age. His mental powers opened themselves so early and so strongly, that he read Locke's Essay upon Human Understanding with delight, in his second year at this college, when other boys usually amuse themselves with Robinson Crusoe, or books of romance and amusement. He discovered thus early an uncommon depth, solidity, and penetration of mind, which found nothing so pleasant to itself, as the exercise of its own powers.
He lived at College nearly two years after taking his first degree, preparing himself, principally, for the sacred function. After passing the usual trials, he was licensed.
In August, 1722, he received a call to preach to the English presbyterians at New-York, where he continued with approbation above eight months. This society was then too small to maintain a minister; and therefore, in the spring of the year 1723, he returned to his father's house in Connecticut, where during the following summer, he followed his studies with the closest applica
of the gene
tion. It appears, however, that he had a deep sense of his christian and ministerial profession upon his mind, during his abode at New-York; that the people he watched over became very dear to him; and that he left them at last with great regret.
In the spring of the year 1724, having taken his master's degree in the year before, he was chosen tutor of Yale College; and he followed this duty above two years. It must be owned, that this was an engagement of great consequence for a young man of twenty-one, who, by his early introduction to the ministry and other avocations, could not have found too many opportunities for his own improvement: but the strength of his mind overcame what are usually insufferable difficulties in the way of the rality.
In September, 1726, he resigned bis tutorship, in consequence of the invitation of the people at Northampton, in Connecticut, for assistance to his mother's father, Mr. Stoddard, who was the settled minister of the town. He was ordained colleague on the 15th of February, 1727, in the 24th year of his age, and continued in the ministerial service there, till the 22d Junę, 1750; when he was dismissed.t
Thus ended his service of near four-and-twenty years for a people, who had been much upon bis heart, and for whom he had always expressed a very tender concern. “ For their good be was always writing, contriving, labouring; for them he had poured out ten thousand fervent prayers; and in their welfare he had rejoiced as one that findeth great spoil." Yet all their bad conduct did not alter the frame of his mind. “ His calmness and sedateness, his meekness and humility under the most injurious treatment, his resolution and conduct in the whole affair, were truly wonderful, and can not be set in so beautiful and affecting a light by any description, as they appeared in to his friends, who were eye-witnesses.”
Mr. Edwards, who was able to shine in the seats of learning, and some time after was called to preside over one, was now delegated to the instruction of savage Indians at Stockbridge. This place is in the western part of Massachusetts Bay, and about sixty miles from Mr. Edwards's former residence at Northampton. He was fixed here on the 8th of August, 1751; and here he continued his labours, in more peace and quietness than he had ever known before for six years. In this interval, old as he was, he made greater attainments in knowledge, and wrote more for the church of God, than he had ever been able to do, within the same space of time, during the former part of his life. In this retirement, he composed his deepest and most valuable works; so that when, in his own judgment, as well as in that of others, bis usefulness seemed to be cut off
* The circumstances which led to the dismissal of Mr. Edwards, are detailed in the Biographia Evangelica; and his conduct is there represented in a truly blameless and amiable ligbt.
, he found greater opportunities of more lasting service than ever. A pleasing calm, after so grievous a storm, to his placid mind!
On the death of Mr. Aaron Burr, president of New Jersey College, which was on the 24th of September, 1757, the trustees of that seminary did themselves the honour of choosing Mr. Edwards to succeed him. As this was unsolicited and unexpected, it does great credit to both sides. But our excellent author was so far from desiring this preferment, that it was with difficulty he could be prevailed on to accept it: modestly and unaffectedly alledging his own insufficiency, ill health, and disuse to that kind of life. At length, upon the arguments and persuasions of his brethren in the ministry, he did accept of this presidency, and went from Stockbridge to Princeton, in January, 1758. But, alas! the end of his labours on earth was approaching. He had only preached two or three sermons, not having entered fully upon the duties of his new office, before he was called to a higher place and to a better service. The small-pox, which had always been unusually fatal in America, had infected Princeton, which induced the physician of the place to advise him to be inoculated, with the consent of the corporation. Accordingly he was inoculated, on the 13th of February, and his disorder at first seemed to be favourable; but a fever coming on, and the pustules lying much in his throat, no proper medicines could be administered, and therefore the violence of it raged, till it put an end to his mortal life, on the 22d of March, 1758, in the fifty-fifth year of his age.
When he was sensible that death was approaching, he called his daughter (who was the only part of his family which had yet removed with him,) and addressed her in the following words: “Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you: therefore, give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue for ever. I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you to seek a Father, who will never fail you.” He desired that his funeral might be attended with no parade (as is usual in America,) but rather something be given to the poor. He could say but little in his sickness, owing to the nature and seat of his disorder; but just at the last, when surrounded by friends lamenting their own loss and that of the church and college, he said, to their great surprise, as they did not imagine he heard them, or could speak himself; “ Trust in God, and ye need not fear.” And then almost literally, fell asleep in Jesus.
A marble tomb-stone, with a latin inscription, has been erected by the trustees of the college over his grave, in the burial ground at Princeton.
Though he was of a tender and delicate constitution, yet few students are capable of a close application more hours in a day than he. He commonly spent thirteen hours every day in his study. His most usual diversion in the summer was riding on horseback and walking. He would commonly, unless diverted by company, ride two or three miles after dinner to some lonely grove, where he would dismount and walk awhile. At which times he generally carried his pen and ink with him, to note any thought that should be suggested, which he chose to retain and pursue, as what promised some light on any important subject. In the winter he was wont almost daily to take an axe and chop wood moderately for the space of half an hour or more. He had an uncommon thirst for knowledge, in the pursuit of which he spared not cost or pains. He read all the books, especially books of divinity, that he could come at, from which he could hope to get any help in his pursuit of knowledge. And, in this, he confined not himself to authors of any particular sector denomination; but took much pains to come at the books of the most noted writers, who advance a scheme of divinity most contrary to his own principles. But he studied the Bible more than all other books, and more than most other divines do. His uncommon acquaintance with the Bible appears in his sermons, and in most of his publications: and his great pains in studying it are manifest in his manuscript notes upon it. He was thought by some, who had but a slight acquaintaince with him, to be stiff and unsociable; but this was owing to want of better acquaintance. He was not a man of many words indeed, and was somewhat reserved among strangers, and those on whose candour and friendship he did not know he could rely. But how groundless the imputation of stiff and unsociable was, his known and tried friends best knew. They always found him easy of access, kind and condescending; and though not talkative, yet affable and free. Among such whose candour and friendship he had experienced, he threw off the reserve, and was most open and free; quite patient of contradiction, while the utmost opposition was made to his sentiments, that could be by any plausible arguments or objections. His conversation with his friends was always savoury and profitable: in this he was remarkable, and almost singular. He was not used to spend his time with them in scandal, evil speaking, and backbiting, or in foolish jesting, idle chat, and telling stories: but his mouth was that of the just, which bringeth forth wisdom, and his lips dispersed knowledge. His tongue was as the pen of a ready writer, while he conversed about important, heavenly, divine things, which his heart was so full of, in such a natural and free manner, as to be most entertaining and instructive: so that none of his friends could enjoy his company without instruction and profit, unless it was by their own fault. He kept himself quite free from worldly cares. He gave himself wholly to the work of the ministry, and entangled not himself with the affairs of this life. He left the particular oversight and direction of the temporal concern of his family, almost entirely to Mrs. Edwards; who was better able than most of her sex to take the whole care of them on her hands. He was less acquainted with most of his temporal affairs than many of his neighbours; and seldom knew when and by whom his forage for winter was gathered in, or how many milk kine he had, whence his table was furnished, &c.
EXTRACTS FROM HIS PRIVATE WRITINGS, &c.
His Resolutions. Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God's help, I do humbly intreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week. 1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
2. Resolved, To be continually endeavouring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the fore-mentioned things.
4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul