Pastor's Corner

Two ways Jonathan Edwards has influenced you

by Daniel Ausbun, First Baptist Church Moreland

In 1734 in Northampton, Massachusetts, a Congregationalist pastor named Jonathan Edwards had been preaching at the church for several years with average results.

He was a Calvinist, trained at Yale and was convinced of the need for a personal experience of conversion. In 1734, his sermons began to evoke a response that surprised him.

His sermons were not very emotional, although they did underscore the need for an experience of conviction of sin and of God’s forgiveness.

His congregation in Northampton began to respond to his sermons with emotional outbursts, remarkable change in their lives, and increased attention to their devotional lives.

This was the beginning of America’s First Great Awakening – 42 years before we declared our independence from Great Britain. The revival in Massachusetts then spread to Connecticut.

Churches witnessed their members showing a greater devotion and more conscientious study of Scripture.

Shortly after the Awakening began, English Anglican George Whitefield visited New England, and Edwards invited him to preach. Edwards wept during the sermon, which brought further impetus of the Awakening.

The preachers emphasized personal salvation and piety more than ritual and tradition.

Edwards not only ushered a Great Awakening, he became known as America’s first theologian. He believed in a high sovereignty of God along with a personal, emotional response to the Gospel. Here are two ways Edwards has influenced us today.

First, Jonathan Edwards preached a “born again” experience in order to receive salvation (John 3:3). You might think, “That’s in the Bible, Edwards didn’t create that.”

True, but Christian faith prior to the Great Awakening was centered on association and family affiliation.

For example in 1700, the colonies were Congregationalists, Canada was Roman Catholic and England was Anglican. You didn’t decide your religious beliefs. Rather you were born into them.

Edwards preached one had to be converted to Christ, thus many adults began receiving believer’s baptism. In New England during the Great Awakening, some entire churches received Christ and were baptized that day. Personal conversion wasn’t the religious norm until the Awakening.

Edwards wrote, “He who has no religious affection (emotion) is in a state of spiritual death and is wholly destitute of powerful quickening influences of the Spirit of God.”

Second, Jonathan Edwards provided the theological framework for modern-day Evangelicalism. This is a Protestant movement which began in the 1730s with Edwards, Whitefield and John Wesley in England. It stressed a conversion experience in order to be saved.

Prior to this, if you were baptized as an infant into the church, you were saved. Edwards and the Great Awakening called attention to personal repentance and the urgency to respond in faith to the Gospel. Evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, the assurance of their salvation, and the responsibility of preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Later in his career, Edwards would travel and preach to the Indians in New England.

Evangelicalism has had the greatest influence on Christianity the past 300 years – more than any other factor.

The Modern Mission Movement – beginning in 1793 with William Carey leaving for India – was oriented toward making Christianity intensely personal to the average person.

Christians were encouraged to know God better and their own need for redemption. Christianity being “personal” influenced James Madison when he included religious freedom in the First Amendment in 1791.

If you were a Pilgrim on the Mayflower in 1620 headed for America, you probably wouldn’t be telling everyone when you were “saved” or “experienced Christ in my life.” The First Great Awakening in 1734 made common personal religious experiences and established a worldwide Protestant theology that continues today because of Jonathan Edwards.

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