« PreviousContinue »
degree of inward fervor, without much noise or gesture, and fell with great weight on the minds of his hearers.
Though, he was wont to read what he delivered; he was far from thinking this the best way of preaching in general, and looked upon his using notes so much as he did, a defect and infirmity. And in the latter part of his life he was inclined to think it had been better, if he had never accustomed himself to use his notes at all. It appeared to him that prcaching wholly without notes, agreeably to the custom in most Protestant r countries, and what seems evidently to have been the manner of the apostles and primitive ministers of the gospel, was the most natural way; and had the greatest tendency, on the whole, to answer the end of preaching : And supposed that none who had talents equal to the work of the ministry, was incapable of speaking memoriter, if he took suitable pains for this attainment from his youth. He would have the voung preacher write his sermons, at least most of them, out at large; and instead of reading them to his hearers, take pains to commit them to memory: Which, though it would require a great deal of labor at first, yet would soon become easier by use, and help him to speak more correctly and freely, and be of great service to him all his days.*
* Different preachers, like all other public speakers, are possessed of exa ceedingly different gifts ; and therefore one plan, however excellent on the whole, cannot be adopted advantageously by all. In one, clearness of under. standing and correctness of judgment are most prominent ; in another, a lively and fertile imagination prevails; and a third excels in strength of memory. Some have a greater facility of expression at leisure, by the pen; and others experibace more freedom when their senses and feelings are roused by their appeara ance in public. The man who excels in a sound judgment, seldom posseses a lively imagination ; he therefore should write the more, with a view to give animation to his compositions. He should secure in his notes pertinent quota. tions of scripture, apt comparisons, scripture allusions, and historic facts. The preacher, whose fancy is active and excursive, should labor to secure a well di. gested plan, argumentatively just and naturally connected. This will prevent his running into a wordy, declamatory strain....As to memory, there are two sorts, the verbal, and the scientific or systematic. He who has the former, may soon preach memoriter ;....after writing all, or without writing any. But let him ever watch, lest he enter into the temptation of plagiary ; his quoting, howa
His prayers were indeed extempore. He was the farthese from any appearance of a form, as to his words and manner of expression, of almost any man. He was quite singular and inimitable in this, by any who have not a spirit of real and undissembled devotion ; yet he always expressed himself with decency and propriety. He appeared to have much of the grace and spirit of prayer; to pray with the spirit and with the understanding; and he performed this part of duty much to the acceptance and edification of those who joined with him. He was not wont, in ordinary cases, to be long in his prayers : An error which he observed was often hurtful to public and social prayer, as it tends rather to damp than promote true devotion.
He gave himself altogether 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 concerns of his family, almost entirely to Mrs. Edwards. He was less acquainted with most of his temporal affairs than many of his neighbors, and seldom knew when, and by whom his forage for winter was gathered in, or how many milk kine he had, or whence his table was furnished, &c.
He did not make it his custom to visit his people in their own houses, unless he was sent for by the sick; or he heard that they were under some special afliction. Instead of visiting from house to house, he used to preach frequently at private meetings in particular neighborhoods ; and often call the young people and children to his own house, when he used to pray with them, and treat with them in a manner suited to their years and circumstances; and he catechised the children in public every Sabbath in the summer. And he used sometimes to propose questions to particular young persons in writing, for them to answer after a proper time given them to prepare. In putting out these questions, he en. deavored to suit them to the age, genius, and abilities of those to whom they were given. His questions were generally such as required but a short answer; and yet could not be answered without a particular knowledge of some historical part of the scripture ; and therefore led, and even obliged persons to study the Bible.
ever, long passages from the holy scriptures, when apposite, will be always acceptable ; and occasionally, when avowed, the words of other authors. The scientific memory should guard against too much analysis in a sermon, and often choose for the subject of discussion historical passages, or any others which are best treated in the way of observation ; which in time will effectu. ally counteract the opposite tendency to explain what is clear, and to analyse without profit,
He did not neglect visiting his people from house to house because he did not look upon it, in ordinary cases, to be one part of the work of a gospel minister ; but because he supposed that ministers should, with respect to this, consult their own talents and circumstances, and visit more or less, according to the degree in which they could hope thereby to promote the great ends of the ministry. He observed that some had a talent for entertaining and profiting by occasional visits among their people. He supposed' such had a call to spend a great deal of their time in visiting their people; but he looked on his own talents to be quite otherwise. He was not able to enter into a free conversation with every person he met, and in an easy manner turn it to what topic he pleased, without the help of others, and, it may be, against their inclination. He therefore found that his visits of this kind must be in a great degree unprofitable. It appeared to him, that he could do the greatest good to souls, and most promote the interest of Christ by preaching and writing, and conversing with persons under religious impressions in his study; whither he encouraged all such to repair; where they might be sure, in ordinary cases, to find him, and to be allowed easy access to him ; and where they were treated with all desirable tenderness, kindness, and familiarity.
In times, therefore, of the revival of religion among his people, his study was thronged with persons who came to lay open their spiritual concerns to him, and seek his advice and direction. These he received with great freedom and pleasure, and there he had the best opportunity to deal in the most particular manner with each one. He was a skilful guide to souls under spiritual difficulties; and was therefore sought una to, not only by his own people, but by many who lived seores of miles off. He became such, partly by his own experimental acquaintance with divine things, and unwearied study of God's word, and partly by his having so much concern with souls under spiritual troubles ; for he had not been settled in the work of the ministry many years before the Spirit of God was wonderfully poured out on his people, by which a great concern about their souls became almost universal, and a great number were hopefully the subjects of saving conversion.
There was a very remarkable outpouring of God's Holy Spirit in this part of America, in the years 1740 and 1741, and in which Northampton largely partook. Mr. Edwards, at this time, had to deal not only with his own people, but with multitudes of others. The report that the same things were at Northampton some years before, and Mr. Edwards's fame for knowledge, piety, and great acquaintance with experimental religion, naturally led both ministers and people, from almost all parts of Newengland, to look to him for direction and assistance, in this extraordinary time. Being earnestly solicited by ministers and people to come and preach among them, he went to many ; though he was not able to gratify all who desired him ; and his preaching was attended with great success.
As many of the ministers and people in Nevengland had been unacquainted with such things, they were greatly exposed to run wild, and (by the subtle temptations of the devil) actually did go into great extremes, both as opposers and friends to the work of God. Mr. Edwards was greatly helpful by his direction and assistance against the two opposite extremes, in conversation, preaching and writing. His publications on this occasion were of great and extensive service ; especially a sermon preached at Newhaven, Sept. 10th, • 1741, on The distinguishing, marks of a work of the Spirit of God, &C....his Thoughts concerning the present revival of religion in Newengland, &c. and his Treatise on religious affections. All which might be justly considered by the church of Christ as a wise and friendly voice behind them saying, “ This is the way, walk therein ;" especially the last mentioned Treat; ise, which has been esteemed by many the best that has been written on that subject ; setting the distinction between true and false religion in the most clear and striking light. And to the same purpose is The Life of the Rev. David Brainerd, with reflections and observations ; published by Mr. Edward3 in 1749. Mr. Edwards was, what some would call, a rigid Calvinist. Those doctrines of Calvinism which have been most objected against, and given the greatest offence, appear. ed to him scriptural, reasonable and important; and he thought that to give them up, was in effect to give up all. He therefore looked upon those who, calling themselves Calvinists, were for softening down the truth, that they might conform it more to the taste of those who are most disposed to object against it, were really betraying the cause they pretended to espouse ; and were paying the way not only to Arminianism, but to Deism. For if these doctrines, were relinquished, he did not see, where a man could set his foot - down, with consistency short of Deism, or even Atheism itself; or rather universal Scepticism....He judged that nothing was wanting, but to have these doctrines properly stated, and judiciously defended, in order to their appearing most agreeable to reason and common sense, as well as doctrines of revelation ; and that this therefore was the only effectual method to convince, or silence and put to shame the opposers of them. All will be able to satisfy themselves of the truth of this by reading his works; and especially his books on The Freedom of the Will, and Original Sin.
In this view of things, he thought it of importance that ministers should be very critical in examining candidates for the ministry, with respect to their principles, as well as their religious dispositions and morals. And on this account he met with considerable difficulty and opposition in some instances. His opinion yas, that an erroneous or unfaithful minister was likely to do more hurt than good to the church of Christ ; and therefore he could not have any hand in introducing a man into the ministry, unless he appeared sound in the faith, and manifested, to the judgment of charity, à disposition to be faithful.