Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is acknowledged to have played a role in the one of America’s First Great Awakening and he experienced the first revival in 1733-1735. He is also known to be one of America’s greatest intellectuals and philosophical theologians. He wrote many books which included The Life and Times of David Brainerd, which continues to be published today and which has inspired thousands of missionaries and generations of believers.
Iain Murray wrote, “Few books have done so much to prompt prayer and action as the Life of David Brainerd. It is has been reported by one historian that in the larger world of the rapidly growing colonies, the church of Jesus Christ was already well into spiritual decline. It was nothing like modern America, of course, but gone were the days of tightly knit bands of fervent believers who were seeking refuge from English persecution. More and more, immigrants were coming for the economic hopes of fertile and cheap land, and less for their unconditional devotion to Christ.
Most people in a colonial town such as East Windsor were church members, often attending every Sunday morning and going through the rituals. But a decreasing percentage had Christ in their hearts. For them, church was more tradition than being part of the body of Jesus. And the more people who immigrated from Europe not from persecution, the more the churches were diluted of committed Christians…..They could still give correct answers to the catechism, but their hearts were fixed not on God, but on land and trade” The decline naturally manifested itself in community life, also.
The Puritan ways had all but disappeared, and were increasingly being mocked. Many pastors saw this trend and the problem, but they did agree on the solution: the power of God to revive the spirits of the people, starting with their spiritual leaders. We have to understand that the only religion on those days was always referred to as Christianity. There was no other. And therefore, for this pouring out of the Holy Spirit, Jonathan Edwards and many others prayed diligently.
E.M. Bounds in his book Weapons of Prayer writes: “Jonathan Edwards must be place among the praying saints—one who God mightily used through the instrumentality of prayer. As in the instance of the great New Englander, purity of heart should be ingrained in the foundation areas of every man who is a true leader of his fellows and a minister of the Gospel of Christ and a constant practice in the holy office of prayer. A sample of the utterances of this mighty man of God is here given in the shape of a resolution which he formed, and wrote down:
Resolved to exercise myself in this all my life long, with the greatest openness to declare my ways to God, and to lay my soul open to God—all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything and every circumstance. We are not surprised, therefore, that the result of such impassioned and honest praying was to lead him to record in his diary: It was my continual strife day and night, and my constant inquiry how I should be more holy, and live more holily.
The heaven I desired was a heaven of holiness. I went on with my eager pursuit after more holiness and conformity to Christ. The character and work of Jonathan Edwards were exemplification of the great truth that the ministry of prayer is the efficient agency in every truly God-ordered work and life. He himself gives some particulars about his life when he was a boy. He might as well be called the “Isaiah of the Christian dispensation.
There was united in him great mental powers, ardent piety, and devotion to study, unequalled save by his devotion to God. Here is what he says about himself: When a boy I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious conversation with other boys.
I used to meet with them to pray together. So it is God’s will through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his saints should be one great and principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom of world. Pray much for the ministers and the church of God. The great powers of Edward’s mind and heart were exercised to procure an agreed union in extraordinary prayer of God’s people everywhere. His life, efforts and character are an exemplification of his statement:
The heaven I desire is a heaven spent with God; an eternity spent in the presence of divine love, and in holy communion with Christ.
At another time he said:
The soul of a true Christian appears like a little white flower in the spring of the year, low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasing beams of the sun’s glory, rejoicing as it were in a calm rapture, diffusing around a sweet fragrance, standing peacefully and lovingly in the midst of other flowers.
Again he writes:
Once I rode out in the woods for my health, having alighted from my horse on a retired place, as my manner has been to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and of His wonderful, great, full, pure, and sweet grace and love. And His meek and gentle condescension. This grace that seemed so calm and sweet appeared also great among the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellence great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour. It kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated, to lie in the dust to be full of Christ alone, to love Him with my whole heart.