by Ty Whitman
I was immensely helped by Doug Sweeney’s magnum opus, “Edwards the Exegete”. Through every chapter and every page, wading through the exegetical life of Jonathan Edwards, I was drawn into a sense of awe. Edwards at times would miss meals, and spend hours upon hours in his study, as he dove deep into the sea of the Bible. I was at times discouraged, wondering if this was possible as an ordinary 21st century man; could I ever have my days look the way Edwards’ days looked? The discouragement wouldn’t last, as God moved me to consider how I could make my days seem but just a fraction of Edwards days. And so, as a pastor, and as a follower of Christ, this volume by Sweeney captivated my mind and moved me to make changes in my own personal study habits. The first section of the book is not a biography, but it’s a blueprint. One that Christ followers who desire to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ should seek to imitate. Not exactly, of course. Edwards, like many academics was gifted with a vocation that mandated hours of study, and allowed for it. The modern Christian-American would find it difficult to spend 13 hours daily in bible study: they have jobs for 9 hours a day, kids to take care of, and dishes to do. They don’t own by slaves1, like Edwards’ family did, that afforded him the time to focus on study rather than household tasks. So then, how can Edwards’ study habits be a blueprint for us? Well, it’s clear that the Bible and its contents were a top priority for Edwards, and it wasn’t just because he was a pastor. He very well could have said at an early age that his study in the Bible was complete (much like how many modern Christians view their study), as he was well acquainted with Greek by the time he was a young teenager, and he was incredibly well acquainted with the whole counsel of God by his early twenties. However, Edwards loved the Bible, and believed that it was the greatest way to know his Savior, and to hear His voice. His position in American academia was highly regarded, and he could have moved on from the Bible to spend more time in the philosophy of the world, with the John Locke’s of the world. And while he clearly spent time with those authors and thinkers, it always followed deep biblical study, and it was always spent by Edwards trying to understand the spiritual ramifications of the philosophy he was reading. The Scriptures were his guide, and final authority, and it showed in his study and writing. THIS is to be the way we can learn from Edwards. Where do the Scriptures rank on our priority list? I’ve had to ask myself this question far too often. I enjoy my television, a distraction unavailable to Edwards and those like him. I enjoy social media, far too much, and I get lost in unedifying and meaningless videos and posts from people I have never met. I spend too much time considering the political world. Is the Bible my priority? When I look at may days — outside of the time spent in my office at the church, where my vocation mandates I spend time in it — I see just how low the Scriptures are on my totem pole. Doug Sweeney illuminated that to me, and I needed to repent of my lack of love for God’s Divine Word. What Sweeney’s work does for us is give us a glimpse at a man who was immersed in Scripture, and whether it was Sweeney’s intention or not, it calls us to the mat. Where do the Scriptures lie on our priority list? Here’s how Sweeney works out Edwards’ view of the Scriptures:
“The Bible is full of wonderful things” Edwards attest to his people. It has stood the test of time, it is the worlds “most comprehensive book.” It is divine. It is unerring. The splendid light that sheds on our world is 10,000 times better than that of the sun. The scripture’s sacred text, Edwards contended, are the most excellent things in the world. In fact, they tower as much above those things we study in other sciences, as Heaven is above the Earth. Further, the knowledge held in these heavenly texts is infinitely more useful and important than the knowledge attained in all other sciences. Scripture was a great and precious treasure. He pleaded with his congregations to search for biblical treasure, and that with the same diligence with which men digging mines for gold. He assured them that the Bible contains enough within its covers so to employ us to the end. Even at death, he said we shall leave enough of the scriptures uninvestigated to employ the ablest divines to the end of the world, or better to employ the Saints and angels to all eternity. He confessed on many occasions that those who have ever tasted the sweetness of God’s scriptural divinity, will live out their days in longing for more of it.” (Pg.4, Edwards the Exegete).
It will be my hope, and my prayer, that as we spend time looking at the spirituality of Edwards, we will be drawn into a greater desire to prioritize our own personal study of Scripture and drawn into a greater desire to know our God intimately.
1It is no secret that Edwards was a slave holder. This has brought many in the evangelical world, and other factions of Christian thought, to remove him altogether. I personally find this to be the wrong conclusion to make. It was a grievous sin for Edwards to participate in the slave trade at all, make no mistake about it. However, I do not feel all that ready to try and chastise a man for a sin that he was blind to. In glory, Edwards now possess the knowledge for his sin (along with many others, since we know Edwards and all other saints were not perfect or sinless) and he has been judged for them. The way I seek to reconcile how a man of such intellect and such biblical awareness could possibly fall to such an evil sin, is by looking inwards. Yes, if such a man, who knew far more about the scriptures than I, who spent far more time in prayer and mortification of his sin than I, who spent far more time studying God’s word than I, if he could fall to such a sin, and be so blind, what am I blind to? What sins have I participated in, what sinful systems have I perpetuated, that I am blind to? So while we must be clear and say that Edwards was in clear violation of the Law and of the teaching of Scripture, we mustn’t cast him out of the kingdom or our academic circles as a result. If this was the case, there would be no theologian on earth, no thinker in modern day, that we could use as a guide or teacher. “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23).