The New Zealand Evangelist
Mr. Edwards continued at Northampton for 23 years, and during that time two remarkable revivals of religion took place; the first in 1734–5, and the second between 1740 and 42. These revivals extended to a great number of the surrounding towns and districts.
The revival of 1735 was undoubtedly one of the most remarkable events of the kind, that has occurred since the canon of the New Testament was finished. It was so on account of its universality; no class, nor age, nor description was exempt. Upwards of fifty persons above forty years of age, and ten above ninety, near thirty between ten and fourteen, and one of four, became, in the view of Mr. Edwards, the subjects of the renewing grace of God. It was so on account of the unusual numbers, who appeared to become christians; amounting to more than three hundred persons, in half a year, and about as many of them males as females. Previous to one sacrament, about one hundred were received to the communion, and near sixty previous to another; and the whole number of communicants, at one time, was about six hundred and twenty, including almost all the adult population of the town. It was so in its rapid progress, in its amazing power, in the depth of the convictions felt, and in the degree of light, of love, and of joy communicated; as well as in its great extent, and in its swift propagation from place to place.
It was after this that Mr. Edwards published his “Narrative of Surprising Conversions and Thoughts on the Revival,” a book which continues to be read with the deepest interest to the present day. But although Mr. Edwards was so eminent, so faithful, and so successful, yet his trials as a minister were peculiar and severe. Like Paul, after he had received such tokens of the divine favour, the messenger of Satan was sent to buffet him. A party grew up in Northampton, headed principally by a cousin of his own—but who lived to express publicly his deep contrition for the part he acted,—who succeeded in turning public feeling in the town se against him, that the pastoral relation was dissolved between him and his congregation.
The first ground of this controversy was his attempting to suppress some immoralities that had appeared among several of the young people. But the ostensible and principal ground that led to the separation, was the difference of sentiment, that arose between him and the majority of the congregation, about the terms of admission to the sacrament. His predecessor, Mr. Stoddard, in the latter part of his ministry, had adopted the view, that the Lord's Supper is a converting ordinance, and that, consequently, it ought to be administered indiseriminafely to all. This view, page 88 through his commanding influence, was extensively adopted in the surrounding country, and a corresponding practice had been introduced. Mr. Edwards had long felt scruples on this point, and after studying the subject thoroughly for himself, came to the conclusion, in accordance with the original sentiments and practice of the New England Churches, that the sacraments are not converting, but sealing ordinances, and that the ground of admission to the Lord's table, ought to be visible saintship; a competent knowledge of divine truth, a professed subjection to Christ, and a conduct such as, in the judgment of christian charity, will prove the profession sincere. He published a treatise on the Qualifications for Communion, and the churches of both Britain and America have long since pronounced his sentiments to be sound and scriptural.
He was afterwards settled in Stockbridge, a frontier village, where he had charge of an English congregation, and superintended a mission among the Indians. He preached to the Indians every Sabbath by means of an interpreter. Satan had in this instance overshot his mark; for it was during the seven years he laboured in this secluded village, that, in the full maturity of his mental powers, and rich in spiritual experience, he found leasure to prepare for the press those profound and elaborate works, on which his reputatation as a theologian and a philosopher rests, and by which “he being dead yet speaketh,” and will continue to edify the church of Christ, especially its ministers, while the English language continues to be a vehicle of thought, or a medium of religious instruction.
In 1758, after the death of his son-in-law, the eminent President Burr, he was elected president of Princeton College. He had just entered upon the duties of his office, when his career of usefulness was suddenly stopped. Small pox was very prevalent in Princeton, and Mr. Edwards thought it prudent to be inoculated. This was done by the advice of his physician, and by the consent of the Corporation or Trustees of the College. At first the symptons were favourable, but so many pustules came out in his throat, that he was unable to swallow a sufficient quantity of drink to keep off the secondary fever, and to the deep distress of all his friends the malady proved fatal. He died as he had lived, in the full hope of a blessed immortality. He died in the 55th year of his age.
His daughter Mrs. Burr who had been inoculated with the small pox at the same time, died sixteen days after her father. Mrs. Edwards died a few months afterwards. The father and mother, the son and daughter, were laid in the same grave in little more than a year, though a few months before their dwellings had been more than 150 miles apart: two presidents of the same college and their consorts, than whom it would doubtless have been hard to have found four persons more valuable and useful!