Thursday, July 05, 2007

Edwards on New Christians and Spiritual Growth

On June 3, 1741, Jonathan Edwards wrote a letter to Deborah Hatheway. Mrs. Hatheway was converted during the awakening in New England and, since her church was without a pastor at the time sought Edwards' counsel on how to grow as a new Christian. Edwards replied in a short letter with 19 things Hatheway should think and do. The letter is reprinted Michael A.G. Haykin's A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards. For the next couple of posts, I'll quote some of the advice that Edwards give.

These first six recommendations seem to deal with the new Christian's reflection on and attitude her/his conversion and sin. It was instructive not just for new Christians but also for us old rusty ones, too.

1. I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion as if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature and were seeking conversion. We advise persons under conviction to be earnes and violent for the kingdom of heaven; but when they have attained to conversion, they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious, and earnest in the whole work of religion, but more so; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For want of this, many persons, in a few months after their conversion, have begun to lose their sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and dark, and have "pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Whereas, if they had done as the apostle did (Phil. 3:12-14), their path would have been "as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day."

2. Do not leave off seeking, striving, and praying for the very same things that we exhort the uncoverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had already in conversion. Preay that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive sight, that you may know yourself, and be brought to God's footstool; and that you may see the glory of God and Christ, and may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart. Those who have most of these things, have need still to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness, pride and death remainting that they still need ot have that work of God wrought upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them, that shall be bringing them out of darkness into God's marvelous light, and be a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests taht are proper for an impenitent man, that are not also, in some sense, proper for the godly.

3. When you hear a sermon, hear for yourself. Thought what is spoken may be more especially directed to the uncoverted, or to those that, in other respects, are in different circumstances from yourself, yet, let the chief intent of your mind be to consider, "In what respect is this applicable to me? And what improvement ought I to make of this, for my own soul's good?"

4. Thought God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet do not forget them yourself: often remember, what a wretched bond-slave you were in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion, as the blessed apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting spirit, and his injuriousness to the renewed, humbling his heart, and acknowledging that he was "the least of all the apostles," and not worth "to be called an apostle," and the "least of all the saints," and the "chief of sinners." And be often confessing your old sns to God, ,and let that text be often in your mind, "That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open they mouth any more, because of they shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord" (Ezekiel 16:63).

5. Remember, that you have more cause, on some accounts a thousand times, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been committed since conversion than before, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God, and to look upon the faithfulness of Christ, in unchangeably continuing his loving-kindness, notwithstanding all your great unworthiness since your conversion.

6. Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin and never think that you lie low enough for it. But yet be not discouraged or disheartened by it, for, though we are exceeding sinful, yet "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," the preciousness of whose blood, the merit of whose righteousness, and the greatness of whose love and faithfulness, infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins.

How would you compare your counsel to new Christians to Edwards'?

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