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Jonathan Edwards and the Bible
Jonathan Edwards and the Bible
Robert E. Brown
Indiana University Press, 2002
320 pp., $35.00

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Douglas Sweeney


Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and 300-A Plentiful Harvest

At the beginning of Austin Flint's play, The Flaming Spider: Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Edwards hallucinates in a cold sweat on his deathbed in Princeton, New Jersey. The third president of Princeton's fledgling College of New Jersey, and soon to be the third in a row to die an untimely death, Edwards can't help but rue what could have been but never came to pass. Far removed from the family and friends he had loved and served in Massachusetts, he shouts in an eerie apostrophe to Sarah, his wife of 30 years, who had not yet made the journey to Princeton but comforts her husband nonetheless. "I never built a New Jerusalem in Northampton," he cries in despair, "never built the great city on a hill. But the building blocks were in place, Lord. It was within our grasp." Edwards continues in reverie, as he muses over the fleeting joys of New England's Great Awakening. "What a dream it was. What a blessed dream. What a special light hung, still hangs over that [Connecticut River] valley. Look closely. There! Can you see the glow? Can you see it now, Sarah? Northampton, our beloved hills, white steeple of the meeting house. Truly we are blessed by God."1

The Flaming Spider exaggerates Edwards' feelings of failure as a minister, and misrepresents him when it suggests that he tried to build the New Jerusalem. But it offers a vivid portrayal of Edwards' spiritual restlessness and seemingly boundless aspirations-sustained in spite of intense frustration by an unparalleled and irrepressible theological idealism—and illuminates the irony of his phenomenal, though overwhelmingly posthumous, success. Indeed, on this tercentennial anniversary of Edwards' birth in East Windsor, Connecticut (on October 5, 1703), thousands have gathered to remember one whom many would call an unlikely man—dismissed by his own parishioners from the First Church of Northampton, then opposed by family relations at the Stockbridge Indian mission, and finally succumbing in a bout with smallpox two months ...

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