My very dear child, what shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be. -Sarah Edwards
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), was arguably the greatest theologian ever born in the New World. The quote above comes from a letter that his beloved wife Sarah wrote to her daughter, Esther, after receiving the news that Jonathan had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.
Jonathan had recently taken up his post as the new president of Princeton University. A new vaccine had just become available in the colonies which promised to bring an end to the plague of smallpox that killed an estimated 300 million people worldwide in the 20th century alone. No one knows how many have died from its effects throughout history, because it has been part of the human experience since at least a thousand years before Christ. Smallpox was a merciless killer, bringing a painful death to one in every three people infected. Edwards possessed not only a keen mind for theology and pastoral ministry, but a scientific one as well. Had he chosen to pursue science, he may have had as much impact in that field as he had in the field of theology. He was a firm believer in vaccines, and to prove his point to the student body at Princeton, he volunteered to be one of the first to receive the inoculation. Sadly, in a day and age without proper testing, Edward’s inoculation did not create antibodies, it gave him a full blown case of smallpox. It settled in his throat quickly, and death followed soon after.
Esther Edwards never got a chance to read the letter from her mother. Just two weeks after her father's death, Esther contracted a fever that took her from this world. She left behind two infant children, one of whom (Aaron Burr) would eventually rise to the vice presidency of the United States. And the sad news doesn't stop there. Sarah herself did not live long without her husband. She died in October of the same year from dysentery, just three days before her husband would have celebrated his 56th birthday. She never had to observe a special day separated from the husband that she loved and respected so much.
Our world is a fallen world. Death stalks each of us. In Sarah and Jonathan Edward’s day, nary a single family existed that had not experienced at least one sudden death of a loved one due to disease, war, pestilence, or unsanitary conditions. We all have had sad events in our lives, but not many in our world today can even fathom what life must have been like prior to the 20th century. And, as COVID-19 has reminded all of us, we remain susceptible to life altering events, believers and nonbelievers alike.
I’ll close by moving away from this sad commentary to share some brief thoughts on Sarah Edwards herself. She was a godly woman and a source of both joy and support to Jonathan and their children. Intelligent and wise, she led their family from the home while Jonathan labored most of their married life as a pastor and theologian of a small parish church. Anyone who assumes that Christian women are mousy, demure, and ignorant would be laughed off by all who knew Sarah, or countless millions of other Christian women past and present who choose to make knowing Christ and following him faithfully the most important part of who they are. The list of women who have lived and died for Jesus, many as martyrs for the faith, is long and noble. A true Christian woman who understands who she is in light of the Scriptures is a wonder to behold. Re-read Sarah’s letter to her daughter after hearing what may have been the most heartbreaking news of her life. Amazing, is it not? Confident and assured in a sovereign God who works out all things for the good of his people. Gentle and loving toward her daughter, honoring to her late husband, assured in her hope in Christ.
We could all use a little more of this my friends, male and female alike. I thank God for her Christ-like example.Grace and peace,
Grace and peace,