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Jonathan Edwards and Personal Holiness Part 3: Thirteen Hours a Day

June 2, 2007

It is hard to be realistic on what to do with Edwards personal holiness at this point. The man commonly spent thirteen hours a day in his study. Not because he was a recluse and only enjoyed the communion with this books, but because he was a laborer for the Gospel and relied heavily on the communion with God. But this model is a hard one to follow. Hardly anyone, even pastors have the opportunity to spend 13 hours a day studying. Yet, Edward’s end desire of his study is one that we can have and should work hard to capture – the service of the gospel.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we have looked at Edward’s mindset and influences. In this post, I hope to, through the example of Jonathan Edwards, encourage a desire to labor for the knowledge of God, not for the sake of knowledge, but for the service of the gospel – for pastors or laypeople.

As I mentioned in Part 2, that Edward’s life and thought was largely influenced by Puritanism, it is no surprise that Edwards took very seriously the office of the preacher. It was the center of his ministry and he believed that his own spiritual life would make or break his effectiveness. As far as I can tell, his thirteen hour days of study was broken up into four parts: Sermon preparation, notes on Scripture, doctrinal study, and prayer and devotion. While his days might have been filled with more endeavors, it was not less.

  1. Sermon Preparation. It was apparent that Edwards wanted to give fresh thought to each new sermon. Expression and careful wording was important to him. He was communicating to his people the most important message and he did it with great care. This was shown in his language, metaphors, and choice of allusions. The great care and time given to sermon preparation is almost foreign to today’s pastors. Pastors are expected to be, first, counselors, then administrators, and finally preachers. This was not the order in Edward’s day, and nor should it be in ours. Don Carson once said in a talk on the importance of expository preaching, that he does not know one effective pastor who does not limit his counseling sessions and delegate his administration work for the purpose of giving availability for long and hard hours devoted to study and sermon preparation. Much of the spiritual formation, vision, and maturity of the local church is dependent upon the Word of God being rightly preached by the pastor.
  2. Doctrinal Study. Much of Edward’s time were excursions in theology. Asking and working hard to answering questions like, ‘What is man made for?’ (which would end up being the thesis for his book, The End For Which God Made the World), ‘If God is a communicating God, through what means does he communicate?’ He put many of these types of entries in his Miscellanies, which was an extensive work, not as a hobby, but to further his knowledge of his Holy God and to provide for his ministry labors. The Miscellanies was an integral part of his thought development as a theologian and author.
  3. Notes on Scripture. His work Notes on Scripture, which was just a series of numbered exegetical notes on Scripture, was an extended commentary on the entire Word of God. These are simply notes from faithful devotions and faithful work at discerning and understanding texts.
  4. Prayer and Devotions. This last sections seemed to be the ultimate priority for Edwards and of most importance. To Edwards, personal communion with the Triune God is the greatest tool in usefulness for God and his Gospel message. He had that peculiar Puritan spirit that, “To know God, to serve him, to enjoy him, was with [him] the great of existence…. Instead of catching occasional glimpses of the Deity through an obscure veil, they aspired to gaze full on the intolerable brightness, and to commune with him face to face.” This was the Puritan heart that was in Edwards. Iain Murray writes, “Prayer was not a compartment in his daily routine, an exercise which possessed little connection with the remainder of his hours alone. Rather he sought to make his study itself a sanctuary, and whether wrestling with Scripture, preparing sermons or writing in his notebooks, he worked as a worshiper (Italics mine).” The conviction that usefulness in his ministry relied some on his devotion kept his study a constant place of prayer, fasting, and meditation. Edwards writes of his devotions:

I have, many times, had a sense of the glory of the Third Person in the Trinity, and his office as Sanctifier, in his holy operation, communing divine light and life to the soul. God… has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness, being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul, pouring forth communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life.

When one experiences communion with God in this way, the response can only be a life primarily devoted to holiness and a continual labor to enjoy him and cause others to enjoy him. May it be, whether we study for one hour a day or thirteen, that our study would be for the service of the gospel and our holiness.

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