A Letter from Jonathan Edwards to His Son
This is an excerpt from The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1, Chapter XXII.
I share this with you because it shows a number of things of value to me:
- The letter is extremely well-written (as contrasted to letters, emails, and other communications we see today)
- The letter from a Christian father to his son is imploring him to come to faith in Christ—and is in no way subtle about it
- Timothy is 14-years-old, traveling, and is certainly able to understand and respond in-kind to such a letter, as an adult (again, contrasted to almost any 14-year-old you or I might now today)
- Jonathan Edwards does not spend time in this—possibly last—communication in order to ask his son how his travels have been or to find out what Timothy’s job is like or to ask if he’s met a girl, etc.; instead, Mr. Edwards is insistently hastening his son to receive the faith in Christ that he values above all things
The first paragraph is a brief description of the setting of Jonathan Edwards’ letter to his son, Timothy Edwards.
Early in the ensuing spring, the eldest son of Mr. Edwards, then a lad of fourteen, went to New York, and thence to New Jersey; and on his way was much exposed to the small-pox. On his return to New York, he was seized with a violent fever His father hearing this, and not knowing whether it an ordinary fever, or the small-pox, addressed to him the following letter; which, like all his letters to his children, indicates that his chief anxiety was for their salvation.
To Master Timothy Edwards, at New York.
Stockbridge, April, 1753
My dear child,
Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the small-pox. You will either be sick with that distemper, or will be past danger of having it, from any infection taken in your voyage. But whether you are sick or well, like to die or like to live, I hope you are earnestly seeking your salvation. I am sure there is a great deal of reason it should be so, considering the warnings you have had in word and in providence. That which you met with, in your passage from New York to Newark, which was the occasion of your fever, was indeed a remarkable warning, a dispensation full of instruction, and a very loud call of God to you, to make haste, and not to delay in the great business of religion. If you now have that distemper, which you have been threatened with, you are separated from your earthly friends, as none of them can come to see you; and if you should die of it, you have already taken a final and everlasting leave of them while you are yet alive, so as not to have the comfort of their presence and immediate care, and never to see them again in the land of the living. And if you have escaped that distemper, it is by a remarkable providence that you are preserved. And your having been so exposed to it, must certainly be a loud call of God, not to trust in earthly friends or any thing here below. Young persons are very apt to trust in parents and friends when they think of being on a death-bed. But this providence remarkably teaches you the need of a better Friend, and a better Parent, than earthly parents are; one who is every where present, and all sufficient, that cannot be kept off by infectious distempers, who is able to save from death, or to make happy in death, to save from eternal misery, and to bestow eternal life. It is indeed comfortable, when one is in great pain, and languishing under sore sickness, to have the presence, and kind care, of near and dear earthly friends; but this is a very small thing, in comparison of what it is, to have the presence of a heavenly Father, and a compassionate and almighty Redeemer. In God’s favour is life, and his loving-kindness is better than life. Whether you are in sickness or health, you infinitely need this. But you must know, however great need you stand in of it, you do not deserve it: neither is God the more obliged to bestow it upon you, for your standing in need of it, your earnest desiring of it, your crying to him constantly for it from fear of misery, and taking much pains. Till you have savingly believed in Christ, all your desires, and pains, and prayers lay God under no obligation; and, if they were ten thousand times as great as they are, you must still know, that you would be in the hands of a sovereign God, who hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. Indeed, God often hears the poor miserable cries of sinful vile creatures, who have no manner of true regard to Him in their hearts; for he is a God of infinite mercy, and he delights to show mercy for his Son’s sake, who is worthy, though you are unworthy, who came to save the sinful and the miserable, yea, some of the chief of sinners. Therefore, there is your only hope, and in him must be your refuge, who invites you to come to him, and says, ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.’ Whatever your circumstances are, it is your duty not to despair, but to hope in infinite mercy, through a Redeemer. For God makes it your duty to pray to him for mercy; which would not be your duty, if it was allowable for you to despair. We are expressly commanded to call upon God in the day of trouble, and when we are afflicted, then to pray. But, if I hear that you have escaped,—either that you have not been sick, or are restored,—though I shall rejoice, and have great cause of thankfulness, yet I shall be concerned for you. If your escape should be followed with carelessness and security, and forgetting the remarkable warning you have had, and God’s great mercy in your deliverance, it would in some respects be more awful than sore sickness It would be very provoking to God, and would probably issue in an increasing hardness of heart; and, it may be, divine vengeance may soon overtake you. I have known various instances of persons being remarkably warned, in providence, by being brought into very dangerous circumstances, and escaping, and afterwards death has soon followed in another way. I earnestly desire, that God would make you wise to salvation, and that he would be merciful and gracious to you in every respect, according as he knows your circumstances require. And this is the daily prayer of
Your affectionate and tender father,
P.S. Your mother and all the family send their love to you, as being tenderly concerned for you.