Thursday, September 10, 2015

10 September 2015 A.D. Jonathan Edwards: Stockbridge Statements of Faith

10 September 2015 A.D. Jonathan Edwards: Stockbridge Statements of Faith

Nichols, Steve. “Stockbridge Statements of Faith.” 5 Minutes in Church History. 9 Sept 2015. Accessed 10 Sept 2014.

Stockbridge Statements of Faith

The church record at First Church of Northampton in Massachusetts has a simple but very fascinating sentence dated June 22, 1750. The church record declares, “The reverend Jonathan Edwards, dismissed.” Here’s Jonathan Edwards, likely the most popular minister in Colonial America—and yet, he gets dismissed from his church. What happened?

Well, it’s a fascinating story, and someday we can tell it. But it’s also fascinating what happened next. Oddly enough, Edwards continued to preach at Northampton. The week after they him kicked out, the congregation realized they had no one to preach. So they knocked on his door and asked if he would come and preach. He spent most of that summer preaching in the very church that had kicked him out. I imagine that was an awkward situation, but eventually Edwards landed a new post. He could have gone anywhere. He could have gone to Scotland. There was a group of people in Northampton that wanted to break away from that church and form a new one and call him as pastor. He was invited to churches in Boston. He rejected all of these offers and went forty miles to the west. Those forty miles might as well have been four hundred miles. This was way out on the frontier in the town of Stockbridge, Mass. Stockbridge is a town nestled in the midst of the Berkshire Mountains. The Housatonic River carves its path through those mountains, and as it gets to Stockbridge it takes a sharp turn and carves out a plain. There on that plain lived the Stockbridge Mohicans and Mohawks. About two hundred and fifty Native Americans lived there. Edwards went there to be their minister. We know of Edwards the theologian, Edwards the philosopher, Edwards the pastor, but we also need to recognize Edwards the missionary. We have wonderful documents from Edwards’ time at Stockbridge. He wrote many letters that give us insight into what was happening. We have a number of sermons that he preached there. But particularly interesting are the statements of faith that Edwards wrote for members of the Stockbridge congregation. Edwards would write these out and then his translator would take them and write them in Mohican. Many of the people in the church were baptized there, and when they wanted to become communicant members, they came before the congregation to make a profession of faith. Edwards had them read out loud their confession of faith, which they then kept as a primer on doctrine and the Christian life. These are wonderful documents.

One section reads:

"I do now appear before God and His people solemnly and publicly to profess, so far as I know my own heart, the following things: namely that I do believe that there is one only living and true God, who is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who is the great creator and supreme Lord of heaven and earth; and having been made sensible of His divine supreme glory and excellency, do choose Him for my only God and portion, choosing conformity to Him and his service and the enjoyment of Him as my highest and sweetest good."

Here, we see a number of themes that we find in Edwards. He’s a Trinitarian theologian. He sees God as the supreme Creator of the heavens and the earth, but he also sees in God the purpose of our existence—we were created to enjoy Him; He is our highest and sweetest good. In other places, Edwards has these communicant members express their desire not only to join the church but to be obedient to the church.

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