Working Prayerfully: A Lesson from Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan_EdwardsOne of my favorite writers is Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), often considered to be the last Puritan. Through his writings, Edwards taught me a lot, especially with regard to prayer. For instance, he taught me to work or study prayerfully. As a pastor, I learned from Edwards to prepare for my sermons prayerfully. As a PhD student, I also learned from him to do a research paper prayerfully. As an author, I learned to write a book or article prayerfully. Indeed, Edwards himself did this. As he was studying, approximately 13 hours a day, he was doing so prayerfully, so that prayer and study intertwined with each other. Iain Murray, in his masterful biography of Edwards, illustrates this point well:

“Edwards maintained daily set times for prayer, when it was probably his custom to speak aloud. He also had…particular days which he set aside for solitude, meditation and fasting. But 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 worshipper. Thought, prayer and writing were all woven together” (Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography, 143).

Donald Whitney’s observation is similar: “Edwards was so devoted to prayer that it is hard to find a daily routine for him that wasn’t permeated with it…. He prayed over his studies, and he prayed as he walked in the evening. Prayer was both a discipline and a part of his leisure” (“Pursuing A Passion For God Through Spiritual Disciples: Learning From Jonathan Edwards, in A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards, 114).

Even Edwards’ physical exercise was permeated with prayer. Many people comment that one of Edwards’ weaknesses was that he was a workaholic at the cost of his health. While this comment has an element of truth, he was not altogether neglectful of his health. In fact, number twenty of his Resolutions, written when he was nineteen years old, shows his concern for his whole-being: “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.” Moreover, he himself makes a record in his Personal Narrative that he would ride out into woods for his health: “I rode out into the woods for my health…having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer.” What is noteworthy here is that even his physical exercise was interfused with a spirit of prayer.

Oh, may the Lord teach us to pray. May we turn our workplace into a sanctuary where we work as a worshipper of God. And even if we go to the gym to exercise, may we do so prayerfully. Truly, may our entire life be permeated with prayer. After all, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

Do you work prayerfully?

Prayer-seemed-to-be quote on Edwards

To learn more about Edwards’ prayer life, see my book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan Edwards Prayer Puritan

Four Lessons I’ve Learned From the Puritans

Note: Today I have Dave Arnold as my guest blogger. He is a pastor and writer living in the Monroe-area of Michigan. He has authored five books and contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia. You can contact him at davejarnold16@gmail.com

Four-Lessons-Ive-Learned

Although I was exposed to a few of the Puritans when I was in college – namely, in my preaching classes – it wasn’t until 2014 that God, by His grace, opened my eyes to these spiritual giants of the seventeenth century and forever changed my life.

I remember the morning clearly. It was early and my daughter (who was only a few months old), was sitting on my lap contently. I reached over to grab my Kindle and scrolled through the “free books” section. It was then my eyes fell upon a title Samuel Rutherford and Some of His Correspondents by Alexander Whyte. I knew of Whyte and had read some of his sermons, so I thought I’d download it. And I’m so glad I did!

Whyte had me at the introduction, as he beautifully portrayed the life of Rutherford, the great Scottish divine of Anwoth, his exile in Aberdeen, his involvement in the Westminster Assembly, and most importantly, his ardent love for Christ.

Not only did I read Whyte’s classic work on Rutherford’s letters, but then went on to read the Letters myself, which drastically impacted the trajectory of my life. Moreover, through Whyte, and then incidentally, Rutherford, their writing opened my eyes to other Puritans; and thus, my journey to understand the Puritans began.

With that said, I’d like to share with you four lessons on how the Puritans have impacted me personally.

1. Personal Holiness

The first lesson I learned from the Puritans was the importance (and urgency!) of personal holiness, both within the believer and the church. To be honest, my Christian life prior to reading Whyte’s book on Rutherford was lacking in holiness. I believed in the Lord, was involved in ministry, had regular time with Him, but I had grown apathetic.

Shortly after I read Rutherford, I dusted off an old copy of a Jonathan Edwards book I had and read his Personal Narrative (the story of Edwards’ conversion and growth in Christ). I was struck with how serious Edwards took holiness. He writes, “I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break.” Oh how my heart soared when I read those words, and how I too had a greater longing for more holiness.

The Puritans saw holiness as both experiential and holistic; that is, holiness should be in every part of our lives.

2. The Ugliness of Sin

Not only did the Puritans help me understand the importance of personal holiness, but also of the ugliness of sin. “Sin is likened to the rot,” says Puritan Ralph Venning, “to the filth and corruption of the foulest disease, which is so foul and rotten that one would not touch it with a pair of tongs.” The Puritans took the doctrine of sin very serious, much more than we tend to in our modern day. In our culture of excessive hedonism, the Puritan seriousness of sin is a much-needed reminder. Indeed, we cannot understand the sweetness of grace unless we know the bitterness of sin.

3. The Importance of Reverence

Another vital lesson I have learned from the Puritans is the importance of the fear of the Lord, a theme we don’t hear preached too often from the pulpit. And yet, one cannot understand the love of God without the fear of God.

The Puritans reminded me of how crucial it is to have a holy reverence toward the Lord. In fact, in my recent book In This Manner: Six Essential Truths on How to Live Out the Lord’s Prayer, I touch on this subject in great detail.

4. Delighting in the Lord’s Day

My first pastorate position was as a youth and associate pastor of a church in Romulus, Michigan, a few miles away from Detroit Metropolitan Airport. And in that church, we had two services: a morning service and an evening service. Sunday was the Lord’s Day… the whole day. Therefore, I spent the majority of that day at church and within fellowship with the congregation. I loved it!

But when my wife and I moved to Ohio, the church I worked at had two morning services and no evening service. And I noticed something: once church was over, people rushed to get out, go out to eat, watch football, or play golf (depending on the weather). It was as if they said, “Well, church is done; I can check that off my list… now it’s football time!”

This is a sad reality for many of our churches today. We have lost the sanctity of the Lord’s Day.

Thankfully, when I began to read the Puritans regarding the Lord’s Day, it breathed new life into my week as I began to anticipate Sunday – the “market day of the soul,” as the Puritans called it. Thomas Watson said “you cannot love the Lord unless you love His day.”

I am eternally indebted to the Puritans and to the many lessons I’ve learned from them. In fact, studying Puritan theology has become a passion of mine, and one I plan to continue throughout the rest of my life.

Note: Here are three books on the Puritans that you may be interested in:

  1.  Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer
  2. The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality
  3. Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Edwards Puritan Puritan piety

A Father’s Prayer for His Son

Jonathan Edwards had a son, Timothy Edwards (1738-1813), who left home to study at the College of New Jersey (now called Princeton University). While in Newark, New

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Jonathan Edwards

Jersey, Timothy became severely sick. To comfort his son, who at that time was only fourteen years old, Jonathan Edwards sent him a letter from Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In this letter Edwards offers a word of prayer for his son and reminds his son of his own duty to pray to God for mercy. Here is an extract from the letter:

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Stockbridge, April 1, 1753

My Dear Child,

Before you will receive this letter, the matter will doubtless be determined, as to your having the smallpox. 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….

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 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, “He that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” [John 6:37]. 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.

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, Jonathan Edwards.

P.S. Your mother and all the family send their love to you, as being tenderly concerned for you.[1]

 

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from  Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer (2013).

 

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[1] “Letter to Timothy Edwards,” in Letters and Personal Writings, 578-80.

Jonathan Edwards Prayer

Sermon Conclusion at David Brainerd’s Funeral

When Jonathan Edwards wrote his biography of David Brainerd (1718-1747), he entitled it “An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd, Minister of the Gospel, Missionary to the Indians [Native Americans], from the Honourable Society in Scotland, for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and Pastor of A Church of Christian Indians in New Jersey…” This long title briefly describes Brainerd, a faithful and diligent servant of Jesus Christ. At the young age of twenty nine, Brainerd died from tuberculosis in Edwards’ house. According to Edwards, a few days before Brainerd died, “though he was then so low that he could scarcely speak, he so exerted himself that he made a prayer very audibly, wherein besides praying for those present and for his own congregation, he earnestly prayed for the reviving and flourishing of religion in the world.”[1] At the funeral of Brainerd, Edwards delivered a sermon which ended with the following prayerful words:

Oh, that the things that were seen and heard in this extraordinary person, his holiness, heavenliness, labor and self-denial in life, his so remarkable devoting himself and his all, in heart and practice, to the glory of God, and the wonderful frame of mind manifested, in so steadfast a manner, under the expectation of death, and the pains and agonies that brought it on, may excite in us all, both ministers and people, a due sense of the greatness of the work we have to do in the world, the excellency and amiableness of thorough religion in experience and practice, and the blessedness of the end of such whose death finishes such a life, and the infinite value of their eternal reward, when absent from the body and present with the Lord; and effectually stir us up to endeavors that in the way of such an holy life we may at last come to so blessed an end. Amen![2]

 

Note: This post is an excerpt from my recent book Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “A Sermon Preached on the Day of the Funeral of the Rev. Mr. David Brainerd,” in The Life of David Brainerd, ed. Norman Pettit, vol. 7 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 551.

[2] Ibid., 553-54.

David Brainerd Jonathan Edwards Prayer Preaching

A Sketch of Christian Spirituality: From the Patristic Period to the Evangelical Era (Part 5 of 5)

Evangelical Spirituality

Ian Randall—currently Director of the Institute of Baptist and Anabaptist studies of International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, Czech Republic—has written a book titled What a Friend We Have in Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition, a fine and succinct study on evangelical spirituality. Randall’s book is part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, which seeks to publish first-rate volumes that provide quality introductions to some of the main traditions of Christian spirituality. In this discourse, focusing mainly on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Randall explores the origins of evangelical spirituality and its key themes.

Randall has rightly noted: “Although evangelicalism emerged in [the Evangelical Revival of] the eighteenth century [in Great Britain], it had strong links with the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and the English Puritan movement of the seventeenth century.”[1] The evangelicals adopted the basic tenets of the Reformation; and like Calvin and the Puritans, they underscored the importance of holy living as the outworking of their faith. This is why evangelical spirituality is more akin to Protestant spirituality rather than to Catholic spirituality.

David Bebbington, in his classic work—Evangelicalism in Modern Britain—asserts that evangelicalism is “a new phenomenon of the eighteenth century” that emphasizes four distinctive features: “conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism.”[2] Bebbington’s assertion suggests that evangelical spirituality is characterized by personal conversion, outworking of the gospel, devotion to Scripture, and the cross of Christ. Later Bebbington’s concept of evangelicalism came to be known as the Bebbington quadrilateral, a standard term among historians. In What A Friend We Have in Jesus, Randall discusses more elements of evangelical spirituality: conversion, Bible, sacraments, prayer and praise, the Cross, the Holy Spirit and holiness, the fellowship of the believers, missions, and the last times. And for Randall, the “central theme of this strand of spirituality is a personal relationship with Christ.”

Against the backdrop of England between the First and Second World Wars, Randall pinpoints four major strands of evangelical spirituality: “Keswick holiness, the Wesleyan tradition, Reformed approaches and Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality.”[3] Keswick[4] holiness, also known as the Higher Life movement, teaches that Christians can experience “entire sanctification,” or “Christian perfection.” This teaching was of course also present in the Wesleyan tradition; however, the Keswick tradition was less radical compared to the Wesleyan. Reformed evangelical spirituality, while stressing the need for personal holiness, rejects the doctrine of perfectionism. The Pentecostal/charismatic spirituality is to some extent a resurrected Quakerism. It gives too much emphasis on the work of the Spirit with less scriptural content; it is based more on emotions than on faith.

Although Randall gives special attention to British evangelicalism in which John Wesley and George Whitefield stand out as the main characters, he includes American evangelicalism. The primary American figure here is Jonathan Edwards who, according to Randall, is the principal shaper of American evangelical spirituality.

 

Concluding Observation

The renaissance of interest in the subject of Christian spirituality is noteworthy. Just in the past decade, scores of books on Christian spirituality have been published. In fact, in 2009, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, became the first Protestant seminary to offer a PhD in Biblical Spirituality. This fact shows that a revived concern for spirituality exists even in the world of academics.


[1] Ian Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus: The Evangelical Tradition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2005), 16.

[2] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicals in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (1989; reprint, London: Routledge, 1993), 2, 4.

[3] Randall, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, 20.

[4] Keswick is a name of a market town in Cumbria, England where the movement became well-known.

Evangelical Evangelical Spirituality George Whitefield John Wesley Jonathan Edwards Spirituality

New Book on Jonathan Edwards

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to PrayerJonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer has finally arrived. If interested, you can purchase a copy from Reformation Heritage Books. All the proceeds from the book will go to my mother-in-law’s medical expenses. Please pray for her as she is battling with stage four breast cancer. Thank you!

Recommendations for the book:

“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

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“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

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“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

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“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

 

 

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Forthcoming Book—Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer

Book Cover for Jonathan Edwards-His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer“In giving Jonathan Edwards to the church, God did her an inestimable favor. In giving Jonathan Edwards to the reader, Brian Najapfour has done the Christian a great favor.

Edwards rightly stands at the fountainhead of a great theological tradition. The depth of Edwards’ theology, however, often overwhelms the uninitiated. In response, the reader turns to shallower streams and dies instead of theological thirst. The great riches of Edwards await those who will swim against the current. Those who persevere find not only the majesty of his thought on such great doctrines as the will and sin. They find on the far shores of their efforts the gems, ideas and doctrines directly related to God’s call upon every Christian. Edwards’ theology of prayer is such a gem. Given the chance, Jonathan Edwards and this volume, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer, promise to change the way we pray.”

Dr. Peter Beck, Assistant Professor of Religion, Charleston Southern University

______________________________

“Thomas Shepard, the Harvard man, once quipped that there are times in his life when he’d rather die than pray. No doubt we sometimes feel this way. This book on the man from Yale by Brian Najapfour will help remedy the problem of prayerlessness. For that reason alone I am grateful for this enjoyable read on the prayer life of Jonathan Edwards.”

—Dr. Mark Jones, Minister of Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Vancouver, British Columbia and Research Associate, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa

______________________________

“Brian Najapfour weaves together a beautiful tapestry of theology and piety, of doctrine and devotion, from the life, sermons and writings of Jonathan Edwards. You’ll end up knowing much more about this godly man; but, if you follow his example, you’ll end up knowing even more about God.”

—Dr. David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary

_________________________

“Historically informed and contemporarily relevant, Jonathan Edwards: His Doctrine of & Devotion to Prayer equips one in the life of prayer.”

—Dr. Adriaan C. Neele, Associate Editor and Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center, Yale University Divinity School

______________________________

Brian G. Najapfour is pastor of Dutton United Reformed Church, Caledonia, Michigan, co-editor of Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011), and author of The Very Heart of Prayer: Reclaiming John Bunyan’s Spirituality (2012).

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