Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (8)

Part 1 – Monday’s quotes
Part 2 – Tuesday’s quotes
Part 3 – Wednesday’s quotes
Part 4 – Thursday’s quotes
Part 5 – Friday’s quotes
Part 6 – Saturday’s quotes
Part 7 – Quotes from biographical lectures

Here’s some more John Hannah on Jonathan Edwards.  I have a few reasons for keeping this going.

  1. The life and work of Jonathan Edwards is worth extended reflection, especially considering the superficiality of our Christian subculture and the way he confronts that head-on.  I’m rebuked and challenged when I consider his acute God-centeredness, his spiritual sobriety, and his Christian rigor.  I need my nonchalant Christianity to be exposed and humiliated by his all-consuming devotion.
  2. Examining a historical figure means examining his culture, and examining a culture makes you reflect on your own.  I want to understand my culture, its plusses and minuses, and its impact on my life, and I want to do that prior to the Great Day when there’s no more time for repentance and God-honoring changes.
  3. It will end up being a long series, but every time I hesitate about continuing it, I realize that I’m not going to say things much better than John Hannah does.
  4. There’s unique power in a sharp proverb, and Hannah’s communication is full of this power (but not in a way that sounds manipulative or designed to impress).
  5. It’s fresh material, but it’s not original (to me).  I have lots of half-written posts and even more post titles and ideas, but it still takes creativity and hard work to actually write those the way I’d prefer to write them.  With a three-week trip to Uganda fast approaching and big life changes ahead (Judah!), Hannah will lessen my load and increase your benefit.  That’s a good deal for all of us.
  6. I spoke with Dr. Hannah this past weekend while visiting Dallas Theological Seminary and I was reminded again of his admirable honesty and servant-heartedness.  He gave me advice that no one else gave, and I sense that it was because he sees through some of the haze that often covers the landscape of the scholarly community in which he lives and which can confuse a young student like me.

For these reasons, here’s Part 8, taken again (like Part 7) from Hannah’s initial biographical lectures on Edwards.

Normal ministry:  The normal ministry is like playing a baseball game.  You work hard all week and then you get up to the plate and hit a grounder to the short-stop and you’re done.  This is normal ministry and preaching.  Once in awhile I’ve hit a Texas-leaguer that falls between the short-stop and the left-fielder.

Pastoral and church perspectives:  Edwards was an aristocratic Puritan who believed that he shouldn’t be questioned.  His congregation wanted to fire him.  He told them that the hard-working, preaching elder was worthy of double honor.  They said we’ll fire you twice.

Church membership:  Edwards’ church had 1,200 members when the town had 400 people.  [This helps you understand why there was a controversy over who should be allowed to take communion when Edwards cracked down on it.]

Getting fired:  The Stockbridge missionary years (1751-58) afforded Edwards the freedom for several writing projects that the disruptive 1740’s did not allow [he was fired in the late 1740’s after much controversy].  So if you get busted, it might be the best thing in the world.  Or it might be the worst.

Prolific writer:  Edwards wrote Discourse on the Freedom of the Will in three months (500 pages).

Original SinIn 1757 he completed a defense of human depravity entitled Original Sin.  This work proved to be one of his least read volumes.  Why?  People don’t like that doctrine.

Big questions:  When I got out of school I had significant questions.  So I started to think about my main questions.  Two big ones:  (1) What does it mean to glorify God?  If God is self-existent and self-sufficient and cannot be added to or subtracted from, how do we glorify Him?  (2) What does it mean to be indwelt by the Spirit?  He doesn’t occupy a place inside me, because He’s spirit.  I know that He does indwell me, but I didn’t know how.  Then I found Edwards.

Pew rental:  In Edwards’ day, people rented pews at the church building.  The closer the pews, the more they cost.

Two revivals in Edwards’ day:  (1) The Frontier Revival:  Edwards was pro-Awakening, but later became disillusioned with much of it.  Steady is better than sprint.  (2) The Whitefieldian Revival:  Much more stirring and much more trouble.  Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  He had already preached it twice, which histories don’t tell you.  Those two times, little happened.  The third time, he was appalled at what happened, and he put the sermon away and didn’t use it again.

David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards:  There’s a myth that David Brainerd and Jerusha Edwards were in love, but this only comes from the fact that their graves lie next to each other.  There’s no evidence for it.  She did take care of him when he had tuberculosis, but that’s about it.

Edwards’ study habits:  He studied 14 hours a day, but that was expected of a pastor.  It was not unusual.

Puritan sermon structure:  Puritan sermons had three parts:  (1) the verse, in context, explained; (2) the topic of the verse, in context, all over the Bible; (3) the application, which was at least half of the sermon.

Awakening sermons:  In our very mobile society, next year you’re not going to see twenty percent of the people you see now.  The Puritan didn’t have that problem.  Of all the problems he had, that wasn’t one of them.  He didn’t have to reduce the gospel to a dity.  He could unfold the gospel for months at a time.  Then when he sensed the Spirit of God moving, he called his people to turn to the gospel.  You only had one or two gathering sermons in your ministry (i.e., awakening sermons).  Solomon Stoddard [Edwards’ grandfather] had five.  Edwards had two.

Church controversy, “counseling,” flaws of our heroes, servant leadership:  There were a few issues involved in the Northamption controversy.  First, no one had asked for admission to the church for six years (1742-48).  Why?  They didn’t want to face Edwards.  I wouldn’t have wanted to.  Then a woman decided to, and it sparked the controversy over membership and communion.  Second, Edwards was asking for a raise [he had eleven children to support].  Third, have you heard of “bundling”?  It was cold in those days and there wasn’t easy access to heat.  So when a young man and woman wanted to spend time together, they would pull out a specially-made bed with a wooden plank in the middle of it.  They’d bundle the young man and woman separately, put them on either side of the plank, and they could talk together for the evening.  Edwards wrote on the depravity of man, and he didn’t think this was a good practice.  But instead of going to the parents and talking privately, he preached on the subject.  Likewise, with a young man who was going around showing young girls pornographic material and embarrassing them, Edwards preached a sermon on it and named the young man and his accomplices.  He didn’t talk privately with him or his parents.  He made big sociological mistakes.  He would not have been my pastor.  But he will be my teacher.  Then again, we live in a schizophrenic age.  I determine the advice I want and I go to the person who’ll give it to me.  I call that counseling.  We’re all smart; we know what we’re doing.  There’s a downside to everybody.  If you ever read a biography that has no flaws, you’ve read a lie.  If you want to be harsh, you have to be loved, and if you want to be loved, you have to be known.  It doesn’t matter how good of a pastor you are if your people don’t know you and love you.  We’re to be servants, not leaders.  But that good old American thing says that we have to be important, and we have to have a big church.  No!  You have to have a big God.

4 thoughts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (8)

  1. Mike: My visit with Dr. Hannah was a year-and-a-half ago now, so I don’t remember all the details. In terms of the “haze” in scholarship, that’s my own evaluation of things, not something Hannah mentioned. Several main dangers of biblical scholarship from my perspective are (1) the lure of academic respectability that draws students to be inappropriately innovative or wrongly motivated or constantly compromising, (2) the lack of study of the actual text of the Bible in much “biblical” scholarship, and (3) the often-exaggerated prestige factor when it comes to evaluating schools and professors. There a lot of wonderful things, too, but you’ve asked about some of the negatives.

  2. I also enjoy John Hannah’s wisdom. What was the advice he gave you when you visited him at DTS? What is this haze in the scholarly community? Dr. Hannah’s quotes are a great service to the church and more of them need to be compiled.

  3. Jeanette – Sorry for the long delay. From what I understand, there was a lot of emotional frenzy when Edwards preached it the third time. People were horrified of hell and frightened out of their wits. This produced various responses. It might be easy to think that these were all good responses, but this is what John Hannah said when I emailed him and asked him your question:

    “Edwards felt that a motivation for heaven out of fear of hell was an inferior motive. A true design for heaven should be for the person of God, not an avoidance. Also, the sermon did not contain the gospel so the motivation was based on fear. Further, he saw that emotional extremes without a proper object were dangerous.”

    I hope that clarifies.

  4. You quoted, “Much more stirring and much more trouble. Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He had already preached it twice, which histories don’t tell you. Those two times, little happened. The third time, he was appalled at what happened, and he put the sermon away and didn’t use it again.”

    What happened when he preached it the third time? Do you know?


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s