Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (14)

Here are more loose, assorted quotes from John Hannah and his Winterim class that I took in January on the Life and Writings of Jonathan Edwards.  These are from his lectures on three separate topics: (1) Edwards’ History of the Work of Redemption; (2) the “Communion Controversy” (which ended in Edwards’ dismissal from his pastorate); and (3) Edwards’ 1749 work The Account of the Life of David Brainerd.

Before the quotes, a brief summary of the Communion Controversy will help give some background for several of Hannah’s statements.  Edwards inherited his pastoral ministry from his grandfather Solomon Stoddard.  Stoddard was an immensely popular pastor for fifty-seven years in the Connecticut River Valley, and he had allowed “half-members” to participate in the Lord’s Table (a half-member was a baptized but unconverted church member; you have to remember that in Edwards’ day, virtually everyone was a part of the church in one way or another).  Over time Edwards made his disagreement known, because he believed that only true, fruit-bearing believers should share in communion (it was much more complicated than this, but this is the gist of the situation).  Along with other smaller issues and undercurrents from the past, Edwards’ stance soon got him fired.

I realize that we’re on Part 14 of the Hannah quotes and that some no longer read them.  That’s OK with me.  As the series winds down, I’m trying to share theologically rich, personally meaningful, and verbally powerful quotes while holding back some of the theological formulations and expressions that are more difficult to conceptualize for those who didn’t take the class.  So hopefully the quotes below will be understandable, helpful, relevant, and therefore worth your time.


The Bible, in a word:  If I could sum up the Bible in one word, it’s comfort.  If I had to choose a second word, it would be condescension.  God has condescended to bring us comfort.

Eschatology:  Eschatology is rear-view-mirror stuff.  We know that prophecy will be fulfilled, but we don’t necessarily know how.  We can’t know that this is that until this passes that.

Scripture and experience:  Solomon Stoddard was converted at the Lord’s Table.  He came thinking he was a believer when he wasn’t, and through the sign of the Lord’s Table, he came to know the Savior.  He appears to have hoped that others would have the same experience by partaking of communion.  It seems that he read his experience into Scripture.

Hermeneutical question:  How much can you follow an example in Scripture when it’s not accompanied by imperatives?

Controversy and shallow justifications:  When issues make people uneasy, they find superficial issues to justify them.

Edwards’ firing from Northampton:  If you live long enough, you’ll collect enough people to fire you.

Edwards’ post-firing ministry at Northampton:  Edwards remained on and continued to preach week by week at the church until he left.  Part of his problem was that he had no income and eleven children.  His children made things to sell to bring in some extra money.  Also, no money meant no paper, so Edwards found himself writing on old receipts and sewing together scraps and using onion skins made by his children.  Here was a godly man who loved to write, and God took away his paper.  Sometimes God will do this.

David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards:  In 1748, Brainerd came back from missions in Pennsylvania suffering from tuberculosis (they didn’t know it was TB at the time).  Edwards was interested in him, and Brainerd was taken into the Edwards’ home.  Jerusha Edwards (one of Edwards’ daughters) took him to Boston to seek medical help, but nothing solved the problem.  He died in the Edwards’ home.

Self-conscious inferiority and workaholism:  People with an inferiority complex work hard because they don’t want to be quiet — it scares them.

Sacrifice and godliness:  I used to be under the impression that the more you sacrifice for the Lord, the more godly you are.  That’s a lie.

Missionary team conflict:  87% of missionaries leave the field because of interpersonal conflict.  How can you be godly and yet demand your rights?

Brainerd’s weaknesses:  In Edwards’ preface to his account of Brainerd’s diary, he identifies two of Brainerd’s “imperfections.”  It was clear to Edwards that the saint is not without his or her problems.  If you wait ’til you’re perfect to serve the Lord, you’ll never do anything.  The question is this:  Does legitimate weakness in character lead to self-centered introspectiveness that makes you self-preoccupied, or does the vision of God’s glory become all-consuming?  Weakness is not the problem; it’s focus!  Are you going to look at your weaknesses and dwell on them, or suck it up and do something better?

Remaining corruption:  How can I be sincere and yet corrupt?  In other words, how can I express my complete commitment to God at one moment and then yell at a driver who cuts me off five minutes later?  What changed?  Was I insincere when I told God that I was completely His?  No.  I was sincere.  But the subject changed.  People tell God they’re completely committed to Him when they’re in the context of missions, for example.  But when the subject changes and there’s a different sacrifice to be made, often things change.  That’s the dark side of all of us.  We’re both saints and sinners.  You don’t have to be a saint to be a saint.  That’s the gospel.

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 (1)
Part 8 – Quotes from biographical lectures (2)
Part 9 – Quotes from lectures on Edwards’ early writings
Part 10 – Quotes from lecture on Religious Affections
Part 11 – Quotes from lecture on Edwards’ Trinitarianism
Part 12 – Quotes from lectures on Edwards’ preaching and Grace
Part 13 – Quotes from lecture on Charity and Its Fruits

2 thoughts on “Wit and Wisdom from John Hannah (14)

  1. His insight’s into Brainerd are interesting. I have read some of Brainerd’s diary and thought he was over remorseful about his sin to a degree that it prevented him from being satisfied in Christ. However, we could all use a little more of Brainerd’s remorse- as long as the focus is right.

  2. I have had the privilege of taking a class from John Hannah’s wit and wisdom. These posts are must sees for me. Thank you for continuing the series, stats or no.


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