Jonathan Edwards, the theologian, the philosopher, the pastor, the revivalist, have all been well covered ground in Edwards literature. What has been less frequently discussed has been Edwards as a father. As it turns out, despite Edwards’s nearly lifelong commitment to pastoral ministry and to a larger role as the defender of evangelical reformed orthodoxy in America, he was also a devoted father.
A perusal of the letters sent to his children offers evidence of a strong concern for the wellbeing of his children, especially their spiritual well being. For example, in a letter to his daughter Esther who was struggling with health challenges we read this sentence.
As to means for your health, we have procured one rattlesnake, which is all we could get.
In the very same letter, we also read his spiritual concern for her.
Labor while you live, to serve God and do what good you can, and endeavor to improve every dispensation to God’s glory and your own spiritual good, and be content to do and bear all that God calls you to in this wilderness, and never expect to find this world anything better than a wilderness.
One of the remarkable themes that emerges from this collection is death. Edwards, like the New England Puritans, was not shy of discussing the reality of death with his children, and even used the subject as a means of giving spiritual instruction to his children. In a letter to Jonathan Edwards Jr, he wrote the following.
The week before last, on Thursday, David died; whom you knew and used to play with, and who used to live at our house. His soul is gone into the eternal world. Whether he was prepared for death, we don’t know. This is a loud call of God to you to prepare for death. You see that they that are young die, as well as those that are old: David was not very much older than you. Remember what Christ has said, that you must be born again, or you never can see the kingdom of God. Never give yourself any rest, unless you have good evidence that you are converted and become a new creature. We hope that God will preserve your life and health, and return you to Stockbridge again in safety; but always remember that life is uncertain: you know not how soon you must die, and therefore had need to be always ready.
You can read them for yourself.
A3. Letter to Timothy Edwards, July 24, 1719 (Edwards’s father)
A6 .Letter to Timothy Edwards, March 1, 1721 Jonathan Edwards (Edwards’s father)
A137. Letter to Timothy Edwards, January 27, 1752 Jonathan Edwards (Edwards’s father)
174. TO TIMOTHY EDWARDS (Edwards’s son)
220. TO TIMOTHY EDWARDS (Edwards’s son)
33. TO SARAH EDWARDS (Edwards’s daughter)
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’s Children: Sarah, Jerusha, Esther, Mary, Lucy, Timothy, Sussanah, Eunice, Jonathan, Elizabeth, Pierrepont, (12th died in infancy)