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Sweeney’s Booknotes: Jonathan Edwards on Worship


Ted Rivera, Jonathan Edwards on Worship: Public and Private Devotion to God (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010).

Although thousands of books and articles have been written on Jonathan Edwards, this is the first one to treat his views of worship systematically. (I can hardly believe it myself, but this is true. The only thing I recall that comes close to being a careful treatment of Edwards’ views of worship is an essay by Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Liturgy, Justice, and Holiness,” Reformed Journal 39 (December 1989): 12-20, which is neglected in the volume under review.) The Edwards industry inspired by Perry Miller and Richard Niebuhr did not include within its ranks many scholars who were interested in the history of Protestant worship. So with deep appreciation to Ted Rivera of Liberty University in Virginia, I plug his book on our site.

Based largely on published sermons and Edwards’ personal correspondence, Rivera describes for us what Edwards thought of public and private worship–and what he said about the ministry of the Word, Christian sacraments, congregational singing, family worship and devotion, Scripture reading, spiritual fellowship, both corporate and “closet” prayer, and personal piety. He is especially good on Edwards’ view of self-examination as a crucial spiritual discipline for Christians.

My favorite passage in the book comes from a sermon Edwards preached on Acts 19:19 in 1736, in which he exhorted somnolent members of his Northampton congregation about “sleeping at meeting” on Sundays. He argued there (in the wake of his church’s first major revival) that his people “should worship God with greater reverence and diligence since God has so remarkably poured out his Spirit amongst us. If there be many among us in our assembly who appear to be asleep in their seats in the time of divine service,” he said, “this will be a thing that strangers will observe.” Edwards told his people to stay awake, listen to his sermons, and set a good example for their visitors. This is a message that will resonate with pastors and professors.

Specialists will not glean much that is new to them in this book. But students of Edwards and Christian worship will find it essential. We recommend it strongly. Don’t let strangers find you falling asleep while reading it!

–By Douglas Sweeney, Director of the JEC at TEDS