This past January my wife and I were on the West Coast at the inaugural conference of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Gateway Seminary, or JEC West. Dr Doug Sweeney, of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, gave an excellent presentation on regeneration in the thought of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and how, for Edwards this was “most important thing in the world.”
A great talk, as was a second plenary session by Dr Oliver Crisp, of Fuller Theological Seminary, newly appointed to the Chair in Analytic Theology at St Andrews in Scotland. Prof. Crisp will take up his appointment on 1 September 2019. He will be a key member of the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology, as well as contributing to the School’s work in Systematic and Historical Theology and in Theology and the Arts. Dr Crisp spoke on creation and divine ideas in the thought of Edwards: it was very rich and thought-provoking.
My paper was entitled, “ ‘The prayers of his saints’: Jonathan Edwards and Edwardseans praying for revival.” It looked at Edwards’ innovative thought regarding corporate prayer-meetings for revival (though not entirely without precedent in his Puritan heritage of prayer), his arguments in his 1748 publication An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture-Promises and Prophecies concerning the Last Time (henceforth referred to simply as the Humble Attempt), and the way that this work impacted Edwardsean Baptists in England like John Sutcliff (1752–1814) and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815).
In some ways my entire paper (which will be published along with the other two plenary sessions and the superb parallel sessions as well in a book edited by Dr Chris Chun, the director of this new center and Dr Kyle Strobel, who teaches at the Talbot School of Theology), is summed up by this quote from Edwards’ Personal Narrative. Edwards is recalling his experience while pastoring in lower Manhattan in New York in the early 1720s:
I had great longings for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world. My secret prayer used to be in great part taken up in praying for it. If I heard the least hint of anything that happened in any part of the world, that appeared to me, in some respect or other, to have a favorable aspect on the interest of Christ’s kingdom, my soul eagerly catched at it; and it would much animate and refresh me.
… I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the banks of Hudson’s River, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things, and secret converse with God; and had many sweet hours there. Sometimes Mr. Smith and I walked there together, to converse of the things of God; and our conversation used much to turn on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and the glorious things that God would accomplish for his church in the latter days. (Jonathan Edwards, Personal Narrative in his Letters and Personal Writings, ed. Claghorn, 797).