Identifying with the Lowly: Jonathan Edwards, Charity, and the Stockbridge Mission.
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Jonathan Edwards is commonly thought of as a cold but brilliant theologian, a fire-breathing railer, quick to use his genius with words to reprove, a man bookishly removed from the daily concerns of life. However, recent scholarship incorporating a larger corpus of his works, only now easily accessible, has revealed a more multifaceted man, a pastor who, in fact, preached and wrote volumes on Divine Love and its outworking in Christian charity. He laid both the philosophic and aesthetic groundwork to convince the Christian of the necessity of a charitable disposition and its required fruit. Throughout his first thirty years as a pastor, he returned often to the imperatives of charity. This thesis highlights the ways in which he specifically addressed the need for active charity to the neediest in the community, the poor and disenfranchised no matter their race. As he identified an increasingly pervasive lust for gain in the colonies and in Northampton he censured such selfish motives through his pastoring and preaching. After years of wrangling over such issues, his teaching tended to emphasize that the most practical way to tune our hearts to a joyful obedience of this duty is to reject selfish ambition and to identify with the lowly. Not only did Edwards teach these virtues often in both his New York and Northampton pulpits, but he personally and tirelessly worked for the cause of the poor. This thesis will show that Edwards’ choice to minister at Stockbridge after his dismissal at Northampton was consistent with his focus on charity throughout his life and exemplifies identifying with the lowly and despised of society. By examining his work with and on behalf of the Stockbridge Indians, it is apparent that these years were not just a “quiet retreat” or a “forced exile” as some scholars posited, but instead these years are a powerful example of choosing to identify with the marginalized. Although he was never a perfect man, Jonathan Edwards’ Stockbridge years offer much for modern Christians to consider and to emulate in their own lives and ministries.