Magazine article The Christian Century

Getaway Sermon

Magazine article The Christian Century

Getaway Sermon

Article excerpt

CHRISTOPHER NIEBUHR of the well-known Niebuhr tribe wrote to me recently. He is celebrating the Yale University Press publication of Sermons and Discourses, 1743-1758 (edited by Wilson H. Kimnach), 800 pages of transcribed scripts and notes that make up the 25th and final volume of The Works of Jonathan Edwards.

Niebuhr sent me a copy of notes from the last sermon that Edwards preached to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Edwards had been run out of Northampton's "Great Awakening" church in a complicated "Bad Book" fight over ministry to youth, and preached at Stockbridge from 1751 to 1754, when most of the Indian congregation dribbled away. (Of course, Edwards needed translators--John Wauwaumpequunnaunt for the Mohicans and Rebecca Ashley for the Mohawks.) Then, in 1758, this twice-failed cleric moved from Stockbridge to become president of the College of New Jersey, but died soon after he arrived.

Failed cleric? Yale does not invest decades and top scholars do not give their best years and their eyesight transcribing the scribbles of second-bests. Edwards was this continent's prime evangelist, awakener, theologian, preacher and more. He inspired a small library full of large books and articles examining him, molecule of ink by molecule of ink. Volume 25 advertises "additional volumes forthcoming," a signal that not all the scholars are up to speed on this unmatched publishing venture.

Many ministers have taken comfort from the fact that such a great preacher did not always satisfy his own congregation.

Christopher did not tell me why he chose to point me toward Edwards's "stirrup sermon," presumably preached the day he galloped away and one week after a more official farewell sermon. …

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