America’s Greatest Theologian: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703–58) was perhaps the foremost the greatest American theologian and philosopher of the colonial period. Edwards has exercised influence through his voluminous writings, through a school of disciples known as the “New England Theologians”, and through the evangelical and neo-orthodoxy movements during the 19th and 20th century.

He was an American evangelical preacher and Calvinist theologian.


The Life of America’s Greatest Theologian

Jonathan Edwards was born September 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut, where his father was a minister of the village church for sixty-four years. Edwards was bright since his early childhood. He entered Yale at thirteen and graduated at seventeen. Eventually, he became assistant to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts.

When Dr. Stoddard died, Jonathan succeeded him at the age of twenty-six. Five years later he stepped into pulpit fame as one of America’s most provocative theologians and preachers. He was nurtured in the piety of New England Puritanism and educated at the newly founded Yale College. After several years as a supply minister and tutor, he was ordained to the ministry of the Congregational church at Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1727. At one point, Edwards served as a missionary to the Indians at Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1757, he became president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he died of smallpox after only three months in office.

During the first Great Awakening of the 1740s he emerged as the champion of evangelical religion; he preached the necessity of a “new birth”.

During the Great Awakening, Edwards contributed perhaps the most famous sermon in American history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Unfortunately, it has since cast Edwards as an emotional and judgmental revivalist, when in fact he preached it as dispassionately as any of his sermons. As a conservative Reformed theologian, he opposed Arminianism with insights derived from the Bible, the theological tradition, and the Enlightenment. In 1750, he was dismissed from his congregation because he insisted on strict standards for admission to Communion.

His most notable works of Edwards include, “Treaties on Religious Affections” (1746), and “The Freedom of the Will”. (1754) “Treatise on Religious Affections”, Edwards defended the emotional outbursts of the Great Awakening, is especially in a masterpiece of psychological and spiritual discernment.

“The Freedom of the Will” is a brilliant defense of divine sovereignty. In it, he argued that we are free to do whatever we want, but we will never want to do God’s will without a vision of his divine nature imparted by the Spirit. Edwards believed that God’s providence was literally the binding force of atoms—that the universe would collapse and disappear unless God sustained its existence from one moment to the next. Scripture affirmed his view that Christ is “upholding all things by his word of power” (Heb. 1:3 RSV). Such were the fruits of his lifelong habit of rising at 4:00 a.m. and studying 13 hours a day.

The Bold Legacy He Left Behind

The College of New Jersey (later Princeton) called him as president in 1758. But soon after his arrival, Edwards died of the new smallpox vaccination. He was 55.
He left no small legacy: Edwards as he departed this earth left with these words,

“[I wish] to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.”



Everyone Wants to be Great, just Without the Cost of Change.

An old violinist, a master in Europe just finished his concert and a young violinist who was studying at the conservatory came up to him and said, “Sir, I would give my life to play like that.” The old man looked at the boy and said, “I have given my life to play like this.”

So many young men will see great men of God such as Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon…. etc whom God has his hand upon them and they say, “I would give my life to do that. I would give my life.” Yes, you will have to.

Everyone wants to prize, but nobody wants to pay the price.

People drift toward disobedience and call it freedom. People cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation. People sloth towards prayerlessness and delude themselves into thinking somehow, they have escaped legalism.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it once, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

So, what are you doing today? What kind of cost will you make in order to make Christ great in and through your life this day?

Spiritual Disciplines: Laziness or Legalism?

I was in a recent conversation with a group of people from church and one said, “Well, all that stuff you talk about spiritual disciplines seems like the Pharisees (legalist). I’m set free in Christ so people can’t tell me how to live my life!”

My first thought was, “I don’t want to be a legalist.” I didn’t want to be in the same category as the Pharisees! Who would want to?

Praying consistently and writing down your prayer in a journal? Legalist. Setting time every day to read the scriptures and meditate? Legalist. Staying accountable to fellow Christians in a local church context? Legalist.

I’ve thought through this for the last several months. Can spiritual disciplines turn Christians into simply doing a checklist of rules? Or are these tasks weighing down Christians with unnecessary guilt?

Is one being a legalist if he works hard unto the Lord? Or can a Christian cruise and coast through this life?

Here are few pointers of the formative power of spiritual disciplines.


What are Spiritual Disciplines?

Spiritual disciplines are activities rather than attitudes. These are practices of things you do so they are not characters. Few examples;

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Pray with one another
  3. Meditate on Scripture
  4. Fasting
  5. Corporate Worship
  6. Service

These are rooted much more than being rather than doing. It is, “being like Christ” or “being with Jesus.” However, the best way to biblically grow and to be more like Christ is through the rightly motivating doing the spiritual disciplines.

As we speak of spiritual discipline, I hear either two responses. Either 1) Reactive response or 2) Proactive response

1. Reactive approach

Sadly, many Christians and churches are in this category. This response has no plan to choose. As Tim Keller said it well, “Everyone says they want community and friendship. But mention accountability or commitment to people, and they run the other way.”

This happens unexpectedly in response to circumstances or change in life. This can include both positive or negative events, which either leads often leads to stress in their lives.

2. Proactive approach

This involves developing a structure of discipline and accountability.

A disciple works to build a structure that supports a disciplined life. As Dallas Willard said, “A life of self-control is a steady capacity to direct oneself to accomplish what one has decided to do or be even when you don’t feel like it.”

As we find in the scripture commands us to, “Train yourself to be godly,” (1 Tim. 4:7).

Spiritual disciplines are a lot like physical exercise. You and I know it’s important, but some days it’s hard to get up and excited about cardio and leg workout day.

I remember even yesterday morning I woke up on Sunday morning and said, “I don’t feel like going to church today.” (And I’m one of the pastors!) But just like a workout, when I disciplined myself to do what I know I should do I said at the end of the day, “I am so glad I went!”

“Well, that’s legalism! You felt bad.” No, I believe that is not against the means of grace. God never forces us out of bed to go to church. Grace causes within us the desire to know Jesus. Grace doesn’t mean we coast spiritually until we get to heaven. Grace gives us the disciplines.


Laziness is a sin. Legalism is wrong.

In the American Evangelical churches, we are not in any danger of creeping legalism within our churches. We are not in danger of becoming legalist (which is equally wrong) but it is the kind of legalism is the opposite of spiritual discipline; laziness that says, “meet-my-need-squishy-feely-Christianity.” This is the new legalism that has marked the 21st century evangelical Christianity.

Lazy people are some of the most exhausted, dissatisfied, and ill-tempered folks around because of the joy-backed promises of laziness our lies.

The people of God have always understood laziness to be a sin. Laziness is a sin because laziness fails to appreciate the gift and blessing of work and fails to make the most of the time we have been graciously given.


1. Lazy Christians justify their Faithfulness over a lack of Fruitfulness

Some church leaders honestly keep themselves busy just to hide their laziness.

I believe we are in a spiritual warfare every day. Because of the internal war of the Spirit against our flesh and our flesh against the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-7), Christians must constantly choose the intentionally fights against the flesh and who “sows to the Spirit.”


2. Lazy Christians blame their Personality rather than Preparation.

The Proverbs speaks of this problem of laziness.

Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator, or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest. How long will you stay in bed, you slacker? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arms to rest, and your poverty will come like a robber, your need, like a bandit (Proverbs 6:6-11).


3. Lazy Christians use Excuses to trump Actual Results.

Jesus had demonstrated that the task of Great Commission was an urgent work. Jesus never saw this work as a burden as he never burned out with hurry and worry.

As the great John Wesley once said, “I am always busy, but never in a hurry.” Wesley was scheduled tight and traveled over 240,00 miles by horse or carriage. He supervised a great detail 50,000 Methodists and their progress in Christ through an elaborate tracking system. He wrote many books, letters, and commentaries, yet it wasn’t experienced as a burden.


Choose the “Discipline Life”

A disciplined life is a grace-driven life that we receive that requires structure, planning, and effort. OT saint, “Daniel prayed 3 times a day” which was a pattern and structure every knew he followed through (Daniel 6:10).

It is not a passive mentality that one merely involves as a spectator-sports.

Sadly, this idea of expectation is not passed down from the church leadership down to the average lay people. This idea births of hypocrisy is a false religion, shows that God is dead and the church continues on the teaching of a life to many participants. Only those who take their training serious enough are the ones who make progress.

And as I am trained to break through this inertia created by my own laziness, I find the joy that is deep and satisfying. This process of self-discipline and self-control leads to the formation of godly habits.

Maturity is developed through intentional training and there are no shortcuts to this.

In 2 Peter, we find Peter encouraging the believers to, “make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (2 Pet. 1:5). His point is crystal clear; We have been entrusted with the profound truth of the gospel of Christ and we should, therefore, do all that we can do to develop and utilize God’s gift for His kingdom.


Lesson from the Horror of Church Shooting

August 19, 2013, began like any other Monday at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago, USA. As usual, I handled routine administrative tasks and worked on my sermon for the evening service at our soup kitchen ministry. The church employees were in the office working and chatting.

No one knew it would become a day marked by tragedy.

At 5:00 p.m., we welcomed 150 people from the streets for our first service. For our second service at 5:45 p.m., we had approximately 100 people in the pews waiting for the sermon. I got into the pulpit and began preaching.

At 6:00 p.m. we heard, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” The twenty-odd bangs sounded like firecrackers. I turned around and said, “It’s just fireworks folks. Don’t worry. Have a seat.”

One of our deacons corrected me, saying, “No, I know that was not fireworks. It was too loud for fireworks and it was real close.”

I could almost feel the tension in the air, and the noise shook me to the very core. Adrenaline rushed through my veins and my heart was pounding. I rushed to the church steps and burst through the doors.

Chaos. It looked like a battlefield. People running in every direction. Children screaming and howling. Shattered glass. Bullet shells on the ground. People fighting and yelling. It was a drive-by shooting.

I immediately saw that there were two young men on the ground at the steps of our church. One was lying face down on the ground in a pool of blood. The other had multiple bullet holes in him.

A man who had been in our first service rushed up to me and said, “Pastor, I just got shot in the legs.” Another man from our first service had a gunshot in his thigh and one other had been shot in the wrist.

I dialed 911, the emergency number. “My name is Jonathan Hayashi. We had a shooting at 1011 West Wilson Ave . . . No security officer present. One man down on the ground. Description of the man . . . ” As I explained, two police vehicles came from the south and an ambulance came from west of Wilson. Police officers were running across the streets, and yellow tape was put around the cross walk to secure the area. I stood there in silence, not knowing what to do in the midst of the tragedy that took place at our church steps.

A 21-year-old boy was dead with a baseball-sized bullet hole in his head. I saw his brain burst out like Jell-o.

Why, God?

As I contemplated the incident, I realize I could easily have been one of them. I still vividly recall my days in the gang and that fateful day I found out my friend Asagiri had died at the age of 18 because of gang activity. If I had stayed in the gang instead of meeting Christ, that could very well have been me.

Amid the ongoing physical threats and challenges my family and I face, these are two key reflections I’ve had since that shooting tragedy which spur me on to keep sharing Christ:


1. God Loves All of Us

God created us in His image and loved us even before the foundation of the earth (Genesis 1, Psalm 139, Ephesians 1). He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die the death you and I deserve—shedding His blood for us and taking on His father’s wrath on that cross in our place. His death conquered the enemy—sin and death itself—so whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have everlasting life.

That is the gospel. The gospel begins with God’s love, is demonstrated through the cross and the empty tomb, and results in eternal life for those who believe.

Unfortunately, we sometimes unconsciously—or not—decide in our minds who “deserves” to be saved, and like Jonah, run from those who make us feel uncomfortable.

But God doesn’t just love people like us; He loves the entire world (John 3:16). Are we aware of the many people who do not know how much God loves them? A lot of people living right beside us?


2. God calls us to Love Others

The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make Him—His way, His salvation, His glory, and His greatness—known among all nations.” God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. “We are not the end of the gospel; God is,” says David Platt, President of the International Mission Board and the author of Radical.

God’s love should compel us to act. The scripture says, “Therefore go make disciples of all nations . . . ” (Matt. 28:19-20)

We don’t have to start a huge ministry, new organization, new initiative, incredible book, or new strategy. It starts with remembering what is at stake for those around us, and using whatever skills God has given us to show Him to the world.

We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let’s take a leaf out of Evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s book. It’s been written that he was one of the few that went into the worst district of Chicago, the Sands, also known as “Little Hell” to save souls.

In fact, it is precisely because of my experience with gang life and seeing young boys and girls running around killing each other, that my wife and I are convicted to serve where we’re at. We’ve since moved to Greater St. Louis where the crime rate is worse than Chicago. But I firmly believe that urban cities such as Chicago and St. Louis are excellent places for gospel outreach to the broken, needy, and perishing sinners.

My mission is to love these people who desperately need Jesus and be prepared to lay down my life just as Jesus did for me on the cross.

So, don’t waste this life. We don’t know how long we’ve got. Let’s spend our lives making His love known among the people. We’re not learning this for ourselves, but the people around us.


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