Jonathan Edwards in the hands of Tim Chester

Yesterday I had the privilege and joy of visiting the Jonathan Edwards Centre at Yale University and seeing some of the original Edwards manuscripts in the Yale’s Beinecke Library. I held in my hands the original manuscript from which Edwards preached his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!  More on the manuscripts in the moment, but first the Centre.

The Jonathan Edwards Centre

The Centre has been working on a definitive edition of Edwards’ works for many years. Here are some keys things I want to highlight:

  • All the Works with annotations and links to sources are available online for free at Please check this out. It is an amazing resource. The published hardbacks are around $100 each, but it is all online for free.
  • Last month they published paperback editions of some of these including The Religious Affections at just $20 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.
  • You can choose texts in which you are interested to create your own selection and then have this printed on demand at very reasonable rates.
  • The Centre has recognised that the majority of users are pastors and so are looking to produce resources which pastors in mind. Coming out next year is a guide to reading Edwards’ sermons in their context.
  • The Centre has produced a guide to Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God  for high school children and teachers to enable them to read it in its proper context and so counter the prevailing negative views of Edwards.

The Manuscripts

After learning about the work of the Edwards Centre, Library, Adriaan Neele from the Jonathan Edwards Centre took us to the Beinecke Library to sees some of the original manuscripts. It was amazing to be able to hold the original manuscripts in our hands. Here are some observations:

Edwards’ handwriting was very small – almost illegible. Among the abbreviations he used are ‘X’ for Christ and ‘O’ for world. He would also often include a Bible reference in his sermons which he would then quote from memory.

Edwards had distinctive ‘d’s. The bottom circle does not always connect with the stem and the top of the stem curls over towards the next letter so that they often look like ‘s’s.

Edwards preached the sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God several times and there is an outline with the original manuscript. It seems that at some point he switched from using the full text to the outline as the sermon become familiar to him.

Generally speaking there are no manuscripts for works that were published within his lifetime. It seems Edwards was happy to destroy his handwritten manuscripts once they were in print.

His paper came from the Britain and if supplies ran out he resorted to whatever was at hand. We saw his treatise of the doctrines of grace which is written down the margins of an old newspaper which Edwards sowed together to from a book. We also saw a defence of the historicity of the Pentateuch which he wrote in the margins of a book in French that someone sent to Edwards, but which he could not read. There are also sermons that we did not see that Edwards wrote on old sewing patterns and scraps of paper left over from his wife and daughters making fans.

The treatises on grace and on the Pentateuch seem to have been written without view to publication. So why did he write them in such a structured and full way? He was not simply jotting down ideas for future reference, but developing extended arguments. He may have used them in lectures. But it seems likely that often Edwards wrote simply to develop and order his thinking on a topic.

We also saw a manuscript by Peter Mastricht whom Edwards described as his favourite theologian. Mastricht was a German-Dutch theologian who wrote in Latin. Only a portion of his main work has ever been translated, but there are plans for an English translation.

We saw a fragment of his wife Sarah’s wedding dress which was blue and green. Presumably the tradition of white wedding dresses was not yet established.

A big thank you to the Centre staff, Ken Minkema and Adriaan Neele, who were amazingly generous to us in their time and welcome. And a big thank you, too, to Stephen Witmer who arranged the visit for me. I spoke at his church, Pepperell Christian Fellowship, on Wednesday evening

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5 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards in the hands of Tim Chester

  1. Carrying on from my last comment : Dr. D. M. Lloyd-Jones saidof these two volumes : ‘In my early days in the ministry there were no books which helped me more, both personally and in respect of my preaching, than this two-volume edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards…I devoured these volumes and literally just read and read them. It is certainly true that they helped me more than anything else. If I had the power I would make these two volumes compulsory reading for all ministers! Edwards seems to satisfy all round; he really was an amazing man.”

    If you like Lloyd-Jones you should like Edwards!

  2. Hey, I just came across your website and I appreciated the blogs, especially the one about the purpose of showing mercy (in marriage, etc.). We hope you guys are well! We’re back in Croatia working away and, hopefully, I’ll get some time to do some final editing on the dissertation over the break. When are you coming to Croatia? Kevin

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