The Stretching of Sarah Edwards (1)1
The experience of Sarah Edwards (d. 1758), wife of Puritan pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, is not normative for every believer. But it is one instance of one soul “being filled to all the fullness of God.” As her husband was to describe it, God had filled Sarah with “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).
Jonathan was so impressed and awed by what God had done in his wife that he prevailed upon her to write it down. I think you will enjoy reading her description of how God “stretched” her soul and then filled it with his own glorious fullness.
Sarah’s experience began with a renewed sense of the assurance of her salvation, evoked by a meditation on Roman 8:34. The day was January 20, 1742.
“When I was alone, the words came to my mind with far greater power and sweetness; upon which I took the Bible, and read the words to the end of the chapter, when they were impressed on my heart with vastly greater power and sweetness still. They appeared to me with undoubted certainty as the words of God, and as words which God did pronounce concerning me. I had no more doubt of it than I had of my being. I seemed as it were to hear the great God proclaiming thus to the world concerning me; ‘Who shall lay anything to thy charge’, and had it strongly impressed on me how impossible it was for anything in heaven or earth, in this world or the future, ever to separate me from the love of God which was in Christ Jesus. I cannot find language to express how certain this appeared—the everlasting mountains and hills were but shadows to it. My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as durable and unchangeable as God Himself. Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud. It appeared certain to me that God was my Father, and Christ my Lord and Savior, that He was mine and I His.
Under a delightful sense of the immediate presence and love of God, these words seemed to come over and over in my mind, ‘My God, my all; my God, my all.’ The presence of God was so near and so real that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, seemed as distinct persons, both manifesting their inconceivable loveliness and mildness and gentleness and their great and immutable love to me. I seemed to be taken under the care and charge of my God and Saviour, in an inexpressibly endearing manner; and Christ appeared to me as a mighty Saviour, under the character of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, taking my heart, with all its corruptions, under His care and putting it at His feet. In all things which concerned me I felt myself safe under the protection of the Father and the Saviour; who appeared with supreme kindness to keep a record of everything that I did, and of everything that was done to me, purely for my good.
The peace and happiness which I hereupon felt was altogether inexpressible. It seemed to be that which came from heaven; to be eternal and unchangeable. I seemed to be lifted above earth and hell, out of the reach of everything here below, so that I could look on all the rage and enmity of men or devils with a kind of holy indifference and an undisturbed tranquillity. At the same time I felt compassion and love for all mankind, and a deep abasement of soul, under a sense of my own unworthiness. I thought of the ministers who were in the house and felt willing to undergo any labour and self-denial if they would but come to the help of the Lord. I also felt myself more perfectly weaned from all things here below than ever before. The whole world, with all its enjoyments and all its troubles seemed to be nothing: — My God was my all, my only portion.
I continued in a very sweet and lively sense of divine things, day and night, sleeping and waking, until Saturday, Jan. 23. On Saturday morning I had a most solemn and deep impression on my mind of the eye of God as fixed upon me to observe what improvement I made of those spiritual communications I had received from Him. At night my soul seemed to be filled with an inexpressibly sweet and pure love to God and to the children of God, with a refreshing consolation and solace of soul which made me willing to lie on the earth, at the feet of the servants of God, to declare His gracious dealings with me and breathe forth before them my love and gratitude and praise.”
[Much of what Mrs. Edwards describes below was her experience under the ministry of Mr. Buell, a visitor to Northampton who had come to preach the gospel when Jonathan was out of town.]
“At 3 o’clock in the afternoon a lecture was preached by Mr. Buell. In the latter part of the sermon one or two appeared much moved, and after the blessing, when the people were going out, several others. To my mind there was the clearest evidence that God was present in the congregation on the work of redeeming love; and in the clear view of this, I was all at once filled with such intense admiration of the wonderful condescension and grace of God, in returning again to Northampton, as overwhelmed my soul, and immediately took away my bodily strength. This was accompanied with an earnest longing that those of us, who were the children of God, might now arise and strive. It appeared to me that the angels in heaven sung praises for such wonderful, free and sovereign grace, and my heart was lifted up in adoration and praise. I continued to have clear views of the future world, of eternal happiness and misery, and my heart full of love to the souls of men. On seeing some that I found were in a natural condition, I felt a most tender compassion for them; but especially was I, while I remained in the meeting-house, from time to time overcome, and my strength taken away by the sight of one and another, whom I regarded as the children of God and who, I had heard, were lively and animated in religion. We remained in the meeting-house about three hours, after the public exercises were over. During most of the time, my bodily strength was overcome; and the joy and thankfulness which were excited in my mind as I contemplated the great goodness of God led me to converse with those who were near me in a very earnest manner.
When I came home, I found Mr. Buell, Mr. Christophers, Mr. Hopkins, Mrs. Eleanor Dwight, the wife of Mr. Joseph Allen, and Mr. Job Strong, at the house. Seeing and conversing with them on the divine goodness, renewed my former feelings and filled me with an intense desire that we might all arise and with an active, flowing and fervent heart give glory to God. The intenseness of my feelings again took away my bodily strength. The words of one of Dr. Watt’s Hosannas powerfully affected me; and in the course of the conversation, I uttered them as the real language of my heart with great earnestness and emotion.
‘Hosanna to King David’s Son, Who reigns on a superior throne.’
And while I was uttering the words, my mind was so deeply impressed with the love of Christ and a sense of His immediate presence that I could with difficulty refrain from rising from my seat and leaping for joy. I continued to enjoy this intense and lively and refreshing sense of divine things, accompanied with strong emotions for nearly an hour; after which, I experienced a delightful calm and peace and rest in God until I retired for the night; and during the night, both waking and sleeping, I had joyful views of divine things, and a complacent rest of soul in God. I awoke in the morning of Thursday, Jan. 28th, in the same happy frame of mind and engaged in the duties of my family with a sweet consciousness that God was present with me and with earnest longings of soul for the continuance and increase of the blessed fruits of the Holy Spirit in the town. About 9 o’clock these desires became so exceedingly intense, when I saw numbers of the people coming into the house, with an appearance of deep interest in religion that my bodily strength was much weakened, and it was with difficulty that I could pursue my ordinary avocations. About 11 o’clock as I accidentally went into the room where Mr. Buell was conversing with some of the people, I heard him say, ‘O that we, who are the children of God, should be cold and lifeless in religion!’ and I felt such a sense of the deep ingratitude manifested by the children of God, in such coldness and deadness, that my strength was immediately taken away, and I sunk down on the spot. Those who were near raised me and placed me in a chair; and from the fulness of my heart, I expressed to them in a very earnest manner the deep sense I had of the wonderful grace of Christ towards me, of the assurance I had of His having saved me from hell, of my happiness running parallel with eternity, of the duty of giving up all to God, and of the peace and joy inspired by an entire dependence on His mercy and grace. Mr. Buell then read a melting hymn of Dr. Watt’s concerning the loveliness of Christ, the enjoyments and employments of heaven, that I leaped unconsciously from my chair. I seemed to be drawn upwards, soul and body, from the earth towards heaven; and it appeared to me that I must naturally and necessarily ascend thither. These feelings continued while the hymn was reading and during the prayer of Mr. Christophers which followed. After the prayer, Mr. Buell read two other hymns on the glories of heaven, which moved me so exceedingly and drew me so strongly heavenward that it seemed as it were to draw my body upwards, and I felt as if I must necessarily ascend thither. At length my strength failed me and I sunk down; when they took me up and laid me on the bed, where I lay for a considerable time, faint with joy while contemplating the glories of the heavenly world. After I had lain a while, I felt more perfectly subdued and weaned from the world, and more fully resigned to God than I had ever been conscious of before. I felt an entire indifference to the opinions and representations and conduct of mankind respecting me.
I was entirely swallowed up in God, as my only portion, and His honour and glory was the object of my supreme desire and delight. At the same time, I felt a far greater love to the children of God than ever before. I seemed to love them as my own soul; and when I saw them, my heart went out towards them with an inexpressible endearedness and sweetness. I beheld them by faith in their risen and glorified state, with spiritual bodies re-fashioned after the image of Christ’s glorious body and arrayed in the beauty of heaven. The time when they would be so appeared very near, by faith it seemed as if it were present. This was accompanied with a ravishing sense of the unspeakable joys of the upper world. They appeared to my mind in all their reality and certainty, and as it were in actual and distinct vision; so plain and evident were they to the eye of my faith, I seemd to regard them as begun. These anticipations were renewed over and over, while I lay on the bed, from 12 o’clock till four, being too much exhausted by emotions of joy to rise and sit up.”
I continued in a sweet and lively sense of divine things until I retired to rest. That night, which was Thursday night, Jan. 28, was the sweetest night I ever had in my life. I never before, for so long a time together, enjoyed so much of the light and rest and sweetness of heaven in my soul, but without the least agitation of body during the whole time. The great part of the night I lay awake, sometimes asleep, and sometimes between sleeping and waking. But all night I continued in a constant, clear, and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ’s excellent and transcendent love, of His nearness to me, and of my dearness to Him; with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in Him. I seemed to myself to perceive a glow of divine love come down from the heart of Christ in heaven, into my heart, in a constant stream, like a stream or pencil of sweet light. At the same time, my heart and soul all flowed out in love to Christ; so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing of heavenly and divine love, from Christ’s heart to mine; and I appeared to myself to float or swim in these bright, sweet beams of the love of Christ, like the motes swimming in the beams of the sun or the streams of His light which come in at the window. My soul remained in a kind of heavenly elysium. So far as I am capable of making a comparison, I think that what I felt each minute, during the continuance of the whole time, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together. It was a pure delight which fed and satisfied the soul. It was pleasure, without the least sting or any interruption. It was a sweetness which my soul was lost in. It seemed to be all that my feeble frame could sustain, of that fulness of joy which is felt by those who behold the face of Christ and share His love in the heavenly world. There was but little difference whether I was asleep or awake, so deep was the impression made on my soul; but if there was any difference, the sweetness was greatest and most uninterrupted while I was asleep.
There’s more to come!