The Stretching of Sarah Edwards (2)
This lively sense of the beauty and excellence of divine things continued during the morning, accompanied with peculiar sweetness and delight. To my own imagination, my soul seemed to be gone out of me to God and Christ in heaven, and to have very little relation to my body. God and Christ were so present to me and so near me that I seemed removed from myself. The spiritual beauty of the Father and the Saviour seemed to engross my whole mind; and it was the instinctive feeling of my heart, ‘Thou art; and there is none beside Thee.’ I never felt such an entire emptiness of self-love or any regard to any private, selfish interest of my own. It seemed to me that I had entirely done with myself. I felt that the opinions of the world concerning me were nothing, and that I had no more to do with any outward interest of my own than with that of a person whom I never saw. The glory of God seemed to be all, and in all, and to swallow up every wish and desire of my heart.
Mr. Sheldon came into the house about 10 o’clock, and said to me as he came in, ‘The Sun of righteousness arose on my soul this morning, before day;’ upon which I said to him in reply, ‘That Sun has not set upon my soul all this night; I have dwelt on high in the heavenly mansions; the light of divine love has surrounded me; my soul has been lost in God, and has almost left the body.’ This conversation only served to give me a still livelier sense of the reality and excellence of divine things, and that to such a degree, as again to take away my strength, and occasion great agitation of body. So strong were my feelings, I could not refrain from conversing with those around me, in a very earnest manner, for about a quarter of an hour, on the infinite riches of divine love in the work of salvation; when, my strength entirely failing, my flesh grew very cold, and they carried me and set me by the fire. As I set there, I had a most affecting sense of the mighty power of Christ, which had been exerted in what He had done for my soul, and in sustaining and keeping down the native corruptions of my heart, and of the glorious and wonderful grace of God in causing the ark to return to Northampton. So intense were my feelings, when speaking of these things, that I could not forbear rising up and leaping with joy and exultation. I felt at the same time an exceedingly strong and tender affection for the children of God, and realized, in a manner exceedingly sweet and ravishing, the meaning of Christ’s prayer in John 17:21, ‘That they all may be one, as thou Father art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us.’ This union appeared to me an inconceivable, excellent, and sweet oneness; and at the same time, I felt that oneness in my soul, with the children of God who were present. Mr. Christophers then read the hymn out of the Penitential Cries, beginning with
‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, My spirit doth rejoice;’
The whole hymn was deeply affecting to my feelings; but when these words were read,
‘My sighs at length are turned to songs, The Comforter is come:’
so conscious was I of the joyful presence of the Holy Spirit, I could scarcely refrain from leaping with transports of joy. This happy frame of mind continued until 2 o’clock, when Mr. Williams came in, and we soon went to meeting. He preached on the subject of the assurance of faith. The whole sermon was affecting to me, but especially when he came to show the way in which assurance was obtained, and to point out its happy fruits. When I heard him say that those who have assurance have a foretaste of heavenly glory, I knew the truth of it from what I then felt: I knew that I then tasted the clusters of the heavenly Canaan; my soul was filled and overwhelmed with light and love and joy in the Holy Ghost, and seemed just ready to go away from the body. I could scarcely refrain from expressing my joy aloud, in the midst of the service. I had, in the meantime, an overwhelming sense of the glory of God, as the Great Eternal All, and of the happiness of having my own will entirely subdued to His will. I knew that the foretaste of glory, which I then had in my soul, came from Him, that I certainly should go to Him, and should, as it were, drop into the Divine Being, and be swallowed up in God.”
“After meeting was done, the congregation waited while Mr. Buell went home, to prepare to give them a lecture. It was almost dark before he came, and, in the meantime, I conversed in a very earnest and joyful manner, with those who were with me in the pew. My mind dwelt on the thought that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, and it appeared to me that He was going to set up a reign of love on the earth, and that heaven and earth were, as it were, coming together; which so exceedingly moved me that I could not forbear expressing aloud to those near me my exultation of soul. This subsided into a heavenly calm and a rest of soul in God which was even sweeter than what preceded it. Afterwards, Mr. Buell came and preached; and the same happy frame of mind continued during the evening and night and the next day. In the forenoon, I was thinking of the manner in which the children of God had been treated in the world—particularly of their being shut up in prison—and the folly of such attempts to make them miserable seemed to surprise me. It appeared astonishing that men should think, by this means, to injure those who had such a kingdom within them. Towards night being informed that Mrs. P______ had expressed her fears lest I should die before Mr. Edwards’s return, and he should think the people had killed his wife; I told those who were present that I chose to die in the way that was most agreeable to God’s will, and that I should be willing to die in darkness and horror, if it was most for the glory of God.
In the evening, I read those chapters in John which contain Christ’s dying discourse with His disciples, and His prayer with them. After I had done reading and was in my retirement, a little before bed-time, thinking on what I had read, my soul was so filled with love to Christ and love to His people, that I fainted under the intenseness of the feeling. I felt, while reading, a delightful acquiescence in the petition to the Father—’I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.’ Though it seemed to me infinitely better to die to go to Christ, yet I felt an entire willingness to continue in this world so long as God pleased, to do and suffer what He would have me.
After retiring to rest and sleeping a little while, I awoke and had a very lively consciousness of God’s being near me. I had an idea of a shining way or path of light between heaven and my soul, somewhat as on Thursday night, except that God seemed nearer to me, and as it were close by, and the way seemed more open, and the communication more immediate and more free. I lay awake most of the night, with a constant delightful sense of God’s great love and infinite condescension, and with a continual view of God as near, and as my God. My soul remained, as on Thursday night, in a kind of heavenly elysium. Whether waking or sleeping, there was no interruption, throughout the night, to the views of my soul, to its heavenly light, and divine, inexpressible sweetness. It was without any agitation or motion of the body. I was led to reflect on God’s mercy to me, in giving me, for many years, a willingness to die; and after that, for more than two years past, in making me willing to live, that I might do and suffer whatever He called me to here; whereas, before that, I often used to feel impatient at the thought of living. This then appeared to me, as it had often done before, what gave me much the greatest sense of thankfulness to God. I also thought how God had graciously given me, for a great while, an entire resignation to His will, with respect to the kind and manner of death that I should die; having been made willing to die on the rack, or at the stake, or any other tormenting death, and, if it were God’s will, to die in darkness: and how I had that day been made very sensible and fully willing, if it was God’s pleasure and for His glory, to die in horror. But now it occurred to me that when I had thus been made willing to live and to be kept on this dark abode, I used to think of living no longer than to the ordinary age of man. Upon this I was led to ask myself, Whether I was not willing to be kept out of heaven even longer; and my whole heart seemed immediately to reply, ‘Yes, a thousand years, if it be God’s will, and for His honour and glory:’ and then my heart, in the language of resignation, went further, and with great alacrity and sweetness, to answer as it were over and over again, ‘Yes, and live a thousand years in horror, if it be most for the glory of God; yea, I am willing to live a thousand years a hell upon earth, if it be most for the honour of God.’ But then I considered with myself, ‘What this would be, to live a hell upon earth, for so long a time; and I thought of the torment of my body being so great, awful, and overwhelming, that none could bear to live in the country where the spectacle was seen, and of the torment and horror of my mind being vastly greater than the torment of my body; and it seemed to me that I found a perfect willingness, and sweet quietness and alacrity of soul, in consenting that it should be so, if it were most for the glory of God; so that there was no hesitation, doubt, or darkness in my mind, attending the thoughts of it, but my resignation seemd to be clear, like a light that shone through my soul. I continued saying, ‘Amen, Lord Jesus! Amen, Lord Jesus! glorify thyself in me, in my body and my soul,’ — with a calm and sweetness of soul, which banished all reluctance. The glory of God seemed to overcome me and swallow me up, and every conceivable suffering, and everything that was terrible to my nature, seemed to shrink to nothing before it. This resignation continued in its clearness and brightness the rest of the night, and all the next day, and the night following, and on Monday in the forenoon, without interruption or abatement. All this while, whenever I thought of it, the language of my soul was, with the greatest fulness and alacrity, ‘Amen, Lord Jesus! Amen, Lord Jesus!’ In the afternoon of Monday, it was not quite so perceptible and lively, but my mind remained so much in a similar frame, for more than a week, that I could never think of it without an inexpressible sweetness in my soul.”
“After I had felt this resignation on Saturday night, for some time as I lay in bed, I felt such a disposition to rejoice in God, that I wished to have the world join me in praising Him; and was ready to wonder how the world of mankind could lie and sleep when there was such a God to praise and rejoice in, and could scarcely forbear calling out to those who were asleep in the house, to arise and rejoice and praise God. When I arose on the morning of the sabbath, I felt a love to all mankind, wholly peculiar in its strength and sweetness, far beyond all that I had ever felt before. The power of that love seemed to be inexpressible. I thought, if I were surrounded by enemies who were venting their malice and cruelty upon me in tormenting me, it would still be impossible that I should cherish any feelings towards them but those of love and pity and ardent desires for their happiness. At the same time I thought, if I were cast off by my nearest and dearest friends, and if the feelings and conduct of my husband were to be changed from tenderness and affection, to extreme hatred and cruelty, and that every day, I could so rest in God, that it would not touch my heart, or diminish my happiness. I could still go on with alacrity in the performance of every act of duty, and my happiness remain undiminished and entire.
I never before felt so far from a disposition to judge and censure others, with respect to the state of their hearts, their sincerity, or their attainments in holiness, as I did that morning. To do this seemed abhorrent to every feeling of my heart. I realized also, in an unusual and very lively manner, how great a part of Christianity lies in the performance of our social and relative duties to one another. The same lively and joyful sense of spiritual and divine things continued throughout the day—a sweet love to God and all mankind, and such an entire rest of soul in God, that it seemed as if nothing that could be said of me, or done to me, could touch my heart or disturb my enjoyment. The road between heaven and my soul seemed open and wide, all the day long; and the consciousness I had of the reality and excellence of heavenly things was so clear, and the affections they excited so intense, that it overcame my strength, and kept my body weak and faint, the great part of the day, so that I could not stand or go without help. The night also was comforting and refreshing.
This delightful frame of mind was continued on Monday. About noon, one of the neighbours who was conversing with me, expressed himself thus, ‘One smile from Christ is worth a thousand million pounds,’ and the words affected me exceedingly, and in a manner which I cannot express. I had a strong sense of the infinite worth of Christ’s approbation and love, and at the same time of the grossness of the comparison; and it only astonished me, that anyone could compare a smile of Christ to any earthly treasure. Towards night, I had a deep sense of the awful greatness of God, and felt with what humility and reverence we ought to behave ourselves before Him. Just then Mr. W______ came in, and spoke with a somewhat light, smiling air, of the flourishing state of religion in the town; which I could scarcely bear to see. It seemed to me that we ought greatly to revere the presence of God, and to behave ourselves with the utmost solemnity and humility, when so great and holy a God was so remarkably present, and to rejoice before Him with trembling. In the evening, these words, in the Penitential Cries,—’THE COMFORTER IS COME!’—were accompanied to my soul with such conscious certainty and such intense joy, that immediately it took away my strength, and I was falling to the floor; when some of those who were near me caught me and held me up. And when I repeated the words to the by-standers, the strength of my feelings was increased. The name — ‘THE COMFORTER’ — seemed to denote that the Holy Spirit was the only and infinite Fountain of comfort and joy, and this seemed real and certain to my mind. These words—’THE COMFORTER’—seemed as it were immensely great, enough to fill heaven and earth.
On Tuesday after dinner, Mr. Buell, as he sat at table, began to discourse about the glories of the upper world; which greatly affected me, so as to take away my strength. The views and feelings of the preceding evening, respecting the Great Comforter, were renewed in the most lively and joyful manner; so that my limbs grew cold, and I continued to a considerable degree overcome for about an hour, earnestly expressing to those around me, my deep and joyful sense of the presence and divine excellence of the Comforter, and of the glories of heaven.
It was either on Tuesday or Wednesday, that Mr. W______ came to the house, and informed what account Mr. Lyman, who was just then come from Leicester, on his way from Boston, gave of Mr. Edwards’s success, in making peace and promoting religion at Leicester. The intelligence inspired me with such an admiring sense of the great goodness of God, in using Mr. Edwards as the instrument of doing good, and promoting the work of salvation, that it immediately overcame me, and took away my strength so that I could no longer stand on my feet. On Wednesday night, Mr. Clark, coming in with Mr. Buell and some of the people, asked me how I felt. I told him that, I did not feel at all times alike, but this I thought I could say, that I had given up all to God; and there is nothing like it, nothing like giving up all to Him, esteeming all to be His, and resigning all at His call. I told him that, many a time within a twelvemonth, I had asked myself when I lay down, How I should feel if our house and all our property in it should be burnt up, and we should that night be turned out naked; whether I could cheerfully resign all to God; and whether I so saw that all was His, that I could fully consent to His will, in being deprived of it? and that I found, so far as I could judge, an entire resignation to His will, and felt that, if He should thus strip me of everything, I had nothing to say, but should, I thought, have an entire calm and rest in God, for it was His own, and not mine. After this, Mr. Phelps gave us an account of his own feelings, during a journey from which he had just returned; and then Mr. Pomeroy broke forth in the language of joy, and thankfulness, and praise, and continued speaking to us nearly an hour, leading us all the time to rejoice in the visible presence of God, and to adore His infinite goodness and condescension. He concluded by saying, ‘I would say more if I could; but words were not made to express these things.’ This reminded me of the words of Mrs. Rowe:
‘More I would speak, but all my words are faint: Celestial Love, what eloquence can paint? No more, by mortal words, can be expressed: But vast Eternity shall tell the rest:’
and my former impressions of heavenly and divine things were renewed with so much power, and life, and joy, that my strength all failed me, and I remained for some time faint and exhausted. After the people had retired, I had a still more lively and joyful sense of the goodness and all-sufficiency of God, of the pleasure of loving Him, and of being alive and active in His service, so that I could not sit still, but walked the room for some time, in a kind of transport. The contemplation was so refreshing and delightful, so much like a heavenly feast within the soul, that I felt an absolute indifference as to any external circumstances; and, according to my best remembrance, this enlivening of my spirit continued so, that I slept but little that night.
The next day, being Thursday, between 10 and 11 o’clock, and a room full of people being collected, I heard two persons give a minute account of the enlivening and joyful influences of the Holy Spirit on their own hearts. It was sweet to me to see others before me in their divine attainments, and to follow after them to heaven. I thought I should rejoice to follow the negro servants in the town to heaven. While I was thus listening, the consideration of the blessed appearances there were of God’s being there with us, affected me so powerfully, that the joy and transport of the preceding night were again renewed. After this they sang a hymn, which greatly moved me, especially the latter part of it, which speaks of the ungratefulness of not having the praises of Christ always on our tongues. Those last words of the hymn seemed to fasten on my mind, and as I repeated them over, I felt such intense love to Christ, and so much delight in praising Him, that I could hardly forbear leaping from my chair and singing aloud for joy and exultation. I continued thus extraordinarily moved until about 1 o’clock, when the people went away.” ____________________
Knowing the negative and critical response that would inevitably come, Jonathan Edwards appended this statement to his wife's story:
"Now if such things [as Sarah experienced] are enthusiasm [Edwards' word for "emotionalism"], and the offspring of a distempered brain, let my brain be possessed evermore of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may all be seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatific glorious distraction!"