Christ, Christian History, comfort, consolation, dead, death, death of daughter, dying, Edwards, eschatology, funerals, grace, Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, moderate, moderation, mourn, mourning, Northampton, postmillennialism, rejoicing, saints, Thomas Prince
Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Prince (1687-1758) were close friends. Prince was one of his closest allies in the Great Awakening, a Congregational minister and publisher who would detail works of God in his periodical Christian History. (The Christian History was America’s first religious periodical.)
By 1743, the revival fires were all but past. While Edwards was lamenting in his correspondence that the gracious work of God had turned into the judgment of God, yet he was optimistic (in conjunction with his postmillennial theology of ‘revival’) that God would again bless his people with heightened awakenings and grace. Still, this was not the best of times for Edwards especially.
In July 1744 Thomas Prince’s daughter Deborah died. It was on this occasion that Edwards wrote his dear friend and ministry colleague:
Northampton, July 27, 1744
Rev. and Honored Sir,
¶We had some time ago heard of your daughter’s dangerous illness, which my daughter in Boston informed us from time to time of the prevalence and increase of; and we have lately heard the sorrowful tidings of her death, which we have received with hearty condolence with you in your affliction; which must needs be great, but yet, by what we have heard, is attended with great ground of comfort and cause of thankfulness of god.
We have heard of very hopeful evidences that she gave in her lifetime of a saving interest in Christ, which puts out of the reach of all the ill consequences of death, or any hurt that death can do, those that are the subjects of such an infinite privilege; and not only so, but makes death their great gain.
¶And how unspeakable, dear Sir, must the support and consolation needs be to surviving friends, in the case of the death of dear relatives, to have ground to think of them as being now in glory, in a state of eternal rest and perfect blessedness, having all tears wiped away from their eyes, and sorrow and sighing forever banished!
And surely when we mourn for the death of such friends, our mourning should be moderate, for that which they rejoice at; and if we may mourn, our mourning may well be mingled with rejoicing.
As we hope we belong to the same society with the blessed in heaven, and have our conversation and citizenship with them, it becomes us to partake with them in their joys, and rejoice with them, especially those of them that were our nearest and dearest friends on earth; and surely we should not sink in mourning and tears while they sing and rejoice with exceeding, inconceivable, and eternal joy.
But yet, such is our infirmity, so dark are our minds, and so little do we see beyond the grave, that we need much divine assistance and support to do as becomes Christians under our trials.
And we have, therefore, to wonder that God has made such glorious provision in Christ Jesus for the support and comfort of all that trust in him under all afflictions, and that he has given us so many great and precious promises, sealed with his blood, and confirmed with his oath, that we might, in every case, have strong consolation.
We live in a vale of tears, a world of sorrow. Oh, that all that we meet with here may cause us to live more as pilgrims and strangers on the earth, and to be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises!
¶Remember me, honored Sir, to your mournful spouse and dear surviving children, as one of their friends that heartily sympathizes with them. That God may abundantly support both you and them, and make up the great loss to you in himself, and grant that you may at last have a joyful meeting with your dear departed relative in immortal glory, is the prayer of, dear Sir, your friend and servant,
In Christian love and affectionate sympathy,
P.S. My wife joins with me in sympathy and condolence with you and your family under this heavy affliction.*
*Edwards to Prince, Northampton, July 27, 1744, in Letters and Personal Writings, ed. George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 146-7.