I've been working a lot at Forbes Library, the Northampton public library. They have these great study nooks with tall windows, green blinds, curves of dark wood to help you nestle into your work. Fifteen minutes before they close for the day, someone walks through the building ringing a hand bell. It's a good sound. I work for forty-five minutes, then take fifteen minute breaks, and lately, on breaks, I've been going outside, walking around the corner of the building, and sitting on a obscure bench to eat an apple with my feet on a piece of granite that was once a doorstep to Jonathan Edwards's house. There's a little plaque about it, too, which credits him with helping to spark the wave of Christian revivals they called the Great Awakening. The last time I used the bench, I had to wait until a guy was done drawing patterns with the ash of his smashed out cigarette on the Jonathan Edwards doorstep.
Yesterday, though, I ended up across Rt. 66 at the Neilson library at Smith College, because, distracted, I forgot that Forbes is only open 1-5 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I was hours early. The study carrel I was poaching in had bad light, but when I was working on getting more of what Jonathan and Sarah were feeling while he preached a sermon on the death of one of his daughters, I was looking at the text from the bible he used:Job 14:2. Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.
He actually based the sermon, including the scripture, on another funeral sermon he had given seven years before, because, I figure, he must have been just too emotionally devastated to try and start fresh. As I was thinking about this, and what he actually said in the sermon (and because of the great resources at The Jonathan Edwards Center
, I know which part of what he said was the old sermon and what he added), I went to find Smith's copy of Jonathan Edwards' blank bible, and looked up the notes he had taken in the margins about that chapter: Job 14. One thing he referred himself to was Dr. Sherlock's book, Use and Intent of Prophecy
. (That's not a book I know.)
And that, how to say this?, was a beautiful, tiny epiphany. It is profoundly pleasurable to me to be able to know a little about thoughts Jonathan Edwards had about the chapter of the bible that he used when he preached his daughter's funeral. It is part of the reason, I think, that, despite everything, I love him so much. He was generous with the records of his thought, generous with himself about it, at least, and rigorously honest, so that he left a trail that makes it possible for him and the people around him to become plausibly visible to a worldview like mine, so different from his. (And I contend that my worldview is part of his legacy, whether he would like it or not. I am part of what he made with his writing about those surprising works of God.)
Maybe that sounds complicated, but I'm trying to talk, right now, about something very simple. It is such a -- whoosh -- strange, thrilling and emotional journey through time to investigate these feelings, and to have a note from Jonathan Edwards on the very chapter I need.