It is very difficult to judge what is happening in your life as it is happening.
For example, during a revival that was taking place in Northampton, there were times where Jonathan Edwards seemed to almost think the town in which he was ministering had completely been transformed.
George Marsden writes, “The awakening, though similar to earlier revivals, went far beyond them in extent. Edwards, who had once been resolved ‘in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity’ and now feared that exaggeration could hurt his cause, reported that ‘a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town, and among person of all degrees and all ages.’”
Imagine what it must have been like a number of years later when Edwards preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and he was not even able to finish the sermon because the audience was in ‘hysterics.’
It must have been some moment for him as he saw people in the town in which he ministered signing a covenant to live according to the New Testament rules for Christian living.
And yet, it wasn’t very much later when that same town turned against him to the point where when asked whether to continue the pastoral relationship with Edwards, only ’23 of the 230 members voted on his side.’
I am sure there were real fruits to the revivals that took place in Northampton and the surrounding areas in those days, but looking back we can see how difficult it must have been for Edwards to accurately judge. It would have been very easy to think more was happening than really was.
It’s also sometimes tempting to think the opposite. What an incredible discouragement it must have been for Edwards when the church began to turn against him. After all, he was only trying to stand for biblical principles, and principles that shouldn’t be all that controversial really, and yet they had so much animosity towards him, that they sometimes spoke of him with indignation and contempt.
He became so discouraged that he “came to doubt whether he had the personal skills to be a pastor.” George Marsden tells us that he wrote to his most supportive Scottish correspondent, “I am fitted for no other business but study.”
You can almost hear the resignation in that statement, can’t you. But really, Jonathan?
Is that why hundreds of years later, probably the most important biography about you begins, “Edwards was extraordinary. By many estimates, he was the most acute early American philosopher and the most brilliant of all American theologians. At least three of his many works…stand as masterpieces in the larger history of Christian literature. The appeal of his thought endures. Every year several new books and scores of academic articles, reviews and dissertations appear about him. Yet he also wrote effectively for popular audiences. His celebrated biography of David Brainerd was a best selling religious text in nineteenth century America and encouraged countless Christians to seek lives of disinterested sacrifice and missionary service. His writings, including some of his more substantial works, continue to inspire many lay leaders. His pen brought lasting influence, but Edwards life involved far more. An active…a heralded preacher…he is sometimes admired most as a contemplative…For seven years Edwards served as a missionary…At his death, at the age of fifty-four, he was the president of the College of New Jersey at Princeton.”
Obviously, in the middle of all the ups and downs God had a great plan for Jonathan Edwards. But it was hard for Edwards to tell how up the ups were and how down the downs were when he was in the middle of them, and the same is true for me and you. There are times in our lives when we think we are at the point of our greatest success, and perhaps that success isn’t as successful as we imagine and there are other times, when we think that we are pretty much useless, when God in the long run has a great purpose and plan in store for us.
We just need to get our eyes off of ourselves and onto our Savior. We serve a glorious God who never fails to bring glory to Himself and while we rejoice in what we think are our successes and grieve over what we think are our failures, we persevere no matter what, because we know God is doing much more in both than we can ever possibly imagine.