A Farewell Sermon

I was reading the Farewell Sermon of Jonathan Edwards to his congregation in Northampton. He was the minister there for 23 years and rejected publicly as their minister following a ‘difference of sentiments, concerning the requisite qualifications of members of the church in complete standing.’ (which to me is truly an understatement of the events of Edwards’ dismissal.) There is a lot of info out there about Edwards so I won’t elaborate here, because I won’t do it justice.

Edwards does address the circumstances of the difference between him and the people of Northhampton in his sermon. However, and this is an opinion only, following only a reading of the text – he does not seem angry or accusatory for most of the sermon. It is a sermon full of grace and truth.

I wonder and imagine what it would be like to be Sarah (I have read Marriage to a Difficult Man, The Uncommon Union of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards) in the congregation that day to hear her husband preach this sermon. I also wonder what it would be like to be one of the many who were so opposed and bitter toward him when he made this statement midway through the sermon;

“But now I have reason to think my work is finished which I had to do as your minister; you have publicly rejected me, and my opportunities cease.”

I think my stomach would flip a little bit. But the reason I am struck by the sermon is that it is so led by God. I have read that Edwards struggled preparing it and even considered preaching from the text of Jeremiah 25:3 before going down a different path. Here are some of the things he did say:

“Ministers, and the people that have been under their care, must meet together before Christ’s tribunal at the day of judgment…The minister may be removed to a distant place, and they may never have any more to do with one another in this world. But if it be so, there is one meeting more that they must have, and that is the last day of great accounts.”

“Ministers, who now often meet their people to preach to them the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, to convince them that there is a God and declare to them what manner of being he is, and to convince them that he governs and will judge the world, and that there is a future state of rewards and punishments, and to preach to them a Christ in heaven, at the right hand of God, in an unseen world – shall then meet their people in the most immediate sensible presence of this great God, Savior, and Judge, appearing in the most plain, visible, and open manner, with great glory, with all his holy angels, before them and the whole world. They shall not meet them to hear about an absent Christ, an unseen Lord, and future Judge; but to appear before that Judge-being set together in the presence of that supreme Lord-in his immense glory and awful majesty, of whom they have heard so often in their meetings together on earth.”

There are so many reasons to read this sermon. Here is a link for the sermon text online.

What I have learned is that there is a great unseen tie between the minister and his people. We are accountable before God as a sheep or as a shepherd alike. I want to be more charitable in my actions and prayers with regard to my pastor as I keep the very certain future in mind. I also want to obey better and more thoroughly before God.

Light Shining out of Darkness or God Moves in a Mysterious Way

William Cowper
1731-1800
Poet, Hymnwriter

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

In his biographical talk on John Newton, John Piper shared the following text about Cowper, preached at his funeral by John Newton. (originally from The Life of John Newton by Richard Cecil)

He drank tea with me in the afternoon. The next morning a violent storm overtook him. . . . I used to visit him often but no argument could prevail with him to come and see me. He used to point with his finger to the church and say: “You know the comfort I have had there and how I have seen the glory of the Lord in His house, and until I go there I’ll not go anywhere else.” He was one of those who came out of great tribulations. He suffered much here for twenty-seven years, but eternity is long enough to make amends for all. For what is all he endured in this life, when compared with the rest which remaineth for the children of God.