Jonathan Edwards & the Youth List
More people commented on my last blog entitled “A Grieving Heart” than I have ever had before. I want to follow it up by testifying regarding the youth here at Sycamore RPC, then answer a question that arose.
In the past week, in response to this challenge that I reiterated from the pulpit a few days ago, many of our youth have written, spoken to me or related to others the conviction the Holy Spirit has brought upon them regarding worldliness in their lives and the desire to change. Tears have been shed, parents have been engaged in conversation, and youth are making commitments to holiness. This is encouraging, and we pray it will be lasting.
In my past article reference was made to a situation involving Jonathan Edwards, the pastor during colonial America in Northampton, Massachusetts, whose preaching in the mid-1700’s was one of the means God used to create The Great Awakening. In light of a question, I thought more information and clarity might be of interest.
In the midst of the great fruitfulness that came through this God-ordained revival, a difficulty arose prompted by a practice in the church at that time called “The Halfway Covenant.” In New England baptized children had grown up in the church and had not clearly professed Christ. As they began to have children, the church, rather than reforming its membership requirements which were in some cases too stringent or disciplining those clearly not in Christ, developed a compromise position. These children of baptized, non-professing members were allowed to be baptized, meaning unbelief was welcomed into the church.
Edward’s own grandfather, who had been the pastor in the Northampton church before him, even let these baptized, non-professing church members take communion in the hopes they would be converted. When Edwards insisted communion was for the believer and that a credible profession of faith was required, the people began to turn against his ministry and a flash point arose.
Many of these youth, not truly in Christ, were quite worldly. Several of the young men, who had gotten a hold of a book on female sexuality, began to use its terms to taunt the girls in the church with vulgar comments that would be regarded as sexual harassment today. Professor Alan Strange of Mid-America Reformed Seminary, in an article “Jonathan Edwards on Visible Sainthood: The Communion Controversy in Northampton” (Mid-America Journal of Theology, Vol. 14, 2003, p. 119), said that Edwards “took the whole situation quite seriously, (and) in seeking to enact church discipline he read a list of names from the pulpit” (of young people to come to his office to discuss this matter), but failed to “distinguish between accused and witnesses.” (You can also reference this story on Wikipedia at this link under the section “Later Years.”)
Whether Edwards was wise to handle the situation in this manner is a matter of debate. Professor Strange regards is as a “pastoral blunder;” others see Edwards was just trying to get all the parties together without openly accusing anyone. Regardless, the uproar in the church over this matter led to his dismissal in 1750.
The point I was attempting to make with reference to this story is that Jonathan Edwards’ struggle with the Halfway Covenant shows us the need for youth to embrace Christ personally and heartily. Youthful indiscretion, which many associate with “just being a teenager,” actually creates great havoc and heartache in the church. But holiness among covenant children brings forth life.
Twice I have preached to the youth of our denomination at their leadership conference from Psalm 110. I remind them once again that this psalm speaks of the ministry of the Christ bringing people by His Spirit’s power willingly to serve Him, and particularly addresses the youth. “Thy youth arrayed in holiness like morning dew shall be.”
May this heaven-sent dew descend upon us, Lord Jesus!