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What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics - Part 2

Greetings All,

As promised last week, this week's thought contains Jonathan's Edwards last three thoughts on the Christian's involvement in political things.
     Once again, it is taken from the article by Gerald R. McDermott entitled, "What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics."
     Hopefully you have been introduced to Jonathan Edwards (as he was one of the godliest and greatest thinkers to pass through the American scene).   Some of his writings are hard to follow (as those who have read, "The Nature of True Virtue," or "The Freedom of the Will" can testify).  Yet they are well-worth the time if you want some intellectually and spiritually challenging reading for your summer vacation!  With that being said, here are the last three of Edwards' six points on "public theology."   (To refresh your memory of the first three see last week's post at - )  Enjoy!

     "4.) Christians should remember that politics is relatively unimportant in the long run.  The key moments of history, Edwards taught, are not important elections or decisive wars, but spiritual awakenings. Therefore, the most important thing Christians can do for the good of their country is to pray for revival. Spiritual transformation brings more positive change to the world than political or social revolution.  From God's perspective, "one true Christian, however humble his birth and low his standing; however poor or ignorant or unknown (is more valuable than) many great men of the world, kings and princes, men of great power and policy... that are honored and make a great figure... [but] are wicked men and reprobates." God delights to "choose the foolish things of the world to confound the mighty... and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are" ((I Corinthians 1:27-28). For this reason Edwards did not hesitate to use a four-year-old girl's piety to recommend revival in a public treatise published in an era when children's and women's testimonies were widely considered unreliable. 
     5.) Christians should beware of national pride (or patriotism).  Edwards commended patriotism as a natural and loving response to the needs of one's nation. But, in words reminiscent of Samuel Johnson's remark that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, Edwards warned that patriotism often serves self-interest.  It is particularly susceptible to self-deception, he argued, because its loyalties extend to a large number of people, making such loyalties appear altruistic. Look at the Romans, he suggested; they considered love for country to be the highest of all virtues, yet they employed their patriotism "for the destruction [subjugation] of the rest of mankind."  Edwards would be very wary of contemporary calls to regard America as a Christian nation needing to return to its lost Christian roots. No nation has ever been Christian, he insisted. There has never been a country where the majority of citizens were born-again or even regular church goers [Edwards even testifies that at the height of the revival only 25% of Nothhampton were true believers, with about the same colony-wide].  Most citizens of so-called Christian countries are not regenerate, and even the regenerate have an abundance of sin. No people has ever been righteous, least of all the colonial New England to which he preached. Edwards condemned eighteenth-century New England for it's religious hypocrisy, social strife, lack of compassion for the poor, and exploitation of the Native Americans.
     Edwards would also be critical of those who assume that America's future must be bright because God has favored her with so many blessings. This Northhampton (Massachusetts) prophet acknowledged that New England had been the recipient of unprecedented blessings, both spiritual and political. But, in a move missed by nearly all Edwards scholars, he said that such blessings could be a sign of impending judgment.  It is a familiar pattern in [biblical] history, he observed, for God to pour out spiritual revival just before He unleashes terrible judgement. Revival came to the Jews in Jesus' time, just 40 years before Jerusalem was brutally destroyed. God dealt similarly with Israel's ten lost tribes, the churches of North Africa and the Middle East after the rise of Islam, and the Protestant churches in France after the Reformation. Therefore, Edwards warned that it is foolish for a people to think its religious and political freedoms will guarantee a happy future. If a society is morally and spiritually corrupt, it will collapse despite having wonderful freedoms. Edwards repeated this warning to colonial New England during the French and Indians Wars.

     6.) Christians should care for the poor. Edwards was sharply critical of those churchgoers who, "pretend a great love to men's souls [but] are not compassionate and charitable towards their bodies."  When Boston's liberal preachers Charles Chauncey and Jonathan Mayhew were preaching that the poor were undeserving and their poverty was their own fault, Edwards told his congregation they should not be content until poverty was eliminated from their community.  It was not unusual for Puritan preachers to teach charity to the poor.  But Edwards was unusually fearless when confronting those he considered negligent. When Northhampton built a new church building that placed the poor in the worst seats, Edwards boldly declared that those with the best seats may have no seats at all in heaven.  He charged those who gave only their [unwanted things, or their worthless things to] the poor with lying to God, like Ananias and Sapphira, who God struck dead for their dishonesty (Acts 5:1-11).  In the 1740's Edwards established a deacon's fund specially for the poor and regularly called on wealthier Christians to make "frequent and liberal (generous)" contributions.
     Edwards taught that charity to the poor is at the heart of biblical theology.  Preaching from Matthew 25, he said that God is present in the poor, whom he constitutes as the "receivers."  Since we cannot express our love to God by doing anything to profit him, God wants us to do something profitable for our poor neighbors, whom he delegated with the task of receiving Christian love...  Edwards supported a state welfare program.  Since all human beings, even true Christians are naturally selfish, he contended, private -- even church -- charity is unreliable.  Hence, government shows it's "wisdom" when it administers a welfare program to assist the deserving poor.  Those who are poor because of laziness, or prodigality, however, do not merit such assistance.  Biographer Samuel Hopkins, who lived in Edwards home for six months, said Edwards himself was a stellar example of giving to the poor but usually gave secretly. One time, for example, Edwards heard of a family in another town that had fallen upon poverty because the father had become sick. Edwards, who rarely had enough to make ends meet, made arrangements to have the man receive a bundle of money without knowing from whom it came. On his deathbed, Edwards (who was well-known and well-respected) ordered that his own funeral be conducted "without pomp and cost." Any money that might have been spent for that purpose was instead to be given to the poor and needy."

     This gives you an idea of what one of the most God-centered and Christian thinkers in American history thought of a Christians attitude and involvement in politics and social issues. I trust that as this election year proceeds, you might consider his thoughts, since they come from a zealous evangelist, ardent revivalist, biblical thinker and godly husband and father.
     After all, as being "in the world but not of the world," the Christian is not really able to avoid "politics" completely.  Believers are simply asked to think, act, and hold to truly Christian ideals as they live out their faith within the realities of an imperfect society run by imperfect people like him or herself.
     In fact, in keeping with Edwards, what matters most are not the ideas, platforms, or policies held by any particular political party, for each one is terribly flawed and cannot escape being corrupted by the lure of money and the desire for power. Contrary to the persuasion of some, our country will never truly be "fixed" so long as it is run by sinners (be they sinners who are Democrat or Republican, or whatever other party one affiliates with)!  A host of individual citizens, committed to that which honors and reflects the nature of our just and merciful God, will do more to bring about healthy changes in society than any party's agenda or platform.  That's how I see it anyway, and I think Edwards would agree.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff