Jonathan Edwards wrote a short letter to Deborah Hatheway who was an 18 year old girl who came to Christ during one of the revivals in Suffield, Massachusetts (circa 1734AD). This short letter discusses a Christian's response to sin after conversion to Christianity in simple language that is a helpful guide to new Christians.
Works of Jonathan Edwards (WJE Online)
The town of Suffield, Massachusetts,1 had experienced revivals in 1734 and, later, as a result of Whitefield's visit in 1740 and a visit from Edwards in early 1741, before the famous preaching of Sinners.2 So it was natural for Deborah Hatheway, an eighteen-year-old convert who was without a pastor,3 to turn to a known, trusted adviser for counsel. Responding to her inquiry, Edwards wrote this guide for a young Christian, with emphasis upon attitude and behavior.
Conspicuously absent from this letter are minatory rhetoric and theological complexities. Instead, a serene tone pervades. Lay exhortation is permitted on a private level; initiative and responsibility are stressed, as long as they accompany absolute reliance on direct divine assistance. In this, Edwards echoes the Shema, Psalms, and New Testament.
(The location of the original ms. is unknown. In addition to early printed copies, there is a ms. copy in an unknown hand, probably eighteenth century, in the Beinecke Library, which is followed here; and a Dwight ms. copy in the Trask Library. The letter, often reprinted, has become a classic of Christian
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devotion. Publication began in 1807 under the title Advice to Young Converts; beginning in 1827, the letter was widely distributed by the American Tract Society. By 1875, at least 328,000 copies had been issued. See Thomas H. Johnson, The Printed Writings of Jonathan Edwards, 1703—1758, A Bibliography [Princeton, 1940], pp. 99—101.)
∗ ∗ ∗Northampton, June 3, 1741Dear Child,
As you desired me to send you in writing some directions, how to conduct yourself in your Christian course, I would now answer your request. The sweet remembrance of the great things I have lately seen at Suffield, and the dear affections for those persons I have there conversed with, that give good evidences of a saving work of God upon their hearts, inclines me to do anything that lies in my power, to contribute to the spiritual joy and prosperity of God's people there. And what I write to you, I would also say to other young women there, that are your friends and companions and the children of God; and therefore desire you would communicate it to them as you have opportunity.
I would advise you to keep up as great a strife and earnestness in religion in all parts of it, as you would do if you knew yourself to be in a state of nature and was seeking conversion. We advise persons under convictions to be earnest and violent for the kingdom of heaven, but when they have attained to conversion they ought not to be the less watchful, laborious and earnest in the whole work of religion, but the more; for they are under infinitely greater obligations. For want of this, many persons in a few months after their conversion have begun to lose the sweet and lively sense of spiritual things, and to grow cold and Hat and dark, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows, whereas if they had done as the Apostle did, Philippians 3:12-14, their path would have been as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day.Don't leave off seeking, striving and praying for the very same things that we exhort unconverted persons to strive for, and a degree of which you have had in conversion. Thus pray that your eyes may be opened, that you may receive your sight, that you may know your self, and be brought to God's foot, and that you may see the glory of God
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and Christ and may be raised from the dead, and have the love of Christ shed abroad in your heart; for those that have most of these things, had need still to pray for them; for there is so much blindness and hardness and pride and death remaining, that they still need to have that work of God wrought upon them, further to enlighten and enliven them; that shall be a bringing out of darkness into God's marvelous light, and a kind of new conversion and resurrection from the dead. There are very few requests that are proper for a natural person, but that in some sense are proper for the godly.
When you hear sermons hear 'em for yourself: though what is spoken in them may be more especially directed to the unconverted, or to those that in other respects are in different circumstances from yourself. Yet let the chief intent of your mind be to consider with yourself, in what respects is this that I hear spoken, applicable to me, and what improvement ought I to make of this for my own soul's good? Though God has forgiven and forgotten your past sins, yet don't forget 'em yourself: often remember what a wretched bond slave you was in the land of Egypt. Often bring to mind your particular acts of sin before conversion, as the blessed apostle Paul is often mentioning his old blaspheming, persecuting and injuriousness, to the renewed humbling of his heart and acknowledging that he was the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, and the least of all saints, and the chief of sinners. And be often in confessing your old sins to God, and let that text be often in your mind, Ezekiel 16:63, "That thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God."Remember that you have more cause, on some accounts a thousand times, to lament and humble yourself for sins that have been since conversion than before, because of the infinitely greater obligations that are upon you to live to God. And look upon the faithfulness of Christ in unchangeably continuing his loving favor, and the unspeakable and saving fruits of his everlasting love, notwithstanding all your great unworthiness since your conversion, to be as great or wonderful, as his grace in converting you.Be always greatly abased for your remaining sin, and never think that you lie low enough for it, but yet don't be at all discouraged or disheartened by it; for though we are exceeding sinful, yet we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, the preciousness of whose blood, and the merit of whose righteousness and the greatness
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of whose love and faithfulness does infinitely overtop the highest mountains of our sins.
When you engage in the duty of prayer, or come to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or attend any other duty of divine worship, come to Christ as Mary Magdalene did, Luke 7:37-38. Come and cast yourself down at his feet and kiss 'em, and pour forth upon him the sweet perfumed ointment of divine love, out of a pure and broken heart, as she poured her precious ointment out of her pure, alabaster, broken box.Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul's peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.That you may pass a good judgment of the frames you are in, always look upon those the best discourses and the best comforts that have most of these two effects, viz. those that make you least, lowest, and most like a little child; and secondly, those that do most engage and fix your heart in a full and firm disposition to deny yourself for God, and to spend and be spent for him.If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul under darkness and dull frames of mind, 'tis proper to look over past experiences, but yet don't consume too much of your time and strength in poring and puzzling thoughts about old experiences, that in dull frames appear dim and are very much out of sight, at least as to that which is the cream and life and sweetness of them: but rather apply yourself with all your might, to do an earnest pursuit after renewed experiences, new light, and new, lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ's face, and the fountain of his sweet grace and love will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute, than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given, a whole year.When the exercise of grace is at a low ebb, and corruption prevails, and by that means fear prevails, don't desire to have fear cast out any other way, than by the reviving and prevailing of love, for 'tis not agreeable to the method of God's wise dispensations that it should be cast out any other way; for when love is asleep, the saints need fear to restrain them from sin and therefore it is so ordered that at such times
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fear comes upon them, and that more or less as love sinks. But when love is in lively exercise, persons don't need fear, and the prevailing of love in the heart, naturally tends to cast out fear, as darkness in a room vanishes away as you let more and more of the perfect beams of the sun into it, 1 John 4:18.
You ought to be much in exhorting and counseling and warning others, especially at such a day as this, Hebrews 10:25. And I would advise you especially, to be much in exhorting children and young women your equals; and when you exhort others that are men, I would advise that you take opportunities for it, chiefly when you are alone with them, or when only young persons are present. See 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 2:11-12.When you counsel and warn others, do it earnestly, affectionately and thoroughly. And when you are speaking to your equals, let your warnings be intermixed with expressions of your sense of your own unworthiness, and of the sovereign grace that makes you differ; and if you can with a good conscience, say how that you in yourself are more unworthy than they.If you would set up religious meetings of young women by yourselves, to be attended once in a while, besides the other meetings that you attend, I should think it would be very proper and profitable.Under special difficulties, or when in great need of or great longings after any particular mercies for your self or others, set apart a day of secret fasting and prayer alone; and let the day be spent not only in petitions for the mercies you desired, but in searching your heart, and looking over your past life, and confessing your sins before God not as is wont to be done in public prayer, but by a very particular rehearsal before God, of the sins of your past life from your childhood hitherto, before and after conversion, with particular circumstances and aggravations, also very particularly and fully as possible, spreading all the abominations of your heart before him.Don't let the adversaries of religion have it to say, that these converts don't carry themselves any better than others. See Matthew 5:47, "What do ye more than others"; how holily should the children of God, and the redeemed and the beloved of the Son of God behave themselves? Therefore walk as a child of the light and of the day and adorn the doctrine of God your Savior; and particularly be much in those things, that may especially be called Christian virtues, and make you like the Lamb of God; be meek and lowly of heart and full of a pure, heavenly and humble love to all; and abound in deeds of love to others,
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and self-denial for others, and let there be in you a disposition to account others better than yourself.Don't talk of things of religion and matters of experience with an air of lightness and laughter, which is too much the manner in many places.In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ's hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hands and side, whence came the blood that cleanses you from sin and hiding your nakedness under the skirt of the white shining robe of his righteousness.Pray much for the church of God and especially that he would carry on his glorious work that he has now begun; and be much in prayer for the ministers of Christ, and particularly I would beg a special interest in your prayers, and the prayers of your Christian companions, both when you are alone and when you are together, for your affectionate friend, that rejoices over you, and desires to be your servant,In Jesus Christ,Jonathan Edwards.1. Suffield was not part of Connecticut until May 1749. Conn. Register and Manual (1962), p. 452. ↩2. Whitefield, p. 478; Stephen Williams, Diary for Apr. 14, 1741, Storrs Library, Longmeadow, Mass.; JE, Sermon on Luke 19:41 (1741), Beinecke Library. ↩3. Rev. Ebenezer Devotion, a promoter of the revivals, died Apr. 11, 1741. His successor, Rev. Ebenezer (Jay, was not called until Nov. 5, 1741.↩Jonathan Edwards , Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) , Ed. George S. Claghorn [word count] [jec-wjeo16].