How Important is Family - Jonathan Edwards Speaks

The following is from the "Farewell Sermon" of Jonathan Edwards, leader of the Great Awakening in New England. This sermon was delivered because was removed by his church by a 90% vote because of disagreements that developed over governing the church, baptism, and standards of holiness in the church, particularly regarding the youth. In the sermon, he reveals some of the underlying tensions and reasons for his removal.

Note, in the section below, how he explains the importance of family life, comparing it to church life. He speaks of the disputes he has had with the church in Northampton about how the church should be governed, and how important the church is, but in the same breath, speaks of how pivotal family life its. In fact, he says that in some respects family life is “of much greater importance."

"We have had great disputes [about] how the church ought to be regulated; and indeed the subject of these disputes was of great importance: but the due regulation of your families is of no less, and, in some respects, of much greater importance." 

Then Edwards compares the family to the church, using the same language that many of the Puritans used, 

"Every christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules." 

He calls the education in a family a “chief means of grace,” indicating God’s intention for family life to be a place of instruction,

"And family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. 

Then Edwards turns to state that if family life fails, the other means of grace in the church will likely fail,

"If these fail, all other means are likely to prove in effectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful."

He urges them to remember how urgent this matter is, and how urgent about it he was in his preaching there,

"Let me now therefore, once more, before I finally cease to speak to this congregation, repeat, and earnestly press the counsel which I have often urged on the heads of families, while I was their pastor, to great painfulness in teaching, warning, and directing their children; bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord; beginning early, where there is yet opportunity, and maintaining constant diligence in labors of this kind."

He appeals to them to be very diligent to carry out their duties,

"Remember that, as you would not have all your instructions and counsels ineffectual, there must be government as well as instructions, which must be maintained with an even hand, and steady resolution, as a guard to the religion and morals of your family, and the support of its good order." 

Edwards leaves them with a stern warning that they must reprove and restrain their children, lest their whole families be cursed. He uses the example of Eli to illustrate,

"Take heed that it not be with any of you as it was with Eli of old, who reproved his children, but restrained them not; and that, by this means, you do not bring the like curse on your families as he did on his.”

(The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. I, p. ccvi.)

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