Thursday, 24 September 2015

Undocumented Sermon by Jonathan Edwards Discovered

Recently, I discovered an undocumented original sermon by Jonathan Edwards. For the past few years, I have been doing a lot of research on how Edwards's works were published and the various people involved. From my research, I learned that the English Particular Baptist minister John Ryland, Jr. played an important role in the last decades of the 18th century, and into the 19th century, in editing and promoting Edwards's writings.

From reading the Scottish minister John Erskine's many letters to Ryland, I found out that the Baptist pastor helped edit the posthumous Miscellaneous Observations on Important Theological Subjects, published at Edinburgh in 1793. I have found evidence that Ryland showed the manuscript for this work to some of his English Particular Baptist colleagues, including Abraham Booth, who maintained a correspondence with Cornelius Brem, a member of the Scots Church at Rotterdam. Booth's connection with Brem led to Dutch translations of Freedom of the Will in 1774 and The End for Which God Created the World in 1788.

John Ryland, Jr.
From studying letters to and from Ryland, I also discovered that the Baptist minister published at least one of Edwards's manuscript sermons in two parts. In a letter on June 29, 1787 held at Yale's Beinecke Library, Ryland wrote to Jonathan Edwards, Jr. saying, "If you could possibly spare me a letter or short piece of your father's own writing, I must own I should feel it an amazing gratification for me to have the original, and if it were allowed to print it, to copy it out for the press myself." Ryland goes on to say that "Some of my friends would smile at my longing for a relique of President Edwards, but if it be a spice of popery I cannot help it."

Keeping in mind Ryland's desire to receive a "relique of President Edwards" to publish, I found a crucial reference in Erskine's letter to Ryland on October 3, 1791 held at the Edinburgh University Library. In the letter, Erskine wrote, "When you have resolved on to printing President Edwards's sermon on Rev. 14:2 with or without the resolutions, you may write Mrs. Galloway [the Edinburgh bookseller and publisher Margaret (Gray) Galloway] and me, before beginning the printing, and I have no doubt the design will be encouraged." What Erskine is saying in this letter is that Margaret Gray would almost certainly agree to be a selling agent from Edinburgh for the sermon. By this time, her father William Gray and her had published a number of reprinted and posthumous works by Edwards, including a Scottish edition of The Life of Brainerd in 1765, A History of the Work of Redemption in 1774 (and again in 1788), Sermons on Various Important Subjects in 1785, Practical Sermons in 1788, and Twenty Sermons in 1789. William and Margaret Gray also appeared as selling agents on the imprint of a 1789 Northampton, England edition of An Humble Attempt (edited by the English Baptist minister John Sutcliff) and the 1790 Edinburgh edition of An Humble Inquiry. Because Erskine had been the primary influence on the Grays in publishing and promoting Edwards's works from Scotland, he had every reason to believe that Margaret would support Ryland's efforts to publish a previously unpublished sermon on Revelation.

Another important piece of evidence on the publication of the Revelation sermon can be found in a letter by Ryland to Edwards, Jr. on August 28, 1801 held at Andover-Newton Theological School's Franklin Trask Library. Ryland wrote to the younger Edwards saying, "But it would be a gratification of a much higher sort if you would give me any further MSS of your dear father's, or (since I have one sample, and you might not like to spare more of his handwriting) if it were merely a transcript of anything that might be inserted in the Biblical Magazine."

So far, we can deduce the following points from these exchanges of letters:

1) Ryland, Jr. was a huge fan of Jonathan Edwards Sr.
2) Ryland, Jr. corresponded with John Erskine in Scotland and Jonathan Edwards, Jr. in America
3) Ryland, Jr. obtained a manuscript sermon on Revelation 14:2 from Edwards, Jr.
4) Ryland, Jr. had ties to the English Baptist Biblical Magazine

I did some digging around and found an excerpt of Edwards's sermon on Revelation 14:2 in The New-York Missionary Magazine 3 (1802), pp. 299-307. Prior to the excerpt, the following information appears:  

One final piece of the puzzle in this story may be found in a letter from Ryland, Jr. to Jonathan Walter Edwards (Edwards, Jr.'s son) on August 31, 1807 held at Yale's Beinecke Library. Ryland wrote that "I once obtained from Dr. Edwards [Edwards, Jr.] two sermons of your grandfather's which I value above every curiosity of the kind. I was in hope if it had pleased God to have spared his valuable life, of obtaining some further relick of the same kind. If at any time you would entrust me with my sermon that you or your friends would judge to be peculiarly interesting, I should account it an high honor to copy it carefully for the press. My time indeed is exceedingly occupied, but nothing would be more gratifying to me than to have a hand in preserving any of his remains which his nearest relatives were willing should be made public." In the same letter, Ryland  added that "I had the narrative of Phebe Bartlett reprinted, extracted from the Northampton Narrative, two or three years ago, and had since the pleasure to see the daughter of a counsellor, who was awakened by reading it. Her mother was a member of our church before, she is the first of a family of thirteen children, who has publickly professed fiath in Christ."

In this letter, we learn that Ryland received two sermons, originally delivered by Edwards Sr. We also find out that Ryland published a narrative of the four-year-old Phebe Bartlett's conversion experience that Edwards had included in his Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737). I have yet to locate Ryland's edited version of Phebe Bartlett's conversion narrative, but I am happy to report that I have received images of Edwards's sermon on Revelation 14:2 that Ryland transcribed and edited.

Through the assistance of Emily Burgoyne at the Angus Library in Regent's Park College at Oxford University, UTC librarian Susan Edmondson, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty members John Wilsey and Rob Caldwell, I was able to obtain images of the two-part sermon by Edwards that was published in the May and July 1801 issues of The Biblical Magazine. The images below were taken from a copy held at SWBTS's Roberts Library (one of only four archives worldwide that own copies of this obscure magazine). Until now, Edwards's sermon on Revelation was believed to have been published for the first time in 1830, as "Praise, One of the Chief Employments of Heaven," in The Works of President Edwards (volume 8, pp. 305-19), edited by Sereno Dwight.

Besides amending the date of the first publication of the Revelation 14:2 sermon, this discover also provides evidence of Ryland, Jr.'s active involvement in the publication of Edwards's writings. Even though Ryland is not mentioned by name in either the New-York Missionary Magazine excerpt of the sermon, or the fuller version published in The Biblical Magazine, we know from his correspondence with Erskine, Edwards, Jr., and Jonathan Walter Edwards that he was the one who transcribed and edited this sermon.