Sarah Edwards is, along with Susanna Wesley, a woman whom I greatly respect as a godly mother and wife. I have to admit to being overwhelmed when I read about her strength of character and consistency with her children. But I know if I never aim for high standards, I will never reach them.
Noel Piper’s biographical sketch of Sarah Edwards has been very helpful to me (and has whetted my appetite to read the longer book by Elisabeth Dodd, Marriage to a Difficult Man). You can read the whole sketch HERE.
Samuel Hopkins (writer of a biography on Jonathan Edwards) on Mrs. Edwards:
While she uniformly paid a becoming deference to her husband and treated him with entire respect, she spared no pains in conforming to his inclination and rendering everything in the family agreeable and pleasant; accounting it her greatest glory and there wherein she could best serve God and her generation, to be the means in this way of promoting his usefulness and happiness.
I’m not married to a difficult man, thank goodness (perhaps that means I’m the difficult woman? That’s scary!). Conforming to my husband’s inclinations isn’t nearly as hard as it would have been for her, dealing with Jonathan Edwards’ moods and tendencies to shut himself up in his study, sometimes to brood and sometimes (more productively for her, their church members, and us!) to study the Bible for 13 hours at a time. But I deeply desire to make our home an agreeable and pleasant place to which my husband wants to return after he has been on a weekend flight or a weeklong trip for training.
Sarah Edwards had 11 children. I have one. But I guess at one time she only had one, as well! From Mrs. Piper’s overview/Elisabeth Dodd’s work:
In 1900 A.E. Winship made a study contrasting two families. One had hundreds of descendants who were a drain on society. The other, descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, were outstanding for their contributions to society. He wrote of the Edwards clan:
Whatever the family has done, it has done ably and nobly. . . . And much of the capacity and talent, intelligence and character of the more than 1400 of the Edwards family is due to Mrs. Edwards.
By 1900 when Winship made his study, this marriage had produced:
- thirteen college presidents
- sixty-five professors
- 100 lawyers and a dean of a law school
- thirty judges
- sixty-six physicians and a dean of a medical school
- eighty holders of public office, including:
- three U.S. senators
- mayors of three large cities
- governors of three states
- a vice president of the U.S.
- a controller of the U.S. Treasury
Members of the family wrote 135 books. . . . edited 18 journals and periodicals. They entered the ministry in platoons and sent one hundred missionaries overseas, as well as stocking many mission boards with lay trustees (Dodds, Marriage to a Difficult Man, 31-32).
Not only did she train her children well, but she must have been so respected and loved by them that they followed in her footsteps by training their own children in godliness and providing them with education. She did most of the running of the household; she left Jonathan in charge once, and he wrote to her, “We have been without you almost as long as we know how to be.”(Marsden) In other words, please come home!
Following is a whole passage from Mr. Hopkins’ opinion of Sarah Edwards–and he knew her well, after spending a time living with the family as he learned from Sarah’s husband (you can read The Works of Samuel Hopkins for free, by the way, by downloading it from Google Books.) I’ve taken screenshots of the pages so you can read what he had to say.
I first read part of that passage quoted in Lies Women Believe, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, when I was only about 2-3 months pregnant. Here is a portion from her book, quoted from the above passage:
I read it aloud to David, half in a panic. “David, I’ll never be able to be that consistent! She must have been a perfect parent!” I was thinking, “My mom was practically a perfect parent, to whose standard I will probably never measure up, and we certainly didn’t always obey her cheerfully or without murmuring! And quarreling and contention were certainly present among my siblings and I!”
David was much less disturbed. “It’s okay, honey. You’ll be a good mom.”
From George Whitefield’s journal after preaching in Jonathan’s church and spending time with the Edwards family:
Felt wonderful satisfaction in being at the house of Mr. Edwards. He is a Son himself, and hath also a Daughter of Abraham for his wife. A sweeter couple I have not yet seen. Their children were dressed not in silks and satins, but plain, as becomes the children of those who, in all things ought to be examples of Christian simplicity. She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talked feelingly and solidly of the Things of God, and seemed to be such a help meet for her husband, that she caused me to renew those prayers, which, for many months, I have put up to God, that he would be pleased to send me a daughter of Abraham to be my wife. (Winslow, Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758, 188)
She had a meek and quiet spirit, and yet she was able to manage her household so efficiently and firmly? She wasn’t perfect–she dealt with jealousy when others would preach in her husband’s place in church, and sometimes she was worried over the family’s finances. But she had something that I want!
Noel Piper closes her sketch with these words: “At the heart of all she was, she was a child of God, who from early years experienced sweet, spiritual communion with him, and who over the years grew in grace, and who at least once was very dramatically visited by God in a way that changed her life.”
So Sarah Edwards’ secret was maintaining close fellowship with God. It’s not her perfection that made her a good wife and mother. It’s God’s perfection, God’s grace, God’s strength.
Please, Lord, make me not like Sarah Edwards, but like Christ!