It’s not often when a family of five with three kids five years and under decide on the spur of the moment, on a crisp Saturday morning in November, to drive nearly two hours for a history lesson.
That’s exactly what we did yesterday. And it was completely worth it.
Around 8am, my wife, half serious, half joking, said, “Let’s go to New Haven” (in Connecticut, where Yale is located). A two hour and 40 minute drive—a bit ambitious. I suggested we drive to Northampton, MA, a bit closer. That’s where Jonathan Edwards lived and ministered from 1726-1750. As a pastor and someone who has read and benefited from the life and ministry of Edwards, I’ve wanted to visit for some time. “Really? Are you serious?” Bailey, our five year-old, asked with a hesitant, yet anticipatory smile. Yes! Fifty minutes later, snacks were packed, all were dressed and in the van. Day trip here we come.
We spent the entire afternoon walking (with a little bit of driving…lots of little legs in our crew) around Northampton. Relive the journey with us here.
Historic Northampton Museum and Education Center
We were clueless about where to go and what to see. We thought this museum was a good place to start. It’s small and quiet with no visible Edwards artifacts. “I’m a fan of Edwards. Is there anything you can point us to?” I asked the curator. She showed me two original printed copies of sermons from Edwards. Bingo.
Below, on the left is his farewell sermon after he was dismissed (i.e. fired—yes, Jonathan Edwards was fired by his congregation). It was preached in 1750 and published in 1751. On the right is A Divine and Supernatural Light (which I had the pleasure of reading a few years ago). It was preached in 1734.
The curator then showed us a guide for a walking tour throughout the town. Bingo #2.
The Bridge Street Cemetery
We began at the end. On resurrection ground.
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards are buried at Princeton Cemetery in New Jersey, but their cenotaphs are located here. You can see the surname “Edwards” at the bottom of the large monument (left). It has their names and birth/death dates on the front and the names and dates of their eleven children on the other three sides. Jonathan Edwards’ individual cenotaph is on the right.
There were other graves we wanted to see. I couldn’t find Solomon Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather, the prominent Northampton pastor who preached at the church before Edwards. Carly, not even realizing who she had found at the time, took this photo. She said later that she had a sense, probably given by God, that “this was an important man.” She was right.
We found the gravesite of David Brainerd, a missionary to Native Americans, who died at age 29. His stone could have said, “Here lies a man who did not waste his life.”
We told our kids today, as we often do, that those who know Jesus will rise with new bodies someday. On Resurrection Day. As I walked this cemetery, set in the birthplace of the Great Awakening, I couldn’t help but wonder, How many of these souls first trusted in Jesus during that revival? How many of their family came to Jesus in the years following? How glorious will the celebration be in this place when Jesus returns?
On to the meeting house.
The Meetinghouse is where the town gathered for all sorts of things, including worship. The First Meetinghouse stood from 1655-1661. Edwards preached in the Second and Third Meetinghouses. The Fourth Meetinghouse was destroyed by fire. Pictured below, still standing today, is the “Fifth Meetinghouse,” built in 1878.
Walking in to the house, we stood on a semi-circle step (you can see it in the picture on the left) which was one of the original steps of the Third Meetinghouse. Sunday after Sunday, Edwards walked over this slab as he went to preach the gospel to his congregation.
Inside, a memorial tablet of Edwards that was unveiled in 1900.
Near the front of the room, just to the right of the pulpit, rested a door with several notes tacked to it. They are affirmations of what “I do not believe [in].” To say that these notes are in this location is ironic is a massive understatement. Edwards, who proclaimed the sovereignty, supremacy, and goodness of God in all things (including evil), the definite atonement of Christ on the cross, and the judgment of God on unrepentant sinners, would have been appalled.
It grieved and angered our hearts, too.
On to the Edwards’ home.
The Edwards’ actual home no longer exists. The adjacent street was renamed Edwards Square in his honor (top). The homestead was made up of dozens of acres on King Street in Northampton. A Catholic church (more irony) now stands where his home was located (bottom left and center).
Across the street was a cafe and bakery. It had been a long day. We needed a snack. Jonathan probably never had the pleasure of enjoying a chocolate chip cookie. We enjoyed a few for him.
On to The Edwards church.
The Edwards Church
Founded in 1833 when the number of people outgrew the First Congregational Church’s “meetinghouse,” this church was named in honor of Edwards. The current version was built in 1958 (left). On the side of the building is a stone tile of Edwards, one of four tiles depicting scenes of early religious life in the area (right).
We had to walk along Main Street to get here. I later told Carly that while we walked, “I felt alone. Like we—the five of us—were alone.” It’s difficult to describe. We are heirs of the theology and heart of Edwards. It became evident on our walk that Northampton, the cradle of the Great Awakening, is not. Carly, in her wise, clear, and concise way articulated it: “I know what you mean. It felt oppressive.”
One more stop. On to the library.
In the rear of the library was another semi-circle stone—a granite doorstep from the Edwards’ homestead.
After Edwards was dismissed from his church, he became a missionary to Native Americans. I’m no Edwards—not even close. But for me, as pastor and soon-to-be missionary in an area with many Native Americans, to have my family stand on the stoop that Jonathan and Sarah and their eleven children would have walked on hour after hour, day after day, was perhaps the most serene and wonderful moment of the day.
As we drove home in the dark, overlooking a faint orange and purple sunset hovering above the Berkshires, I said to Carly, “Today made him a bit more real to me. I’m thankful for that. I can’t wait to meet him.” She agreed.
And someday, on Resurrection Day, if not before, we will.