The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader is the first published anthology of sermons by the most influential American Puritan of the 18th century. Some people think Edwards is scary, because his most famous fire-and-brimstone preaching ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") is too severe for today. But this book demonstrates that Edwards is equally capable of rapture, of reason, and of relating to a great variety of Christian experiences. The following passage, from a sermon called "Heaven Is a World of Love," is timeless in its sensibilities: "[B]y living a life of love ... you will be in the way to heaven. As heaven is a world of love, so the way to heaven is the way of love. This will best prepare you for heaven, and make you meet for an inheritance with the saints in that land of light and love. And if ever you arrive at heaven, faith and love must be the wings which must carry you there."
The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards contains 14 sermons (of the more than 1,200 that Edwards preached), including five that have not previously been published. A smart introduction describes the sermons' historical context (some were preached to white congregations, others to Native Americans; all were delivered in the volatile period between the Salem witch trials and the American Revolution) and their literary structure. (Each sermon starts with a Scripture text and brief comment or interpretation; makes a simple statement of doctrine that will be presented in the sermon; and then proceeds with various defenses, applications, and uses of the doctrine, which address the immediate personal and social concerns of the listeners.) As a collection, the editors note, "the sermons have a sense of progression to them that reflects the pilgrimage of the soul ... from its sinful earthly state to a pure heavenly existence." A sermon called "The Way of Holiness," preached when Edwards was a teenager, explains what each step in the soul's pilgrimage should be like, urging believers to live so as to deepen the "likeness in nature between God and the soul of the believer." Edwards's own credo, written when he was 19, declares his intention to follow such a pilgrimage, "to live with all my might, while I do live." --Michael Joseph Gross [via]