Yesterday I wrote about the marriage of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards from the book Marriage to a Difficult Man by Elisabeth M. Dodds. As I mentioned then, the writer doesn’t mean that Mr. Edwards was “difficult” in the sense of being hard to get along with: she classifies him as a genius (which she feels made him misunderstood by some) but also lacking somewhat in social skills and willing to strongly preach unvarnished truth, which some would have trouble accepting. It is written from a historical viewpoint, so there are all sorts of neat little tidbits about life in that time. In fact, I am fairly sure that the writer is not saved and is writing from a historical interest rather than a Christian one, yet she still conveys the truth of Edward’s beliefs.
Today I want to just focus on a few passages about Sarah as a mother. She had 11 children, which was not unusual for the 1700’s: but what was unusual for the times was that they all lived past childhood. “Every account of the Edwards house has the same ring. All visitors seem to have been impressed that eleven children managed to be lively and individual as personalities, yet could act courteously with one another and function as a coordinated unit…[Sarah’s] way was not at all permissive. The requirements were completely clear. But she at the same time allowed the children areas of flexibility that were unusual for that day.” “A curious feature about the Edwards children is that this firmness did not squash individuality.”
The following four paragraphs are observations of Samuel Hopkins, one of many houseguests of the Edwards’, who lived with them for several months:
She had an excellent way of governing her children; she knew how to make them regard and obey her cheerfully, without loud angry words, much less heavy blows. She seldom punished them; and in speaking to them, used gentle and pleasant words. If any correction was necessary, she did not administer it in a passion; and when she had occasion to reprove and rebuke she would do it in a few words, without warmth and noise…In her directions in matters of importance, she would address herself to the reason of her children, that they might not only know her…will, but at the same time be convinced of the reasonableness of it. She had need to speak but once; she was cheerfully obeyed; murmuring and answering again was not know among them.
In their manners they were uncommonly respectful to their parents. When their parents came into the room they all rose instinctively from their seats and never resumed them until their parents were seated; and when either parent was speaking…they were all immediately silent and attentive. The kind and gentle treatment they received from their mother, while she strictly and punctiliously maintained her parental authority, seemed naturally to…promote a filial respect and affection, and to lead them to a mild tender treatment of each other. Quarreling and contention…were in her family unknown.
She carefully observed the first appearance of resentment and ill will in her young children, towards any person whatever, and did not connive at it…but was careful to show her displeasure and suppress it to the utmost; yet not by angry, wrathful words, which often provoke children to wrath…Her system of discipline was begun at a very early age and it was her rule to resist the first, as a well as every subsequent exhibition of temper or disobedience in the child…wisely reflecting that until a child will obey his parents he can never be brought to obey God.
For [her children] she constantly and earnestly prayed and bore them on her heart before God…and that even before they were born.
“The management of a large busy household took leadership and efficiency. Mothers then had to be administrators, because the food and clothing depended on the mother’s ability to produce it. Sarah had to learn to assign chores…Children then had the advantage of knowing that their chores were indispensable.”
“The Edwardses saw that the children learned to be orderly about money…[Sarah] herself took care to save anything of trifling value, or directed her children…to do so, or when she saw them waste any thing, she would repeat the words of our Savior — ‘THAT NOTHING BE LOST.'” (emphasis the author’s.) Edwards himself wrote sermons on the backs of shopping lists. Paper was precious in those days.
“The Edwardses made it a point to single out individual children from the humming family hive, to get to know each one in turn by himself.”
“Sarah’s way with their children did more than shield [him] from the hullabaloo while he studied…[He] poured his feelings about this in sermons which eventually appeared as a book, Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life,” which I have not yet read.
I am sure the Edwards weren’t perfect and wouldn’t claim to be. Modern biographies tend to show “warts and all” to provide a more real picture of the subject, whereas older biographies did not want to appear unkind or gossipy. In addition, most of the author’s material came through others, as Sarah was not much of a letter-writer and was too busy to keep a journal, and those sources probably did not know or were too kind to spread their faults. Mrs. Dodds does not present them as perfect: she claims they were both very complex individuals. So I think we can assume that all was not idyllic and there was an occasional misunderstanding or cross word, but we can still take inspiration from their walk with God knowing that though they were sinners just like we are, God gave them grace and wisdom in their marriage and the raising of their family.
I mentioned yesterday that the book was out of print, but used copies were available online. I did just find what appears to be a free audio version of the book here. The audio quality is not great – but it’s free. 🙂