A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God

Notes on the Role of Persuasion...


Analytic Categories:

1. Ethos

- Edwards as 'faithful testifier'; part social scientist, part dispassionate story teller

2. Modes of Expression

- highly rationalistic, quasi-scientific in description (Greek influence)

- form is that of a story, or narrative testimony (Hebrew influence)

- style or tone is neutral, objective; very matter-of-fact w/o much hype

Key Rhetorical Mechanism: Surprising and much heralded conversion by a well-known (and much gossiped about) young woman -- Miss. Abigail Hutchinson

Rhetorical Purpose: Edwards' narrative was offered in part as a corrective against the many "false reports" that were being disseminated in America and England about the revival/awakening in North Hampton and the surrounding areas. The account was persuasive to many, so persuasive that many took it to be a kind of gospel in itself as to how "true" Christian conversion occurs.

Summary/Analysis: In this account, the the idea of a religious conversion receives, perhaps for the first time, something approaching a scientific (strong objectivist) treatment. There is a strong rational emphasis in Edward's systematic treatment of the "spiritual stages" accompanying religious conversion. The mode of expression, however, is that of narrative testimony (Hebrew mode of expression). The account retains the dramatic interest and flow of story. The mode is persuasive because it draws its inventional power from a similar story of conversion in the NT book of Acts (see below) -- recall the concept of "identification."

Thus, Edwards' account combines two different aspects of persuasion. By 1) accounting systematically for the stages of conversionism [a Rhetoric of Objective Form], and by an exhaustive enumeration of states and activities that occur within each stage, the reader is persuaded to the appearance of truth via the author's scientific rigor. On the other hand, 2) the account is communicated in the nonargumentive mode of a Story. (We don't "argue" against stories. We argue against arguments.) The rhetorical synthesis of the scientific with the narrative helps to explain why Edwards readers' found it overwhelmingly convincing. Put plainly, the rhetoric of the Faithful Narrative combines scientific authority with dramatic form. You might ask yourself if Edwards' account would have been as successful if it were merely a scientific report/argument without narrative drama, or merely a narrative drama without scientific rigor.

Edwards' account finds a rough NT equivalent found the Book of Acts. This may be seen as a "strategy of identification" with audiences who would doubtless be quite familiar with the Bible story. However, Edwards' adds rhetorical elements not found in the Bible story.  Note how personal Edwards' account is in contrast to Luke's. Nothing in Luke's account lures us into thinking about the individuals involved. There is little "personalization" of religious conversion. What is important in Acts is the Message and the Results. What is important in Edwards' Faithful Narrative is the psychological states and spiritual progressions of the converted.

Here is a small portion Peter's Address to the crowd at Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 2:14-41

"When the people hear this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and other apostles, Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you well receive the fit of the Holy Spirit….With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day."

You might read the ENTIRE account and compare how two different writers use rhetoric to "induce cooperation" in their audiences.

Edwards' Stages of Conversion:

Stage I. The conviction of God's SOVEREIGN justice in condemning one to hell due to personal sin

Attendant Beliefs/Expressions of Stage I

  1. God may be just in accepting some but is surely just to reject me
  2. God may be just in accepting everyone, and yet rejecting me
  3. All my sufferings and tribulations are of no consequence
  4. Even if I seek earnestly with toil, tears, and prayers, God is still just in rejecting me
  5. Even in God's hand, he may still do with me as He pleases, including casting me into hell.
  6. God might have done well to cast me into Hell long ago and glorify Himself in the process.

 Causes of Stage I

  1. Strong sense of general sinfulness of one's being
  2. Multitude of sins coming to mind's recollection
  3. Fixation one one particularly egregious sin
  4. Sense of the corruptness of one's heart
  5. Awareness of one's corruption
  6. Awareness of one's unbelief and knowing rejection of God's grace

Stage II: Unexpected calm and composure, often accompanied with a general sense of hope that God's mercy is within reach

Attendant Beliefs/Expressions of Stage II

  1. A crying out: "It is just! It is just!
  2. Sense of seeing God's glory in own condemnation -- as though he were with one against one's self
  3. Sense of unworthiness

Stage III: A fuller discovery of God's grace

Attendant Effects of Stage III: Mental

1. Attributes of/concerning Christ

  • willingness in and sufficiency for salvation
  • glory and wonderfulness of Christ's death
  • preciousness of the blood of Christ
  • value of Christ's obedience
  • excellency of Christ
  • divinity of Christ

2. Attributes of God

  • mercy
  • omnipotence
  • faithfulness
  • Truth

3. The gospel itself

4. Particular promises of God

5. Sincerity of God's invitation

6. Relevance of salvation to personal circumstances

7. Text(s) of Scripture

Attendant Effects of Stage III: Behavioral

1. laughter

2. weeping

3. shouting

Stage IV: Conversion

Stage V: Post-Conversion

Faithful Narrative: Selected Moments


Selected Moments on Conversion

"There is no one thing that I know of which God has made such a means of promoting His work amongst us, as the news of others' conversion. This has been owned in awakening sinners, engaging them earnestly to seek the same blessing, and in quickening saints."

"I have abundantly insisted, that a manifestation of sincerity in fruits brought forth, is better than any manifestation they can make of it in words alone: and that without this, all pretences to spiritual experiences are vain."

"Conversion is a great and glorious work of God's power, at once changing the heart, and infusing life into the dead soul; though the grace then implanted more gradually displays itself in some than in others."

Selected Moments After Conversion

"They are so greatly taken with their new discovery, and things appear so plain and so rational to them, that they are often at first ready to think they can convince others; and are apt to engage in talk with every one they meet with, almost to this end; and when they are disappointed, are ready to wonder that their reasonings seem to make no more impression."

"Persons after their conversion often speak of religious things as seeming new to them; that preaching is a new thing; that it seems to them they never heard preaching before; that the Bible is a new book: they find there new chapters, new psalms, new histories, because they see them in a new light."

"Many have spoken much of their hearts being drawn out in love to God and Christ; and of their minds being wrapt up in delightful contemplation of the glory and wonderful grace of God, the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ; and of their souls going forth in longing desires after God and Christ. Several of our young children have expressed much of this; and have manifested a willingness to leave father and mother and all things in the world, to go and be with Christ; some persons having had such longing desires after Christ, or which have risen to such degree, as to take away their natural strength. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ to such poor, wretched, and unworthy creatures, as to weaken the body. Several persons have had so great a sense of the glory of God, and excellency of Christ, that nature and life seemed almost to sink under it; and in all probability, if God had showed them a little more of Himself, it would have dissolved their frame."

"Many, while their minds have been filled with spiritual delights, have as it were forgot their food; their bodily appetite has failed, while their minds have been entertained with meat to eat that others knew not of. The light and comfort which some of them enjoy, give a new relish to their common blessings, and cause all things about them to appear as it were beautiful, sweet, and pleasant. All things abroad, the sun, moon, and stars, the clouds and sky, the heavens and earth, appear as it were with a divine glory and sweetness upon them."

"The unparalleled joy that many of them speak of, is what they find when they are lowest in the dust, emptied most of themselves, and as it were annihilating themselves before God; when they are nothing, and God is all; seeing their own unworthiness, depending not at all on themselves, but alone on Christ, and ascribing all glory to God."

"Our converts then remarkably appeared united in dear affection to one another, and many have expressed much of that spirit of love which they felt toward all mankind; and particularly to those who had been least friendly to them. Never, I believe, was so much done in confessing injuries, and making up differences, as the last year. Persons, after their own conversion, have commonly expressed an exceeding great desire for the conversion of others. Some have thought that they should be willing to die for the conversion of any soul, though of one of the meanest of their fellow-creatures, or of their worst enemies; and many have, indeed, been in great distress with desires and longings for it."

"It is worthy to be remarked, that some persons, by their conversion, seem to be greatly helped as to their doctrinal notions of religion."

"There is an endless variety in the particular manner and circumstances in which persons are wrought on; and an opportunity of seeing so much will show that God is further from confining Himself to a particular method in His work on souls than some imagine."

"There is a great difference among those who are converted, as to the degree of hope and satisfaction they have concerning their own state. Some have a high degree of satisfaction in this matter almost constantly...But the greater part, as they sometimes fall into dead frames of spirit, are frequently exercised with scruples and fears concerning their condition."

"I think the main ground of the doubts and fears that persons after their conversion have been exercised with about their own state, has been, that they have found so much corruption remaining in their hearts...Though they are truly abased under a sense of their vileness, by reason of former acts of sin, yet they are not then sufficiently sensible what corruption still remains in their hearts; and therefore are surprised when they find that they begin to be in dull and dead frames, troubled with wandering thoughts at the time of public and private worship, and utterly unable to keep themselves from them...and when they feel worldly dispositions working in them-pride, envy, stirrings of revenge, or some ill spirit towards some person that has injured them, as well as other workings of indwelling sin-their hearts are almost sunk with the disappointment; and they are ready presently to think that they are mere hypocrites."

"Persons are often revived out of their dead and dark frames by religious conversation: while they are talking of divine things, or ever they are aware, their souls are carried away into holy exercises with abundant pleasure. And oftentimes, while relating their past experiences to their Christian brethren, they have a sense of them revived, and the same experiences are in a degree again renewed."

Selected Moments on the Role of Scripture

"There is, often, in the mind, some particular text of Scripture, holding forth some evangelical ground of consolation; sometimes a multitude of texts, gracious invitations and promises flowing in one after another, filling the soul more and more with comfort and satisfaction. Comfort is first given to some, while reading some portion of Scripture; but in some it is attended with no particular Scripture at all, either in reading or meditation."

"Persons commonly at first conversion, and afterwards, have had many texts of Scripture brought to their minds, which are exceeding suitable to their circumstances, often come with great power, as the word of God or of Christ indeed."

"And it seems to be necessary to suppose that there is an immediate influence of the Spirit of God, oftentimes, in bringing texts of Scripture to the mind. Not that I suppose it is done in a way of immediate revelation, without any use of the memory; but yet there seems plainly to be an immediate and extraordinary influence, in leading their thoughts to such and such passages of Scripture, and exciting them in the memory. Indeed in some, God seems to bring texts of Scripture to their minds no otherwise than by leading them into such frames and meditations as harmonize with those Scriptures; but in many persons there seems to be something more than this."

Selected Moments on the Aftermath of Conversion

"In the latter part of May, it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to be more let loose, and raged in a dreadful manner. The first instance wherein it appeared, was a person putting an end to his own life by cutting his throat."

"In the latter part of May, it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to more let loose, and raged in a dreadful manner. The first instance wherein it appeared, was a person putting an end to his own life by cutting his throat…He had, from the beginning of this extraordinary time, been exceedingly concerned about the state of his soul, and there were some things in his experience that appeared very hopeful; but he durst entertain no hope concerning his own good estate.Towards the latter part of his time, he grew much discouraged, and melancholy grew again upon him, till he was wholly overpowered by it, and was in a great measure past a capacity of receiving advice, or being reasoned with to any purpose. The devil took the advantage, and drove him into despairing thoughts. He was kept awake at nights, meditating terror, so that he had scarce any sleep at all for a long time together; and it was observed at last, that he was scarcely well capable of managing his ordinary business, and was judged delirious by the coroner's inquest."

"After these things, the instances of conversion were rare here in comparison of what they had before been…The Spirit of God, not long after this time, appeared very sensibly withdrawing from all parts of the country…there were some turns, wherein God's work seemed to revive, and we were ready to hope that all was going to be renewed again; yet, in the main, there was a gradual decline of that general, engaged, lively spirit in religion, which had been. Several things have happened since, which have diverted people's minds, and turned their conversation more to other affairs…."

"But as to those who have been thought converted at this time, they generally seem to have had an abiding change wrought on them. I have had particular acquaintance with many of them since; and they generally appear to be persons who have a new sense of things, new apprehensions and views of God, of the divine attributes of Jesus Christ, and the great things of the gospel. They have a new sense of their truth, and they affect them in a new manner; though it is very far from being always alike with them, neither can they revive a sense of things when they please."

"A great part of the country have not received the most favorable thoughts of this affair; and to this day many retain a jealousy concerning it, and prejudice against it. I have reason to think that the meanness and weakness of the instrument, that has been made use of in this town, has prejudiced many against it; nor does it appear to me strange that it should be so. But yet the circumstances of this great work of God is analogous to other circumstances of it. God has so ordered the manner of the work in many respects, as very signally and remarkably to show it to be His own peculiar and immediate work; and to secure the glory of it wholly to His almighty power, and sovereign grace. And whatever the circumstances and means have been, and though we are so unworthy, yet so hath it pleased God to work! And we are evidently a people blessed of the Lord! For here, in this corner of the world, God dwells, and manifests His glory."

"I humbly request of you, Reverend Sir, your prayers for this county, in its present melancholy circumstances, into which it is brought by the Springfield quarrel; which, doubtless, above all things that have happened, has tended to put a stop to the glorious work here, and to prejudice this country against it, and hinder the propagation of it. I also ask your prayers for this town, and would particularly beg an interest in them for him who is,

Honored Sir, With humble respect,

Your obedient Son and Servant,

Jonathan Edwards.


November 6, 1736.

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