If you were to line up all 15 billion or so people who have ever lived in order of most godly to most vile, whereabouts would you place Jonathan Edwards? I’m not asking for exactitude, just a rough estimate, rounded off to the nearest billion.
Factors you might want to consider include: Edwards (1703-58) repented and embraced the grace of Christ as a young man, worked as a faithful and exemplary pastor for decades, preached arguably the most influential English sermon ever (one credited with starting the Great Awakening), raised a dozen godly children, was a devoted husband, wrote countless helpful theological works, volunteered to be a frontier missionary to a tribe of Native Americans, and all the while recognized his utter dependence on God and modeled humility and purity.
My guess as to where Edwards features in the godliness line-up would be somewhere in the top — I don’t know — two billion, to be safe? I’m certain we would all agree that he should be at least in the upper half of the virtue queue. (The list includes all the Amalakites, Nazis, serial killers, bohemian hippies, and all the lukewarm Christians in history).
The reason I ask is because I was quite taken aback when I read where Edwards ranked himself…
Jonathan Edwards ranked himself dead last.
He wrote in 1725: “I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness, and the badness of my heart, than ever before my conversion. It has often appeared to me that if God should mark iniquity against me I should appear the very worst of all mankind—of all that have been, since the beginning of the world to this time, and that I should have by far the lowest place in hell.”
When I first read this the thought occurred to me that surely he was given to hyperbole, or at worst this was false humility. I mean the list at that stage, though it didn’t include Hitler and Ted Bundy, it did cover the people before the flood who “only did evil continually” (Gen 6:6), oh, and Judas Iscariot. But then I remembered someone else whom I consider to be a paragon of godliness, and in the heady upper climbs of the top most echelons of sanctification: the Apostle Paul. But Paul also ranked himself least of all people, dubbing himself as “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).
Is it possible that the godlier you become, the more repulsive your sin is to you, the more sensitive you are to your sin, and the more you grieve over your sin? There are a handful of top tier folks who think so.