My God Lives, and He Has My Heart: The Faith of Sarah Edwards
Sarah Edwards is known as the wife of famous pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. Yet to those who knew her personally, Sarah was a woman who spoke life-giving words and provided comfort for not only her family but for the frequent guests in her home. George Whitfield, a one-time visitor to the Edwards’ home, said of Sarah Edwards, “She is a woman adorned with a meek and quiet spirit, talking feelingly and solidly of the Things of God” (Winslow, Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758, 188).
There is much to write concerning the life and legacy of both Jonathan and Sarah Edwards. This article will explore a fraction (but not an insignificant glimpse) into the life, heart, and theology of Sarah.
In 1757, Jonathan and Sarah’s son-in-law, Aaron Burr, died. Jonathan Edwards took Aaron's position as president of the College at New Jersey, which later became Princeton. Soon after Jonathan’s arrival, he received the smallpox vaccine and developed a fever. He entered into the presence of his Savior after being married to Sarah for 30 years.
A week and a half following the death of her husband, Sarah wrote these words to her daughter Esther:
My Very Dear Child,
What shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God, and there I am, and love to be. Your ever affectionate mother,
Esther never read this letter. She died of fever two weeks after these words were written. Sarah died that same year, resulting in a total of five deaths within the Edwards family in one year.
The remainder of this article will involve exploring this theologically intense letter section by section. It will delve into Sarah’s theology concerning a sovereign God and how she processed amid grief.
“A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud”
Sarah acknowledged God’s holiness as well as his goodness even in the midst of losing her husband. Not only was she submitting to the sovereign will of God, but she said, “God sees this dark cloud – this trial – as a good thing. Therefore, I will trust him.” She was not saying, “I will begrudgingly submit to God because he seems unjust.” Rather, out of knowing the character of God, she said, “God has sent us a dark cloud, and I will rejoice in his goodness and holiness.” She did not let the earthly loss of a husband create bitterness, nor did she diminish her suffering. God is good. And yes, the cloud was dark – almost black. But he is good, and he is holy.
“O that we may kiss the rod and lay our hands on our mouths”
This is an odd line. However, it contains analogies to many Bible verses that allude to suffering and the finiteness of men in light of God’s sovereignty.
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4-5).
When God’s rod seems to strike us, we should welcome and embrace it as his love and mercy toward us. When we do not understand his ways, we should cover our mouths in silence and acknowledge that God will have his way. God’s plans are bigger than what we can see with our limited sense of right and wrong. Sarah embraced this truth.
“The Lord has done it”
Sarah expressed submission to God as Job did. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). All things – good and bad – come from God. He alone holds ultimate authority. David reinforces this idea in Psalm 139:16, “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” God had the days of Jonathan Edwards planned from beginning to end. Both life and death submit to God.
“He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long”
God’s Spirit always produces the heart-posture of love toward himself, notwithstanding the trials we face. Sarah knew this at a deep level as expressed in the phrase, “He has made me adore his goodness.” She focused on the blessing of God in her husband Jonathan rather than caving to bitterness. She expressed a heart of thankfulness to God for his good gifts.
We are often resentful over the seemingly good things God withholds from us. A Biblical response produces gratefulness for the good things God gives. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
“But my God lives, and he has my heart”
Sarah again echoes Job, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). Job focused on the coming of the One who would conquer sin and death – perhaps further to the second coming of Christ. Job’s hope was rooted in the life of God. Sarah reverberates this hope through her words, “But my God lives.” Despite the death of her earthly husband, her focus was on God who lives. Jonathan, though dead in the earthly sense, was alive with God. This was the centrality of Sarah’s hope.
God had Sarah’s heart. Her full submission to God as her heavenly father circumvented any major crisis of faith. The depth of this statement demonstrates her devotion despite what it cost on a personal level. God had proved his faithfulness throughout her life. She knew his character. She trusted his promises. No matter what God brought into her life, Sarah could rest assured of God’s sovereign love for her. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). This verse does not imply that we will be without trials but reminds us of God’s faithfulness and intentionality toward us in those trials. We can trust our God.
“O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us! We are all given to God, and there I am, and love to be”
Sarah again rejoiced in the goodness of God – the gift of her husband. She rejoiced in his impact upon her life and the lives of her children. Sarah saw it as a blessing that Jonathan Edwards could continue his legacy not only in his writing and preaching, but in the life of his family. That speaks louder than words.
More than anything, Sarah delighted to be in the presence of her Lord. As highly as Sarah esteemed her husband, she esteemed Christ to be of greater value. The message communicated to her children through this line reverberates with a single-minded devotedness to Christ.
“There I am, and love to be.”
This letter is of great benefit in understanding the theology of Sarah and how she processed the death of her husband. Through the Spirit of God, Sarah nurtured a deep love for God’s sovereignty and knew God loved her as her heavenly father. More than having this trust and love be a personal belief, she freely shared her depth of love for God with forthcoming generations. As an application for our own lives, may God not only work a deeper love for Himself in our hearts but move us to truly adore His goodness despite hardships.
Brittany Proffitt lives in southern Ohio and holds a BA in Religion. She is passionate about Scripture and how God’s Word impacts individuals’ hearts and lives.