Papers from Hillsdale College
REL 319 -- Eighteenth Century Theology:
Jonathan Edwards and American Puritanism

Sarah Edwards: Gentle, Joyful Servant

by Sara Morrison

In October of 1758, the earthly body of Sarah Pierpoint Edwards was carried from Philadelphia to Princeton where it would be buried next to the bodies of her recently departed husband, son-in-law and daughter. Mrs. Edwards, the wife of the famed Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, followed her husband to the grave after a period of a little more than a year. The deaths of mother and father were the bookends to the deaths of their daughter Ester and her husband, the President of Princeton, Mr. Burr. Oddly enough, Mrs. Edwards became fatally ill only a few days after arriving in Philadelphia where she was attempting to collect the orphaned children of President and Mrs. Burr so that she could raise them with her own remaining young ones (Franklin, 93). Despite being plagued with sorrow and pain (both physical and emotional) throughout her last months, Mrs. Edwards was able to maintain the ardent joy of the Lord and unbreakable spirit which earmarked her entire life.

"Who can find a virtuous woman?
for her price is far above rubies"
(Pr 31:10)

Born to the Rev. Mr. James Pierpoint in New Haven on January 9, 1710, Sarah began a life marked by a rare but genuine spiritual beauty incorporated with a natural attractiveness and pleasant personality (Porterfield). She surrounded herself with friends who shared her love for the Lord. Early in life Sarah was recognized as having a keen mind for Divine things. When Sarah Pierpoint was twelve she secured the respect of the young Jonathan Edwards after he noticed her genuine but intense devotion to and understanding of her Savior. Six years later, July 20, 1727, Jonathan Edwards (25) and Sarah Pierpoint (18) were married.

"The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her,
so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life"
(Pr 31:11-12).

Believing that the Lord had called her to serve Him and her generation, by encouraging the best in the Rev. Mr. Edwards, Mrs. Edwards tended to his every need and want (Franklin, 95). The Reverend was born with a weak constitution and was, therefore, often subject to a good deal of pain; Mrs. Edwards served him as a gentle and faithful nurse throughout his frequent sufferings (Porterfield). Yet, when she would become ill herself (which happened frequently), she would not abuse her husband with complaints or a sour temper. All of this work she bore cheerfully, teaching her children and those around her to delight in the life that the Lord had blessed them with.

"She looketh well to the ways of her household,
and eateth not the bread of idleness"
(Pr 31:27).

Mrs. Edwards was a biblical economist. She took Christ seriously when he said "that nothing be lost" (Jn 6:12). She not only managed an efficient household which wasted nothing, but she took care of any other financial business outside of the home as Jonathan cared nothing for business of the world (Franklin, 97).

"She considereth a field, and buyeth it:
with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good:
her candle goeth not out by night
Prov. 31:16-18

"Her children arise up, and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praiseth her"
(Pr 31:28)

In addition to fulfilling the role of a Puritan Pastor's wife, Mrs. Edwards gave birth to and reared up eleven healthy and well mannered children -- ten of whom lived into adulthood. Instead of scolding or chastising her children, Sarah disciplined with love, consistency, and explanation so that obedience came with joy and understanding rarely did Sarah discipline with physical rebuke. She desired that her children not only obey but understand so that they would adopt the law of the Lord into their own hearts (Franklin, 96). Whenever Mrs. Edwards saw a situation that she did not feel qualified or convicted to handle, she sought the counsel of her husband immediately so that they were able to maintain a team effort in the affairs of the family. So even tempered was her nature and treatment of the family that the Edwards children reacted in kind, respecting her and treating each other with kindness and gentleness instead of quarreling and contention which is common among siblings. Furthermore, she was so perpetually impressed by the spiritual responsibility that a mother had for a "rational, immortal creature, which came into existence in an undone, infinitely dreadful state," that she bowed before God in prayer daily that this being would be saved by Jesus Christ (Franklin, 96).

"Her husband is known in the gates,
when he sitteth among the elders of the land"
(Pr 31:23)

Sarah was married to the grandson of Solomon Stoddard, one of the leading preachers of the Great Awakening, and finally the President of Princeton. The Rev. Mr. Jonathan Edwards was among the spiritual elite of Northampton. To complement her husband, Sarah loved social worship and encouraged prayer meetings for women.

"She stretcheth out her hand to the poor;
yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy"
(Pr 31:23)

Mrs. Edwards was not only generous with many, but she also encouraged others to do the same. Often her house would be visited by strangers seeking counsel from the Reverend. Mrs. Edwards was kind to all who entered and took an earnest interest in their welfare (Franklin, 97). She tried so fervently to discover whatever they needed that in the end she had gained an understanding of their heart.

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom;
and in her tongue is the law of kindness"
(Pr 31:26)

Mrs. Edwards made it a rule to speak delicately of anyone's character and avoid any conversation which would be unnecessarily injurious or evil. For some time she believed that her duty was to ensure a good name for herself, thus honoring her husband (Porterfield). After a period of human depression followed by spiritual euphoria, Sarah realized that pleasing others with her character was irrelevant and should have no recourse to her own behavior. After this time, she ignored all lies and rumors about herself and quickly forgave anyone who did injury to her reputation.

"Strength and honour are her clothing;
and she shall rejoice in time to come...
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain:
but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised"
(Pr 31:25- 30)

Although deeply in love with her husband and truly devoted to her children, the Lord broke any trace of a temple that they might have in Sarah's pure heart so that she could be focused solely on him (Franklin, 97). Sarah struggled for a long time with this issue and was forced to go through long struggles before she was able to confess to intimate friends that she was ready at any time to die or part with any dearly loved one for the will of the Lord. When the Lord did call the Rev. Mr. Edwards to him, Sarah took some comfort in her disposition. Although her behavior reflected the loss, she found faith and hope in a humble yet joyful trust in the Lord.

For more than thirty years Mr. and Mrs. Edwards lived together in the joyful union of marriage. Within in the first year of Mr. Edward's death, Sarah also lost a daughter and a son-in- law. Sarah soon after followed her loved ones to the grave. Her life was a testimony to the goodness and strength that comes through obedience and trust in the Lord. Her life was indeed that of a Proverbs 31 woman, and it is in this humbling witness that we are forced to realize the expectations that our Creator indeed has for us. Sarah Edwards was not remembered because of her profound writings or her legacy-making preaching. Rather she is remembered as a model theologian who spoke not in words but deeds.

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Last updated: 8 March 1998