Number nine of Edwards’s famous resolutions says this, “Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” Puritans have often been criticized by their constant talk of death. This apparent morbidity was fueled by their view of themselves as pilgrims towards a better city. Edwards was no different.
You may be familiar with the famous American pastor who loved chocolate and flying spiders, but did you know that Jonathan Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation? Edwards was not only a theologian but a student of natural philosophy who closely followed the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. His interest led him to undertake a new method of inoculation for smallpox. This technique was also called variolation and was a precursor to the development of the first vaccine. His risk proved fatal. On March 22, 1758, Edwards died from complications related to the inoculation.
As the world weathers the coronavirus and eagerly awaits the development of a vaccine, Christians have a unique opportunity to demonstrate unwavering faith to an upheaved world. Although it may seem like we live in unprecedented times, we may be encouraged to look back through the pages of the church history and know that we are not the first to face such circumstances. Jonathan Edwards’s tragic death provides a timely opportunity to reflect on what it means to live and die faithfully in these troubling times.
Jonathan Edwards lived in the same cursed, disease-ridden world that we do. The Eighteenth-Century disease du jour was smallpox, a highly contagious virus that killed hundreds of thousands each year. This virus not only caused horrific death but significant scarring and blindness on many who happened to survive. Death and suffering were ubiquitous in Edward’s time. In light of the pandemic we face today, we can understand the fear of disease, concern for our families, and the longing for a cure.