Sarah Pierpont Edwards (1710-1758)
By all accounts, Sarah Edwards, daughter of James Pierpont, one of the principal founders of Yale, was a deeply pious woman. In 1728, she married the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, who initiated the revival in Northampton, Massachusetts, which eventually grew into the "First Great Awakening" in North America. Sarah's own religious life was marked by the extreme fervor of the Awakening, which would become a major movement in American religious history.
The history of Jonathan Edwards, the legendary evangelist one of the initiators of the Great Revival, is well-known, but what do we know about his wife? Sarah Edwards was one of the biggest assets in Jonathan's life and although he was sometimes described as a "difficult man," Sarah supported and loved him faithfully. She was truly his helpmate and helped him become the great man he was.
Sarah Pierpont was born and grew up in the coastal city of New Haven, Connecticut, where she was very well known. She was the daughter of renowned Reverend James and Mrs. Mary Pierpont, both of whom were very devout in their Puritan faith.
Sarah's father had two previous marriages. They were devastating, however, as both of his first two wives died soon after they were married. After these deaths, James met striking young Mary Hooker, who would soon become his wife and Sarah's mother. Mary Hooker came from great lineage. One of her grandfathers had been the first mayor of New York City and the other one was the founder of Hartford, Connecticut.
Mary taught Sarah to sew, knit, do patchwork, and recite the catechism like all the other girls of that time. Sarah also learned how to play the lute. She was known to be very bright, cheerful, friendly, and very devoted in her faith, just like her parents. Sarah often walked with a book on her head, so she would never slouch, because good posture was very important to her. She grew to be a very beautiful young woman.
Sarah met Jonathan when she was 13. He had just finished college at Yale a year early. Jonathan was very smart, but unlike Sarah, he was not a very social person. He was very shy and had very few friends.
Jonathan would wait at the doorstep of the Pierpont's church every Sunday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young girl who had captured his heart. He might have been discouraged if he had known that Sarah was trying to avoid him, for girls of high prestige did not associate with men they did not know. But, once he saw her, he could not stop thinking of her.
Jonathan began walking past her house at night hoping to catch a glimpse of her or a flickering candle on her bedroom window sill. When a boat came to the wharf, Jonathan always managed to be there, because there usually was cargo from England for the Pierponts, which meant there was a chance that James would bring Sarah down to pick it up. Jonathan even tried improving his social status. But, it was his perseverance and loyalty that eventually won Sarah and her family over.
Sarah began shaping Jonathan in the way that made him great. She helped him become more self-confident, gentler, and she greatly improved his social skills. He also grew very close to Christ because of Sarah's influence.
Although their courtship was sometimes rocky, they were eventually married on July 28, 1727. Sarah was 17 and Jonathan was 24. They moved to their new home in a new colony called Northampton. The colony was very small, but Jonathan helped arrange and build mills, homes and a meeting house.
The colony asked Jonathan to be the pastor of their new church and he accepted their offer. The church, however, was a Reformed Baptist church which held to Calvinistic doctrine. Many of their teachings contradicted the beliefs Sarah had been taught when she was young. James and Mary Pierpont were very upset with their new son-in-law, and everyone held their breath, wondering what Sarah would do. Would she remain a Puritan or would she convert to the Reformed faith like her husband? Sarah loved her family, but she was now married and decided to do what her husband thought best. It was only a short while later that Sarah accepted her husband's new beliefs and converted to the Reformed Baptist faith.
Soon the Edward's family began to grow. Sarah had not grown up in a big family—only having one brother—but she had 11 healthy children. Jonathan many times would lock himself in his study for many hours of the day, sometimes not even coming for dinner.
Sarah was indeed the Proverbs 31 woman. She was responsible for the care of their 11 children. She was an overseer of all areas of caring for and managing their home. She home schooled all their children except their oldest two boys. They were all brought up in the Reformed Baptist church. All of her children either married pastors or became pastors, all of the Reformed Baptist faith. Sarah and Jonathan had 67 grandchildren.
Jonathan died on March 22, 1758. When he believed that his death was fast approaching, he wrote to his daughter Lucy:
It seems to me to be the will of God, that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as I trust is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God.
And as to my children, you are now like to be left fatherless; which I hope will be an inducement to you all, to seek a father who will never fail you. (Dwight, "Memoirs," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards as quoted by Moore, Good Christians, Good Husbands?, p.126.)
Upon hearing of Jonathan's death, Sarah's wrote to her daughter:
O my very Dear Child,
What shall I say. A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may all 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. (In Burr, Journal, 301. as quoted by Moore in Good Christians, Good Husbands?, p.126)
Oh, to sincerely love God even more than our greatest earthly blessing! To say amidst great trials that God has our heart. To "kiss the rod" and "adore His goodness." To be fully satisfied in Christ alone and say, "there I am and love to be." What a marvelous work of grace God did in her heart.
Sarah became even stronger in her faith through her sorrows. She helped those around her and raised her oldest daughter's children when her widowed daughter died. Sarah became ill during an epidemic in September 1759 and died at the age of 49. However, her grace mercy and servitude lived on in her children, so that even years after her death, she still touched lives through her never-ending love.
A short biography, along with her portrait, is included in Memoirs of Eminently Pious Women (Hartford, 1833), which describes her intense worship:
"Near the close of the year 1738, according to the testimony of Mr. Edwards, she was led, under an uncommon discovery of God's excellency, and in an high exercise of love to God, and of rest and joy in Him, to make a new and most solemn dedication of herself to His service and glory, an entire renunciation of the world, and a resignation of all to God. After this, she had often such views of the glory of the Divine perfections, and of Christ's excellencies, and at times, for hours together, without any interruption, that she was overwhelmed, and as it were swallowed up, in the light and joy of the love of God." (p. 307)
Compiled from multiple sources.