Category Archives: Witnesses

Sarah Osborn’s World #5

A fifth installment chronicling the story of Sarah Osborn (Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4).

As Sarah Osborn matured in age, so did her spiritual stature as a Christian leader in her Newport, Rhode Island community. But her spiritual influence grew out of the difficult trials she experienced in her life.

By the time Sarah Osborn hit her late 40’s, her health was so bad that she was simply unable to walk any long distances. She had to be carried to church by her friends. One would think that life for such a weak and physically disabled woman would be reduced to pure obscurity. However, this would not be the case for Sarah Osborn.

Over the next few years, Sarah Osborn would participate in an incredibly profound spiritual revival of people from all walks of life. What started out as simply an invitation to some neighbors to share in the nightly family devotional for one evening became an extensive, multi-year ministry. Night after night, people would cram inside her home to listen to Sarah share the message of the Bible. Hundreds of people from the town of Newport, Rhode Island and beyond would sit at the feet of this saintly woman who would pray for them.
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Sarah Osborn’s World #4

The fourth in a series of posts about the life of Sarah Osborn. The first three are found here (#1, #2, #3)

Not too long after her young son died, Sarah Osborn was given the gift of a slave boy by friends. Sarah was too impoverished to afford her own slave. Our “tour guide” examining Sarah Osborn’s life, religious historian Catherine Brekus, surmises that Sarah’s friends hoped that having another young child to raise would assist Sarah in working through her grief. Furthermore, having a young slave might prove to be a sound investment for such a poor New England woman. In an era more than a hundred years before America was bitterly ripped apart by a Civil War, the evils of slavery were never thoroughly considered by Sarah, or her Christian friends, at that moment in time(p. 174). Continue reading


Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. “fire and brimstone” preacher

Most Americans know very little about Jonathan Edwards, except for the 18th century sermon he preached, “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God.” I remember reading it, as it was an assigned reading for an English class, back in my public high school.

Yes, it is a classic “fire and brimstone” sermon, filled with talk of God’s treatment of the unrepentant sinner, as though God is holding “a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [who] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

Wow. I remember thinking, as I finished reading that high school homework assignment, that this guy Edwards must have woken up on the wrong side of bed, the day he preached this tirade. What a sourpuss!!

But such a judgment of Edwards is not deserving, as a more balanced understanding of Edward’s life shows. Contrary to popular opinion, Jonathan Edwards only preached a handful of sermons, on the disturbing topic of hell, during his multi-decade preaching career. By far, most of the hundreds of sermons that Edwards preached were about the love and beauty of God. One of his favorite topics included speaking about the “sweetness” of God, a theme that he returned to, over and over again.

If you want to read a helpful introduction to Jonathan Edwards, that corrects a lot of the gross misunderstandings in popular culture about his life, I would highly recommend A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden’s grand, academic biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (which is excellent, too, but a lot longer!). Rather, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is a fresh, revealing description of Edwards, showing him to be a profound advocate of the overwhelming love of God. Plus, it is short, at about 140 pages. I listened to A Short Life as an audiobook, in about 5 hours, and loved every minute of it.

What made “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God” so indelible in the American imagination was the effect this sermon had, during one particular Sunday morning, while filling in, for another preacher, at another church. Sometime prior to his famous preaching in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards had preached this sermon to his own congregation, where it had little impact on his flock of church-goers. Edwards was not known to be an exceptionally dynamic public speaker, as he was bookish, and noticeably shy. He rarely took his eye off of his sermon notes.

Justin Bieber he was not.

But when he was asked to step in that one particular Sunday, in the Enfield church, a wave of emotion took over the room, as he made his way through his prepared text. Despite Edwards’ un-theatrical delivery, wailing and weeping filled the assembled hall, as many were overcome by the weight over the grief of their own sin. The sounds of terror among the people became so great, Edwards had to cut his sermon short, and dismiss the crowd, preventing him from delivering a message of hope, that he had saved for the climax of his prepared text. Edwards’ sermon had sparked a revival, and many Connecticut colonists made professions of Christian faith, during the following weeks.

It was a profound moment, during the First Great Awakening in America, a phenomenon that shaped America as a nation.

Ralph Green is a re-enactor, who has delivered Jonathan Edwards’ most (in??)famous sermon, as a dramatic production. Below is a 45 minute recording of that sermon.


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on George Whitefield

Before Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber, or Taylor Swift, there was George Whitefield. In the 18th century, George Whitefield was the most well-known person in the American colonies. Whitefield was truly the first American celebrity.

Whitefield made 13 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, between England and America, to give preaching tours along the Eastern Seaboard, starting from 1739 until his death in 1770. At times, as many as 10,000 people would travel for miles, on foot or on horseback, to hear the evangelist share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though an Anglican minister, George Whitefield was known as an intinerant evangelist, preaching most of his messages in the open air. Along with John Wesley, the name of George Whitefield was synonymous with the First Great Awakening, in the English speaking world, one of the greatest periods of revival in world Christian history.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most well-known British Bible teachers, during the 20th century, and a great admirer of George Whitefield. In the following documentary by the MLJ Trust, Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells the story of George Whitefield, in 14 minutes:


Sarah Osborn’s World #3

Our third installment blogging about Sarah Osborn’s world (previous postings #1 & #2).

Within a few years after experiencing her conversion to Christ, Sarah Osborn completed her set of diary entries that would serve as the basis for her published work. Harvard Divinity School religious historian, Catherine A. Brekus, weaves these diary entries into her biography of this remarkable woman: in Sarah Osborn’s World. Sarah Osborn continued to write other letters and other diaries, that Brekus also highlights in her research, giving us insight into the life of this 18th century, American, evangelical Christian woman.

Sarah Osborn lived an exceedingly difficult life. One of those difficulties was having to bury her one and only son. When her son, Samuel, was only twelve years old, he had been sent off to learn a trade, serving as an apprentice to a tailor, which was a typical way of providing an education for young boys at the time. However, Samuel contracted what was most probably tuberculosis. In an age before the development of contemporary medicine, Sarah Osborn held the hand of her pale and dying son, for several days. Unfortunately for Sarah, who had only a few years previously come to faith in Christ, she agonized over the spiritual state of her son, as he had never given his own testimony as to having a faith in Jesus. Continue reading


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