“DEAR SON: I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week’s uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you. To which I have besides some other inducements. Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity, the conducing means I made use of, which with the blessing of God so well succeeded, my posterity may like to know, as they may find some of them suitable to their own situations, and therefore fit to be imitated.”
My students will be reading a couple selections from the Autobiography this week, especially Franklin’s setting himself up to live a pure and moral life (ha!), the opening chapter which makes it more clear the purpose of the writing, and selections from Poor Richard’s Almanack. I really do love this book and wish more people would read it. Not only is it funny and weird and so charming, but there’s so much understanding and groundwork for a lot of later texts. I was reminded of how much I think people should go back and read more classics this week in part as people were discussing the Hugh Grant “Vanity Fair” moment at the Oscars, but also with Walter Benjamin’s essays I was reading this week about the ways in which the right kind of classic (like Don Quixote) just exists in a world unto itself in a way, and has a kind mysticism about it that is so engaging and wonderful. Mostly it’s in vogue right now to pretend that classics actually aren’t any good.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and Other Writings
“Their foot shall slide in due time.—Deut. 32:35.
In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as Deut. 32:28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text.—The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.
1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction. (Psalm 73:18)”
My students are reading this sermon and a few other writing by Jonathan Edwards this week and last, and are trying to make sense of how to treat this as a literary text, how to think about what this says about the writer, and what all they can take from it. They are also learning about the specific elements of the construction of these kinds of sermons, and jeremiads in the most specific form. So they’ve learned a little about exegesis, analysis, and application of the lessons of the biblical scripture. They’re also thinking about the imagery in the sermon, and how this broader idea is an important part of American writing.
I am a little bummed because it’s almost the end of the school year (well, we’re in the last two months or so until graduation) and the superintendent just sent out a sternly-toned video warning students about making good choices, not giving in to senioritis, and other such things. Not a single student mentioned how it was basically a jeremiad. Sigh.
Anyway, the other writings here “The Spider Letter” and “The Beauty of the World” are challenging in how amazed their tone is as Edwards makes some observations about the natural world (for example mathematical patterns in spiders’ webs) and how those connect to his understanding of God. It’s a great set of writings because his view is almost, but not quite deist (it’s not deist) and provides access to the understanding of the world through religious means.