Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Jonathan Edwards and the Lost Art of Dying Well

Members of Ralph Bullard's Family, April 25, 2020
He was only 54 years old when he died.

An epidemic of smallpox had swept through the eastern seaboard. People were dying by the tens of thousands. 1 in 6 people who caught the disease perished.

Doctors began asking people to vaccinate against smallpox.

The vaccination procedure was primitive. A pustule from a sick, infected victim of smallpox would be cut open. The pus would be squeezed out and mixed with a rubbing matter.

The infected matter would be carried by a doctor to a house where healthy people lived. The doctor would make small incisions between the thumbs and index fingers of those who had never been infected with smallpox. The rubbing matter would be placed over the open cuts and wrapped with cloths. If all went well, those vaccinated would endure a mild case of the pox and go on to live healthy lives without fear of catching the full-blown disease.

But the people were too afraid to receive the smallpox vaccination.

The 54-year-old newly elected President of Princeton University wasn't afraid. He trusted God.

Jonathan Edwards was the closest thing to a celebrity that America had in 1758. Serving as a pastor before his appointment at Princeton, Edwards' preaching had become the spark that led America to a Great Awakening.

As a teenager, Jonathan Edwards had written 70 Resolutions for Life. Every New Year's Day,  Edwards personally renewed his pledge to live by his resolutions for life. The ninth one states:
"Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death."
For most Americans today, that resolution sounds morbid. That's because we've lost the art of dying well. Actually, this resolution #9, if applied, would help all of us die as well as Jonathan Edwards did in the prime of his life.

Dr. William Shippen, a Princeton doctor who would later serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress, administered the smallpox vaccination to President Jonathan Edwards. The newspapers reported the event, hoping to encourage other New Jersey citizens to get the treatment themselves.

At first, things went normal. Edwards came down with a mild case of the pox, and he appeared to be on the mend.

But then smallpox spread into his mouth and throat, making swallowing difficult.

Jonathan Edwards knew that he was dying.

He'd moved to Princeton only a few months earlier to serve as President of the school (then known as The College of New Jersey). His wife had not yet made it to Princeton. Jonathan Edwards had co-founded the school with his good friend Aaron Burr, Sr., whose sudden death by fever in the fall of 1757 had precipitated Edwards's appointment. Edwards' daughter, Esther Edwards, had married Mr. Burr, and their son Aaron Burr, Jr. would go on to become Vice-President of the United States. Most Americans only know of Jonathan Edward's grandson, Aaron Burr, Jr., for his killing of Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel, an event made even more memorable by the Broadway musical play Hamilton.

As Jonathan Edwards lay on his death bed, messengers sent for his wife. But Sarah Edwards would not make it to Princeton to see her husband before he died. When Jonathan Edwards realized his wife wouldn't make it, he called for Lucy, his daughter, who'd moved with him to Princeton. He said to her:
"Dear 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. And as to my funeral, I would have it be like Mr. Burr’s; and any additional sum of money that might be expected to be laid out that way, I would have it disposed of to charitable uses."
Jonathan Edward's had attended Mr. Burr's funeral the previous fall and was impressed with its simplicity and its charity. There were no ornate decorations, nor an ornate casket or headstone, both customary in Edward's day.  Mr. Burr had instructed all the money that his family would save to go to charitable causes.

As the hour of his death approached, friends and Dr. William Shippen stood near President Edwards and discussed the significant loss coming to the college, to the American colonies, and to the world at large through President Edwards' death. Nobody thought Jonathan Edwards could hear the conversation, but he raised his head up from his bed and spoke clearly to the group:
"Trust in God, and ye need not fear."
At 2:30 pm, the afternoon of March 22, 1758, Jonathan Edwards died of smallpox at the age of 54. Dr. Shippen sent a letter to his widow:
"This afternoon, between two and three o’clock, it pleased God to let him sleep in that dear Lord Jesus, whose kingdom and interest he has been faithfully and painfully serving all his life. And never did any mortal man more fully and clearly evidence the sincerity of all his professions, by one continued, universal, calm, cheerful resignation, and patient submission to the divine will, through every stage of his disease, than he; not so much as one discontented expression, nor the least appearance of murmuring, through the whole."
Sarah Edwards would later write to her daughter these words of comfort and
"My very dear Child, what shall I say? A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud! …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. Oh, 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 our day, when families are panicked over the possible death of loved ones and when individuals are anxious and fearful over their own mortality, it's good for us to reflect on the past lives of God's faithful servants and the art of dying well.

The Death of Ralph Bullard

Ralph Bullard
This last week, one of my earthly heroes died.

He and his family have learned the art of dying well.

Ralph Bullard is my maternal uncle by marriage. He loved American history, the Scriptures, and people. He could talk with you in fantastic detail about the lives of the Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, and great Americans like Jonathan Edwards.

Ralph knew the circumstances surrounding Jonathan Edward's death, and more importantly, he knew the One who holds the keys of life and death.

Last week, Ralph's family gathered around him as he lay dying. There were loving words spoken, humble prayers offered, and gentle remembrances given from those who had gathered.

As Ralph took his last breath, his wife Starley, with one hand on his chest, lifted her other hand toward the heavens, and declared in a soft voice:
"Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His saints." Psalm 116:15
One needs not to fear what God calls precious.

We should anticipate it, even look forward to it. When that moment comes, our death will be turned by God into a powerful resurrection from the dead, and with it, God will grant the gift of immortal life.

To cherish what God calls precious requires us to reacquire the lost art of dying well.


Bob Cleveland said...

I have talked to Daven Watkins, our pastor, and told him I wanted my funeral service to be a joyous celebration. No dirges, no sad hymns, all upbeat and cheerful music.

I also mentioned to the undertaker that I'd like to have a sign on my chest that says "I'm in heaven and you're not. HA HA!" He said he didn't know about that ....

Peg also objected.

If we really believe this stuff, we ought to act like it.

Wade Burleson said...

Amen, Bob!!

carl4grace said...

Another great post.
I agree with Bob about his simple service. I like his idea about the sign on his chest!’

Rex Ray said...

“Newspapers reported the event, [Jonathan Edwards received the small pox vaccination] hoping to encourage other New Jersey citizens to get the vaccination themselves.”

Wade, did the newspapers report a healthy Edwards died of small pox at age 54?

Dr. Shippen telling Edwards widow, that it pleased God for her husband to sleep with Jesus, really ‘takes the cake’.

Wade, the post doesn’t say if the vaccination was a success or not.

Rex Ray said...

Today, we received a Fairbanks, Alaska newspaper (April 5) from my nephew, Hez Dwain Ray.

Besides his father’s obituary, the Headline read, “First Covid-19 death in Fairbanks.” and “Alaska’s death toll rises to 5 for a total of 171 cases.”

Also, in the newspaper:

President Trump fired the U.S. intelligence inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because he raised alarm over a whistleblower’s complaint that led to the president’s impeachment. Trump faulted Atkinson for taking what he called a false report to Congress; complaining Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.


Your coffin sign sounds great! At my brother’s memorial this summer, I think I’ll have a sign: “Beat you here!”

Wade Burleson said...


The smallpox vaccination was not a success for Jonathan Edwards in terms of the way most define success. But the Apostle Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." I guess success depends on one's perspective.

Anonymous said...



Rex Ray said...


Your reply (success depends on one’s perspective) reminds me of Jerry Clower telling how proud a small boy was in telling his mother how he’d killed a huge rat. He ran into the room dragging the monster without seeing their preacher.

“I hit him with a stick, kicked and jumped up and down on him, jabbed him with a pitchfork!” (He saw the preacher.) He wrapped the rat in his arms and said, “Then, the Lord called the poor thing home.”

Wade Burleson said...


Good one Rex - I'll use that one!

Sandy said...

Humor on a casket may trivialize the grief of those who came to mourn.

Rex Ray said...


Once in Mexico, we were going to drive through a town but was stopped by a rope across the road. Two men with rifles gave the rope ‘authority’. Their government had made a wider road but didn’t pay for their land. So, they charged each car $5.

(An example of government doing its people wrong.)

Long ago, there was a narrow dirt country road in front of our parents’ house. The county paid people for their land to make a wider paved road. Our dad told the county he wouldn’t accept their money out of appreciation for having a paved road.

His neighbor across the road didn’t get any money because the county made the road on our parent’s land. The road came close to their front porch.

Now, their house is gone and we built our house a hundred feet from the road.

I know putting a rope across the road wouldn’t work, but I’ve thought about it. :)

Christiane said...

Dear Everyone,
thanking all of you for prayers for my husband . . . he passed peacefully this morning a little bit before 6 AM, my son is here from Alaska, my husband did not suffer.

God bless you all.

Rex Ray said...


So sorry for your loss.

Wade Burleson said...

I literally just rose from my knees after praying for you and your family.


Love you.


Lissa Roberson said...


I will pray for you this morning. Unlike Jonathan Edwards' wife, it sounds like your son made it in time to see off his father, and that is a gift. May the Lord comfort you all and give you special joys as you remember him. ~Lissa

Rex Ray said...


I told this story long ago, but for ‘new people’, I’ll tell it again.

WHEN’S My DADDY COMING HOME? By twins, Hez and Rex Ray

Our father, Dave Ray, was in World War I, and felt called to be a Chaplin in World War II. The head guy in Washington turned him down because of his age. Dave was friends with Sam Rayburn (speaker of the House), so he appealed to him. Rayburn said: “Go back tomorrow and if he doesn’t accept you, we’ll give him the Axe.” The next day he was in the Army in five minutes. He was in Patton’s 4th Armored Division that landed three days after D-day. He stayed on the front until the war ended; had several medals for actions in combat that showed he was accustomed in going beyond the call of duty. He took on anyone in wrestling and never lost.
When the war ended, the 4th was stationed at Rothenburg. As the days passed, he and others made friends by playing soccer with children. It wasn’t long before the people and soldiers became friends. One little girl about five was especially drawn to him. Her smiling face, blond hair, and good cheer made Monika Beyer everyone’s friend. She was the youngest of several children in her family. Nearly every day she troubled Dave by asking, “When’s my daddy coming home?”
(Her father, John Beyer, was the town’s best doctor. In 1942, he was in the German Army at the battle at Stalingrad which started the end for Hitler. Germans had 85% casualties of a million men; 90,000 were captured, and because of food shortage and harsh treatment only 5,000 survived. The chance of her father being alive wasn’t good.)
He always answered Monika’s question: “Your daddy is coming home real soon. You will see him in the big meadow by the oak tree with the rope swing. He will be calling your name.” Her face would light up and she kept telling her family Chaplain Ray’s good news. It wasn’t long until Monika’s mother, Helen Beyer, spoke to him. “I’ve accepted my husband’s death. All my children with the exception of Monika have also. I must ask you, Chaplain, never again say her father is coming home. You’re going to break my little girl’s heart!”
Dave told her about his brother being reported killed in World War I. His mother had eight young children when her husband died and she remained a widow 38 years. She believed God would save her son. After the war, he was in the barn’s hay loft and saw a man walking on the road to their house. His brother was coming home. (The army lost track of him when he was hospitalized from Mustard gas.)
With tears down her face, Helen asked, “Oh Chaplain Ray, what am I to do? I’ve never heard a single word from my husband in three years. If he were alive, he would move heaven and earth to find us. I remain here, alone, and without hope.”
“If he’s alive, I’ll find your husband.”
Her tears began anew, “I don’t think I can do this. The children will be torn apart, our hopes dashed once more.” Catching her hands, he prayed.
“But where will you go? If my husband can’t find us, and he knows where to look, how can you possibly find him?
“I’ll search the four sectors of prisoners that Allies have in Berlin.”
“Before you go, I want you to have something.” She returned with a picture of her husband and a lock of hair. “The last night we said our goodbyes our baby was asleep. This is some of her hair and my husband said he would carry the other always. If you find a man that claims to be my husband, ask him for Monika’s hair. The children and I will pray for you every day.”

Rex Ray said...

His jeep engine was new. An 88 shell had missed him by inches and destroyed the engine. It was 340 miles to Berlin. He searched the Russian, French, British, and American prison camps with millions of POWs in large open fields with barbwire without success. The American camp was last. As he was driving away disappointed, he heard a GI yell, “Wait!”
A GI was running after him. He asked if he wanted a ride. “No Sir, but I may know something. I overheard your story to the Captain. I have a friend in the British Sector that knows about a German surgeon that’s extremely talented. He doesn’t know his name but the British kidnapped him from the Russians to save a British soldier near death. Since then, they’ve kept him hid.”
Returning to the British prison camp with renewed hope, he told the guard he had orders to find Dr. Beyer. He retraced his steps with an interpreter, but no luck. “What’s that small building way over there?”
“That’s a destroyed jail. It’s deserted and is going to be torn down.”
“Let’s take a look anyway.”
One undamaged cell had four men on their knees. They looked like they were gambling, but they were praying. The interpreter hoped they might know something. “The American Chaplain is looking for Dr. John Beyer. He has good news. Do you know where he can be found?”
Slowly, a tall man stood and spoke in perfect English. “I’m John Beyer. My family and village are lost. I’ve been a prisoner three years. What possible good news could an American have for me?”
“You don’t look like the man I’m looking for unless you can match this lock of hair.”
Producing a lock of hair, he grabbed Dave through the bars. “Does my family live?”
Loud praises to God drowned his reply because his smile was their answer. Hearing there were God’s orders to take him home, their praises were so contagious everyone started shouting.
The British Commander said Dr. Beyer was needed and denied his release, but they could talk more after lunch. “You go ahead. I’m going to stay here and pray.”
“If that’s the way you feel, you can take him.”
Our father was always a fast driver and had many wrecks. He slowed down when Dr. Beyer said, “I don’t think God saved me from prison to die in a jeep wreck.”
At Rothenburg, they stopped at the meadow. “We’ll talk again, but your daughter comes here ever afternoon to see if this will be the day her daddy comes home,”
Not trusting himself to speak, Dr. Beyer shook hands and turned toward the meadow where a little girl was swinging. He ran towards the big oak. “Monika! Monika! I’m your daddy!” There was fantastic joy when he arrived home with Monika on his shoulders.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forced_labor_of_Germans_after_World_War_II states German prisoners were not allowed to return home, but were used as forced labor to repair war damage in Russia, France, and England. Two years after the war, one million had died, and four million were still prisoners.
But at Rothenburg, the town had a large celebration for their doctor where Monika’s mother said, “I’m going to kiss the Chaplain”, and her husband said, “If you don’t, I am!”

Christiane said...

thank you WADE, LISSA, and REX RAY, so much, so much

Blessings to you all.

I have a journey ahead and your prayers are helping to give me strength.
Please, hold your dear ones close. You are all so kind.
Peace of Christ, give us shelter

'On the tall, slender, new masts
Lord, that is my darling there on top
I can still see my love,
Walking on deck under sail

Blow softly, gently, oh North Wind'

Rex Ray said...


“I have a journey ahead…” touches my heart.

No one can travel our “journeys”. It reminds me of uncle Rex’s oldest girl who died in a China hospital at age five before I was born. Her mother told her she was going to be with Jesus.

“Mama, will you go with me?”
“Jesus will be with you.”
“Which one is our house?”

Those were her last words.

Rex Ray said...


Yesterday’s newspaper headlines: “Walmart starts COVID-19 testing in Sherman, Texas”

Their parking lot will be used Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. for free testing for anyone whether or not they are exhibiting symptoms. They must wear a mask and stay in their vehicles. Test will be self-administered via nasal swab while observed by medical volunteers.

Our church service starts at ten a.m. in the parking lot with people in their outdoor chairs.

Christiane said...

yes, I remember that story, REX RAY, and it is very comforting.

we lost a family member some years ago, someone who dearly loved dogs and kept rescuing them, and when the person died, my husband said, 'Wherever she is, I hope there will be puppies'

He believed. I know this. And he TRUSTED. He will be buried at sea with full military honors, as is his wish.

those words I wrote from the Scottish song were in honor of his journeying to be be interred in the sea, until the moment 'the sea will give up the dead that were in it' (Book of Revelation),
and I will receive the co-ordinates of the exact place of commitment of his ashes to the sea. I at least have that to keep.

I am surrounded with peace knowing he did not suffer. We were married 51 years and six months. He was, is, will be cherished. Memory eternal. For me, now is the 'liminal' time, the 'in-between' time. God sends peace to me now, and I am thankful. Grief is a holy thing, it is said. Maybe it is better we know not the hour or the day, but oh, for one more day.

You and Judy take care because of this virus thing. I hope it doesn't come close to your area. It is said that many areas have been spared, but it travels so easily so take all precautions.
Thanks for your kindness. And for the good stories.
God Bless!

Rex Ray said...


The question arises, is your husband in the ocean or is he in heaven? (I’m with Bob Cleveland in saying at his funeral, “Ha Ha, I’m in heaven and you’re not.”

The reason I say this is based on these Scriptures:

“But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead; haven’t your ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” So, he is the God of the living, not the dead.” (Matthew 22:32 NLT)

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised; haven’t you ever read about this in the writings of Moses, in the story of the burning bush? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” So, he is the God of the living, not the dead. You [Wade Burleson :) ] have made a serious error.” (Mark 12:26-27 NLT)

“But now, as to whether the dead will be raised; even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So, he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.” (Luke 20:37-38 NLT)

Christiane, Paul ‘nails it’: “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 NLT)

I was married to Belle 55 years, and I cried my eyes out when she died. I rejoice that she’s with Jesus and not in a grave.

Christiane said...

Yes, Belle is with her Lord in heaven, safe from all earthly suffering.

I see my husband as with Christ and with the many friends and family who have gone on before him. I 'know' this with a certitude that is unchallenged by doubts. Knowing this brings me peace. I see Our Lord as a merciful Great Physician who heals our souls and shelters them. This to me is the way He completes the act of taking our humanity to Himself in the act of the Incarnation, in order to heal it. Belle is safe with Christ now, as is my dear husband.
You are right to rejoice and to give thanks that she is 'with Jesus'.

"then man's dust will go back to the earth, returning to what it was, and the spirit will return to the God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Rex Ray said...


I’m sure my niece, Diane Ray, met her father March 17. She had cancer when she was 28, and said, “Dad, I’m not afraid to die; I know Jesus.”

When she was in grade school she was scheduled to testify in a trial where the janitor had exposed himself in the girl’s restroom.

She kept asking Hez why he had dropped his pants. Hez didn’t want her worrying and made light of it by telling her the janitor just had a loose screw. After telling her that three times, a younger daughter who had been listening around the corner, pranced into the room (she was wearing diapers) and said,

“Diane, don’t you know nothing. When your screw gets loose, your pants fall down. Happens to me all the time!”

Rex Ray said...


In reviewing the post title: “Jonathan Edwards and the Lost Art of Dying Well”, I believe a more descriptive title would be: ‘Jonathan Edwards died being a guinea pig’

Did Edwards ask the doctor if he had tried his vaccination on animals? Only half as much may have worked.

Rex Ray said...


I’ve known Joe Henderson and his wife, Lorita, many years as we worked together in Japan. He also worked six weeks on the house we live in now. In Japan from time to time Joe would say, “I want to hear some more Hez Ray stories.” A while back, I mailed him Hez’s book.

Lorita called today with sad news. Joe’s mind is gone. He has to be cared for as a baby. Hospice is coming.

Wade would you explain what “…the Lost Art of Dying Well” means?

I didn’t know dying was an art. Maybe ‘a bad way to die’ would be more fitting. An example would be: (Found this tonight.)


“As Patton’s car was about to pass a truck parked by the side of the road, the truck slammed into Patton’s car. All reports of the accident have vanished from the National Archives and Library of Congress. Evidence points to the CIA. An ex-special ops World War II confessed he was ordered to kill Patton and make it look like an accident. After Paton survived the crash, he was poisoned in the hospital. There was no autopsy. Many believed that top brass wanted the controversial war horse dead after he vocally disagreed with post World War II foreign policy.”

Our father served as a Chaplin under Patton all through the war.

Rex Ray said...


Oh, where-art-thou brother? With your vast knowledge, I thought you’d jump on if Patton was murdered or not. Many years later, President Kennedy had plans to do away with the CIA as it answered to no one. Patton got in trouble with President Eisenhower when he slapped that solder in the hospital who was suffering from shell-shock. On a better note, Patton asked a Chaplin to pray for good weather.