Book Review: The Silent and Soft Communion

In The Silent and Soft Communion: The Spiritual Narratives of Sarah Pierpont Edwards and Sarah Prince Gill, Sue Lane McCulley and Dorothy Z. Baker provide an insightful introduction to two generations of Calvinist women in eighteenth century America via the spiritual autobiographies of Sarah Pierpont Edwards and Sarah Prince Gill.

The book begins with detailed histories of Sarah Pierpont Edwards and Sarah Prince Gill, followed by an insightful look into the historical context of their spiritual narratives. Aside from the narratives themselves, this portion of the book is quite interesting and informative, with brief looks into their communities, churches, and the impacts of literature, popular ideas, and events of their day.

The wife of illustrious theologian Jonathan Edwards, Sarah Pierpont Edwards’ narrative covers a short time period in 1742. While her husband was preaching in another town and visiting ministers filled his pulpit in Northampton, Mrs. Edwards experienced a spiritual awakening. Because he believed that many would benefit from reading her experience, Jonathan requested that Sarah write the details of her awakening. He also used the account later as a defense of the spiritual awakenings in New England, in which he was heavily involved. Sarah’s narrative begins with a description of her feeling very “low in grace” and an earnest desire to seek God and ask him for help in experiencing greater personal holiness. She writes of sermons and scriptures and how they affected her mind and heart, of her hatred for her sin, of finding peace regarding the circumstances surrounding her family, of wholly submitting to God, and of the inexpressible joy in the Holy Spirit she experienced.

Sarah Prince Gill’s spiritual narrative is a personal journal more than the retelling of a particular experience. Gill, a prominent Bostonian, clergyman’s daughter, and paragon of eighteenth-century evangelical piety, begins with a short testimony to explain why she began her journal. “In the year 1743 reading Mr White On the Power of Godliness, I was convinced that it is may duty to comit to writing My Experiences. [I] hope it will be a means of keeping alive the work[ings] of Grace in me—And excite me to be maki[ng] Progress in Religion—Accordingly I set about it in the Fear of God who searches the Heart and trieth the Ruins—And beggin[g] the assistances of his Holy Spirit to bring all thing[s] to My Remembrance.” Gill’s journal begins in 1743 and ends in 1764. Each entry is dated and she admits that she continues the journal in other papers, so that where there are gaps one may assume that she has written in her other papers.

While Mrs. Edwards’ wrote her narrative with readers in mind, Mrs. Gill’s narrative is deeply personal and introspective. Gill writes of hating her sin and self, of an earnest desire to be Christ’s, of her desire for Jesus to be her all and to grow in holiness. She writes detailed and passionate descriptions of how she plans to employ God’s means of grace in order to be more like her Savior and live only for His glory. Gill even writes of her struggling through those times when she did not desire God or have an appetite for spiritual things. She alludes to various events, like an outbreak of smallpox, church trials, an earthquake, the French and Indian War, and the deaths of close friends and family, and how these events affected her spiritually.

Both narratives are useful for encouragement and spurring one on in her pursuit of Christ. It is helpful and edifying to read the spiritual accounts of those who have walked with Christ and finished their respective races. Though I live hundreds of years removed from them, our struggles against sin and the world are not so different. Both journals encouraged me in one way or another to pursue deeper fellowship with Christ, to fight the fight of faith and to keep a record of God’s work of grace in my life. I enjoyed this book and think that most Christian women will benefit from reading it.

(My thanks to Mark Tubbs for editing.)

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