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It is clear in New Testament passages like 1 Timothy 5 that whether or not hospitality comes easily for us, it is the hallmark of a Christian woman to open her home and invite in Brothers and strangers — not for fancy, light hearted entertainment — but to care for others. Once again, Sarah Edwards becomes a model of what this trait of Biblical womanhood looks like.
The visitors who came to Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ home
Across the doorstep into their home walked an unfathomable number of visitors. It was not uncommon for the Edwards’ to welcome four or five guests for an evening. The visitors that flowed into the Edwards home came from two sources: travelers and men training for the ministry. The former stayed only a night, the latter for a season.
Elisabeth Dodd explains why so many came to their home:
Those were days of dubious taverns, so most travelers counted on stopping with the ministers in whatever town they struck by night. As Edwards’ reputation mounted, and the charms of his daughters became widely known, the number of guests grew. Moreover, in those times…men who wished to become clergymen lived as apprentices in the houses of experienced ministers. There was almost always some downy cleric at the Edwards’ fireplace. It is significant that the young men who lived with them most intimately became their stoutest friends.
Sarah Edwards’ sacrificial love for strangers
One night Samuel Hopkins showed up at the Edwards’ home asking to spend the winter as an apprentice to prepare for ministry. Sarah had seven small children to care for and her husband was away on a preaching tour when Hopkins first came. For several weeks he was discouraged and later recalled how Sarah took note of his condition and sought to encourage him. She assured Hopkins that she had been praying for him since his arrival and of her confidence that God intended to do great things through him.
Even when her husband was home, most of the work of hospitality fell to her:
[Jonathan] Edwards was less than helpful as a host, for he was still a light eater and would often finish his meal before the others did. He would then slip out to his study, returning to the table only when he was alerted that the others had finished and he was needed to preside over the grace which was always said at the end of meals as well as at the beginning. Meanwhile, Sarah had to keep an eye on the children’s table manners and on the supply of hot gravy, remembering the heating of water to wash dishes, and at the same time keep conversation going with the guests. At the end of the meal a basket was passed around the table and everything that had been used, including napkins, was piled into it to be washed. Sarah’s work was not over when a big meal was consumed.
As she exercised her gift of hospitality to serve the Church, her work was in conjunction with her husband’s and not competing with it. She did not expect him to drop his work to allow her an opportunity to use her gifts. In fact, her offering hospitality enhanced his work as she allowed him to mentor many who would later take the pulpit.
Yet a person like Sarah Edwards has a risk in the very magnetism that pulled people to her. So many felt warmed by being around her that to meet the needs of all who wanted her attention would have taken superhuman energy from her. She seemed to make people feel that what they needed most was to sit down for a cup of tea with her, and tell her about themselves. How can one budget kindness, ration out one’s concern for others? Though she felt the tension of never being able to give all that people wanted to take from her, Sarah Edwards continued to pour out all she could. For many people, a memory they carried with them always was of a time when they turned up the path to the Edwards door, and pulled the latchstring hanging there outside.
You might wonder how she did all this while still loving her husband and children well. I certainly do! All of us are given different abilities and measures of grace, but the same Spirit is at work in each of us. Tomorrow we will look at a few things this remarkable woman did not do that allowed her do everything she did do.
Questions for thought and discussion (feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!)
- How does Sarah Edwards’ example inform our idea of what hospitality looks like?
- What are your husband’s ministries? How can your gifts be used to further these ministries? How does your husband want you to use your gifts?
- Talk with your husband about hospitality and form a vision of how you can grow.
(The doorstep from Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ home is at the Forbes Library in Northampton; the photo shown here is by JTR Heart, original image here.)
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