In Defense of Reading Glasses
First of all, 10 stars for the actual material by Edwards. This review is on the format of the Banner of Truth Works.
I must admit, I was intimidated by the Banner of Truth formatting. They simply reprinted a two volume set from 1834, and it is in size 9 (or smaller?) font, double columns per page, nearly 1,000 pages per volume. In a panel discussion at the Desiring God Conference in 2003 devoted entirely to Jonathan Edwards, all of the participants, including Iain Murray himself, made reference to the small print, and joked that it should come with a magnifying glass included.
I hesitated. My first real reading of Edwards was The End for Which God Created the World, and I had John Piper to hold my hand in reading it. I was so swept along by it that I decided to read “True Virtue” next, but I didn’t have a separate copy. Do I buy it in paperback, or read it in my giant, scary, tiny print Banner of Truth edition? I decided I would try it, and if it was absolutely miserable, at least I tried. Since then, I’ve read “Justification by Faith Alone” in the BoT, and am currently reading BoT’s separate edition of A History of the Work of Redemption – not in the collected works.
All of that is to say that I’ve evaluated the reading experience enough to comment on this particular volume: and I highly recommend it.
Yes, the print is small. I find myself leaning into the page to bring the small print closer to my eyes. This is actually a benefit. Reading Edwards takes effort, and I find that even the physical act of “leaning in” helps my mind to do the same.
One of the huge benefits of the small print is how much can fit on a single page. The ratio is 1:5, so if you have the book open before you, you are looking at 10 pages of a normally printed book. This is so helpful when reading Edwards! Mortimer Adler in How to Read a Book explains that the 1st reading (of 3) is the “structural” or “analytic” reading. One of the rules in this type of reading is to “set forth the major parts of the book, and show how these are organized into a whole, by being ordered to one another and to the unity of the whole.” (p. 163) Edwards writing is oftentimes very structured, and outlined in the text. I,II,III, a,b,c, 1,2,3, etc. I’ve found that the best way to read him is first to go through and write in the margins all of his “outline markers” so that I can see the structure ahead of time. This makes it so much easier to grasp his flow of thought, and to understand his reasoning. Having the equivalent of 10 pages in front of you at a time allows you to see the big picture in his structure in a way that is almost impossible in a normal book. Flipping through ten pages trying to see the structure of the whole, versus having it all in front of you at once? There is no comparison.
I own The Religious Affections and The Freedom of the Will as separate publications. I will most likely read them in this Banner of Truth format, specifically to better understand the overall structure and flow of his thought.
There are some footnotes included throughout. Some of them are Edwards own notes – read those. Others are the “valuable notes of Dr. Williams.” They are actually pretty distracting and not very valuable. Feel free to skip them.
Volume 1 includes just about all of his major works:
Memoirs (by Sereno Dwight)
Freedom of the Will
The End for Which God Created the World
Narrative of Surprising Conversions
Thoughts on the Revival
Qualifications for Communion
Reply to Solomon Williams
A History of the Work of Redemption
Justification by Faith Alone
The Excellency of Jesus Christ
Volume 2 includes many sermons, including:
God Glorified in Man’s Dependence
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
A Divine and Supernatural Light
Many of his “Miscellanies”
The Divine Decrees
and many more
This is the best $30 you will spend in your life! Don’t be afraid of the small print 🙂