When someone impresses us with his or her depth of thought and literary output, we naturally want to know their “secret.” It’s not necessary to argue that Jonathan Edwards was a formidable intellect. Did he have a particular method that allowed him to think through a topic with such rigor and clarity?
Yes, he did, and I recently came across his explanation of it in a rather obscure place: a footnote in Charles Bridges’ classic The Christian Ministry. In this passage, Edwards explains his “method of study.”
My method of study from my first beginning the work of the Ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to the utmost, when anything in reading, meditation, or conversation has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point; thus penning what appeared to me my best thoughts on innumerable subjects, for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studies in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it. The further I travelled in this way, the wider the field opened; which has occasioned my laying out many things in my mind to do in this manner, (if God should spare my life) which my heart hath been much set upon.”
This explanation immediately made sense to me, since I have found in my experience that the very act of writing serves, at the very least, to reveal to me what is unclear in my own mind. The mind may be home to disconnected subjects and predicates, but the pen demands that these subjects and predicates be joined in a way that is logical and orderly. I lay it down as a rule: writing well and thinking well go hand in hand.