The role of an historian
I bring all this up really as an excuse to share a bit I really like from the author's Introduction. Marsden is explaining that Edwards is an eighteenth century figure and encouraging his readers to be careful to let that context "shape their understanding of him". He goes on then to briefly sum up what he considers to be the role of a responsible historian, words I wish more current historians, with their frequent revisionist tendencies, would take to heart:
"The most fascinating question that framed this book is 'What was it like to live in western New England in the first half of the eighteenth century?' (or 'How was that time different from our own?'). This second version of the questions suggests, of course, a twenty-first-century viewpoint. My task as an historian is to make intelligible the outlook of another time, which demands taking into account the various perspectives of readers and also what has transpired since the eighteenth century. Yet it would be a failure of imagination if we were to start out - as today's histories sometimes do - by simply judging people of the past for having outlooks that are not like our own. Rather, we must first try to enter sympathetically into an earlier world and to understand its people. Once we do that we will be in a far better position both to learn from them and to evaluate their outlooks critically."
It is only right and humble to take into consideration a person's historical, geographical, and religious context when we evaluate their decisions. We must always remember that we, too, are to a certain extent the product of our times and circumstances - and must never engage in criticism without first remembering and acknowledging that we may very well have responded similarly had we been placed by Providence in a similar situation.