Jonathan Edwards

Edwards, Jonathan (1703–58, American theologian and metaphysician)

Jonathan Edwards, 1703–58, American theologian and metaphysician, b. East Windsor (then in Windsor), Conn. He was a precocious child, early interested in things scientific, intellectual, and spiritual. After graduating from Yale at 17, he studied theology, preached (1722–23) in New York City, tutored (1724–26) at Yale, and in 1727 became the colleague of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in the ministry at Northampton, Mass. In 1729, on his grandfather's death, Edwards took sole charge of the congregation. The young minister was not long in gaining a wide following by his forceful preaching and powerful logic. These abilities were in the best Calvinist tradition and were enriched by his reading in philosophy, notably Berkeley and Locke.

Edwards's favorite themes were predestination and the absolute dependence of humble man upon God and divine grace, which alone could save humanity. He rejected with fire the Arminian (see Remonstrants) modification of these Calvinist doctrines. He exhorted his hearers with great effect and in 1734–35 held a religious revival in Northampton that in effect brought the Great Awakening to New England. Edwards was stern in demanding strict orthodoxy and fervent zeal from his congregation. He was unbending in a controversy over tests for church membership, and in 1750 his congregation dismissed him from Northampton. At Stockbridge, Mass., where he went to care for the Native American mission and to minister to a small white congregation, he completed his theological masterpiece, The Freedom of the Will (1754), which sets forth metaphysical and ethical arguments for determinism. In 1757 Edwards was called to be president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), but he died a few months later.

Edwards's influence on American Christian thought was immense for a time, and he is often regarded as the last of the great New England Calvinists. However, his emphasis on personal religious experience and his use of the revival, leading to the Great Awakening, were partially responsible for the advent of evangelical revivalism, which was based on a belief contrary to Calvinist doctrine—that salvation was possible without predestined election. His theological writings are perhaps less read today than his more casual writings and some of his burning and poetic sermons, such as Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and God Glorified in the Work of Redemption by the Greatness of Man's Dependence on Him in the Whole of It.

See his works, ed. by P. Miller et al. (9 vol., 1957–89) and short selection ed. by C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson (1935); bibliography, Printed Works of Jonathan Edwards (ed. by T. H. Johnson, 1940, repr. 1970); biographies by O. E. Winslow (1940, repr. 1973), P. Miller (1949), E. M. Griffin (1971), P. Tracy (1980), and G. M. Marsden (2003); N. Fiering, Jonathan Edward's Moral Thought in its British Context (1981); N. O. Hatch, ed. Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian
Gerald R. McDermott.
Oxford University Press, 2009
FREE! Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards: Selections from Their Writings
Benjamin Franklin; Jonathan Edwards; Carl van Doren.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920
Jonathan Edwards: The Fiery Puritan
Henry Bamford Parkes.
Minton, Balch, 1930
Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy
Leon Chai.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture
Joseph A. Conforti.
University of North Carolina Press, 1995
Encounters with God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards
Michael J. McClymond.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics
Stephen H. Daniel.
Indiana University Press, 1994
Jonathan Edwards' Philosophy of History: The Re-Enchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment
Avihu Zakai.
Princeton University Press, 2003
Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths
Gerald R. McDermott.
Oxford University Press, 2000
The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream
Ernest G. Bormann.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Jonathan Edwards and a Rhetoric in Transition"
Doctrine and Experience: Essays in American Philosophy
Vincent G. Potter.
Fordham University Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening"
Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart
Terrence Erdt.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1980
The Writings of Jonathan Edwards: Theme, Motif, and Style
William J. Scheick.
Texas A & M University Press, 1975
A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000
Bruce Kuklick.
Clarendon Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Calvinism and Jonathan Edwards"
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