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

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

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).

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