The Cambridge History of American Literature

By William Peterfield Trent; John Erskine et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
Philosophers and Divines, 1720-1789

AN old-time classification of the human faculties will serve to explain the development of American thought in the eighteenth century, a development which led to the overthrow of high Calvinism. As there were three divisions of the human mind -- intellect, sensibility, and will, so were there three divisions among the enemies of orthodoxy. Those who followed the intellect were the rationalists, or deists. Those who followed sensibility were the "hot" men, or enthusiasts. Those who followed the will were the ethical reformers, who emphasized the conscious cultivation of morality rather than a divinely wrought change in man's nature. This last group constituted the Arminians, the first in order of time in leading the assault upon embattled tradition. When Jonathan Edwards, in 1734, complained of the "great noise in this part of the country about Arminianism," he showed his alertness to the preliminary attack of the enemy. That attack was especially directed against the middle of the five points of Calvinism. It was not so much against particular redemption, or the perseverance of the saints, as against irresistible grace that the battle-cry was raised. The reason given was that such grace was bound to destroy man's free agency and convert him into a mere machine. This explains why Edwards threw up as a counterscarp his massive work upon the freedom of the human will wherein that freedom was virtually denied.

Meanwhile, the second group, the men of feeling, came into action. Received as allies, they turned out to be anything but a help to the cause. After the religious revival and the great awakening of 1734, Edwards the logician became, in a measure, Edwards the enthusiast. But calling in the aid of evangelists

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