Jonathan Edwards, Art and the Sense of the Heart

By Terrence Erdt | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
The Calvinist Psychology Of the Heart

Scholars have often noted the central importance to Jonathan Edward's thought of the sense of the heart, the special knowledge of spiritual matters possessed by the saint. Harold Simonson characterizes the sense as summarizing Edward's whole system of thought;1 and John E. Smith proposes that "no idea in all of Edwards' works is more original and no doctrine was more far reaching in its influence upon the course of Puritan piety."2 Discussion of the term focuses generally upon its illustrating several of Edwards' debts: to the Cambridge Platonists, particularly John Smith and the theory of spiritual sensation;3 to Francis Hutcheson and his treatise on the moral sense;4 and finally to John Locke and the sensationalist psychology.5 The last topic occasions perhaps the most extensive discussion, and the contention that the sense refers primarily to Locke's account of the origin of simple ideas has wide acceptance, in large measure because of Perry Miller's life of Edwards' mind.6

Miller took pains to convince his readers that Edwards' thought could best be defined as "Puritanism recast in the idiom of empirical psychology" (p. 62). Edwards, accordingly, spoke in the terminology of traditional Calvinism but meant something quite different --the empiricism of Newton and Locke. His writings were thus cryptic, and the key to their understanding, Miller argued, is to read them with the Essay in mind. Grace, for instance, as an historical concept received little elucidation in Miller's account; he was interested mainly in establishing that Edwards had translated the doctrine into the language of Locke. It was "a new simple idea"; any significance in its similarity to the traditional Calvinist doctrine paled before Ed


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