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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Jonathan Edwards: Selected full-text books and articles

FREE! Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards: Selections from Their Writings By Benjamin Franklin; Jonathan Edwards; Carl van Doren Charles Scribner's Sons, 1920
Jonathan Edwards: The Fiery Puritan By Henry Bamford Parkes Minton, Balch, 1930
Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture By Joseph A. Conforti University of North Carolina Press, 1995
The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream By 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 By 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 By Terrence Erdt University of Massachusetts Press, 1980
The Writings of Jonathan Edwards: Theme, Motif, and Style By William J. Scheick Texas A & M University Press, 1975
A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000 By Bruce Kuklick Clarendon Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Calvinism and Jonathan Edwards"
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