After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology

By Oliver D. Crisp; Douglas A. Sweeney | Go to book overview

1
Jonathan Edwards, the New Divinity,
and Cosmopolitan Calvinism

Mark Valeri

IN 1765 SAMUEL Hopkins, a leader of the so-called New Divinity movement and pastor in the Berkshire village of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, authored the first substantial biography of Jonathan Edwards. Hopkins had plenty of material from which to choose. As a literary executor for Edwards, he could have probed Edwards’s manuscripts for any number of personal traits to define his subject: the great man’s intense piety, devotion to the Bible, or dogged promotion of Calvinist doctrine. Although he addressed these issues, Hopkins chose another thread to weave through his account. As Hopkins put it at the very beginning, Edwards was “of remarkable strength of mind, clearness of thought, and depth of penetration,” and “universally esteemed … to be a bright christian and eminently good man.” That is, Edwards had earned a public reputation for learning and moral virtue.1

Hopkins returned to these traits throughout his account. Edwards “had an uncommon thirst for Knowledge,” “read all the Books” that “he could come at,” entertained the ideas of his critics, and was “always free to give his Sentiments on any Subject proposed to him.” He was quick to engage in religious conversation with all comers, unfailingly honest, and friendly; he displayed “a sociable Disposition, Humility, and Benevolence.” He defended Calvinism— pushing against the opposite errors of Arminianism and antinomianism—yet Edwards always modeled a theology grounded on free exchange and intellectual discipline rather than sheer dogmatic assertion. He “judg’d that nothing was wanting” but for Calvinists to make their case in a public sphere marked by reason and politeness. In Hopkins’s estimation, Edwards taught his followers “to have Doctrines properly stated and judiciously and well-defended,

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