After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology

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

3
After Edwards: Original Sin and
Freedom of the Will

Allen Guelzo

IT WAS THE fondest hope of Jonathan Edwards that the Great Awakening of the 1740s was simply the overture to the Day of Judgment and the thousandyear reign of God directly on earth, the Millennium, when “religion shall in every respect be uppermost in the world.” But instead of the dawning of a general revival of the Christian church that would cause to “bow the heavens and come down and erect his glorious kingdom through the earth,” what Edwards got was a controversy with his own congregation in Northampton over church membership, followed by the humiliation of dismissal by that congregation, and self-imposed demotion to management of a mission to a tribe of Indians whose language he did not speak as well as oversight of an English congregation whose attention span was, in Edwards’s judgment, not up to what it should have been. It was a tenure punctuated by the onset of the French and Indian War, and wracked by still more stiff-necked controversies over pastoral issues, although, unlike his situation in Northampton, he had the powerful sponsorship of the provincial governor, Sir William Pepperell, to protect him. But his attention never wandered far from the possibility of a renewed visitation of divine grace. “I hope to humble his church in New England, and purify it, and so fit it for yet greater comfort.” Only now, his intellectual enthusiasm turned to the rebuke of the spirit that he considered the most lethal to revival, the lukewarm wraith of “Arminianism”—not the literal teachings of the seventeenth-century Dutch anti-Calvinist, Jacobus Arminius, but the pallid, free-will, “natural” religion of theologians desperate to placate the spirit of the Enlightenment. “If some great men that have appeared in our nation had been as eminent in divinity as they were in philosophy,” Edwards complained,

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