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Jonathan Edwards

JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703–1758)

Colonial Congregational minister and theologian

Ancestry

EDWARDS, JONATHAN (THE ELDER) : The founder of the New England theology as a distinct type of doctrine, considered by many the greatest theologian America has produced; b. at Windsor Farms (now East Windsor), Conn., Oct, 5, 1703; d. at Princeton, N. J., Mar, 22, 1758. His father, Rev. Timothy Edwards, was born at Hartford, in May, 1669, was graduated with honor at Harvard in 1691, and was ordained pastor of the Congregational Church in Windsor Farms, in 1694. He remained pastor of this church more than sixty-three years, and died Jan. 27, 1758. The mother of Jonathan Edwards was Esther Stoddard, daughter of Solomon Stoddard, who from 1672 to 1729 was pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Mass. She was a woman of queenly presence and admirable character, was born in 1672, married in 1694, became the mother of eleven children, and died in 1770.

Early Studies, College

In his early years Jonathan Edwards was instructed chiefly at home. He began the study of Latin at the age of six, and before he was thirteen had acquired a good knowledge of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In his childhood he was taught to think with his pen in hand, and thus learned to think definitely, and to express his thoughts clearly. When he was about nine he wrote an interesting letter on materialism, and when he was about twelve he wrote some remarkable papers on questions in natural philosophy. One month before he was thirteen he entered Yale College, and was graduated, with the highest honors of his class, in 1720. At the age of fourteen, one of his college studies was Locke on the Human Understanding. Not long before his death, he remarked to certain friends that he was beyond expression entertained and pleased with this book when he read it in his youth at college; that he "was as much engaged, and had more satisfaction and pleasure in studying it, than the most greedy miser in gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some new-discovered treasure."

Theological Studies, Early Pastorate

As a child, his sensibilities were often aroused by the truths of religion. He united with the Church, probably at East Windsor, about the time of his graduation at college. After graduation be pursued his theological studies for nearly two years in New Haven. He was "approbated " as a preacher in June or July 1722, several months before he was nineteen. From Aug., 1722, until Apr., 1723, he preached to a small Presbyterian church in New York City. From 1724 to 1726 he was tutor at Yale. On Feb. 15, 1727, when in his twenty-fourth year, he was ordained as colleague with his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, and pastor of the Congregational Church at Northampton, Mass. On July 27 of that year he married Sarah Pierpont, daughter of Rev. James Pierpont of New Haven. At the time of her marriage, she was in the eighteenth year of her age, was distinguished by her graceful and expressive features, her vigorous mind, fine culture, and fervent piety. During her married life she relieved her husband of many burdens which are commonly laid upon a parish minister, and thus enabled him to pursue his studies with comparatively few interruptions. As a youthful preacher Edwards was eminent for his weighty thought and fervid utterance. His voice was not commanding, his gestures were few, but many of his sermons were overwhelming. He wrote some of them in full. Often he spoke extempore, often from brief but suggestive notes. The traditions relating to their power and influence appear well-nigh fabulous.

The Great Awakening - Ejected at Northamton

In 1734 - 35 there occurred in his parish a "great awakening " of religious feeling; in 1740--41 occurred another, which extended through a large part of New England. At this time he became associated with George Whitefield. During these exciting scenes, Edwards manifested the rare comprehensiveness of his mind. He did not favor the extravagances attending the new measures of the revivalists. He did more, perhaps, than any other American clergyman to promote the doctrinal purity, at the same time quickening the zeal, of the churches. In process of time he became convinced that his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, was wrong in permitting unconverted persons to partake of the Lord's Supper. A prolonged controversy with the Northampton church followed, and Edwards was ejected in 1750 from the pastorate which be had adorned for more than twenty-three years.

At Stockbridge, President of Princeton

In Aug., 1751, he was installed pastor of the small Congregational church in Stockbridge, Mass., and missionary of the Housatonic Indians at that place whom he served with fidelity. On Sept. 26, 1757, he was elected president of the college at Princeton, N. J. He was reluctant to accept the office, but finally yielded to the advice of others, and was dismissed from his Stockbridge pastorate Jan. 4, 1758. He spent a part of January and all of February at Princeton, performing some duties at the college, but was not inaugurated until Feb. 16, 1758. One week after his inauguration he was inoculated for the smallpox. After the ordinary effects of the inoculation had nearly subsided, a secondary fever supervened, and be died five weeks after his inauguration.

Works

The more important works of President Edwards are the following: A Divine and Supernatural Light Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit o/ God (Boston, 1734), a sermon noted for its spiritual philosophy; the hearers of it at Northampton requested it for the press; A Faithful Narrative o/ the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of many Hundred Souls in Northampton, etc. (Boston and London, 1737); Five Discourses on Justification by Faith (Boston, 1738); Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Boston, 1741), one of his most terrific sermons; frequently republished; severely criticized by some who fail to regard the character and condition of the persons to whom it was preached; Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741); Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742), A Treatise concerning Religious Affections (1746), one of his most spiritual and analytical works; An Humble Attempt to promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer (1747); An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd . . . chiefly taken from his own Diary (1749); An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, concerning the Qualifications requisite to a Complete Standing and full Communion in the Visible Christian Church (1749). His more important works were published after he had left his first pastorate, some of them not until after hip death, A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency (1754); The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758); History of Redemption (1772); Dissertation concerning the End for which God created the World, and Dissertation concerning the Nature of True Virtue (1788). The published works of President Edwards were printed in eight volumes, at Worcester, Mass., 1808-09 (reprinted, New York). A larger edition of his writings, in ten volumes, including a new memoir and much new material, was published at New York, in 1829 by Rev. Dr. Sereno Edwards Dwight.F.H. Foster.
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