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(b. Oct. 5, 1703, East Windsor, Conn. d. March 22, 1758, Princeton, N.J.), "greatest theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism, stimulator of the religious revival known as the "Great Awakening," and one of the forerunners of the age of Protestant missionary expansion in the 19th century. Edwards' father, Timothy, was pastor of the church at East Windsor, Conn.; his mother, Esther, was a daughter of Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the church at Northampton, Mass. Jonathan was the fifth child and only son among 11 children; he grew up in an atmosphere of Puritan piety, affection, and learning. After a rigorous schooling at home, he entered Yale College in New Haven, Conn., at the age of 13. He was graduated in 1720 but remained at New Haven for two years, studying divinity. After a brief New York pastorate (1722-23), he received the M.A. degree in 1723; during most of 1724-26 he was a tutor at Yale. In 1727 he became his grandfather's colleague at Northampton. In the same year, he married Sarah Pierrepont, who combined a deep, often ecstatic, piety with personal winsomeness and practical good sense. To them were born 11 children." (BCD)
"The greatest philosopher-theologian yet to grace the American scene" (Perry Miller). After a precocious childhood (before he was thirteen he had a good knowledge of Latin, Creek, and Hebrew and was writing papers on philosophy) he entered Yale in 1716. It appears that it was during his time at college that he "began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him." After a short pastorate in New York, he was appointed a tutor at Yale. In 1724 he became pastor of the church at Northampton, Massachusetts, a colleague of his grandfather Samuel Stoddard until the latter's death in 1729. Under the influence of Edwards's powerful preaching, the Great Awakening occurred in 1734-35, and a geographically more extensive revival in 1740-41. Edwards became a firm friend of George Whitefield, then itinerating in America.
After various differences with prominent families in his congregation, and a prolonged controversy over the question of the admission of the unconverted to the Lord's Supper, he was dismissed as pastor in 1750 (though, curiously, still preached until a suitable replacement could be found) and became, in 1751, pastor of the church in the frontier town of Stockbridge, and a missionary to the Indians. He was elected president of Princeton in 1757, but was reluctant to accept because of his desire to continue writing. Finally yielding to pressure, he was inaugurated in February 1758. One month later he died of the effects of a smallpox injection.
Edwards was, and was content to be, firmly in the tradition of New England Calvinism and the Westminster Divines. Efforts to demonstrate that he consciously shifted away from this position do not carry conviction. The influence of the "new way of ideas" of John Locke was mainly confined to his anthropology and is clearest in Edwards's classic Freedom of the Will [BOT]. Because of his commitment to salvation by sovereign grace, Edwards was agitated by what he considered to be the religiously destructive developments in New England, particularly incipient Arminianism and Socinianism, and revivalistic excess. The first concern prompted the Freedom of the Will and, later, Original Sin. The second inspired a group of writings, notably the Religious Affections." Paul Helm (NIDCC)
Many of Edwards' important works were collected into a two-volume
set, available as a reprint from the BOT. Yale University is now
publishing Edwards' works and many are available. Some shorter
works are available from various publishers. More information
and some sermons may be found at The
Jonathan Edwards Home Page. A modernized version of
True Grace Distinguished is also available.
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