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).
See his works (2 vol., 1842) ed. by his grandson, T. Edwards.
(born Oct. 5, 1703, East Windsor, Conn.—died March 22, 1758, Princeton, N.J.) American theologian. The 5th of 11 children in a strict Puritan home, he entered Yale College at age 13. In 1727 he was named a pastor at his grandfather's church in Northampton, Mass. His sermons on “Justification by Faith Alone” gave rise to a revival in the Connecticut River valley in 1734, and in the 1740s he was also influential in the Great Awakening. In 1750 he was dismissed from the Northampton church over a disagreement on who was eligible to take communion, and he became pastor in Stockbridge in 1751. He died of smallpox shortly after accepting the presidency of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). A staunch Calvinist, he emphasized original sin, predestination, and the need for conversion. His most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” vividly evokes the fate of unrepentant sinners in hell.
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