Authors: Jonathan Edwards

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American theologian and philosopher

October 5, 1703

East Windsor, Connecticut

March 22, 1758

Princeton, New Jersey


Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut, on October 5, 1703, into a devoutly Calvinist New England family. He entered Yale before age thirteen, graduated in 1720, and converted to the Calvinistic doctrine of absolute divine sovereignty at age twenty. After two additional years at Yale and a year of tutoring, he joined his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, at the Northampton, Massachusetts, Congregational church in 1726. He married Sarah Pierpont in 1727 and took sole control of the pastorate after Stoddard’s death in 1729. Edwards led the 1740s religious revival known as the Great Awakening. With fire-and-brimstone sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741), he inspired religious fervor. His works epitomize the American Puritan spirit. {$I[AN]9810000603} {$I[A]Edwards, Jonathan} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Edwards, Jonathan} {$I[tim]1703;Edwards, Jonathan}

Jonathan Edwards

(Library of Congress)

Edwards’s popularity faded when increasing material prosperity moved New England leaders to relax their strict Calvinistic zeal. Two significant vestiges of this trend were Antinomianism and the Half-Way Covenant. Edwards tried furiously to keep his congregation from giving in to these trends, but his fanaticism was not appreciated. Finally, frustrated relatives led his own congregation to force his resignation in 1750. He spent the rest of his life as a missionary among the American Indians, except for his last year, when he served as president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).

Edwards believed that the world existed for the glory of God and that understanding and will (the two activities of the mind) are necessary components of true religion. A combination of logic and mysticism, his views reappear in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other members of the nineteenth-century New England Transcendental movement. His philosophical writings and sermons have attracted renewed attention because of this connection. Edwards died of smallpox at Princeton on March 22, 1758. His son Jonathan (1745–1801) served as pastor in New Haven, but he was dismissed for resisting the Half-Way Covenant.

Author Works Nonfiction: God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, 1731 A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, 1737 Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, 1742 A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 1746 True Grace, 1753 A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of the Will, 1754 (commonly known as Freedom of the Will, 1957) The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, 1758 “Personal Narrative,” 1765 (in The Life and Character of the Late Reverend Mr. Jonathan Edwards) The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1957–2000 (18 volumes) A Jonathan Edwards Reader, 1995 Bibliography Chai, Leon. Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Situates Edwards in the context of the Enlightenment and shows his similarities and differences with that tradition. Elwood, Douglas J. The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960. Emphasizing Edwards’s concern to integrate scientific, philosophical, and theological understanding, this work also explores Edwards’s views about evil and God’s grace. Fiering, Norman. Jonathan Edwards’s Moral Thought and Its British Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981. A study of seventeenth-century moral philosophy and its influence on Edwards. Gura, Philip F. Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005. This brief study of Edwards focuses on providing a context for the relgious themes that Edwards espoused. McClymond, Michael J. Encounters with God: An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Focuses on Edwards’s important philosophical understanding of religious experience. McDermott, Gerald R. Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. A study of the theology of Edwards in response to Deism and other religious thought. Marsden, George. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003. This is a definitive biography of the clergyman. An invaluable resource for any study of Edwards. Miller, Perry. Jonathan Edwards. New York: Meridian Books, 1959. A leading scholar on Edwards and American Puritanism focuses on Edwards’s views about human freedom and moral responsibility. Smith, John Edwin. Jonathan Edwards: Puritan, Preacher, Philosopher. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992. One of the most important Edwards scholars presents a reliable overview of Edwards’s multifaceted career and philosophical perspectives. Steele, Richard B. “Gracious Affection” and “True Virtue” According to Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994. An instructive comparative study that explores the life and work of two men who were among the most influential theologians and religious leaders of their day. Yarborough, Stephen R. Delightful Conviction: Jonathan Edwards and the Rhetoric of Conversion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993. This study shows how Edwards shaped his preaching, theology, and philosophy so that they would have a persuasive, converting effect on his listeners and readers.

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