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. Jonathan Edwards
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.