Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

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Jonathan Edwards was an American theologian and writer, who contributed strongly to the First Great Awakening. Born on October 5, 1703, in New Haven, Connecticut, he entered from Yale at the age of 13 and graduated as valedictorian in 1720.

Edwards` most famous sermon was "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", which he delivered in 1741. He died at Princeton on March 22, 1758 at the age of 54.

Jonathan Edwards

JONATHAN EDWARDS (1703–1758) was America’s greatest theologian. He was born in East Windsor, CT. His father, Timothy Edwards, as a pastor, and his mother, Esther, was the daughter of Rev. Solomon Stoddard. Jonathan was an only son with ten sisters.

He was a very intelligent child, and entered Yale College just before his 13th birthday. After his education he became the minister of the Church in Northampton, MA. A few years later, in 1734, an awakening occurred in his congregation. In 1740 the Great Awakening swept across New England, and as many as 50,000 people were awakened to Christ and joined churches.

Edwards later served as a missionary to Indians at Stockbridge, MA. He wrote around 1,000 sermons, as well as various important works on the Bible and theology, which are still studied today.

Jonathan and his wife Sarah had eleven children. Their happy home-life was a model to all who visited. Edwards died during a smallpox epidemic soon after moving to New Jersey to become president of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University.

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #23 in 1989]

Christian History Timeline: Jonathan Edward’s World

EDWARDS LIVED IN AN ERA of dramatic social and intellectual change. Technological advances in manufacturing changed social life, especially in England. Enlightenment thought was beginning to influence the theology of America, emphasizing reason and slighting the traditional Christian view of man’s nature. Deism was popular among intellectuals in Europe and America, and some thinkers were ready to dispense with the supernatural altogether. However, working within a framework of biblical faith, Edwards did not reach the conclusion—as many persons did—that man’s reason would lead him to do the good.

Edwards worked creatively within the Calvinist tradition, believing that a return to orthodoxy would result in a great revival in America. Faced on the one hand with the rising tide of rationalism and on the other hand with religious revivals that often dispensed with reason altogether, Edwards tried to steer a middle course and maintain a balance of reason and emotion, head and heart in the Christian life.

Jonathan Edwards

1703 Jonathan Edwards born in East Windsor, Connecticut

1716 Admitted to Yale

1720 Graduates from Yale and studies there for the ministry

1722 Serves as pastor of a New York Presbyterian church for eight months

1724 Elected a tutor at Yale

1726 Called to Northampton church as assistant minister to grandfather Solomon Stoddard.

1727 Marriage to Sarah Pierrepont

1729 Death of Solomon Stoddard

1731 Delivers Public Lecture at First Church, Boston

1734 Beginning of Great Awakening in Northampton

1740 Whitefield briefly joins Edwards in revival preaching

1741 Preaches sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at Enfield

1742 Writes Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion

1746 Writes A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections

1747 Death of David Brainerd at Edwards’ home

1748 Beginning of dissension in Edwards’ church

1750 Farewell Sermon at Northampton

1751 Settles in Stockbridge as pastor to settlers and missionary to Indians

1754 Writes Freedom of the Will

1755 Writes Nature of True Virtue

1757 Chosen president of College of New Jersy (Princeton)

1758 Inaugurated president at Princeton

1758 Dies of smallpox March 22

World Events

1701 Thomas Bray, representative of Bishop of London, organizes Society for Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts

1701 Collegiate School (later called Yale) founded

1702 Anne Queen of England (to 1714) Queen Anne’s War (colonial phase of War of Spanish Succession, concluded by Treaty of Utrecht, 1713)

1702 Cotton Mather writes Magnalia Christi Americana, ecclesiastical history of New England

1703 John Wesley born

1704 Death of English philosopher John Locke, a major influence on Edwards Weekly Review, first American newspaper, published in Boston

1707 Act of Union unites England and Scotland under name Great Britain

1707 Isaac Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs alters course of English hymnody

1709 First mass emigration of Germans to America (Pennsylvania)

1709 Piano invented

1710 Bishop George Berkeley’s Principles of Human Knowledge

1711 Steele and Addison publish The Spectator, gentleman’s newspaper with commentary on news, literature, and art

1712 Last execution for witchcraft in England

1712 Newcomen steam pump, new aid to coal mining

1713 Treaty of Utrecht ends War of Spanish Succession

1714 German philosopher Liebniz’ Monadology, a rebuttal to mechanistic views of man

1714 George I, first Hanoverian King of England (to 1727)

1715 Death of Louis XIV of France. Succeeded by great-grandson

1717 Inoculation against smallpox introduced into England by Lady Mary Wortley Montague

1719 Protestant dissenters tolerated in Ireland

1719 Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

1721 Czar Peter the Great of Russia subordinates church to state, replaces Patriarch with Holy Synod

1721 Robert Walpole is Britain’s first Prime Minister (to 1742)

1722 Herrnhut founded as Moravian settlement in Saxony by Count von Zinzendorf

1723 Christianity banned in China

1723 Death of architect Christopher Wren, designer of St. Paul’s cathedral

1726 Gilbert Tennent leads revival in New Jersey

1726 Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

1727 Death of Isaac Newton, whose work Edwards admired

1727 George II King of England (to 1760)

1729 North and South Carolina created as crown colonies

1731 Expulsion of Protestants from Saltzburg. Many emigrate to America

1732 Birth of George Washington

1732 Georgia established as colony under James Oglethorpe

1732 First edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack published by Benjamin Franklin

1733 J.S. Bach’s B-Minor Mass

1733 John Kay invents flying shuttle used in textile mills

1735 Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae, outlining his system of taxonomy of plants

1735 Freedom of the press established in New England by Zenger case

1736 Witchcraft statutes repealed in England

1736 Joseph Butler’s Analogy of Religion written as rebuttal to Deism

1738 John Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, leading to the Methodist Revival

1739 War of Jenkins’ Ear between England and Spain (to 1742)

1740 Frederick the Great reigns as King of Prussia (to 1786)

1740 Samual Richardson’s Pamela, sometimes regarded as first modern English novel

1741 American Presbyterians split over issue of revivalism

1742 First performance of Handel’s Messiah

1742 Jews expelled from Russia

1744 First Methodist General Conference

1744 King George’s War (colonial phase of War of Austrian Succession, ended in 1748)

1744 Painter and engraver William Hogarth’s illustrations for Marriage a la Mode

1746 College of New Jersey (Princeton) founded

1747 Actor David Garrik becomes manager of Drury Lane Theatre

1747 Samuel Johnson begins publication of his Dictionary of the English Language

1748 Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws

1749 Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones

1751 Currency Act restricts issuance of paper money in New England

1751 First volume of French Encyclopedia, published as a monument to reason

1754 French and Indian War (to 1763)

1755 David Hume’s Natural History of Religion, denying supernaturalism in religion

1755 Lisbon earthquake kills 30,000 people

1756 Birth of Mozart

1759 Quebec falls to the British

1759 Voltaire’s Candide

By the Editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #8 in 1985]

We Should Not Be Afraid to Preach Hell

Edwards is unfairly tarnished as only a hell-fire preacher. Read Charity and Its Fruits. Read many of his other sermons that discourse upon the beauty of Christ. Preaching on hell was not unusual in 18th-century New England. What made Edwards’s sermon impactful was not that he preached on hell, but how he preached on hell. By contrast, we rarely (if ever) even mention hell from our pulpits today. Surely in the future, the church will look back on our age and recount it as the strangest fashion that we preached on God’s love without preaching God’s justice or wrath. There is little biblical balance in our preaching today.

History of Our Farm

North Stonington, CT has a history rich in both agriculture and industry. Thanks to its many waterways early mills sprung up with such a proliferation, that the downtown village was once known as Milltown. Although the milling industry is long gone, the agricultural nature of the town continues. Anyone who drives the back roads of North Stonington will see some of the most beautiful farms anywhere. The Edwards family is proud to have joined this longstanding history and agricultural life.

This farm is situated on Chester Maine Road, and was indeed once the Chester Maine Farm. The farm was a classic New England dairy and cattle affair for over a century, and early maps of town show that during the 1700’s this was once the Williams Homestead.

In the late 1970’s the farm was donated by Carol Maine to a church in town and it was subsequently sold to a family who started Crosswoods Vineyards in the early 1980’s. Despite a massive effort, a stunning renovation of the barn and an aggressive expansion of the vineyard, success was ultimately elusive and the winery closed. During the next decade a portion of the land was subdivided but the heart of the farm was preserved. In 2000, 48 acres were purchased by the Edwards family. The property included the winery, the historic farmhouse, overgrown but very fertile fields, and even the original “3 holer” outhouse. Farming continues to this day.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) was America’s greatest theologian. He was born in East Windsor, CT. His father, Timothy Edwards, as a pastor, and his mother, Esther, was the daughter of Rev. Solomon Stoddard. Jonathan was an only son with ten sisters.
He was a very intelligent child, and entered Yale College just before his 13th birthday. After his education he became the minister of the Church in Northampton, MA. A few years later, in 1734, an awakening occurred in his congregation. In 1740 the Great Awakening swept across New England, and as many as 50,000 people were awakened to Christ and joined churches.
Edwards later served as a missionary to Indians at Stockbridge, MA. He wrote around 1,000 sermons, as well as various important works on the Bible and theology, which are still studied today.
Jonathan and his wife Sarah had eleven children. Their happy home-life was a model to all who visited. Edwards died during a smallpox epidemic soon after moving to New Jersey to become president of the College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University.

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6. He Was a Key Player in the First Great Awakening.

Along with the John and Charles Wesley, as well as George Whitefield, Edwards stands as one of the most recognized participants and defenders of the First Great Awakening. Once Edwards took over for Stoddard in 1729, he pressed for repentance in Northampton. Edwards began to see fruit from his efforts in late 1733, when he reported that the younger people of Northampton were showing “flexibleness” in responding to his exhortations about late-night carousing. All of this served as a precursor to the outbreak of revival in New England, which Edwards documented in detail in his work A Faithful Narrative.

In New England from 1734–35, a religious stirring began as a return to seriousness over religious matters emerged. A number of people were converted and reports were given of individuals forsaking sin in the pursuit of godliness. Further awakening in New England is traced to George Whitefield’s preaching in 1740, and Edwards’ preaching ministry in 1741, particularly his sermon given at Enfield, Connecticut, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” As divisions arose over the meaning of these awakenings, Edwards stood as a measured, biblical defender of their validity. Due to the meticulous nature of his works on the subject of revival, they became normative for many in his generation, and are still seen by many as standard for assessing revival today.

Architectural Significance

The Fifth Meetinghouse on the north side of Northampton’s Main Street was conceived in the urban environment of the 1870’s. Its simple yet dominating tower, deep brown stone, and firm clean lines reflect the Beaux Arts eclecticism of the High Victorian era the Peabody and Stearns building also states the American emphasis on craftsmanship and materials – simplified yet dignified. The 19 th century builders who constructed the Meetinghouse used mainly materials indigenous to Western Massachusetts, most notably the Longmeadow brownstone that gives it its distinctive color. The exterior of the building is constructed entirely of stone with a slate roof. The foundations are granite and above the watertable the walls are the Longmeadow brownstone. The tower and spire are built entirely of stone.

A continuation of the aesthetic of the exterior, the interior reflects the Victorian demand for craftsmanship and beauty. When entering the sanctuary from Main Street, the warmth of the whole building is expressed by space and light the many colors of light reflected in the stained glass windows and the warm beauty of the cherry wood pews. Ten iron columns, manufactured by the Healy Iron Works of Brooklyn, New York, support the roof. From the top of each column rises a wooden pillar which supports the side arches. The ceiling is finished in spandrels and arches, with heavy cross beams extending from side to side. Gothic arches springing from the top of the iron columns extend to the outer walls. Arches are carried from column to column the length of the building. The sanctuary floor is “bowled” rising two feet from the pulpit to the vestibule. The pews curve as they approach the pulpit. It is estimated that 1000 people can be seated in the sanctuary.

The many large colored glass windows are made of leaded colored cathedral glass that was furnished by Kelly and Holland of Boston. All are of elaborate design. Two memorial windows stand opposite each other on the east and west walls. On the west wall is the window called “The stream of Life” (1899) and is signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The other window, attributed to Tiffany’s workshop, is titled “Noli Me Tangere”.

The organ, built by Ernest M. Skinner, one of the leading organ builders in the United States, was presented to the congregation at the time of the congregation’s 275 th anniversary. The organ is situated directly back of the pulpit and presents a full front of displayed decorated pipes.

The clockworks, owned and maintained by the city of Northampton, are an excellent 19 th century artifact. Built by E. Howard and Co. of Boston, enameled in green and gold and weighing 1,600 pounds, they sit in a glass case below the steeple and include the original directions for the care and maintenance of the clock.

The Fifth Meetinghouse is regarded as one of the finest examples of High Victorian Neo-Gothic architecture in America today. Helen Searing, Professor Emeritus of Art and Architecture at Smith College has written that,

“First Church is one of the handsomest buildings in downtown Northampton. It enhances and anchors Main Street with its soaring spire. Its rugged walls of quarry-faced brownstone speak of integrity and strength. Inside, its presence is gentler: the colorful sanctuary, its curves a surprise within a rectilinear envelope, welcomes the visitor with warmth and grace. In my opinion, the interior of First Church constitutes the most breathtaking space in western Massachusetts and merits strenuous efforts at restoration and preservation.”

Read Ron Story’s Sermon from Nov. 14, 2017. Dr. Ron Story is a retired Professor of History, and a member of First Churches. Ron Story Sermon Nov 14 1999

In June of 1751, Edwards settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as pastor and missionary to the Indians. While not as renowned of a town, lacking the heritage of his previous church, and facing difficulty in ministering to the Native Americans, Edwards found joy and contentment in this post. It also afforded him more time to write, and some of his most important works came out during this time like Freedom of the Will in 1754, The Nature of True Virtue in 1755, Original Sin in 1758, and Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World, published posthumously in 1765.

On February 16, 1758, he was installed as President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). In his letter of October 19, 1757, Edwards responded to the invitation of the Trustees to take up this new position. He was reticent to do so, believing he simply did not have the constitution to hold such a post. He was, however, persuaded, and went on to serve in this capacity. Edwards was inoculated for smallpox on February 23rd of that same year. He contracted a fever from which he died on March 22. His final words were written to his daughter, Lucy:

Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you.


Though his father was a preacher Edwards did not experience what he called his conversion experience until later in his life. Still, Alexander V.G. Allen, D. D. who published an extensive biography on Edwards states, “Although Edwards came to his intellectual maturity before his religious experience had developed into what he called conversion, yet his intellect was bound from the first to the idea of God.” It wasn’t until January of 1723 that Edwards dedicated himself to God.

Jonathan Edwards: Founding Father of American Evangelicalism

The theme of this year’s Teaching American History Saturday webinars is American Minds. Prominent scholars will discuss individuals who made significant social, cultural, or political contributions to the American identity beginning with theologian/philosopher Jonathan Edwards. A Founding Father of American evangelicalism, Edwards is best known for his fiery sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God . Like many Americans, my knowledge of Edwards was simplistic, even mythical, because Sinners was my only exposure to his theology. Edwards wrote numerous sermons, books, and pamphlets that helped start the religious revival known as the Great Awakening and according to one historian, “provided pre-revolutionary America with a radical, even democratic, social and political ideology” that influenced the American Revolutionary effort. To understand how this New England pastor can be credited with such influence required some deeper digging into his writings.

Like many students of United States history, I first learned about Jonathan Edwards in a high school English class. We were assigned excerpts of Edwards’ famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and taught it was a textbook example of Puritan sermons. I don’t recall whether his vivid descriptions of hell and mankind’s persistent vulnerability to damnation frightened or shocked any of my classmates. To me, it had the familiar ring of the many of the fire and brimstone sermons I heard on Sunday mornings at the Southern Baptist church of my youth. Not until I enrolled in a graduate class on Colonial America in Ashland University’s Masters of American History and Government did I learn that Sinners’ scared straight theology painted an incomplete picture of Edwards’s evangelism.

By that time, I had become interested in Edwards for reasons other than his theological doctrine. I have always been fascinated by the rogues in American history. Men like Aaron Burr, Richard Nixon, Al Capone, Jesse James, and even Benedict Arnold held my attention like an interstate pile up. When I learned that strait-laced, hellfire-and-damnation Jonathan Edwards was Aaron Burr’s grandfather, I had to learn more. Burr was a mere two years old when Grandfather Edwards died, so it is unlikely, he had any direct influence on Burr’s upbringing, but the family connection was sure a juicy piece of historical trivia.

Edwards, like his future grandson, was a precocious lad. He entered Yale at age 12. Fascinated by the natural sciences, he kept a notebook labeled Natural History containing entries on atomic theory, the behavior of spiders and other topics. As a product of the Age of Enlightenment, Edwards was familiar with scientific advances. But unlike the numerous contemporaries who embraced deism, Edwards saw each new scientific discovery as a vindication of God’s majesty. Scientific knowledge validated his faith. As he matured as a theologian, Edwards balanced reason and emotion in his preaching, rejecting the extremism of both the radical evangelicals and anti-revivalists of the “Awakening” era.

Jonathan Edwards began his career as a Congregationalist pastor in 1727 in Northampton, MA. It was here that Edwards witnessed and chronicled a religious revival in 1733-35 that historians considered the beginnings of the Great Awakening, a period of religiosity so intense that historian Thomas Kidd describes it as “the greatest upheaval in the American colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.” Edwards wrote A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton in which he described the religious conversion of nearly 300 young members of the Northampton community. The young converts were moved to seek salvation following the untimely deaths of some of their friends. A Faithful Narrative launched Edwards’ career as a religious philosopher, though he continued to preach. Never a powerful orator, certainly not on the scale of that other Great Awakening figure George Whitfield, Edwards exerted influence through his published sermons and treatises on religion. They were circulated widely in the colonies and “inaugurated the evangelical movement in American Christianity.” Defined by historian Kidd as “the kind of Protestant Christianity that strongly emphasizes the need for personal conversion,” evangelicalism has gone on to influence social reform movements throughout US history, from abolitionism to the Moral Majority.

Because Edwards and other evangelicals emphasized personal conversion and not traditional Calvinist pre-destination as the basis of salvation, they fostered a more democratic view of Christianity. To help my students understand how this more democratic theology influenced the political ideology of the American Revolution, I would ask them, “Once you challenge the authority of the church to tell you what to think about God, how big of a leap is it to challenge the authority of a king?”

Edwards was not a minister who focused exclusively on hell. His spiritual path to conversion did not seem complete to him until he saw salvation as a mystical thing of beauty and not simply a means of escaping hell. This was demonstrated so vividly in my Colonial America class when we read A Divine and Spiritual Light . Edwards taught that “there was a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet and having a sense of its sweetness” because “of the … taste of honey.” Religious seekers must taste the honey to experience the joy of salvation. The moment we discussed that document in class was one of the most memorable moments for me in the MAHG program. From that moment on, I always assigned my students both Sinners and A Divine and Spiritual Light to proffer a more complete picture of early American religion.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss Edwards with a scholar of religion in Colonial America, Dr. Daniel Dreisbach. Dr. Dreisbach reminded me of how Edwards, a man of science and faith, had died. At the time of his death, Edwards was the President of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University. A smallpox epidemic had recently plagued the town, so Edwards decided to be inoculated. Inoculation, an imperfect science at that time, was based on the theory that if one were exposed to the virus, one might survive a minor case of the disease and develop lifetime immunity. Edwards developed a severe case of smallpox and died. Who knows? If the inoculation had worked, maybe he would have bounced his little grandson Aaron Burr on his knee and put a little fear of God into that notorious character.

Watch the video: This Will NEVER Happen Again. The Untouchable Record of Jonathan Edwards (July 2022).


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