Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

An American theologian who was a driving force behind the First Great Awakening in the 1740s and whose writings display deep sympathy with Calvinist convictions. After graduating from Yale in 1726, he became a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he remained until 1750, when he was dismissed for his strict views on the Lord’s Supper. Subsequently, he moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as a missionary to the Native Americans, during which time he wrote some of his most mature works. Edwards eventually became president at the newly founded College of New Jersey (Princeton) but died soon after assuming the post. His 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was one of the opening shots of the First Great Awakening, and although its fame has distorted Edwards’s overall theology, the sinner’s enmity with God and the centrality of God’s justice reflect important themes in his work. These ideas came to fuller expression in Freedom of the Will and Original Sin, in which Edwards articulated traditional Reformed teaching on the seriousness of sin and the freeing regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Edwards’ impact has extended beyond theology to fields such as psychology and philosophy. For example, his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, which explores the significance of emotions, experience and holy living as marks of “true religion,” significantly influenced William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience. In addition, Edwards continues to wield influence in philosophical circles for his particular expressions of theological determinism (in Freedom of the Will), idealism (especially in his earlier writings) and occasionalism (in Original Sin).

(From PDRT)


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