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Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards: A Life

George M. Marsden
Copyright Date: 2003
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 640
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    Jonathan Edwards
    Book Description:

    Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is a towering figure in American history. A controversial theologian and the author of the famous sermonSinners in the Hands of an Angry God,he ignited the momentous Great Awakening of the eighteenth century.In this definitive and long-awaited biography, Jonathan Edwards emerges as both a great American and a brilliant Christian. George Marsden evokes the world of colonial New England in which Edwards was reared-a frontier civilization at the center of a conflict between Native Americans, French Catholics, and English Protestants. Drawing on newly available sources, Marsden demonstrates how these cultural and religious battles shaped Edwards's life and thought. Marsden reveals Edwards as a complex thinker and human being who struggled to reconcile his Puritan heritage with the secular, modern world emerging out of the Enlightenment. In this, Edwards's life anticipated the deep contradictions of our American culture.Meticulously researched and beautifully composed, this biography offers a compelling portrait of an eminent American.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12994-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Cotton Mather’s Map of New England
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Chronology of Edwards’ Life and Times
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Note on the Text
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Edwards was extraordinary. By many estimates, he was the most acute early American philosopher and the most brilliant of all American theologians. At least three of his many works—Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will,andThe Nature of True Virtue—stand as masterpieces in the larger history of Christian literature. The appeal of his thought endures. Every year several new books and scores of academic articles, reviews, and dissertations appear about him. Yet he also wrote effectively for popular audiences. His celebrated biography of David Brainerd was a best-selling religious text in nineteenth-century America and encouraged countless Christians to...

  9. CHAPTER 1 A Time to Be Born
    (pp. 11-24)

    God accompanied his blessings with warnings of his judgments. Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the river town of Northampton, Massachusetts, knew that well and preached it often. Although he was the most renowned man in the promising valley of the Connecticut River, he knew that no mortal could guarantee the survival of the English on this beleaguered frontier. In 1703 the little towns stretched out along the river were not the peaceful New England villages of later postcards. Many of them looked more like armed garrisons, especially from Northampton north to Deerfield, the region most vulnerable to Indian attacks. Part of...

  10. CHAPTER 2 The Overwhelming Question
    (pp. 25-43)

    Timothy Edwards was an effective preacher of revival. According to Jonathan’s later estimation, of all the pastors in the region, only his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, oversaw more local awakenings. In his famous account of the “Surprising Work of God” of 1734–35 in North-ampton, Jonathan recorded that there had been “four or five” outpourings of the Spirit in “my honored father’s parish, which has in times past been a place favored with mercies of this nature above any on this western side of New England, excepting Northampton.”¹ So the father more directly than the grandfather set the footsteps in which...

  11. CHAPTER 3 The Pilgrim’s Progress
    (pp. 44-58)

    After this,” Edwards recalled in his spiritual autobiography, “my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature.”

    One might think, from this account, written almost twenty years later,...

  12. CHAPTER 4 The Harmony of All Knowledge
    (pp. 59-81)

    Amid both the exhilarations of New York and the tensions of the summer back at East Windsor, the nineteen-year-old Jonathan was laying out a monumental design. At the same time that he was pursuing his spiritual goals with such intensity he was organizing his views on everything. To do this, he began what would become great notebooks, formed from carefully sewn folded pages. At Yale during his graduate years he had begun to put together his thoughts on natural science (then called “natural philosophy”), a subject that particularly excited him in his late teen years and one that would remain...

  13. CHAPTER 5 Anxieties
    (pp. 82-100)

    As the summer of 1723 wore into its dog days and Jonathan continued to be absorbed at his East Windsor home in his many spiritual and intellectual projects, he was becoming anxious. On three occasions in late summer he confided to his diary his worries about failure. “With respect to the important business which I have now on hand,” he wrote in the most explicit entry, “resolved, to do whatever I think to be duty, prudence and diligence in the matter, and to avoid ostentation; and if I succeed not, and how many disappointments soever I meet with, to be...

  14. CHAPTER 6 “A Low, Sunk Estate and Condition”
    (pp. 101-113)

    In late May, Edwards received news that provided escape from Bolton—Yale had offered him a position as tutor. Apparently he and the people of Bolton had an understanding that his pastorate was provisional, because within two weeks he was on his way to New Haven. Yet, characteristic of someone for whom no silver lining lacked a cloud, getting the position he wanted proved a trial. He wrote wearily soon after his arrival in New Haven: “Saturday night, June 6. This week has been a remarkable week with me with respect to despondencies, fears, perplexities, multitudes of cares and distraction...

  15. CHAPTER 7 On Solomon Stoddard’s Stage
    (pp. 114-132)

    To move to Northampton was to move into the seat of family power. Solomon Stoddard, the patriarch, now eighty-three, though somewhat feeble and nearly blind was still sharp of mind, strong of opinion, and a formidable presence. The people of Northampton, Edwards later recalled, regarded Stoddard “almost as a sort of deity.”¹ Not only in Northampton but throughout the region, Stoddard was a force. Like a feudal baron whose power depended on personal allegiances, he had used kinship ties to connect with other powerful clergy, merchants, and magistrates—with the other “river gods,” as they sometimes were collectively known.² Having...

  16. CHAPTER 8 And on a Wider Stage
    (pp. 133-149)

    Edwards usually rose at four or five in the morning in order to spend thirteen hours in his study. In his only diary entry during his early years in Northampton he wrote, in January 1728, “I think Christ has recommended rising early in the morning, by his rising from the grave very early.” The discipline was part of a constant, heroic effort to make his life a type of Christ. He began the day with private prayers followed by family prayers, by candlelight in winter. Each meal was accompanied by household devotions, and at the end of each day Sarah...

  17. CHAPTER 9 The Mighty Works of God and of Satan
    (pp. 150-169)

    In mid-1731, around the time he was preparing for his sermon in Boston, Edwards began to notice some winds of change in Northampton, winds that would eventually blow into an amazing awakening. That spiritual nor’easter would alter the course of his career. His ambition had long been to do great things for God as an internationally recognized writer. Preaching a public lecture sermon that would be published in the provincial capital was a small step in that direction. Yet Edwards was already deeply involved as pastor of one of the largest churches in western Massachusetts. His work and the remarkable...

  18. CHAPTER 10 The Politics of the Kingdom
    (pp. 170-183)

    Individual lives do not fit a single neat story line. Many things happen at once. In Edwards’ case, that complexity of his life is especially apparent around the time of the spectacular Connecticut Valley awakening and its aftermath. Although the revival overshadows everything else, we need to be careful not to let it obscure our vision of other events of those years. Edwards, now in his early thirties, was emerging as a significant figure in the New England ecclesiastical and social establishment. In that process, he was involved in a number of campaigns and controversies, each of which helped shape...

  19. CHAPTER 11 “A City Set on a Hill”
    (pp. 184-200)

    Before the American edition ofA Faithful Narrativewas available, Edwards found himself in a troubling position. He had gained international prominence, but had he claimed too much? In 1735 he had believed that nearly everyone in Northampton had shown hopeful signs of saving grace. Over a year later, in November 1736, when he was completingA Faithful Narrative,he was still proclaiming to the world that “God has evidently made us a new people.” Granted, he qualified the claim by acknowledging that there were doubtless some wolves in sheep’s clothing and that the town still had many reasons to...

  20. CHAPTER 12 God “Will Revive the Flame Again, Even in the Darkest Times”
    (pp. 201-213)

    As Edwards scanned the international horizon, the skies looked dark in many respects, yet he believed he was seeing some glimmers of a coming dawn. He was convinced he had solid biblical reasons to be optimistic, even if there were sure to be trials for the church as the last day approached. Although the once-Reformed nations had become greatly corrupted, the Reformation’s assault on the Antichrist marked an irreversible advance of the prophetic clock. Reformed theologians had greatly purified Christian doctrine. Such true Christian teaching would surely prevail, if only hearts were changed.

    The real glimmers of the dawn were...

  21. CHAPTER 13 The Hands of God and the Hand of Christ
    (pp. 214-226)

    As the snows deepened in the hard winter of 1740–41, the joys within the Edwards household seemed only to increase. In mid-December Edwards wrote to Whitefield with “joyful tidings” of the spiritual blessings since his visit, especially among young people of the town, including his own children. “I hope salvation has come to this house since you was in it, with respect to one, if not more, of my children.” Probably he was referring to ten-year-old Jerusha, who like the lost sister for whom she was named, was becoming a spiritual gem. By March, he could write to Colman...

  22. CHAPTER 14 “He That Is Not with Us Is Against Us”
    (pp. 227-238)

    August 31, 1741, marked a turning point in Edwards’ life. Until that time, his star was steadily on the rise: he had gained an international reputation as a preacher of awakening, and he had been gradually taking his place in the galaxy of New England’s establishment. In the west he was a bright junior member of the Stoddard-Williams aristocracy. Elsewhere he was connected not only to Yale and the Connecticut elite, but also to Benjamin Colman and the circle of Boston’s most influential leaders. Through his uncle John Stoddard he had firm connections with Massachusetts’ political leaders, including Governor Belcher....

  23. CHAPTER 15 “Heavenly Elysium”
    (pp. 239-252)

    In the meantime the light of the awakening had been brightening in Northampton during August and September 1741, and Edwards was dealing every day with new confirmations that the work was truly of the Holy Spirit. He was also much in demand as the revival fires continued to blaze all over New England. During November and December he made an extensive preaching tour, and in late January he was to leave for another two-week stint that would involve at least eight stops in Massachusetts and Connecticut.¹

    On January 21, 1742, shortly before leaving on this tour, Edwards recounted the state...

  24. CHAPTER 16 Conservative Revolutionary
    (pp. 253-267)

    Despite the abundance of Edwards’ writing in his notebooks, sermons, publications, and more than two hundred surviving letters, he reveals remarkably little that is personal, excepting as spiritual and intellectual concerns are deeply personal. Most of the detail we know of his daily life and work comes from Samuel Hopkins’ admiring biographical memoir. Judging from Hopkins’ portrait, Edwards was deeply spiritual, intensely hardworking, intellectual, introspective, and somewhat withdrawn. He regulated his days by the strictest disciplines.¹

    What would it have been like to meet Edwards? Hopkins acknowledged that those who did not know Edwards well found him “stiffandunsociable,”...

  25. CHAPTER 17 A House Divided
    (pp. 268-290)

    Rather than restoring the dominant place of religion in the colony, the Great Awakening was undermining the already weakened public authority of the old standing clerical order. Not only were laypeople attacking clergy in the name of religion, but any semblance of unity among the congregational clergy was on the brink of collapse. Only gradually was the breach becoming apparent. In Boston, truly New England’s hub, a few congregational pastors had been cool to the awakening ever since Whitefield’s visit. They were outnumbered, however, nine to three, by proponents of the revival, including all the town’s senior pastors.¹ At first,...

  26. CHAPTER 18 A Model Town No More
    (pp. 291-305)

    Edwards dismissed from his congregation? At the beginning of 1744, after one of the most remarkable decades in the history of parish ministries, it would have been hard to imagine that by 1750 he would be gone. The admiring Samuel Hopkins, who in 1744 was still a frequent guest in the Edwards household, later wrote that “Mr. Edwards was very happy in the esteem and love of his people for many years, and there was the greatest prospect of his living and dying so.” In fact, claimed Hopkins, “he was the last minister almost in New England that would have...

  27. CHAPTER 19 Colonial Wars
    (pp. 306-319)

    One reason for Edwards to keep to himself about his momentous change of mind regarding church membership in 1744–45 was that New England was at war, both literally and figuratively. The literal war was King George’s War, or the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48), which became a major New England concern when France joined in the hostilities against England in spring 1744. Colonel John Stoddard was the chief military commander in western Massachusetts, and in 1745 the towns-people and Edwards would be united by both a dramatic offensive against the French and a defense against the Indians....

  28. CHAPTER 20 “Thy Will Be Done”
    (pp. 320-340)

    If Sarah Edwards, renowned as the model wife and caring hostess, ever felt entirely overwhelmed, the arrival of David Brainerd on Thursday May 28, 1747, may have been one of those times. Just three weeks earlier she had given birth to an eighth daughter, Elizabeth. In addition were two boys, Timothy, nearly nine, and Jonathan Jr., who had just turned two. Remarkably, all ten children had thus far survived. By contrast, in John Stoddard’s household, with which the family must have had constant interchange, only five of the ten children survived to adulthood.¹

    When Brainerd arrived, gaunt with tuberculosis, the...

  29. CHAPTER 21 “I Am Born to Be a Man of Strife”
    (pp. 341-356)

    They have never maintained him in any measure,” Sally complained of the town’s treatment of her father in the winter of 1747–48, just before Jerusha died. “These things, she went on, after summarizing recent salary disputes, “I am sensible have done much toward making my father willing to leave his [people] if convenient opportunity present.” Sally was writing with striking frankness to her missionary friend Elihu Spencer, one of the men Edwards had recommended to Governor Belcher for work with John Brainerd in New Jersey. Spencer, like David Brainerd, had visited the Edwardses’ home in summer 1747. Apparently there...

  30. CHAPTER 22 The Crucible
    (pp. 357-374)

    The tumult is vastly greater than when you were here,” Edwards wrote to his friend Joseph Bellamy in December 1749, “and is rising higher and higher continually.” The personable Bellamy had tried to intercede in Northampton in the late spring and even had believed that some of the key townspeople could be brought around once Edwards’ book came out.¹ Now, Edwards told him, their opponents had roused such resentments against Bellamy that “you are spoken of by ’em with great indignation and contempt.” Since Bellamy’s visit townspeople and church committees had held countless meetings. Few people had read Edwards’ book...

  31. CHAPTER 23 The Mission
    (pp. 375-394)

    When Edwards moved to Stockbridge, in June 1751, he had reason for renewed hopes. He could see the beauties of the setting on the Housatonic River in the Berkshires as communications of Christ’s redemptive love. The village itself could inspire high expectations. It was designed to be a model community, a prototype for future missions where English and Indians would live side by side in peace. In Edwards’ view this product of Gospel zeal was a glimmer anticipating the dawn of the millennium, when every tribe and nation would see the light of God’s righteousness and dwell together in harmony...

  32. CHAPTER 24 Frontier Struggles
    (pp. 395-413)

    While the Edwardses seemed to live in peace with their Indian neighbors, by spring 1752 relations with the most powerful of their English neighbors, the Williams family, took a sharp turn for the worse. Almost the first thing Edwards had done to secure his position against the Williamses was to convince the authorities to appoint his friend Brigadier General Joseph Dwight of Brookfield to be resident overseer of the schools and to convince the brigadier to settle in Stockbridge. Edwards’ first instinct, in other words, was to find a pious magistrate-aristocrat to play the role of patron to the pastor...

  33. CHAPTER 25 Wartime
    (pp. 414-431)

    Othe dreadful, awful news! General Braddock is killed and his army defeated,” cried Esther Edwards Burr in Newark. “Oh my dear what will, what must become of us! O oursins,oursins—they are grown up to the very heavens, and call aloud for vengeance, the vengeance that the Lord has sent—’Tis just, ’tis right.”¹

    The overwhelming destruction of General Edward Braddock’s proud army of redcoats as they approached Fort Duquesne on July 9, 1755, sent shock waves through the colonies. From Virginia to northern New England, British settlers on the frontier were thrown into a panic. Braddock...

  34. CHAPTER 26 Against an “Almost Inconceivably Pernicious” Doctrine
    (pp. 432-446)

    Edwards’ life did not lack for drama. He played major roles in the awakenings, some of the most momentous events of his day. He long served as a pastor who agonizingly cared for immortal souls. He spent much time in his relationships with a large immediate family of siblings, wife, and children. He took leading parts in the affairs of his extended family and local communities. He was enmeshed in partisan international politics and the violent clashes of nations and religions.

    Yet his heart was most often in his work as a writer. If one can judge true affections by...

  35. CHAPTER 27 Original Sin “in This Happy Age of Light and Liberty”
    (pp. 447-458)

    The crucial strategic question was what to write on afterFreedom of the Will.By 1752, when Edwards was beginning that work, he was already sketching a larger master plan. Between 1742 and 1752 he had completed six treatises. In Stockbridge, where he saw his vocation more as a writer than as a speaker, he had every prospect of increasing that pace, so long as his health held up. Although he had local duties and encountered real distractions, the frontier village, surrounded by hills in the corner of the colony, had the advantages of isolation. Unlike Northampton, it was not...

  36. CHAPTER 28 Challenging the Presumptions of the Age
    (pp. 459-471)

    At the same time Edwards was focusing narrowly on defending the Calvinist doctrine of original sin, he was designing a broader counterattack against some of the most prevalent assumptions of modern thought. Apparently because he perceived a theological crisis in New England, he regarded the publication ofOriginal Sinas a priority. He may also have thought it prudent to secure one’s defenses before venturing on an offensive.

    As soon as he sentOriginal Sinto the press in May 1757, he turned back to the largely completed drafts of theTwo Dissertations.These were virtually complete before his death,...

  37. CHAPTER 29 The Unfinished Masterworks
    (pp. 472-489)

    As Edwards set off for Princeton in January 1758 he had to resign himself to the reality that it might be God’s will that he not finish the two “great works” he had described in his letters to the college trustees. But at only fifty-four years old, he was certainly going to try. There was much to make him believe that these works were within God’s purposes. Such comprehensive treatises, he was convinced, could be bulwarks in the battles against fashionable infidelity.

    Much of the work was already done. The wagon that carried his essentials to Princeton probably contained boxes...

  38. CHAPTER 30 The Transitory and the Enduring
    (pp. 490-506)

    Edwards spent his whole life preparing to die. As he often reminded his congregations, those who were sitting comfortably one Sabbath might be in the grave by the next. For those who spurned God’s Spirit, life was like walking on a rotten canvas, and at any moment they might suddenly find themselves plunged simply by the weight of their sins into everlasting hell. By contrast, if one had experienced God’s transforming work, then death would be a release in which one was borne upward to see Christ’s glory. Holding to that hope, Edwards worked constantly to cultivate gratitude, praise, worship,...

  39. APPENDIX A. Genealogical Table of Edwards’ Relatives
    (pp. 507-509)
  40. APPENDIX B. Edwards’ Sisters
    (pp. 510-510)
  41. APPENDIX C. Edwards’ Immediate Family, from His Family Bible
    (pp. 511-512)
  42. Notes
    (pp. 513-600)
  43. Credits
    (pp. 601-602)
  44. Index
    (pp. 603-615)