Chapter 2: Early American Literature 1700-1800

Jonathan Edwards

Paul P. Reuben
  October 15, 2016

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Revival Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: E-Texts |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | Liberal Innovations made by Solomon (Samuel) Stoddard (Edwards' Grandfather) | Leader of the Great Awakening | Aspects of Edwards' Religious Philosophy | Edwards' Concrete Theism: Theism, Pantheism, and Panentheism | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap 2 - Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |

Source: The Works of JE

Primary Works

God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, By the Greatness of Man's Dependence on Him, 1731; A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine, 1734; The Duty and Interest of a People, Among Whom Religion has been planted, to Continue Stedfast and Sincere In The Profession and Practice of it, 1736; A Letter To The Author Of the Pamphlet Called An Answeer to the Hampshire Narrative, 1737; Discourses on Various Important Subjects, Nearly concerning the great Affair of the Soul's Eternal Salvation, 1738; The Distinguishing Marks Of a Work of the Spirit of God, 1741; The Resort and Remedy of those that are bereaved by the Death of an eminent Minister, 1741; Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, 1745; Some Thoughts Concerning the present Revival of Religion in New-England, 1742; The great Concern of a Watchman for Souls, 1743; The true Excellency of a Minister of the Gospel…1744; A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, 1746; Religious Affections; A Careful, and Strict Enquiry ... of that Freedom of Will, 1754; The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, 1758; Two Dissertations, 1765: a. "The Nature of True Virtue" and "Concerning the End for which God Created the World."

The works of Jonathan Edwards. Perry Miller, general editor. New Haven: Yale UP, 1957-1989. BX7117 .E3 1957 Library Has: v.1-v.9:

Freedom of the will. Edited by Paul Ramsey. 1957. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.1

Religious affections. Edited by John E. Smith. 1959. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.2

Original sin. Edited by Clyde A. Holbrook. 1970. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.3

The great awakening: A faithful narrative. The distinguishing marks. Some thoughts concerning The revival, letters relating to The revival. Preface to True religion by Joseph Bellamy. Edited by C. C. Goen. 1972. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.4

Apocalyptic writings. Edited by Stephen J. Stein. 1977. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.5

Scientific and philosophical writings. Edited by Wallace E. Anderson. 1980. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.6

The life of David Brainerd. Edited by Norman Pettit. 1985. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.7

Ethical writings. Edited by Paul Ramsey. 1989. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.8

A history of the work of redemption. Eited by John F. Wilson. 1989. BX7117 .E3 1957 v.9

A Jonathan Edwards reader. Edited by John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995. BR50 .E34

Chamberlain, Ava. ed. The "Miscellanies", 501-832. New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.

Claghorn, George S. ed. Letters and Personal Writings. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998.

Lee, Sang Hyun ed. Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

Lesser, M. X. ed. Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001.

Minkema, Kenneth P. ed. Sermons and Discourses, 1723-1729. New Haven: Yale UP, 1997.

Pauw, Amy P. ed. The "Miscellanies", 833-1152. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

Stout, Harry S. ed. Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.

The "Miscellanies", 501-832. Chamberlain, Ava (ed.). New Haven: Yale UP, 2000.

Sermons and Discourses, 1734-1738. Lesser, M. X. (ed.). New Haven: Yale UP, 2001.

Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith. Lee, Sang Hyun (ed.). New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

The "Miscellanies", 833-1152. Pauw, Amy Plantinga (ed.). New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742. Stout, Harry S. (ed.); Hatch, Nathan O.; Farley, Kyle P. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.

The "Miscellanies", 1153-1360. Sweeney, Douglas A. (ed.). New Haven: Yale UP, 2004.

| Top | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Brand, David C. Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.

Conforti, Joseph A. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Cowell, Patricia. Jonathan Edwards. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.

Fiering, Norman. Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and its British Context. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1981. BX7260 .E3 F53

Hatch, Nathan O. Jonathan Edwards and the American Experience. NY: Oxford UP, 1988. BX7260 .E3 J65

Jenson, Robert W. America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards. NY: Oxford UP, 1988. BX 7260 .E3 J45

Kuklick, Bruce. Churchmen and Philosophers: From Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey. New Haven: Yale UP, 1985. BT30 .U6 K85

Lesser, M. X. Jonathan Edwards. Boston: Twayne P, 1988. PS742 .L47

- - -. Jonathan Edwards: An Annotated Bibliography, 1979-1993.Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

Miller, Perry. Jonathan Edwards. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1981. BX7260 .E3 M5

Oberg, Barbara B. and Harry S. Stout. Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Representation of American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Scheick, William J., ed. Critical Essays On Jonathan Edwards. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. BX7260.E3 C67

Smith, John E, Harry S. Stout and Kenneth P. Minkema. A Jonathan Edwards Reader. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Stewart, Carole L. Strange Jeremiahs: Civil Religion and the Literary Imaginations of Jonathan Edwards, Herman Melville, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 2010.

Tracy, Patricia J. Jonathan Edwards, Pastor: Religion and Society in Eighteenth Century Northampton. NY: Hill and Wang, 1980. BX7260.E3 T72

I. Liberal Innovations made by Solomon (Samuel) Stoddard (Edwards' Grandfather)

1. Stopped the requirement that church members profess an experience of saving grace.

2. Accepted intellectual will to believe and assumption of Christian duties.

3. Opened the Lord’s Supper to everybody, arguing that the sacrament need not be reserved as a seal of faith for the believers, but might very well be a means of converting to belief.

4. Believed that salvation rested on individual moral effort as well as on grace; stressed morality rather than piety.

| Top | II. Leader of the Great Awakening

Jonathan Edwards is considered the leader of The Great Awakening in New England. It is a name given to a religious revival in 1730s which brought about the following changes in the Puritan theology:

1. Stressed the emotional side of religion.

2. This weakened institutional authority; regeneration was not certified by church, but by one’s own emotional conviction.

3. It bypassed doctrinal orthodoxy; the convert’s immediate sense of participating in spiritual reality rendered intellectual formulations less significant.

4. It made religion more popular; it is easier to experience emotional excitement than rational understanding.

5. It made religion more democratic; by emphasizing the individual experience of conversion, and the equal capacity of everyone, child or adult, rich or poor, ignorant or wise, to be touched by the inner experience of grace.

6. It made religion trans-colonial; breakdown of distinctions between church and creed, it encouraged the proliferation of sects which led to vagueness in doctrine, laxness in discipline, and faded into general religious indifference. It gave rise to a community organized in pursuit of secular values.

III. Aspects of Edwards' Religious Philosophy

1. His mystical conversion at age seventeen - "I often used to sit and view the Moon, for a long time; and so in the daytime spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold glory of God in these things; in the meantime, singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer." from "Personal Narrative."

2. He agreed with John Locke in the concept that ideas are generated by sense impressions - knowledge must be supplemented by faith.

3. He believed in the intuitive process; a person must passively surrender to receive grace through senses. One cannot achieve saving grace through a rational process.

4. From Isaac Newton, Edwards borrowed the concept that the harmonious working of the universe reflected the magnificence of "the Great Geometrician" or God.

IV. Edwards' Concrete Theism: Theism, Pantheism, and Panentheism

According to Douglas Elwood (listed above, pages 6-23), Edwards' theology opposes any view that separates the Creator and the creation. He is interested in discovering a unifying concept that would do justice to the majesty of God and to the immediacy of His presence. His neo-Calvinism appears in his conception of God in terms of absolute beauty and not merely absolute power.

Theism usually pictures the relation as one of spatial separation, as two mutually exclusive circles - one representing the world, the other God. The problem with this view is that it does not explain how, if God is entirely separate from the world, He can at the same time be active in the world in any intelligible sense.

Pantheism usually pictures the world and God in terms of coextensive circles - mutually inclusive, but also indistinguishable. God's individuality is lost.

Elmood says that both these traditional views are inadequate and even religiously dangerous. The one separates God from the world, the other identifies God with the world.

Pan-en-theism: The third way in theology describes the relation in concentric circles - the outer circle representing God in all His inclusiveness, the inner circle symbolizing the world. The world is in God. God includes the world yet He is "infinitely more besides." He is the dynamic and creative center of the world - its inner depth. This third way places God and the world in a relationship of mutual immanence: God in the world and the world in God. The "world in God" is logically prior to "God in the world." and introduces a pan-en-theism - God is united with His world and at the same time distinct from it in what has been called "ecstatic transcendence."

Immediacy is not a union in which the mystic loses self-consciousness, rather it is a living encounter with the eternal Presence that confronts us along our daily, concrete experience. Looked at in this light, Edwards' philosophical position could be called concrete theism. This element of concreteness enables him to look upon the the Christian experience of God as not so much a separate and extraordinary event as it is an overtone that is present potentially in every ordinary experience we have.

| Top | Edwards: A Brief Biography

A Student Project by Farron Fuzi

According to Edward Griffin, on October 5, 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards was born to Timothy and Ester Edwards. Griffin describes Jonathan as the only boy and the middle child of eleven children. The son of a minister and a "highly intelligent, willful mother" surely brought pressure upon him. (Griffin, 7) Through Griffin's book, it is also learned that Jonathan Edwards was the grandson of Solomon Stoddard. During his time, Solomon Stoddard was considered to be the most powerful New England clergyman. Just before his thirteenth birthday in 1716, Edwards entered the Collegiate School at New Haven (known today as Yale University). He graduated from New Haven in 1720, but stayed there to continue his graduate studies in theology. According to Joseph Conforti, in 1727 Jonathan Edwards became his grandfather's assistant. In that same year, at the age of twenty-three, Edwards married seventeen year old Sarah Pierpont, who was "a beautiful, witty, and pious girl." (Griffin, 8) Edwards would become the sole pastor in Northampton upon his grandfather's death two years later.

Griffin states that it would be in Northampton where Jonathan Edwards became famous. Here, Edwards would become a main person for two religious revivals. The first revival that took place occurred during 1734 and 1735. Edwards' recalls this "surprising conversion" in his "A Faithful Narrative." (Griffin, 8) The second revival came in the early 1740's and was called the Great Awakening. It was an "extraordinary flood of religious excitement that surged across the colonies." (Griffin, 8) Griffin states that, "generations of New England ministers had been praying earnestly for just such 'outpourings of the Holy Spirit' to revitalize the land's diminishing piety; in 1734, God seemed to have answered the prayers by sending his Spirit to Jonathan Edwards' backyard." (Griffin, 8) According to Griffin, the youths of the town started to ask what they could do in order to save themselves, and they began to feel concern for their souls. In 1735, it came to a halt when Edwards' uncle, Joseph Hawley became so unhappy with his soul, that he committed suicide. To the town, this came as a signal the "God had withdrawn his favor." (Griffin, 8)

However, as Griffin states, in 1738 and 1739, newspapers started to tell of the success in England and in the southern and Middle American colonies. From the beginning, Edwards warned the people of the dangerous excesses that were probably to appear during the Awakening. Nonetheless, he considered it a work of the Holy Spirit, and used it in his powerful preaching. 1941 was the height of Edwards' career and influence. If ever the Awakening was questioned, Edwards' followers would look to him as their champion. As Griffin states, Edwards' "writings in explanation and defense of the phenomenon established him in the public mind as the foremost spokesman of the pro-Awakening forces against the attacks of Chauncy and the anti-Awakening group." (Griffin, 10) Edwards' ideas would soon lead to his dismissal from the church. Edwards admitted that he had changed his mind about the town's practice of admittance to the church. It was a liberal practice that had been started in 1677 by his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. It allowed membership to the church to any person who desired it. However, Edwards believed that the early Puritan settlers had the correct way. "True Christian practice should restrict full church membership to those able to make a profession of faith and give evidence of their conversion." (Griffin, 10) Edwards did not receive a single membership application to the church between 1744 and 1748.

As Griffin states in his book, by late 1748, people only needed an excuse to turn them against Edwards. "Family jealousies, quarrels over money, political intrigues, and a classic American 'dirty book' scare coalesced during those years to create a bitter, petty context for the theological dispute." (Griffin, 10) According to Griffin, on June 22, 1750 a council of churches voted to dismiss Edwards.

As Conforti states in his book, Edwards' life was cut short at the age of fifty-four when he died from a smallpox inoculation. Edwards is thought of more recently to be "America's theologian." (Conforti, 1) "Edwards sounded the depths of human thought and experience. Moreover, his majestic though tragic, intellectual figure has inspired a scholarly chase that has nearly inundated the academy with books, articles, and dissertations." (Conforti, 1) As Conforti states, "the depth, complexity, and sheer volume of his writings help explain why no other figure in American religious history has been the subject of more study than Edwards." (Conforti, 2)

Works Cited

Conforti, Joseph A. Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, & American Culture. North Carolina, 1995.

Griffin, Edward M. Jonathan Edwards. University of Minnesota, 1971.

Study Questions

1. Discuss Edwards's manipulation of biblical language in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. What specific transformations does he perform? And how does his use of language in the "Application" section of the sermon differ from and comment on the earlier doctrinal section?

2. Discuss the fact that Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin were contemporaries. Explain, with specific references to their works and more general comments on their ideas, why this fact seems startling.

3. Write a brief comparative analysis of form and function in Edward Taylor's poems and Jonathan Edwards's sermons.

4. Discuss the following statement, from "The Nature of True Virtue," in light of colonial American history: "Things are in natural regularity . . . when he whose heart opposes the general system, should have the hearts of that system, or the heart of the ruler of the system, against him." Include in your discussion both the decision of the Puritans to settle in the New World and the later struggle of the colonists for independence.

5. Jonathan Edwards is considered the last great Puritan because of his efforts to revive a dying theology. Discuss the important arguments contained in his famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God..

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 2: Jonathan Edwards." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login).

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