Edwards on the Will: A Century of American Theological Debate

Overview

Jonathan Edwards towered over his contemporaries—a man over six feet tall and a figure of theological stature—but the reasons for his power have been a matter of dispute. Edwards on the Will offers a persuasive explanation. In 1753, after seven years of personal trials, which included dismissal from his Northampton church, Edwards submitted a treatise, Freedom of the Will, to Boston publishers. Its impact on Puritan society was profound. He had refused to be trapped either by a new Arminian scheme that seemed to ...

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Overview

Jonathan Edwards towered over his contemporaries—a man over six feet tall and a figure of theological stature—but the reasons for his power have been a matter of dispute. Edwards on the Will offers a persuasive explanation. In 1753, after seven years of personal trials, which included dismissal from his Northampton church, Edwards submitted a treatise, Freedom of the Will, to Boston publishers. Its impact on Puritan society was profound. He had refused to be trapped either by a new Arminian scheme that seemed to make God impotent or by a Hobbesian natural determinism that made morality an illusion. He both reasserted the primacy of God's will and sought to reconcile freedom with necessity. In the process he shifted the focus from the community of duty to the freedom of the individual. Edwards died of smallpox in 1758 soon after becoming president of Princeton; as one obituary said, he was "a most rational . . . and exemplary Christian." Thereafter, for a century or more, all discussion of free will and on the church as an enclave of the pure in an impure society had to begin with Edwards. His disciples, the "New Divinity" men—principally Samuel Hopkins of Great Barrington and Joseph Bellamy of Bethlehem, Connecticut—set out to defend his thought. Ezra Stiles, president of Yale, tried to keep his influence off the Yale Corporation, but Edwards's ideas spread beyond New Haven and sparked the religious revivals of the next decades. In the end, old Calvinism returned to Yale in the form of Nathaniel William Taylor, the Boston Unitarians captured Harvard, and Edwards's troublesome ghost was laid to rest. The debate on human freedom versus necessity continued, but theologians no longer controlled it. In Edwards on the Will, Guelzo presents with clarity and force the story of these fascinating maneuverings for the soul of New England and of the emerging nation.

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Meet the Author

Allen C. Guelzo is Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Professor of History at Gettysburg College. He is formerly Dean of the Templeton Honors College and the Grace F. Kea Professor of American History at Eastern University . He holds an MA and a PhD in history from the University of Pennsylvania, an MDiv from Philadelphia Theological Seminary, and an honorary doctorate in history from Lincoln College in Illinois.

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Table of Contents


Illustrations     viii
Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction: "Edwards on the Will"     1
The New England Dilemma: Willing and Revival     17
Jonathan Edwards: Critics and Criticism     54
Bellamy and Hopkins: The Wisdom of God in the Permission of Sin     87
The New Divinity: The True State and Character of the Unregenerate     112
Old Calvinism: The Obligation and Encouragement of the Unregenerate     140
Presbyterianism: No Objection to the Sinners' Striving     176
The Waning of Edwardseanism: From Asa Burton to Lyman Beecher     208
Silencing the Ghost: Nathaniel William Taylor and the New Haven Theology     240
Epilogue: The Unanswered Question     272
Notes     279
Bibliography     313
Index     329
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