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Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is widely recognized as one of the greatest philosopher-theologians America has ever produced, and recent years have seen a remarkable increase in research on his writings. To date, however, there has been no single authoritative volume that introduces and interprets the key aspects of Edwards' thought as a whole. The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards provides just such a concise and comprehensive work, one that will be invaluable to students and scholars of American religion and theology as well as of literature, philosophy, and history.
Comprising twenty essays by leading scholars on Edwards, the book will inform and challenge readers on subjects ranging from Edwards' understanding of the Trinity, God and the world, Christ, and salvation, as well as of history, typology, the church, and mission to Native Americans. It also includes a chronology of Edwards' life and writings that incorporates current research. Those familiar with Edwards' writings will find in these essays succinct expositions as well as bold new interpretations, and others will find an accessible, authoritative, up-to-date orientation to his multifaceted thought.
The essays are by Robert E. Brown, Allen C. Guezlo, Robert W. Jenson, Wilson H. Kimnach, Janice Knight, Sang Hyun Lee, Gerald R. McDermott, Kenneth P. Minkema, Mark Noll, Richard R. Niebuhr, Amy Plantinga Pauw, John E. Smith, Stephen J. Stein, Harry S. Stout, Douglas A. Sweeney, Peter J. Thuesen, and John F. Wilson.
"Concise and comprehensive. . . . This work is invaluable to a wide array of scholarship, ranging from theology to philosophy and from literature to history. . . . Overall, this volume is a 'must have' for Edwards enthusiasts, beginning scholars in Edwards, or Edwards specialists alike."—S.V. Goncharenko, Southwestern Journal of Theology
Kenneth P. Minkema
New England and the Young Edwards
The world into which Jonathan Edwards was born, on Oct. 5, 1703, was one steeped in theological history and controversy. His family had been part of the Puritan migration from England to escape religious persecution and to establish a "Bible Commonwealth" that would fulfill the promise of the Reformation. The son and grandson of pastors, and related to some of the most influential church leaders of New England-Mathers, Hookers, and Stoddards-Edwards inherited the Calvinist orthodoxy of New England, its grandeur and its tensions. Within this orthodoxy, nation, province, town, church, and individual were joined in a network of interlocking covenants and obligations that bound the fabric of society. Theology served to justify God's ways to humankind, to prescribe proper channels for human inquiry and redemption, and to define the nature of human interaction. Even more, nature was imbued with religious meaning. Seemingly mundane natural phenomena and human events were seen as "illustrative providences" that contained supernatural messages of reward, punishment, and warning.
Chief among this society forinterpreting God's word and the meaning of events was the clergy, and this was the class into which Edwards was born. Timothy Edwards, Jonathan's father, had been the pastor of East Windsor for more than sixty years by the time he died, only a couple of months before his only son. Under the direction of his father, mother, and sisters, Jonathan acquired the necessary knowledge for a young gentleman bound for college and the ministry. Reason and learning went hand in hand with the heart and "affections." He sat under his father's preaching week after week, witnessing his father's trials with his congregation as well as his triumphs. The most happy times of all were "awakenings," times when the Spirit of God moved among the church to convict and convert a number of souls. Also famous for the "stirs" in his church was Edwards' grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, Massachusetts. During his pastorate, no less than five "harvests" occurred, making Stoddard one of the most respected ministers in New England, and possibly the most powerful outside of Boston. Timothy was also renowned in Connecticut as a revivalist. It was during one of these "seasons" in his father's church, when Jonathan was about ten years old, that he built a "prayer booth" in the swamp behind his house. Edwards' earliest extant letter dates from a few years later; fittingly, the letter is an awakening report, a genre he would make his own.
But theology cannot remain static. Forces from within and outside of New England forced the theology of the founding Puritans to change dramatically. The revocation of the Massachusetts Bay charter at the end of the seventeenth century ended the practice of limiting the franchise and office-holding to full church members, effectively unseating the Puritan theocracy. Such political changes had deep religious implications. For a quarter-century or more, the nature of the New England Way was under stress, because-despite innovations such as revival preaching-fewer and fewer of the descendants of the founders were joining the churches. As a result, the Congregationalists were slowly losing their monopoly on religious and political culture. Measures to ease membership requirements, such as the Half-Way Covenant of 1662, entailed a reexamination not just of ecclesiastical practices but also of how conversion occurred and how the very nature of covenant itself was defined.
The tensions between church and society were played out in Edwards' closest role models, his father and his grandfather. Although both defended the prerogatives of the ministry, Timothy did so (albeit not without complaining) within the context of the autonomous local congregation, while Stoddard sought a Presbyterian-like hierarchy that could coerce conformity and obedience from above. And while both were famed revivalists, each had different notions of conversion and admission to the church: Timothy put less emphasis on the order and nature of the steps to conversion-the traditional "morphology" that Puritan theologians had outlined-but was strict about admitting people into covenant, requiring a lengthy conversion narrative by applicants and careful scrutiny by minister and congregation. Stoddard, on the other hand, abided strictly by the steps to salvation but slackened the obstacles to membership, even arguing that the Lord's Supper was a converting ordinance, a means of grace.
The young Edwards himself reflected these tensions and shifts. He tells us in his Personal Narrative that as a boy he questioned the central doctrines of his Calvinist heritage. In particular, he resented the doctrines of God's sovereignty (that everything was absolutely dependent on divine will for continuance) and God's eternal decrees (that everything divinely preordained must come to pass). Also, in his diary he noted that the stages of his spiritual life did not match what the "old divines," including his grandfather, taught. He pledged to solve the discrepancy through study and self-examination. The task of understanding the human heart-including his own-would take him a lifetime.
Larger shifts in Puritan thought and society, felt so palpably on the personal level by individuals such as Edwards, were related as well to new modes of thought making their way across the Atlantic. In the wake of the divisive and violent reign of the Puritans in England, the cultural and intellectual climate favored tolerance, reason, and latitude. Inexorably, and despite the efforts of the most talented of New Englanders, such as Increase and Cotton Mather, colonial religion and society grudgingly deferred to the dictates of the mother country.
College Years and Early Preaching
Growing diversity of opinion on theological topics-from the nature of God and the Trinity to the terms of salvation to the nature of the church-reflected this new climate and were on the rise as Edwards matriculated at the Wethersfield branch of the fledgling Connecticut Collegiate School in 1716. When the students were able to take up residence in the new Yale College building on the New Haven green three years later, so attuned was Edwards to the potentially corrupt influences of heterodoxy that, upon meeting tutor Samuel Johnson (later an Anglican missionary), he promptly returned to Wethersfield. Only after Johnson was dismissed did Edwards go back to New Haven.
Everything from physics to psychology was undergoing reappraisal too. The discoveries of Locke, Newton, and Berkeley presented a new world and a new order to Edwards' fertile mind. Here, however, were ideas that could be accommodated to Protestant orthodox thought, and Edwards energetically set about doing so. Newton's universal laws confirmed to Edwards the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator; Locke's psychology, how God communicated to "perceiving being"; and Berkeley's philosophy, the immanence of God in all reality.
Edwards finished his undergraduate work in 1720 and then returned for graduate studies. This was an especially fruitful time for him, both intellectually and spiritually. Reading voraciously in the college library, he wrote copiously and innovatively on cosmology, being, natural philosophy, light, optics, atoms, and the nature of the mind. He outlined a treatise on a history of the mental world and compiled a stupendous list of subjects on which to write-from the world as "one vast spheroid" to gravity to comets. He commented on Locke's theories, selectively adapting his epistemology but questioning him on other issues, such as the nature of identity and of the will. During this period Edwards developed the concept that all reality is an idea in the mind of God, even that "space is God," and that spirit, rather than matter, is true substance. This idealism-the notion that God upholds reality from moment to moment-became a signature feature of his thought. Eventually, out of this idealism would arise an aesthetic perception of the "excellency," or beauty, of God and holy living.
If his idealism was an answer to philosophical currents flowing from Europe, it was also an indication that he was embracing divine sovereignty and Calvinist notions of God and humankind. In the summer of 1721, he experienced what he called, using Lockean terminology, a "new sense" of God's glory while reading certain passages of Scripture. He thirsted for more. Then, while home during a break from studies, he had what he later described as a pivotal religious experience. After talking with his father about his "discoveries," Edwards walked abroad in the pasture, and, looking around and at the sky, he perceived the simultaneous, paradoxical "majestic meekness" and "awful sweetness" of God.
This experience at once changed his focus and prepared him for ministry. In the summer of 1722, he went to preach to a small group of English Presbyterians in New York City for a period of about eight months. Here he began his "Miscellanies," his private notebooks, with meditations on "holiness" that were keenly personal in nature. Indeed, much of his preaching to this intimate band of Christians reflected the personal contours of his budding spirituality, encouraged by the familylike atmosphere that the group provided. It was with sorrow that he had to leave, but other duties called.
East Windsor, New Haven, and Northampton
His New York City sojourn over, Edwards returned to East Windsor in April 1723. After some travel, he settled down to compose his Master's Quaestio, the final requirement for his graduate degree. Through the summer he worked on it and, at the great day in September, delivered it in New Haven before the assembled college community and colony dignitaries. Here, for the first time in public, he took on the forces of heterodoxy. He defended the proposition that sinners are saved through faith in the sacrifice of Christ alone. This was a standard enough Reformed tenet, but in the context in which it was delivered, Edwards' words were fraught with meaning.
When Edwards had finished his undergraduate work, he had been chosen to give the valedictory address. In his oration, he had praised in flowery terms the rector Timothy Cutler, the tutors, and the trustees. He, and many in the audience, would come to regret the trust and praise they had lavished on the college's leader. For at commencement exercises in 1722, Cutler, the tutors, and several area ministers revealed their conversion to the Church of England. Thus, when Edwards and his fellow graduates mounted the platform a year later, everyone paid close attention to them in order to detect any lingering heterodoxy. Edwards' defense of justification by faith alone and his criticism of any who would make a "new law" did not disappoint. From this beginning, he faced the challenge presented by new theological opinions coming from abroad and from within New England.
While Jonathan had his eyes on a brave new world, his father was intent on bringing him back home, or as near to it as possible. Timothy had been in contact with the newly formed church at Bolton, Connecticut, not far from East Windsor, to interest them in his promising son. Through 1723, he apparently continued to cultivate the relationship, because by November Jonathan had signed on as pastor. Before going there, however, he had some free time, which he used for writing. Besides beginning a commentary on the Book of Revelation, he revisited earlier notes on insects and wrote them up in October as a letter to Massachusetts judge Paul Dudley, a member of the Royal Society. Timothy Edwards was a friend and correspondent of Dudley, who had communicated some of Timothy's botanical observations to London for publication in the Society's famous Transactions. At his father's urging, Jonathan addressed his "Spider Letter" to Dudley in the hopes that the good judge would deem that worthy of publication as well. He did not. However, Edwards would later on make famous rhetorical use of spiders in his sermons.
Bolton was able to keep Edwards only until the spring of 1724, when Yale again beckoned, this time with an offer to serve as a tutor. As Edwards noted in his "Diary," this began a spiritual slump, caused by the endless concerns and diversions of his post, that lasted for about three years. But if the life of the spirit did not fare well, the life of the mind thrived. With the college library to rummage and academic classes to teach, Edwards built on his reading and study. Always physically frail, however, he succumbed in late 1725 to exhaustion and spent three months recovering under his mother's care. As soon as he was able, he was back at his studies, adding to the "Miscellanies" and beginning other notebooks.
Then, in August 1726, he was asked to assist his grandfather, the venerable Stoddard, at the prestigious church in Northampton. From here on, milestones came fast. In February he was ordained and in July married Sarah Pierpont of New Haven, whom he had met as a student. Now a pastor, Edwards' attentions shifted from the meditative and abstract to the practical. He now had to deliver sermons at an increasing rate, including the full round of regular sermons (two each sabbath) as well as occasional sermons for sacraments, fast days, and political and military events. Also, his private writings shifted to more pastoral topics, such as faith and signs of godliness. He even started to scrutinize his grandfather's views on the church, sainthood, conversion, and the sacraments with increasing dissatisfaction, committing these reservations to the "Miscellanies" and to other notes.
While learning the exigencies of the parish round, Edwards also kept his vision on the wider world and the "fashionable schemes of divinity" that were everywhere gaining strength. By 1731, he was ready to enter the larger fray. Invited to preach a lecture in Boston in August of that year, Edwards delivered God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, his first published work. Here, in the spirit of his Master's disquisition, he skewered any positions that sought to establish a different relation between God and humanity beside that outlined in the Bible (as he interpreted it). God was sovereign in his disposal of everything, especially the plan of redemption, which was God's greatest work, the be-all and end-all of creation itself. Humanity, meanwhile, was absolutely dependent on God for everything, even, as Edwards had privately formulated, for existence from moment to moment. Nothing human beings did could merit favor, much less salvation. Sinners, he could now assert with a certainty based on personal experience, were utterly reliant on the sovereignty and decrees of God. Furthermore, it was to God's glory that this relationship of sovereignty and dependency, of depravity and redemption, was established.
Pastor of a large, prominent church, and with his theological stance firmly in place, Edwards now looked to take his doctrines and preaching a step further. He sought to emulate his father and grandfather by sparking a revival. It would not take long.
The Connecticut Valley Revivals, 1734-1735
In August 1733, Edwards preached a sermon in Northampton that would be published the following year as A Divine and Supernatural Light. His second printed writing, A Divine Lightset forth the scripturality and rationality of God's indwelling presence in the hearts of believers. This inner light renovated the entire psychic constitution, or "affections," of the individual. Asserting doctrines like these, Edwards saw a "softening" among his congregation, especially young people, toward the end of 1733.
What seemed to have a special effect on his congregation-at least according to Edwards-was a lecture on justification in which he reached back to his Master's Quaestio to construct a detailed defense and analysis of the doctrine of sola gratia. That Edwards should preach in 1734 on this doctrine was polemical as well as hortatory, for in this year the threat of foreign ideological invasion in the form of Arminianism had, to Edwards' way of thinking, become a reality right in Hampshire County. William Rand of Sunderland was preaching an Arminian take on works and salvation, and Robert Breck, who also was rumored to be infected by this humanistic theology, was seeking ordination in Springfield. While neither Justification by Faith Alone nor the Hampshire Association's campaign succeeded in thwarting Breck's ordination, it had the desired emotional effect. By mid-1734, Edwards was overseeing a blossoming revival, the first major one in Northampton since Stoddard's heyday.
Excerpted from The Princeton Companion to Jonathan Edwards by Sang Hyun Lee Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Note on References to the Yale Edition of The Works of Jonathan Edwards xxi
Chronology of Edwards' Life and Writings xxiii
Chapter One: Jonathan Edwards: A Theological Life by Kenneth P. Minkema 1
Chapter Two: Edwards' Intellectual Background by Peter J. Thuesen 16
Chapter Three: Being and Consent by Richard R. Niebuhr 34
Chapter Four: The Trinity by Amy Plantinga Pauw 44
Chapter Five: God's Relation to the World by Sang Hyun Lee 59
Chapter Six: Christology by Robert W. Jenson 72
Chapter Seven: The Bible by Robert E. Brown 87
Chapter Eight: Religious Affections and the ''Sense of the Heart'' by John E. Smith 103
Chapter Nine: Freedom of the Will by Allen C. Guelzo 115
Chapter Ten: Grace and Justification by Faith Alone by Sang Hyun Lee 130
Chapter Eleven: Christian Virtue and Common Morality by John E. Smith 147
Chapter Twelve: The Church by Douglas A. Sweeney 167
Chapter Thirteen: Typology by Janice Knight 190
Chapter Fourteen: History by John F. Wilson 210
Chapter Fifteen: Eschatology by Stephen J. Stein 226
Chapter Sixteen: The Sermons: Concept and Execution by Wilson H. Kimnach 243
Chapter Seventeen: Missions and Native Americans by Gerald R. McDermott 258
Chapter Eighteen: The Puritans and Edwards by Harry S. Stout 274
Chapter Nineteen: Edwards' Theology after Edwards by Mark Noll 292
The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale Edition) 309
List of Contributors 311