Jonathon Edwards 2

Jonathon Edwards – Preacher Essay, Research Paper

Born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut Colony,

Jonathon Edwards was a child prodigy. At the age of ten he wrote an

extensive essay regarding the nature of the soul. At 13 he entered the

Collegiate School of Connecticut (now Yale University) and graduated in

1720, as valedictorian of his class. After two additional years of study in

theology at Yale, he preached for eight months in a New York church.

He then returned to Yale as a college tutor, studying at the same time for

his master’s degree. He was ordained in 1727 and received a call to assist

his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard was a pastor of the church

at Northampton, Massachusetts Bay Colony, which contained one of the

largest and wealthiest congregations in the entire colony. When Edwards

was 26, the sudden death of his grandfather left him the job of pastor. He

was a firm believer in Calvinism, which represented absolute sovereignty

of God. This conflicted with the tendency toward belief in Arminianism (a

modified form of Calvinism) that existed in the New England colonies. In

1731, in Boston, Edwards preached his first public attack on Arminianism.

Using a sermon entitled “God Glorified Man’s Dependence” he called

for a return to strict Calvinism. Three years later he delivered a series of

powerful sermons on the same subject in his own church. The series

included the famous “Reality of Spiritual Light” in which Edwards

combined Calvinism with mysticism (religious experience directly given

and experienced).

He was a notable pulpit orator. The result of his 1734-35 sermons

was a religious revival in which Edwards received 300 new members into

his church. Some of the converted became so obsessed by his fiery

descriptions of eternal damnation, that several suicides were noted in the

area. In 1740 Edwards teamed up with the British evangelist George

Whitefield. Together, they started a revival movement that became

known as the Great Awakening. This developed into a religious frenzy

that overtook all of New England. During one of Edward’s sermons,

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” his congregation was said to

have risen “weeping and moaning from their seats.”1 By 1742 the

movement had grown heedlessly and for the next 60 to 70 years, had a

major effect on all American religion. In Northampton, Edwards’ sermons

created a demand for harsher religious discipline. However, eventually his

entire congregation turned on him because of his insolence and bigotry.

A council representing ten congregations in the region dismissed him in

1750. The following year he received a call to Stockbridge, Massachusetts

where he became pastor of the village church. During the next seven

years he wrote his most important theological works. In 1757, Edwards

accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey, which later

became Princeton University. He was inaugurated in 1758, but five weeks

later, on March 22, 1758, he died as the result of the smallpox epidemic.

The literature Edwards created was a type completely new to the

time period. It reflected the traditional religious culture of Calvinism, but

evolved into Edwards’ combination of religious components. His sermons

were characterized by convulsions and hysteria on the part of his

parishioners. He used extreme harshness and appeal to religious fear to

get his point across to his diocese. He delt with the denial that human

beings have self-determined will. Edwards firmly believed that people

could not initiate acts that hadn’t been decreed previously by God. His

views were reflected mostly in essays and sermons. His personal diary was

found emulating personal goals, and failures.

By the mid 18th century, many people considered American

religion to be static. Sermons were seen as instructional rather than

inspirational, and there was a general sense that religion was taken

completely for granted. What was needed were sermons that

represented emotions and emphasized the spiritual side of religion. The

movement that was spurred by the dullness of the church was known as

the Great Awakening. Jonathon Edwards was one of the greatest

leaders of this movement. He was a unique man who added his

interpretation of pure religious truths to American culture. Using his passion

for writing and speaking, he inspired the Great Awakening through his

passioned sermons, strong Calvinistic beliefs, and response to his


Edwards is best known for his skills as a preacher. Each of his

sermons was known to have incredible impact on its listeners. One of the

main reasons his lectures caught on so well was that people were vitally

interested in the matter he was speaking about. The Puritans were

growing deeply concerned by what they perceived to be a striking

decline in piety. Edwards and others were deeply concerned about the

frivolity of the youth in the town. They were afraid of the impact on the

state of adolescent morals. Edwards also attempted to reverse the

decline in worship attendance. Due to the declining allegiance to the

church, congregation numbers were quickly descending. His powerful

sermons immediately began to alter this concept and people were

actually making honest attempts to attend weekly Sunday Mass. Without

his passionate sermons, response to the need for conversion (and the

initiation of the Great Awakening), would have been nonexistent.

Edwards also believed strongly in Calvinism, and used this as the

root of his theological ideas. It was unusual for people to openly preach

conversion, as Edwards did. A history professor at Wake Forest University

commented, “What Edwards said in his sermons was pure Calvinism.”2

Edwards obviously preached exactly what he intended for his audience

to hear, an honest attempt of why they should convert to Calvinism. In

New England Edward’s influence reinvigorated Calvinism. However,

opponents of the revival began preaching against everything Edwards

had worked for. In Middle Colonies, Scottish Presbyterians reacted by

arguing that their orthodox doctrine was being weakened by the

revivalists’ emphasis on religious experience. All of these arguments did,

however, bring about a sense of unity of supporters of the Great

Awakening revival. Edwards, and the Awakening, used Calvinism to

respond to the people’s need for reassurance and direction.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Edward’s contributions to the

Great Awakening, was not something he directly did, but the response

that he obtained from his preaching audience. Leonard Ravenhill put it

best in his “Portrait of a Revival Preacher” when he said, “When Jonathon

Edwards ‘uttered’ in the Spirit, the expressionless face, the sonorous voice,

the sober clothing were forgotten. The tongue of Edwards must have

been like a sharp two-edged sword to his attentive hearers.”3 In this

statement Ravenhill is trying to express how even the most solemn

member of the congregation would be touched by his words. He also

uses a metaphor to describe how painful Edwards’ words are to the

consciences of the assembly; comparing it to a double-edged sword.

Edwards’ sermons had enormous impact, sending whole congregations

into hysterical fits. He discussed topics such as the blackness of death and

the emptiness of nonbearing, and he amplified how man is subject to

spiritual weakening. Throughout his works he uses himself as a carrier of

the wrath of God the people will face, if they fail to respond to the call for


Edwards’ contributed to the Great Awakening through his sermons,

devout Calvinism, and the response of his parishioners. His additions to the

Great Awakening were his most important offering to American culture.

These contributions led to the spread of this movement throughout New

England. Edwards and his volumes of writing represent the entire

understanding of the Great Awakening. Just like Edwards, this movement

was a mixture of scientific thought and the quest for spirituality. This is why

Edwards contributions were so critical to its survival. The main basis for its

popularity was the fact that it was based on “the necessity for sinners to

be converted.”4 Many others followed Edwards’ example of invigorating

lectures, and many small local revivals merged into a “great awakening.”

Edwards’ teachings and the Great Awakening had varied and somewhat

contradictory effects on American religion. Edwards and his additions to

the Great Awakening did create a significant intercolonial movement.

Edwards led the field of theologians and philosophers during the first half

of the seventeenth century, leaving a lasting legacy of religious thought.

He lived in a world shaped by the Puritans, and yet was still able to

reconcile scientific discoveries with his own religious beliefs. Edwards had,

like most people, many sides to his character. His complete writings give

the reader a glimpse of the scholar, the pastor an the man.

In “The Mind” Edwards is portrayed as a student of thought

pondering what makes something beautiful and excellent. He writes, “It is

something we all strive for, yet, do we truly know what it entails?” 5 This

vivid description of the human mind causes the reader to reflect on their

quest for perfection. The very nature of a persons being is made up of

equality and consistencies. After concluding that excellence is

agreement and proportion, Edwards moves on to types of excellence.

“One alone,” he writes, “cannot be excellent as there is nothing for that

one to relate to and no agreement is possible.”6 In this view Edwards

describes the interaction between people, and shows how excellence

can not be achieved without this interaction. The second section of the

essay represents the way people form ideas regarding basic elements of

life. Edwards also deals with the nature of substance. In the entire essay

the reader clearly sees Edwards as a scholar and scientist. He focuses on

the beauty of the mind, but also discusses gravity, and properties of solids

and light. The apparent influence of science on his education can be

seen in the selection. Edwards wrote this as a young man, but he had

already learned to form a common bond between science and religion.

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is one of Edwards’ most

famous sermons. In this we see another side of Edwards. The academic

professor portrayed in “The Mind” becomes a passioned orator; inspiring

fear of a “flaming hell”7 into the hearts and minds of his parishioners.

Edwards reiterates the basic tenets of Christianity in a way that reinforces

the idea that everyone in his congregation deserves to be in hell. One

can truly imagine Edwards in front of a huge crowd with his warnings, “O

sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: ‘tis a great furnace of

wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are

held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and

incensed as much against you as against many of the damned in hell:

you hang by a slender thread…”8 Again Edwards returns to a metaphor

so that each parishioner can behold that terrible threat of damnation

that lingers upon their heads. After experiencing this, the congregation is

not so quick to dispute thier strong Puritan beliefs.

The writings of Jonathon Edwards demonstrate the many sides of his

personality, from the scholar to the inspiring preacher. He was influenced

both by Calvinism and the Puritan legacy. Gifted with the genius of being

able to merge two seemingly opposite ideas together, he left behind a

legacy of learning and independent thought.


1 “Edwards, Jonathan.” Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM.

1997, p. 1.

2 Tlosty, Matthew. “Lecture Four: The Great Awakening.” Wake Forest

University. Online 1998.

(October 26 2000) p. 2.

3 Ravenhill, Leonard. “Jonathan Edwards: Portrait of a Revival

Preacher.” Online 1999.

(October 30 2000) p. 1.

4 “Great Awakening.” Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM.

1997, p. 2.

5 Edwards, Jonathan. “The Mind.” Jonathan Edwards Online. Online


(October 28 2000) p. 9.

6 Edwards, Jonathan. “The Mind.” (see above) p. 2.

7 Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Christian Word Ministries. Online 1998.

(October 28 2000) p. 6.

8 Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

(see above) p. 12.



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