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This article is about the theologian (b. 1703). For other uses of Jonathan Edwards see Jonathan Edwards.
Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards
Born October 5, 1703(1703-10-05)[1]
East Windsor, Connecticut
Died March 22, 1758 (aged 54)[1]
Princeton, New Jersey
Occupation Pastor, theologian, and missionary
Spouse(s) Sarah Pierpont[2]

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. Edwards "is widely acknowledged to be America's most important and original philosophical theologian,"[3] and one of America's greatest intellectuals.[4] Edwards's theological work is very broad in scope, but he is often associated with his defense of Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Edwards played a critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first fires of revival in 1733-1735 at his church in Northampton, Massachusetts.[5] Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," is considered a classic of early American literature, which he delivered during another wave of revival in 1741, following George Whitefield's tour of the Thirteen Colonies.[6] Edwards is widely known for his many books: The End For Which God Created the World; The Life of David Brainerd, which served to inspire thousands of missionaries throughout the nineteenth century; and Religious Affections, which many Reformed Evangelicals read even today.[7] Edwards died from a smallpox inoculation shortly after beginning the presidency at the College of New Jersey (later to be named Princeton University), and was the grandfather of Aaron Burr. [8]


Early life

Jonathan Edwards, born on October 5, 1703, was the son of Timothy Edwards (1668–1759), a minister at East Windsor, Connecticut (modern day South Windsor) who eked out his salary by tutoring boys for college. His mother, Esther Stoddard, daughter of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, Massachusetts, seems to have been a woman of unusual mental gifts and independence of character.[9]

Jonathan, their only son, was the fifth of eleven children. He was trained for college by his father and by his elder sisters, all of whom received an excellent education. When ten years old, he wrote a semi-humorous tract on the immateriality of the soul. He was interested in natural history and, at the age of eleven, wrote a remarkable essay on the habits of the "flying spider."[10]

He entered Yale College in 1716, at just under the age of thirteen. In the following year, he became acquainted with John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which influenced him profoundly. During his college studies, he kept note books labelled "The Mind," "Natural Science" (containing a discussion of the atomic theory), "The Scriptures" and "Miscellanies," had a grand plan for a work on natural and mental philosophy, and drew up for himself rules for its composition. Even before his graduation in September 1720, as valedictorian and head of his class, he seems to have had a well formulated philosophy. He spent two years after his graduation in New Haven studying theology.[11]

In 1722 to 1723, he was, for eight months, "stated supply" (a clergyman employed to supply a pulpit for a definite time, but not settled as a pastor) of a small Presbyterian Church in New York City. The church invited him to remain, but he declined the call. After spending two months in study at home, in 1724–1726, he was one of the two tutors at Yale, earning for himself the name of a "pillar tutor", from his steadfast loyalty to the college and its orthodox teaching, at the time when Yale's rector (Timothy Cutler) and one of her tutors had gone over to the Episcopal Church.[12]

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The years, 1720 to 1726, are partially recorded in his diary and in the resolutions for his own conduct which he drew up at this time. He had long been an eager seeker after salvation and was not fully satisfied as to his own conversion until an experience in his last year in college, when he lost his feeling that the election of some to salvation and of others to eternal damnation was "a horrible doctrine," and reckoned it "exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet." He now took a great and new joy in the beauties of nature, and delighted in the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon. Balancing these mystic joys is the stern tone of his Resolutions, in which he is almost ascetic in his eagerness to live earnestly and soberly, to waste no time, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.[13]

On February 15, 1727, Edwards was ordained minister at Northampton and assistant to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. He was a scholar-pastor, not a visiting pastor, his rule being thirteen hours of study a day. In the same year, he married Sarah Pierpont. Then seventeen, Sarah was from a storied New England clerical family: her father was James Pierpont (1659–1714), the head founder of Yale College, and her mother was the great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker.[14] Sarah's spiritual devotion was without peer, and her relationship with God had long proved an inspiration to Edwards--he first remarked on her great piety when she was a mere 13 years old.[15] She was of a bright and cheerful disposition, a practical housekeeper, a model wife and the mother of his eleven children, who included Esther Edwards. Solomon Stoddard died on February 11, 1729, leaving to his grandson the difficult task of the sole ministerial charge of one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the colony, and one proud of its morality, its culture and its reputation.[16]

Great Awakening

On July 7, 1731, Edwards preached in Boston the "Public Lecture" afterwards published under the title "God Glorified — in Man's Dependence," which was his first public attack on Arminianism. The emphasis of the lecture was on God's absolute sovereignty in the work of salvation: that while it behooved God to create man pure and without sin, it was of his "good pleasure" and "mere and arbitrary grace" for him to grant any person the faith necessary to incline him or her toward holiness; and that God might deny this grace without any disparagement to any of his character.

In 1733, a religious revival began in Northampton and reached such intensity in the winter of 1734 and the following spring as to threaten the business of the town. In six months, nearly three hundred were admitted to the church. The revival gave Edwards an opportunity for studying the process of conversion in all its phases and varieties, and he recorded his observations with psychological minuteness and discrimination in A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton (1737). A year later, he published Discourses on Various Important Subjects, the five sermons which had proved most effective in the revival, and of these, none, he tells us, was so immediately effective as that on the Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, from the text, "That every mouth may be stopped." Another sermon, published in 1734, on the Reality of Spiritual Light set forth what he regarded as the inner, moving principle of the revival, the doctrine of a special grace in the immediate, and supernatural divine illumination of the soul.

By 1735, the revival had spread--and popped up independently--across the Connecticut River Valley, and perhaps as far as New Jersey.[17] However, criticism of the revival began, and many New Englanders feared that Edwards had led his flock into fanaticism.[18] Over the summer of 1735, religious fervor took a dark turn. A number of New Englanders were shaken by the revivals but not converted, and became convinced of their inexorable damnation.[19] Edwards wrote that "multitudes" felt urged--presumably by Satan--to take their own lives.[20] At least two people committed suicide in the depths of their spiritual duress, one from Edwards's own congregation--his uncle, Joseph Hawley II.[21] It is not known if any others took their own lives, but the suicide craze effectively ended the first wave of revival, except in some parts of Connecticut.[22]

However, despite these setbacks and the cooling of religious fervor, word of the Northampton revival and Edwards's leadership role had spread as far as England and Scotland. It was at this time that Edwards was acquainted with George Whitefield, who was traveling the Thirteen Colonies on a revival tour in 1739-1740. The two men may not have seen eye to eye on every detail--Whitefield was far more comfortable with the strongly emotional elements of revival than Edwards was--but they were both passionate about preaching the Gospel.[23] They worked together to orchestrate Whitefield's trip, first through Boston, and then to Northampton. When Whitefield preached at Edwards's church in Northampton, he reminded them of the revival they had experienced just a few years before.[24] This deeply touched Edwards, who wept throughout the entire service, and much of the congregation too was moved.[25] Revival began to spring up again, and it was at this time that Edwards preached his most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in Enfield, Connecticut in 1741.[26] This sermon has been widely reprinted as an example of "fire and brimstone" preaching in the colonial revivals, though the majority of Edwards's sermons were not this dramatic. Indeed, he used this style deliberately. As historian George Marsden put it, "Edwards could take for granted...that a New England audience knew well the Gospel remedy. The problem was getting them to seek it."[27]

The movement met with opposition from conservative Congregationalist ministers. In 1741, Edwards published in its defense The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, dealing particularly with the phenomena most criticized: the swoonings, outcries and convulsions. These "bodily effects," he insisted, were not distinguishing marks of the work of the Spirit of God one way or another; but so bitter was the feeling against the revival in the more strictly Puritan churches that, in 1742, he was forced to write a second apology, Thoughts on the Revival in New England, his main argument being the great moral improvement of the country. In the same pamphlet, he defends an appeal to the emotions, and advocates preaching terror when necessary, even to children, who in God's sight "are young vipers… if not Christ's." He considers "bodily effects" incidental to the real work of God, but his own mystic devotion and the experiences of his wife during the Awakening (which he gives in detail) make him think that the divine visitation usually overpowers the body, a view in support of which he quotes Scripture. In reply to Edwards, Charles Chauncy wrote Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England in 1743 and anonymously penned The Late Religious Commotions in New England Considered in the same year. In these works he urged conduct as the sole test of conversion; and the general convention of Congregational ministers in the Province of Massachusetts Bay protested "against disorders in practice which have of late obtained in various parts of the land."

In spite of Edwards's able pamphlet, the impression had become widespread that "bodily effects" were recognized by the promoters of the Great Awakening as the true tests of conversion. To offset this feeling, Edwards preached at Northampton, during the years 1742 and 1743, a series of sermons published under the title of Religious Affections (1746), a restatement in a more philosophical and general tone of his ideas as to "distinguishing marks." In 1747, he joined the movement started in Scotland called the "concert in prayer," and in the same year published An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth. In 1749, he published a memoir of David Brainerd who had lived with his family for several months and had died at Northampton in 1747. Brainerd had been constantly attended by Edwards's daughter Jerusha, to whom he was rumored to have been engaged to be married, though there is no surviving evidence for this. In the course of elaborating his theories of conversion Edwards used Brainerd and his ministry as a case study, making extensive notes of his conversions and confessions.

Views on Gender

Edwards's relationship with his wife, Sarah Pierrepont, has been the subject of critical and popular inquiry. Their relationship has been overly romanticized, but Edwards was genuinely committed to the promotion of gender equality. Edwards's interest in Eve has been construed by scholars as an indication that he harbored proto-feminist views:

"Edwards repeatedly draws attention to Eve’s title as “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), emphasizing this name as an indication of her godlike qualities. Just as “God hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in Himself ” (John 5:26), and Eve, as the “mother of Christ” (“Note 399” 397) also has life in herself —she is the source of all spiritual life on earth. Edwards confirms that “[there is] not one, that has spiritual and eternal life, of all mankind, that in this sense is excepted, not Adam, nor Christ, no, nor herself” (“Note 399” 397). This distinction is unique. Edwards does not honor Mary similarly, despite her more immediate connection to Christ, and it is evident that for Edwards, Eve represents the living nature and attributes of both God and his Christ closely."[28]

Edwards's letters to his wife and his considerations of other important biblical women, including Sarah, Mary and Anna, likewise indicate that he viewed women in a progressive manner ahead of his time. Many of these writings have only recently been made widely available in his "Miscellanies" and Notes on Scripture.

Science and aesthetics

Edwards was fascinated by the discoveries of Isaac Newton and other scientists of his age. Before he undertook full-time ministry work in Northampton, he wrote on various topics in natural philosophy, including "flying spiders," light, and optics. While he was worried about the materialism and faith in reason alone of some of his contemporaries, he saw the laws of nature as derived from God and demonstrating his wisdom and care. Hence, scientific discoveries did not threaten his faith, and for him, there was no inherent conflict between the spiritual and material.

Edwards also wrote sermons and theological treatises that emphasized the beauty of God and the role of aesthetics in the spiritual life, in which he anticipates a twentieth-century current of theological aesthetics, represented by figures like Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Later years

In 1747, according to Ola Elizabeth Winslow, his household came to include a slave, "a negro girl named Venus", purchased by Edwards for 80 pounds from Richard Perkins of Newport.[29] In 1748, there had come a crisis in his relations with his congregation. The Half-Way Covenant, adopted by the synods of 1657 and 1662, had made baptism alone the condition to the civil privileges of church membership, but not of participation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Edwards's grandfather and predecessor in the pastorate, Solomon Stoddard, had been even more liberal, holding that the Supper was a converting ordinance and that baptism was a sufficient title to all the privileges of the church. As early as 1744, Edwards, in his sermons on Religious Affections, had plainly intimated his dislike of this practice. In the same year, he had published in a church meeting the names of certain young people, members of the church, who were suspected of reading improper books, and also the names of those who were to be called as witnesses in the case. It has often been reported that the witnesses and accused were not distinguished on this list, and so, therefore, the entire congregation was in an uproar. However, Patricia Tracy's research has cast doubt on this version of the events, noting that in the list he read from, the names were definitely distinguished. Those involved were eventually disciplined for disrespect to the investigators rather than for the original incident. In any case, the incident further deteriorated the relationship between Edwards and the congregation. In a time of significant cultural foment, he was associated with the old guard.

Edwards's preaching became unpopular. For four years, no candidate presented himself for admission to the church, and when one did, in 1748, he was met with Edwards's formal but mild and gentle tests, as expressed in the Distinguishing Marks and later in Qualifications for Full Communion (1749). The candidate refused to submit to them, the church backed him, and the break between the church and Edwards was complete. Even permission to discuss his views in the pulpit was refused him. He was allowed to present his views on Thursday afternoons. His sermons were well attended by visitors, but not his own congregation. A council was convened to decide the communion matter between the minister and his people. The congregation chose half the council, and Edwards was allowed to select the other half of the council. His congregation, however, limited his selection to one county where the majority of the ministers were against him. The ecclesiastical council voted that the pastoral relation be dissolved. The church members, by a vote of more than 200 to 23, ratified the action of the council, and finally a town meeting voted that Edwards should not be allowed to occupy the Northampton pulpit, though he continued to live in the town and preach in the church by the request of the congregation until October 1751. He evinced no rancour or spite; his "Farewell Sermon" was dignified and temperate; he preached from 2 Cor. 1:14 and directed the thoughts of his people to that far future when the minister and his people would stand before God; nor is it to be ascribed to chagrin that in a letter to Scotland after his dismissal he expresses his preference for Presbyterian to Congregational church government. His position at the time was not unpopular throughout New England; his doctrine that the Lord's Supper is not a cause of regeneration and that communicants should be professing Christians has since (very largely through the efforts of his pupil Joseph Bellamy) become a standard of New England Congregationalism.

Edwards, with his large family, was now thrown upon the world, but offers of aid quickly came to him. A parish in Scotland could have been procured, and he was called to a Virginia church. He declined both, to become, in 1750, pastor of the church in Stockbridge and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. To the Indians, he preached through an interpreter, and their interests he boldly and successfully defended by attacking the whites who were using their official positions among them to increase their private fortunes. In Stockbridge, he wrote the Humble Relation, also called Reply to Williams (1752), which was an answer to Solomon Williams (1700–1776), a relative and a bitter opponent of Edwards as to the qualifications for full communion; and he there composed the treatises on which his reputation as a philosophical theologian chiefly rests, the essay on Original Sin, the Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue, the Dissertation Concerning the End for which God created the World, and the great work on the Will, written in four months and a half, and published in 1754 under the title, An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions Respecting that Freedom of the Will which is supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency.

In 1757, on the death of the Reverend Aaron Burr, who five years before had married Edwards's daughter Esther and was the father of future US vice-president Aaron Burr, he reluctantly agreed to replace his late son-in-law as the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he was installed on February 16, 1758.

Almost immediately after becoming president, Edwards being a strong supporter of small pox inoculations, decided to get inoculated himself in order to encourage others to do the same. Unfortunately, never having been in robust health, he died of the inoculation on March 22, 1758. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery. Edwards had three sons and eight daughters.


The followers of Jonathan Edwards and his disciples came to be known as the New Light Calvinist ministers, as opposed to the traditional Old Light Calvinist ministers. Prominent disciples included Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy, Jonathan Edwards's son Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Gideon Hawley. Through a practice of apprentice ministers living in the homes of older ministers, they eventually filled a large number of pastorates in the New England area. Many of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards's descendants became prominent citizens in the United States, including the Vice President Aaron Burr and the College Presidents Timothy Dwight, Jonathan Edwards Jr. and Merrill Edwards Gates. Jonathan and Sarah Edwards were also ancestors of the First Lady Edith Roosevelt, the writer O. Henry, the publisher Frank Nelson Doubleday and the writer Robert Lowell.

Edwards's writings and beliefs continue to influence individuals and groups to this day. Early American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions missionaries were influenced by Edwards's writings, as is evidenced in reports in the ABCFM's journal "The Missionary Herald," and beginning with Perry Miller's seminal work, Edwards enjoyed a renaissance among scholars after the end of the Second World War. The Banner of Truth Trust and other publishers continue to reprint Edwards's works, and most of his major works are now available through the series published by Yale University Press, which has spanned three decades and supplies critical introductions by the editor of each volume. Yale has also established the Jonathan Edwards Project online. Author and teacher, Elisabeth Woodbridge Morris, memorialized him, her paternal ancestor (3rd great grandfather) in two books, The Jonathon Papers (1912), and More Jonathon Papers (1915). In 1933, he became the namesake of Jonathan Edwards College, one of the first of the twelve residential colleges of Yale, and The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University was founded to provide scholarly information about Edwards' writings.

Edwards is commemorated as a teacher and missionary by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on March 22.


Edwards's many eminent descendants have led some Progressive Era scholars to view Edwards's progeny as proof of eugenics[30][31], though most people today consider eugenics a discredited pseudoscience. That said, no modern scholar would dispute the fact that Edwards's genealogy is indeed impressive, and his descendants have had a disproportionate effect upon American culture. Edwards's biographer George Marsden notes that "the Edwards family produced scores of clergymen, thirteen presidents of higher learning, sixty-five professors, and many other persons of notable achievements."[32]


The entire corpus of Edwards's works including previously unpublished works is available online. Many of Edwards's works have been regularly reprinted. Some of the major works are listed below:

See also



  1. ^ a b "Biography at the Edwards Center at Yale University". Yale University. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  2. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 93-95, 105-112, 242-249, 607.
  3. ^ Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Jonathan Edwards," First published Tue Jan 15, 2002; substantive revision Tue Nov 7, 2006
  4. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 498-505.
  5. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 150-163.
  6. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 214-226.
  7. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 499.
  8. ^
  9. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  10. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  11. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  12. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  13. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  14. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 87, 93.
  15. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 93-95, 95-100, 105-109, 241-242.
  16. ^ George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2004) ISBN 0300105967, 9780300105964
  17. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 162.
  18. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 161.
  19. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 168.
  20. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 168.
  21. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 163-169.
  22. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 168-169.
  23. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 211-212.
  24. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 206-207.
  25. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 206-207.
  26. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 219-226.
  27. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 224.
  28. ^ Hutchins, "Edwards and Eve," Early American Literature 40.3 (2008): 674
  29. ^ Jonathan Edwards, a biography, 1703-1757 pages 203, 328,374, Chapter XI Trouble in the Parish; First Collier Books Edition 1961.
  30. ^ Albert E. Winship, Jukes-Edwards: A Study in Education and Heredity (Harrisburg, Pa.: R. L. Myers, 1900).
  31. ^ Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson, Applied Eugenics (New York, 1920), 161-162.
  32. ^ George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), pg. 500-501.

External links


Primary sources


Further reading

  • Parkes, Henry Bamford (1930). Jonathan Edwards, the Fiery Puritan. New York: Minton, Balch & Company. pp. 271 p. 
  • Edwards, Jonathan (New Ed edition (June 1979)). Works of Jonathan Edwards. 2 Volume Set (Library Binding). Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust. pp. 1906 p. ISBN ISBN 0-85151-397-2. ISBN 0-85151-397-2
  • Gerstner, John H. (1991-1993). Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, in three volumes. Powhatan, VA: Berea Publications. pp. 682 pp, 527 pp, 751 pp. 
  • Murray, Iain H (1987). Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth. pp. 503 p. 
  • Marsden, George M. (2003). Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 615 p. 
  • Piper, John (2004). A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Crossway Books. pp. 288 p. 
  • Piper, John (1988). God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Crossway Books. pp. 288 p. 
  • Robert Jenson (1988 p). America's Theologian. 
  • Stephen R. Holmes (2000 p). God of Grace, God of Glory: The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 
  • Ola Elizabeth Winslow. Jonathan Edwards,1703-1756;: A Biography.  1940
  • Avihu Zakai, Jonathan Edwards's Philosophy of History: The Reenchantment of the World in the Age of Enlightenment (Princeton, PUP, 2003), 368 pp.
Academic offices
Preceded by
Aaron Burr, Sr.
President of the College of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Jacob Green (Acting)
Samuel Davies


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The beauty of the world consists wholly of sweet mutual consents, either within itself or with the supreme being.

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703March 22, 1758) was a colonial American Congregational preacher and theologian.



  • Intend to live in continual mortification, and never to expect or desire any worldly ease or pleasure.
    • Diary (1723)
  • There is, therefore, no difficulty in answering such questions as these. What cause was there why the Universe was placed in such a part of Space? and, Why was the Universe created at such a Time? for, if there be no Space beyond the Universe, it was impossible that it should be created in another place; and if there was no Time before, it was impossible it should be created at another time.
    • The Mind (begun in September 1723; not completed)
  • They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who is beloved of that Great Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight; and that she hardly cares for any thing, except to meditate on him— that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight for ever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her conduct; and you could not persuade her to do any thing wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this Great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind; especially after this Great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have some one invisible always conversing with her.
    • Written in 1723; from The Works of President Edwards, vol. I, ed. Sereno B. Dwight, 1830
    • The young woman described here was Sarah Pierrepont, who became Edwards' wife in 1727.
  • When I am giving the relation of a thing, remember to abstain from altering either in the matter or manner of speaking, so much, as that, if every one, afterwards, should alter as much, it would at last come to be properly false.
    • Diary (July 7, 1724)
  • To mark all that I say in conversation, merely to beget in others, a good opinion of myself, and examine it.
    • Diary (November 10, 1724)
  • The beauty of the world consists wholly of sweet mutual consents, either within itself or with the supreme being.
    • "The Beauty of the World" (c.1725), from the notebook The Images of Divine Things, The Shadows of Divine Things, The Language and Lessons of Nature (published 1948)
  • Almost all men, and those that seem to be very miserable, love life, because they cannot bear to lose sight of such a beautiful and lovely world. The ideas, that every moment whilst we live have a beauty that we take not distinct notice of, brings a pleasure that, when we come to the trial, we had rather live in much pain and misery than lose.
    • "The Beauty of the World" (c.1725), from the notebook The Images of Divine Things, The Shadows of Divine Things, The Language and Lessons of Nature (published 1948)
  • A little, wretched, despicable creature; a worm, a mere nothing, and less than nothing; a vile insect that has risen up in contempt against the majesty of Heaven and earth.
    • The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners (1734)
  • I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time; and in the day spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning; formerly nothing had been so terrible to me. Before, I used to be uncommonly terrified with thunder, and to be struck with terror when I saw a thunder-storm rising; but now, on the contrary, it rejoiced me. I felt God, if I may so speak, at the first appearance of a thunderstorm; and used to take the opportunity, at such times, to fix myself in order to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God's thunder, which oftentimes was exceedingly entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. While thus engaged, it always seemed natural for me to sing, or chant forth my meditations; or to speak my thoughts in soliloquies with a singing voice.
    • "Personal Narrative" (1739), from The Works of President Edwards, vol. I, ed. Sereno B. Dwight, 1830
  • The soul of a true christian, as I then wrote my meditations, appeared like such a little white flower as we see in the spring of the year; low and humble on the ground, opening its bosom to receive the pleasant beams of the sun’s glory; rejoicing, as it were, in a calm rapture; diffusing around a sweet fragrancy; standing peacefully and lovingly, in the midst of other flowers round about; all in like manner opening their bosoms to drink in the light of the sun.
    • "Personal Narrative" (1739), from The Works of President Edwards, vol. I, ed. Sereno B. Dwight, 1830
  • Now shall the promises made to Christ by God the Father before the foundation of the world, the promises of the covenant of redemption, be fully accomplished. Christ shall now have perfectly obtained the joy set before Him, for which He undertook those great sufferings in His state of humiliation. Now shall all the hopes and expectations of the saints be fulfilled. The state of the church before was progressive and preparatory; but now she is arrived at her most perfect state of glory. All the glory of the church on earth is but a faint shadow of this her consummate glory in heaven.
    • A History of the Work of Redemption including a View of Church History (1839).
  • The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, sermon delivered in Enfield, Connecticut (July 8, 1741)
  • The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, sermon delivered in Enfield, Connecticut (July 8, 1741)
  • Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and switfly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a fallen rock.
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, sermon delivered in Enfield, Connecticut (July 8, 1741)
  • You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell.
    • Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, sermon delivered in Enfield, Connecticut (July 8, 1741)
  • I assert that nothing ever comes to pass without a cause.
    • The Freedom of the Will (1754)
  • This dictate of common sense.
    • The Freedom of the Will (1754)
  • Remember that pride is the worst viper that is in the heart, the greatest disturber of the soul's peace and sweet communion with Christ; it was the first sin that ever was, and lies lowest in the foundation of Satan's whole building, and is the most difficultly rooted out, and is the most hidden, secret and deceitful of all lusts, and often creeps in, insensibly, into the midst of religion and sometimes under the disguise of humility.
    • To Deborah Hatheway, Letters and Personal Writings (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online Vol. 16) , Ed. George S. Claghorn (1741)
  • Salvation is so great a thing, so glorious an attainment, that 'tis worth the while for a man to do his utmost every day during his whole life in the use of all proper means that he may attain.
    • Sermon: Persons Ought to Do What They Can For Salvation

Seventy Resolutions (1722-1723)

  • Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
    • No. 1
  • Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
    • No. 5
  • Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
    • No. 6
  • Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
    • No. 7
  • Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
    • No. 14
  • Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
    • No. 16
  • Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.
    • No. 29
  • Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.
    • No. 41
  • Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help.
    • No. 68
  • Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
    • No. 69

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • All the virtues which appeared in Christ shone brightest in the close of His life, under the trials He then met. Eminent virtue always shows brightest in the fire. Pure gold shows its purity chiefly in the furnace. It was chiefly under those trials which Christ endured in the close of His life, that His love to God, His honor of God's majesty, His regard to the honor of His law, His spirit of obedience, His humility, contempt of the world, His patience, meekness, and spirit of forgiveness towards men, appeared. Indeed, every thing that Christ did to work out redemption for us appears mainly in the close of His life. Here mainly is His satisfaction for sin, and here chiefly is His merit of eternal life for sinners, and here chiefly appears the brightness of His example which He has set us for imitation.
    • P. 67.
  • A greater absurdity cannot be thought of than a morose, hard-hearted, covetous, proud, malicious Christian.
    • P. 106.
  • All the graces of Christianity always go together. They so go together that where there is one, there are all, and where one is wanting, all are wanting. Where there is faith, there are love, and hope, and humility; and where there is love, there is also trust; and where there is a holy trust in God, there is love to God; and where there is a gracious hope, there also is a holy fear of God.
    • P. 119.
  • What tranquillity will there be in heaven! Who can express the fullness and blessedness of this peace! What a calm is this! How sweet and holy and joyous! What a haven of rest to enter, after having passed through the storms and tempests of this world, in which pride and selfishness and envy and malice and scorn and contempt and contention and vice are as waves of a restless ocean, always rolling, and often dashed about in violence and fury! What a Canaan of rest to come to, after going through this waste and howling wilderness, full of snares and pitfalls and poisonous serpents, where no rest could be found.
    • P. 302.
  • Every Christian that goes before us from this world is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven.
    • P. 304.
  • Confess your nothingness and ill-desert before God. Distrust yourself. Rely only upon God. Renounce all glory except from Him. Yield yourself heartily to His will and service. Avoid an aspiring, ambitious, ostentatious, assuming, arrogant, scornful, stubborn, willful, levelling, self-justifying behavior; and strive for more and more of the humble spirit that Christ manifested while He was here upon earth.
    • P. 331.
  • Love is the active, working principle in all true faith. It is its very soul, without which it is dead. " Faith works by love."
    • P. 396.
  • Consider that as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labor of love, is the main business of the Christian life.
    • P. 396.
  • By Christ's purchasing redemption, two things are intended, His satisfaction, and His merit. All is done by the price that Christ lays down, which does two things: it pays our debt, and so it satisfies; by its intrinsic value, and by the agreement between the Father and the Son it procures our title, and so it merits. The satisfaction of Christ is to free us from misery, and the merit of Christ is to purchase happiness for us.
    • P. 489.
  • Whatever in Christ had the nature of satisfaction, was by virtue of His suffering or humiliation; whatever had the nature of merit, was by virtue of His obedience or righteousness.
    • P. 489.
  • As God carries on the work of converting the souls of fallen men through all ages, so He goes on to justify them, to blot out all their sins, and to accept them as righteous in His sight through the righteousness of Christ. He goes on to adopt and receive them from being the children of Satan to be His own children, to carry on the work of His grace which He has begun in them, to comfort them with the consolations of His Spirit, and to bestow upon them, when their bodies die, that eternal glory which is the fruit of Christ's purchase.
    • P. 489.
  • How great is your sin in rejecting Jesus Christ! You slight the glorious Person for whose coming God made such great preparation in such a series of wonderful providences from the beginning of the world, bringing to pass a thing before unknown, the union of the Divine nature with the human in one person. You have been guilty of slighting that great Saviour, who, after such preparation, actually accomplished the purchase of redemption, and who, after He had spent three or four and thirty years in poverty, labor, and contempt, in purchasing redemption, at last finished the purchase by closing His life under such extreme sufferings; and so by His death, and continuing for a time under the power of death, completed the whole. This is the Saviour you reject and despise. You make light of all the glory of His person, and of all the love of God the Father in sending Him into the world, and all His wonderful love appearing in the whole of His work.
    • P. 492.
  • Religion, in its purity, is not so much a pursuit as a temper; or rather it is a temper, leading to the pursuit of all that is high and holy. Its foundation is faith; its action, works; its temper, holiness; its aim, obedience to God in improvement of self, and benevolence to men.
    • P. 494.
  • Holy practice is the most decisive evidence of the reality of our repentance. "Bring forth fruits meet for repentance."
    • P. 509.
  • If you seek in the spirit of selfishness, to grasp all as your own, you shall lose all, and be driven out of the world, at last, naked and forlorn, to everlasting poverty and contempt.
    • P. 538.
  • If there be ground for you to trust, as you do, in your own righteousness, then all that Christ did to purchase salvation, and all that God did from the fall of man to prepare the way for it, is in vain. Consider what greater folly could you have devised to charge upon God than this, that all those things were done so needlessly; when, instead of all this, He might only have called you forth, and committed the business to you, which you think you can do so easily.
    • P. 540.
  • What self-righteous persons take to themselves, is the same work that Christ was engaged in when He was in His agony and bloody sweat, and when He died on the cross, which was the greatest thing that ever the eyes of angels beheld. Christ could accomplish other parts of this work without cost; but this part cost Him His life, as well as innumerable pains and labors. Yet this is the part which self-righteous persons go about to accomplish for themselves.
    • P. 541.
  • You trust in your own doings to appease God for your sins, and to incline the heart of God to you. Though you are poor, worthless, vile, and polluted, yet you arrogantly take upon you that very work for which the Son of God became man; and in order to which God employed four thousand years in all the great dispensations of His providence, aiming chiefly to make way for Christ's coming to do this work. This is the work that you foolishly think yourselves sufficient for; as though your prayers and performances were excellent enough for this purpose. Consider how vain is the thought which you entertain of yourself. How must such arrogance appear in the sight of Christ, whom it cost so much? It was not to be obtained even by Him, so great and glorious a person, at a cheaper rate than His wading through a sea of blood, and passing through the midst of the furnace of God's wrath.
    • P. 541.
  • You that trust in your own righteousness, arrogate to yourselves the honor of the greatest thing that even God Himself ever did. You seem not only sufficient to perform Divine works, but such is your pride and vanity, that you are not content without taking upon you to do the very greatest work that ever God Himself wrought. God's works of providence are greater than those of creation. To take on yourself to work out redemption, is a greater thing than if you had taken it upon you to create a world.
    • P. 542.
  • Christian practice is that evidence which confirms every other indication of true godliness.
    • P. 619.

From His Sermon, "Justification By Faith Alone"

The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1. First Published 1834. XIV Five discourses on the soul's eternal salvation., DISCOURSE. I. Justification by Faith alone. ("DELIVERED AT NORTHAMPTON, CHIEFLY AT THE TIME OF THE LATE WONDERFUL POURING OUT OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD THERE.")

  • A person is said to be justified, when he is approved of God as free from the guilt of sin and its deserved punishment, and as having that righteousness belonging to him that entitles to the reward of life. That we should take the word in such a sense, and understand it as the judge’s accepting a person as having both a negative and positive righteousness belonging to him, and looking on him therefore as not only free from any obligation to punishment, but also as just and righteous, and so entitled to a positive reward, is not only most agreeable to the etymology and natural import of the word, which signifies to pass one for righteousness in judgment, but also manifestly agreeable to the force of the word as used in Scripture.

  • The apostle Paul is abundant in teaching, that 'we are justified by faith alone, without the works of the law!' There is no one doctrine that he insists so much upon, and that he handles with so much distinctness, explaining, giving reasons, and answering objections.

  • Some that oppose this doctrine indeed say, that the apostle sometimes means that it is by faith, i.e. a hearty embracing the gospel in its first act only, or without any preceding holy life, that persons are admitted into a justified state; but, say they, it is by a persevering obedience that they are continued in a justified state, and it is by this that they are finally justified. But this is the same thing as to say, that a man on his first embracing the gospel is conditionally justified and pardoned. To pardon sin, is to free the sinner from the punishment of it, or from that eternal misery that is due to it; and therefore if a person is pardoned, or freed from this misery, on his first embracing the gospel, and yet not finally freed, but his actual freedom still depends on some condition yet to be performed, it is inconceivable how he can be pardoned otherwise than conditionally; that is, he is not properly actually pardoned, and freed from punishment, but only he has God’s promise that he shall be pardoned on future conditions. God promises him, that now, if he perseveres in obedience, he shall be finally pardoned, or actually freed from hell; which is to make just nothing at all of the apostle’s great doctrine of justification by faith alone. Such a conditional pardon is no pardon or justification at all, any more than all mankind have, whether they embrace the gospel or no; for they all have a promise of final justification on conditions of future sincere obedience, as much as he that embraces the gospel.

  • "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." -Romans iv. 5. The following things may be noted in this verse:...That justification respects a man as ungodly. This is evident by these words,—that justifieth the ungodly; which cannot imply less, than that God, in the act of justification, has no regard to any thing in the person justified, as godliness, or any goodness in him; but that immediately before this act, God beholds him only as an ungodly creature...

  • If Adam had finished his course of perfect obedience, he would have been justified: and certainly his justification would have implied something more than what is merely negative; he would have been approved of, as having fulfilled the righteousness of the law, and accordingly would have been adjudged to the reward of it. So Christ, our second surety, (in whose justification all whose surety he is, are virtually justified,) was not justified till he had done the work the Father had appointed him, and kept the Father’s commandments through all trials; and then in his resurrection he was justified. When he had been put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit, 1 Pet. iii. 18. then he that was manifest in the flesh was justified in the spirit, 1 Tim. iii. 16.; but God, when he justified him in raising him from the dead, did not only release him from his humiliation for sin, and acquit him from any further suffering or abasement for it, but admitted him to that eternal and immortal life, and to the beginning of that exaltation that was the reward of what he had done. And indeed the justification of a believer is no other than his being admitted to communion in the justification of this head and surety of all believers; for as Christ suffered the punishment of sin, not as a private person, but as our surety; so when after this suffering he was raised from the dead, he was therein justified, not as a private person, but as the surety and representative of all that should believe in him. So that he was raised again not only for his own, but also for our justification, according to the apostle, Rom. iv. 25. “Who was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” And therefore it is that the apostle says, as he does in Rom. viii. 34. “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again.

  • When it is said, that we are not justified by any righteousness or goodness of our own, what is meant is, that it is not out of respect to the excellency or goodness of any qualifications or acts in us whatsoever, that God judges it meet that this benefit of Christ should be ours; and it is not, in any wise, on account of any excellency or value that there is in faith, that it appears in the sight of God a meet thing, that he who believes should have this benefit of Christ assigned to him, but purely from the relation faith has to the person in whom this benefit is to be had, or as it unites to that mediator, in and by whom we are justified.

  • Eph. i.6. "Who hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Our being in him is the ground or our being accepted. So it is in those unions to which the Holy Ghost has thought fit to compare this. The union of the members of the body with the head, is the ground of their partaking of the life of the head; it is the union of the branches to the stock, which is the ground of their partaking of the sap and life of the stock; it is the relation of the wife to the husband, that is the ground of her joint interest in his estate; they are looked upon, in several respects, as one in law. So there is a legal union between Christ and true Christians; so that (as all except Socinians allow) one, in some respects, is accepted for the other by the Supreme Judge.(Edwards writes later in the sermon... "What is real in the union between Christ and his people, is the foundation of what is legal; that is, it is something really in them, and between them, uniting them, that is the ground of the suitableness of their being accounted as one by the Judge.")

  • As there is nobody but what will allow that there is a peculiar relation between Christ and his true disciples, by which they are in some sense in Scripture said to be one so I suppose there is nobody but what will allow, that there may be something that the true Christian does on his part, whereby he is active in coming into this relation or union; some uniting act, or that which is done towards this union or relation (or whatever any please to call it) on the Christian’s part. Now faith I suppose to be this act.

  • I do not now pretend to define justifying faith, or to determine precisely how much is contained in it, but only to determine thus much concerning it, viz. That it is that by which the soul, which before was separate and alienated from Christ, unites itself to him, or ceases to be any longer in that state of alienation, and comes into that forementioned union or relation to him; or to use the scripture phrase, it is that by which the soul comes to Christ, and receives him; and this is evident by the Scriptures using these very expressions to signify faith. John vi. 35-39. 'He that cometh to me, shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me, shall never thirst...'"(Edwards later writes in this sermon... "The entire active uniting of the soul, or the whole of what is called coming to Christ, and receiving of him, is called faith in Scripture...")

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Jonathan Edwards
Born October 5, 1703(1703-10-05)
East Windsor, Connecticut
Died March 22, 1758 (age 54)
Princeton, New Jersey

Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a colonial American preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. He was one of the most important people in the Great Awakening, a religious movement in the United States. He preached a sermon called "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".


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