1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Edwards, Jonathan

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EDWARDS, JONATHAN (1703–1758), American theologian and philosopher, was born on the 5th of October 1703 at East (now South) Windsor, Connecticut. His earliest known ancestor was Richard Edwards, Welsh by birth, a London clergyman in Elizabeth's reign. His father Timothy Edwards (1669–1758), son of a prosperous merchant of Hartford, had graduated at Harvard, was minister at East Windsor, and eked out his salary by tutoring boys for college. His mother, a daughter of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, Mass., seems to have been a woman of unusual mental gifts and independence of character. Jonathan, the only son, was the fifth of eleven children. The boy was trained for college by his father and by his elder sisters, who all 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 twelve wrote a remarkable essay on the habits of the "flying spider." He entered Yale College in 1716, and in the following year became acquainted with Locke's Essay, which influenced him profoundly. During his college course he kept note books labelled "The Mind," "Natural Science" (containing a discussion of the atomic theory, &c.), "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 172O as valedictorian and head of his class, he seems to have had a well formulated philosophy. The two years after his graduation he spent in New Haven studying theology. In 1722–1723 he was for eight months stated supply of a small Presbyterian church in New York city, which invited him to remain, but he declined the call, spent two months in study at home, and then in 1724–1726 was one of the two tutors at Yale, earning for himself the name of a "pillar tutor" by his steadfast loyalty to the college and its orthodox teaching at the time when Yale's rector (Cutler) and one of her tutors had gone over to the Episcopal Church.

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. On the 15th of February 1727 he was ordained minister at Northampton and assistant to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. He was a student minister, not a visiting pastor, his rule being thirteen hours of study a day. In the same year he married Sarah Pierrepont, then aged seventeen, daughter of James Pierrepont (1659–1714), a founder of Yale, and through her mother great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker. Of her piety and almost nun-like love of God and belief in His personal love for her, Edwards had known when she was only thirteen, and had written of it with spiritual enthusiasm; she was of a bright and cheerful disposition, a practical housekeeper, a model wife and the mother of his twelve children. Solomon Stoddard died on the 11th of February 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.

In 1731 Edwards preached at Boston the "Public Lecture" afterwards published under the title God Glorified in M an's Dependence. This was his first public attack on Arminianism. The leading thought was God's absolute sovereignty in the work of redemption: that while it behoved God to create man holy, it was of His "good pleasure" and "mere and arbitrary grace" that any man was now made holy, and that God might deny this grace without any disparagement to any of His perfections. In 1733 a revival of religion 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 of 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 Irnportant 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. In the spring of 1735 the movement began to subside and a reaction set in. But the relapse was brief, and the Northampton revival, which had spread through the Connecticut valley and whose fame had reached England and Scotland, was followed in 1739–1740 by the Great Awakening, distinctively under the leadership of Edwards. The movement met with no sympathy from the orthodox leaders of the church. In 1741 Edwards published in its defence The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, dealing particularly with the phenomena most criticized, the swooning, outcries and convulsions; These "bodily effects," he insisted, were not "distinguishing marks" of the Work of the Spirit of God; 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" incidentals 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 anonymously wrote The Late Religious Commotions in New England Considered (1743), urging 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 determinate connexion between volition and motive which he asserts and the libertarians deny, moral agency would be impossible. Liberty, he holds, is simply freedom from constraint, "the power . . . that any one has to do as he pleases." This power man possesses. And that the right or wrong of choice depends not on the cause of choice but on its nature, he illustrates by the example of Christ, whose acts were necessarily holy, yet truly virtuous, praiseworthy and rewardable. Even God Himself, Edwards here maintains, has no other liberty than this, to carry out without constraint His will, wisdom and inclination.

There is no necessary connexion between Edwards's doctrine of the motivation of choice and the system of Calvinism with which it is congruent. Similar doctrines have more frequently perhaps been associated with theological scepticism. But for him the alternative was between Calvinism and Arminianism, simply because of the historical situation, and in the refutation of Arminianism on the assumptions common to both sides of the controversy, he must be considered completely successful. As a general argument his account of the determination of the will is defective, notably in his abstract conception of the will and in his inadequate, but suggestive, treatment of causation, in regard to which he anticipates in important respects the doctrine of Hume. Instead of making the motive to choice a factor within the concrete process of volition, he regards it as a cause antecedent to the exercise of a special mental faculty. Yet his conception of this faculty as functioning only in and through motive and character, inclination and desire, certainly carries us a long way beyond the abstraction in which his opponents stuck, that of a bare faculty without any assignable content. Modern psychology has strengthened the contention for a fixed connexion between motive and act by reference to subconscious and unconscious processes of which Edwards, who thought that nothing could affect the mind which was unperceived, little dreamed; at the same time, at least in some of its developments, especially in its freer use of genetic and organic conceptions, it has rendered much in the older forms of statement obsolete, and has given a new meaning to the idea of self-determination, which, as applied to an abstract power, Edwards rightly rejected as absurd.

Edwards's controversy with the Arminians was continued in the essay on Original Sin, which was in the press at the time of his death. He here breaks with Augustine and the Westminster Confession by arguing, consistently with his theory of the Will, that Adam had no more freedom of will than we have, but had a special endowment, a supernatural gift of grace, which by rebellion against God was lost, and that this gift was withdrawn from his descendants, not because of any fictitious imputation of guilt, but because of their real participation in his guilt by actual identity with him in his transgression.

The Dissertation on the Nature of True Virtue, posthumously published, is justly regarded as one of the most original works on ethics of the 18th century, and is the more remarkable as reproducing, with no essential modification, ideas on the subject written in the author's youth in the notes on the Mind. Virtue is conceived as the beauty of moral qualities. Now beauty, in Edwards's view, always consists in a harmonious relation in the elements involved, an agreement of being with being. He conceives, therefore, of virtue, or moral beauty, as consisting in the cordial agreement or consent to intelligent being. He defines it as benevolence (good-will), or rather as a disposition to benevolence, towards being in general. This disposition, he argues, has no regard primarily to beauty in the object, nor is it primarily based on gratitude. Its first object is being, "simply considered," and it is accordingly proportioned, other things being equal, to the object's "degree of existence." He admits, however, benevolent being as a second object, on the ground that such an object, having a like virtuous propensity, "is, as it were, enlarged, extends to, and in some sort comprehends being in general." In brief, since God is the "being of beings" and comprehends, in the fullest extent, benevolent consent to being in general, true virtue consists essentially in a supreme love to God. Thus the principle of virtue—Edwards has nothing to say of "morality"—is identical with the principle of religion. From this standpoint Edwards combats every lower view. He will not admit that there is any evidence of true virtue in the approbation of virtue and hatred of vice, in the workings of conscience or in the exercises of the natural affections; he thinks that these may all spring from self-love and the association of ideas, from "instinct" or from a "moral sense of a secondary kind" entirely different from "a sense or relish of the essential beauty of true virtue." Nor does he recognize the possibility of a natural development of true virtue out of the sentiments directed on the "private systems"; on the contrary, he sets the love of particular being, when not subordinated to being in general, in opposition to the latter and as equivalent to treating it with the greatest contempt. All that he allows is that the perception of natural beauty may, by its resemblance to the primary spiritual beauty, quicken the disposition to divine love in those who are already under the influence of a truly virtuous temper.

Closely connected with the essay on Virtue is the boldly speculative Dissertation on the End for which God Created the World. As, according to the doctrine of virtue, God's virtue consists primarily in love to Himself, so His final end in creation is conceived to be, not as the Arminians held, the happiness of His creatures, but His own glory. Edwards supposes in the nature of God an original disposition to an "emanation" of His being, and it is the excellency of this divine being, particularly in the elect, which is, in his view, the final cause and motive of the world.

Edwards makes no attempt to reconcile the pantheistic element in his philosophy with the individuality implied in moral government. He seems to waver between the opinion that finite individuals have no independent being and the opinion that they have it in an infinitesimal degree; and the conception of "degrees of existence" in the essay on Virtue is not developed to elucidate the point. His theological conception of God, at any rate, was not abstractly pantheistic, in spite of the abstractness of his language about "being," but frankly theistic and trinitarian. He held the doctrine of the trinitarian distinctions indeed to be a necessity of reason. His Essay on the Trinity, first printed in 1903, was long supposed to have been withheld from publication because of its containing Arian or Sabellian tendencies. It contains in fact nothing more questionable than an attempted deduction of the orthodox Nicene doctrine, unpalatable, however, to Edwards's immediate disciples, who were too little speculative to appreciate his statement of the subordination of the "persons" in the divine "oeconomy," and who openly derided the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son as "eternal nonsense "; and this perhaps was the original reason why the essay was not published.

Though so typically a scholar and abstract thinker on the one hand and on the other a mystic, Edwards is best known to the present generation as a preacher of hell fire. The particular reason for this seems to lie in a single sermon preached at Enfield, Connecticut, in July 174I from the text, "Their foot shall slide in due time," and commonly known from its title, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The occasion of this sermon is usually overlooked. It was preached to a congregation who were careless and loose in their lives at a time when "the neighbouring towns were in great distress for their souls." A contemporary account of it says that in spite of Edwards's academic style of preaching, the assembly was "deeply impressed and bowed down, with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence, that he might be heard." Edwards preached other sermons of this type, but this one was the most extreme. The style of the imprecatory sermon, however, was no more peculiar to him than to his period. He was not a great preacher in the ordinary meaning of the word. His gestures were scanty, his voice was not powerful, but he was desperately in earnest, and he held his audience whether his sermon contained a picturesque and detailed description of the torments of the damned, or, as was often the case, spoke of the love and peace of God in the heart of man. He was an earnest, devout Christian, and a man of blameless life. His insight into the spiritual life was profound. Certainly the most able metaphysician and the most influential religious thinker of America, he must rank in theology, dialectics, mysticism and philosophy with Calvin and Fénelon, Augustine andy Aquinas, Spinoza and Novalis; with Berkeley and Hume as the great English philosophers of the 18th century; and with Hamilton and Franklin as the three American thinkers of the same century of more than provincial importance.

Edwards's main aim had been to revivify Calvinism, modifying it for the needs of the time, and to promote a warm and vital Christian piety. The tendency of his successors was—to state the matter roughly—to take some one of his theories and develop it to an extreme. Of his immediate followers Joseph Bellamy is distinctly Edwardean in the keen logic and in the spirit of his True Religion Delineated, but he breaks with his master in his theory of general (not limited) atonement. Samuel Hopkins laid even greater stress than Edwards on the theorem that virtue consists in disinterested benevolence; but he went counter to Edwards in holding that unconditional resignation to God's decrees, or more concretely, willingness to be damned for the glory of God, was the test of true regeneration; for Edwards, though often-quoted as holding this doctrine, protested against it in the strongest terms. Hopkins, moreover, denied Edwards's identity theory of original sin, saying that our sin was a result of Adam's and not identical with it; and he went much further than Edwards in his objection to "means of grace," claiming that the unregenerate were more and more guilty for continual rejection of the gospel if they were outwardly righteous and availed themselves of the means of grace. Stephen West (1735–1819), too, out-Edwardsed Edwards in his defence of the treatise on the Freedom of the Will, and John Smalley (1734–1820) developed the idea of a natural (not moral) inability on the part of man to obey God. Emmons, like Hopkins, considered both sin and holiness "exercises" of the will. Timothy Dwight (1752–1847) urged the use of the means of grace, thought Hopkins and Emmons an theistic, and boldly disagreed with their theory of "exercises," reclining virtue and sin as the result of moral choice or disposition, a position that was also upheld by Asa Burton (1752–1836), who thought that on regeneration the disposition of man got a new relish or "taste."

Jonathan Edwards[1] the younger (1745–1801), second son of the philosopher, born at Northampton, Massachusetts, on the 26th of May 1745, also takes an important place among his followers. He lived in Stockbridge in 1751–1755 and spoke the language of the Housatonic Indians with ease, for six months studied among the Oneidas, graduated at Princeton in 1765, studied theology at Bethlehem, Connecticut, under Joseph Bellamy, was licensed to preach in 1766, was a tutor at Princeton in 1766–1769, and was pastor of the White Haven Church, New Haven, Connecticut, in 1769–1795, being then dismissed for the nominal reason that the church could not support him, but actually because of his opposition to the Half-Way Covenant as well as to slavery and the slave trade. He preached at Colebrook, Connecticut, in 1796–1799 and then became president of Union College, Schenectady, New York, where he died on the 1st of August 1801. His studies of the Indian dialects were scholarly and valuable. He edited his father's incomplete History of the Work of Redemption, wrote in answer to Stephen West, A Dissertation Concerning Liberty and Necessity (1797), which defended his father's work on the Will by a rather strained interpretation, and in answer to Chauncy on universal salvation formulated what is known as the "Edwardean," New England or Governmental theory of the atonement in The Necessity of the Atonement and its Consistency with Free Grace in Forgiveness (1785). His collected works were edited by his grandson Tryon Edwards in two volumes, with memoir (Andover, 1842). His place in the Edwardean theology is principally due to his defence against the Universalists of his father's doctrine of the atonement, namely, that Christ's death, being the equivalent of the eternal punishment of sinners, upheld the authority of the divine law, but did not pay any debt, and made the pardon of all men a possibility with God, but not a necessity.

Bbliography.There have been various editions of Edwards's works. His pupil, Samuel Hopkins, in 1765 published two volumes from manuscript containing eighteen sermons and a memoir; the younger Jonathan Edwards with Dr Erskine published an edition in 4 volumes (1744 sqq.), and Samuel Austin in 1808 edited an edition in 8 volumes. In 1829 Sereno E. Dwight, a great-grandson of Edwards, published the Life and Works in 10 volumes, the first volume containing the memoir, which is still the most complete and was the standard until the publication (Boston, 1889) of Jonathan Edwards, by A. V. G. Allen, who attempts to "distinguish what he (Edwards) meant to affirm from what he actually teaches." In 1865 the Rev. Alexander B. Grosart edited from original manuscripts Selections from the Unpublished Writings of Jonathan Edwards of America (Edinburgh, 1865, printed for private circulation). This was the only part of a complete edition planned by Grosart that ever appeared. It contained the important Treatise on Grace, Annotations on the Bible, Directions for Judging of Persons' Experiences, and Sermons, the last for the most part merely in outline. E. C. Smyth published from a copy Observations Concerning the Scripture Oeconomy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption (New York, 1880), a careful edition from the manuscript of the essay on the Flying Spider (in the Andover Review, January 1890) and "Some Early Writings of Jonathan Edwards," with specimens from the manuscripts in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, October, 1895). In 1900 on the death of Prof. Edwards A. Park, the entire collection of Edwards's manuscripts loaned to him by Tryon Edwards was transferred to Yale University. Professor Park, like Mr. Grosart before him, had been unable to accomplish the great task of editing this mass of manuscript. "A Study of the Manuscripts of Jonathan Edwards" was published by F. B. Dexter in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, series 2, vol. xv. (Boston, 1902), and in the same volume of the Proceedings appeared "A Study of the Shorthand Writings of Jonathan Edwards," by W. P. Upham. The long sought for essay on the Trinity was edited (New York, 1903) with valuable introduction and appendices by G. P. Fisher under the title, An Unpublished Essay of Edwards's on the Trinity. The only other edition of Edwards (in whole or in part) of any importance is Selected Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (New York, 1904), edited by H. N. Gardiner, with brief biographical sketch and annotations on seven sermons, one of which had not previously been published.

For estimates of Edwards consult: The Volume of the Edwaras Family Meeting at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, September 6–7, A.D. 1870 (Boston, 1871); Jonathan Edwards, a Retrospect, Being the Addresses Delivered in Connecticut with the Unveiling of a Memorial in the First Church of Christ in Northampton, Massachusetts, on the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of his Dismissal from the Pastorate of that Church, edited by H. N. Gardiner (Boston, 1901); Exercises Commemorating the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Jonathan Edwards, held at Andover Theological Seminary. October 4–5, 1903 (Andover, 1904); and among the addresses delivered at Stockbridge in October 1903, John De Witt, "Jonathan Edwards: A Study," in the Princeton Theological Review (January, 1904). Also H. C. King, "Edwards as Philosopher and Theologian," in Hartford Theological Seminary Record, vol. xiv. (1903), pp. 23–57; H. N. Gardiner, "The Early Idealism of Jonathan Edwards," in the Philosophical Review, vol. ix. (1900), pp. 573–596; E. C. Smyth, American Journal of Theology, vol. i. (1897), pp. 960–964; Samuel P. Hayes, "An Historical Study of the Edwardean Revivals," in American Journal of Psychology, vol. xiii. (1902), pp. 550 ff.; J. H. MacCracken, "Philosophical Idealism of Edwards" in Philosophical Review, vol. xi. (1902), pp. 26–42, suggesting that Edwards did not know Berkeley, but Collier, and the same author's Jonathan Edwards' Idealismus (Halle, 1899); F. J. E. Woodbridge, "Jonathan Edwards," in Philosophical Review, vol. xiii. (1904) pp. 393–408; W. H. Squires, Jonathan Edwards und seine Willenslehre (Leipzig, 1901); Samuel Simpson, "Jonathan Edwards, A Historical Review," in Hartford Seminary Record, vol. xiv. (1903), pp. 3–22; and The Edwardean, a Quarterly Devoted to the History of Thought in America (Clinton, New York, 1903–1904), edited by W. H. Squires, of which only four parts appeared, all devoted to Edwards and all written by Squires.

  1. Besides the younger Jonathan many of Edwards's descendants were great, brilliant or versatile men. Among them were: his son Pierrepont (1750–1826), a brilliant but erratic member of the Connecticut bar, tolerant in religious matters and bitterly hated by stern Calvinists, a man whose personal morality resembled greatly that of Aaron Burr; his grandsons. William Edwards (1770–1851), an inventor of important leather rolling machinery; Aaron Burr the son of Esther Edwards; Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), son of Mary Edwards, and his brother Theodore Dwight, a Federalist politician, a member, the secretary and the historian of the Hartford Convention; his great-grandsons, Tryon Edwards (1809–1894) and Sereno Edwards Dwight, theologian, educationalist and author; and his great-great-grandsons, Theodore Villiam Dwight, the jurist, and Timothy Dwight, second of that name to be president of Yale.