Jonathan Edwards, an American divine and metaphysician, born at East Windsor, Conn., Oct. 5, 1703., died at Princeton, N. J., March 22, 1758. He was an only son, with ten sisters, four of whom were older than himself. His father and his mother's father were eminent ministers; he sprung directly from John War-ham, the west of England minister who reached America a week or two before Win-throp, settled first in Dorchester, and then with a part of his flock removed to Windsor. He was trained by his father and his elder sisters for college and to habits of careful study and analysis. The community in which he lived was eminently religious, and before he was ten years old his religious sensibilities were strongly aroused. His childhood was troubled with anxious doubts as to the divine sovereignty. At the age of ten he wrote a paper ridiculing the idea that the soul is material. He early showed quickness and accuracy of observation; when twelve years old he sent to a European correspondent of his father an account "of the wondrous way of the working of the spider " in the forest, whose habits he had watched. In September, 1716, he entered Yale college. He gained a good name for " his carriage and his learning;" but in his scanty opportunities the range of his learning was very limited.
He knew little of classic literature; the best impulse to his mind was given by Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding," which he read with delight. But he was quickened, not subdued or mastered, by Locke's system, which turned him to speculative activity. He inclined to that system which in Europe had found its representatives in Malebranche and Leibnitz; and, probably from citations, something of Plato's theory of ideas, and something of the doctrine of Cudworth's "Intellectual System," infused themselves into his reflections. When about 15, in opposition to Locke, he denied the possibility of adding to matter the property of thought, and held that "everything did exist from all eternity in uncreated idea;" that " spirit or mind is consciousness and what is included in consciousness;" that "truth is the agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God;" that " nothing has a proper being but spirit;" that "matter is merely ideal;" that " the objects of the external senses are but the shadows of being;" that "the universe exists nowhere but in the divine mind." His speculations have sometimes a startling resemblance to those of Spinoza. The latter calls thought and extension the " attributes of God," and ascribes being to God alone; Edwards wrote that " space is God." In one of his latest works he says of God, "He is all and alone;" "the infinite, universal, all-comprehending entity." In his youth he said, " God and real existence are the same; God is, and there is none else." While a collegian he argued out for himself his theory of the will and his theory of virtue.
One thing more was wanting to shape his course. He counted himself still among the unregenerate; but after an illness in his last year in college, when not yet 17, how or by what means he could never tell, "his past convictions" were overcome, and he had no more doubts of " God's absolute sovereignty and justice with respect to salvation and damnation." Now he had found the purpose of his life; his speculative opinions and his religious faith were unalterably formed. He had no less than Locke a disposition to show the harmony between reason and religion, the faculties of man and the dogmas of the true faith; but from the first he repelled the materialist philosophy; and while he never came forward as the express combatant of Locke, it became from his early youth the object of his earthly career to combat the results of Locke's philosophy in its application to the sources of knowledge, the science of morals, and theology. His sense of divine things would often of a sudden kindle up " a sweet burning in his heart." He gave an account of his experience to his father, and united with the church.
For two years after he took his degree he remained in New Haven as a student for the ministry; and in August, 1722, he was selected to preach in a Presbyterian church in the city of New York. Here he remained eight months, and here on Jan. 12, 1723, he made anew a solemn dedication of himself to God. In April, 1723, he returned home, and at his father's house in East Windsor continued his studies, made with the pen in hand. Here he finished a series of 70 resolutions, in regard to which he humbly entreated God by his grace to enable him to keep them all: to act always for the glory of God, for the good of mankind in general; to lose not one moment of time; to live with all his might while he did live; to let the knowledge of the failings of others only promote shame in himself; to solve as far as he could any theorem in divinity he might think of; to trace actions back to their original source; to be firmly faithful tohis trust; to live as he would if it were but an hour before he should hear the last trump; to strive every week for a higher and yet higher exercise of grace; "to keep a benign aspect, and to let there be something of benevolence in all his speech." In September, 1723, several congregations invited Edwards to be their minister; but he declined every proposal, reserving two years more for study.
In June, 1724, he became tutor in Yale college. In the summer of 1726 he was invited to become the pastor at Northampton, as the colleague of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard; and on Feb. 15, 1727, he was ordained to his office. On July 28 he married Sarah Pierrepont, daughter of a minister at New Haven. In February, 1729, the senior pastor died, and the young minister was left alone. It was his habit to rise early, and study during the whole day. He made no visits unless sent for by the sick or the sorrowing, but encouraged persons under religious impressions to come to consult him. In spite of this comparative seclusion, and in spite of a weak and infirm constitution, he was an acceptable pastor, and his fame as a preacher was very wide. The little exercise which he took consisted in solitary walking or in rides on horseback in the lonely woods. In July, 1731, he was prevailed upon to deliver the Thursday lecture in Boston; and his discourse was printed and greatly approved. It was his habit to write out his thoughts with care, but to utter himself fluently without regard to his notes. His voice, though not strong, was clear and distinct; and his manner, though he used little of gesture, showed his own fervor and moved the hearts of his hearers.
The Armin-ian doctrine seemed to him of the most dangerous practical tendency, and in 1734 he began to preach on justification by faith alone. His preaching was followed by a wonderful revival of religion, exceeding everything that had been known at any time in any part of the country. On this occasion he printed a sermon on " A Divine and Supernatural Light imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God," and he wrote a narrative of this great awakening, which was printed in England, and republished in Boston, with some doctrinal discourses against the Arminians. The revival began to extend far and wide through the New England colonies, having a permanent influence on the character of the people and their conduct in events that were soon to come. Tradition still keeps in memory the wonderful effect of Edwards's sermon at Enfield on sinners in the hands of an angry God. He wrote "Thoughts on the Revival of Religion," and published in 1746 his "Treatise concerning Religious Affections." His life was now destined to meet with seemingly one of the saddest of afflictions. Edwards noticed among his people levities of manner, consequent as it seemed on reading books which a severe morality could not approve, and he invoked the attention of his church to the subject.
The church disapproved of the scandal which would follow an inquiry, and let the matter drop. Under the lax discipline of his predecessor the church had been filled up with persons who, though outwardly well behaved, were not strictly religious. Calvin and the Congrega-tionalists admitted to the communion only those who professed personal religious convictions, and baptized only the children of communicants. On this system the churches of Massachusetts and Connecticut were founded. But the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran and Anglican churches baptized all children born within their pale; and the influence of their example made the New England people generally desire to secure the ordinance of baptism for their offspring, and the "half-way covenant" was adopted. Edwards desired to enforce the old rule, which in the Northampton church had never been abrogated, and found himself at variance with the church. He held that experimental piety should go before admission to full communion; the church held that the Lord's supper is a converting ordinance. Edwards was overborne by the majority. He proposed to deliver a course of lectures on the subject, and they refused him their consent; and on June 22, 1750, he was forced to resign.
His friends in Scotland invited him to come over and establish himself in that country; Samuel Davies of Virginia entreated him to remove to that state, offering to surrender to him his own parish, and pleading that he and he only had weight enough by his representations in Great Britain to stop the illiberal oppression of Presbyterians by the governors of the Old Dominion. But he accepted an offer from the agent of the London society for propagating 'the gospel, to become a missionary to the remnant of the Housaton-nuck Indians at Stockbridge. The handful of white settlers that had gathered round the tribe also asked him to become their pastor. His trifling income was slightly augmented by the delicate handiwork of his wife and daughters, which was sent to Boston to be sold. At Northampton Edwards had been the centre of a wide circle of influence, visited by many guests, consulted by many churches; at Stock-bridge all his preaching to the Indians was uttered extempore, without notes, aided by an interpreter; and when he was once established in a house of his own, he found himself possessed of more leisure than he had ever before enjoyed. The next six years were given to uninterrupted study.
The narrow apartment that formed his workroom found him early and late at his desk; he scarcely shared the meals of his family. The development of the views which had long engaged his mind formed the chief entertainment and delight of his life. The main point in the discussion between Arminians and Calvinists had been carefully considered by him from the time he was 15 years old, and he had kept minutes of his thoughts during the intervening period. He now finished his "Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will," and published it in 1754. After a half year's illness he completed a dissertation on " God's Last End in the Creation of the World," which is a picture of his own character, reasoning, and mind. He also wrote at this period his dissertation on the "Nature of True Virtue," and his essay on "Original Sin," and planned a comprehensive work on Christian theology in the form of a history, a revision and completion of the history of redemption which he had written at Northampton, to be carried on with regard to all three worlds, heaven, earth, and hell. Plans of other treatises crowded also upon his mind. These studies were interrupted by the death of his son-in-law, President Burr of Princeton college, and Edwards was called to succeed him.
He kindled by his presence and his words the liveliest interest among the students, and on Feb. 16, 1758, was installed as president. The smallpox was prevailing in the neighborhood, and he was inoculated; but the disease took an unfavorable turn, and he died 34 days after his installation, at the age of 54. In 1872 his descendants erected to his memory at Stockbridge a monument of red granite, 25 ft. high. - In considering the writings of Jonathan Edwards, the first thing to be borne in mind is his unquestioning acceptance of the truth of the Holy Scriptures, of every event recorded there, every miracle, and every prophecy; the actual fall of man, the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The next is, the intensity of his attachment to the system of Calvinism as opposed to that of Arminianism. These points being premised, the characteristics of all that Edwards has written are threefold. He looks always to establish the reasonableness of his views. The doctrine of a divine incarnation, for example, approves itself, as he thought, to human reason; and he cites in proof the authority of Greeks and Romans, the most philosophical nations of the world, and refers to the anima mundi of Blount and the pantheism of Spinoza. He scoffs at the pretensions to greater liberality of the Arminians, and puts reason and common sense on the side of orthodoxy.
He thought there was no need that the strict philosophic truth should be at all concealed. "The clear and full knowledge of the true system of the universe will greatly establish the doctrines which teach the true Christian scheme of divine administration in the city of God." Least of all would Edwards give up the individual right of free inquiry, for he says: "He who believes principles because our forefathers affirm them, makes idols of them; and it would be no humility, but baseness of spirit, for us to judge ourselves incapable of examining principles which have been handed down to us." He knows no scheme of Christianity that is the fruit of time; the divine administration began from eternity and reaches forward to eternity. The third great feature of his mind is its practical character. His system has in view life and action; he puts aside all merely speculative questions, and while he discusses the greatest topics, it is only because of his overwhelming consciousness of their important bearing on conduct and morals. He moves in the real world, and brings theology down from the dim clouds of speculation to the business and the bosoms of the universal people.
It is a strange misconception about Edwards, that he drew his philosophy from Locke. In the want of books, the essay of Locke trained him to philosophical meditation; but his system was, at its foundation and in every part, the very opposite of the theory of Locke. On the subject of the origin of ideas he accords with Leibnitz. The doctrine that all truth is derived from sensation and reflection he discards. The knowledge of spiritual truth he considers "a new principle," "the divine nature in the soul." "It is the Spirit of God that gives faith in him," were the words of his sermon at the Boston lecture in 1731; and three years later he enforced at large that it is a doctrine of reason that " a divine supernatural light is immediately imparted to the soul by the Spirit of God." He teaches that knowledge of spiritual truth cannot be derived from the senses; it is a wisdom not earthly or natural, but descending from above; " it is the image and participation of God's own knowledge of himself." In like manner he finds the idea of causality "implanted by God in the minds of all mankind." As a consequence, the contrast of Edwards with Locke and those who came after him appears equally in the different manner in which they sought to establish the truth of Christianity. The disciples of Locke's philosophy cling to the historical evidence from miracles as the principal proof of the Christian religion.
Edwards, on the contrary, laid down the principle that "no particular sort of outward representations can be any evidence of a divine power." " Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel, by the internal evidences of it, by a sight of its glory, it is impossible that those who are illiterate and unacquainted with history should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all." " It is unreasonable to suppose that God has provided for his people no more than probable evidences of the truth of the gospel. It is reasonable to suppose that God would give the greatest evidence of those things which are greatest, and the truth of which is of the greatest importance to us. But it is certain that such an assurance is not to be attained, by the greater part of them who live under the gospel, by arguments fetched from ancient traditions, histories, and monuments." - The theory of Edwards respecting providence corresponded with that of Leibnitz. To him the laws of nature were not established and left to themselves, but were the methods according to which God continued his " immediate influence." " His preserving created things in being is equivalent to a continued creation." The presence of moral evil, the depravity of human nature, he considered from two points of view.
He raised his mind to the contemplation of God as the Creator, and had then no theory to offer for man's depravity but the divine will. He never presumed to ask Almighty God why it was so. But to those who questioned this absolute sovereignty, and rejected it as a doctrine full of horror, he made a twofold answer, not as finding excuses for the Creator, but subjectively as shutting the mouth of cavillers : First, that man's depravity is an unquestionable fact; that through the medium of his senses and merely animal organization man can attain to no knowledge of God and no spiritual perfection. Secondly, he set forth the unity of the race; its common constitution as branches from one root, forming one complex person, one moral whole; which is the view of Augustine and Calvin. This view also had a most important bearing on the theory of morals. The momentous question of man's relation to moral evil, and the way of his escape from it, formed one of the chief objects of Edwards's thoughts during his whole life. "Men in a very proper sense may be said to have power to abstain from sin, because it depends on the will;" and if they will not, the defect is in themselves; yet a man's evil disposition may be as strong and immovable as the bars of a castle.
The law of causality extends to every action. Liberty consists in the power of doing what one wills, not in any power of willing without a motive. The will always follows the greatest seeming good; and what shall seem to a man the greatest good depends on the state of his soul. Liberty is not in the act, but in the man; and if a depraved nature is to abstain from sin, it can only be effected by a change of heart. This theory Edwards asserted by an appeal to the facts of universal experience, and by a thorough analysis of the complex cause of action. In his essay on the "Nature of Virtue" he finds it to consist in love; not in love as resting complacently on its objects, but in love as the ruling motive of the will; love in action, benevolence. And this love is not for self; the doctrine of Edwards is the in-tensest protest against the theory of self-love. Taking Christ's summary of the law under two commandments of love to God and love to one's neighbor, he finds a general term which includes both God and man in "Being," and he therefore defines virtue as the "love of Being." Thus virtue implies the love of God with all the soul, for God is the Being of beings, "in effect, Being in general." The love to universal Being includes all being, each in its degree, according to its amount of existence; active love for the good of the world of mankind before the love of country, of country before that of a single city, of a city before a family, of the family before the individual, of the individual only in subordination to the great system of the whole.
The theory is the opposite of that which makes self-love the foundation of moral order. It does not weaken the bonds of family affection; only the love of wife or husband, parent or child, must not be the paramount motive. In this light the doctrine of the oneness of the race, which Edwards asserted with great clearness and force, gains new significance. - The ethical theory of Edwards is cosmical. It is universal history resting on the principle of the redemption of the world, decreed from all eternity; the gradual progress and advancement of the race through the presence of the Divine Word and its ever approaching triumph over all enemies. Events seem confused like the work of an architect, who employs many hands in many kinds of labor at once; but a knowledge of the design removes all appearance of confusion; and so the design of the Divine Word in redemption gives unity to the history of all the nations of the earth. The development of this idea employed the latest thoughts of Edwards, though his " History of Redemption " is only a sketch of the great work which he planned. - Edwards makes a turning point in the intellectual, or, as he would have called it, the spiritual history of New England. New England and New Jersey, in the age following him, applied more thought to the subject of religious philosophy and systematic theology than the same amount of population in any other part of the world; and his influence is discernible on every leading mind.
Bellamy and Hopkins were his pupils; Dwight was his expositor; Smalley, Emmons, and many others were his followers; through Hopkins his influence reached Kirk-land, and assisted in moulding the character of Channing. Edwards sums up the old theology of New England, and is the fountain head of the new. - There are several lives of Jonathan Edwards. The most interesting is that by Hopkins, who was his pupil; the fullest is that by Sereno Edwards Dwight. There have been two editions of his works in England, one in 8 vols. 8vo, and one in two compact volumes. The American editions are to be preferred. One was published at Worcester, Mass., edited by Samuel Austin, in 1809, in 8 vols. The New York edition is by Sereno E. Dwight, in 10 vols. 8vo, of which the first contains the life. There is also a later and convenient New York edition in 4 vols.
Jonathan Edwards, president of Union college, Schenectady, N. Y., son of the preceding, born in Northampton, Mass., May 26, 1745, died in Schenectady, Aug. 1, 1801. At the age of six he went with his parents to Stock-bridge, where there was but one school for both Indians and whites, of the latter of whom there were so few that he was in danger of forgetting the English tongue. He thoroughly learned the language of the Stockbridge Indians, and in later years published a treatise on the subject. In his 10th year he was sent by his father with the Rev. Gideon Hawley among the Six Nations, that he might also learn their language and become qualified to be a missionary among them. Here he made rapid progress; but owing to the disturbances of the French war, he soon returned to Stock-bridge. In 1761 he entered the college at Princeton, N. J., where he graduated in 1765. He studied divinity with Dr. Bellamy, and in 1766 was licensed to preach. In 1767 he became tutor in the college at Princeton. In 1769 he was ordained as pastor of the church in White Haven, in the town of New Haven, Conn., where he continued till May 19, 1795. Resigning his charge, mainly on account of difference in doctrinal views between himself and some of his people, he was settled in 1796 as pastor of the church in Colebrook, where he gave much time to study, and to an extensive correspondence with learned men in America and in Europe. In May, 1799, he was elected president of Union college, but only lived two years after his inauguration.
His complete works, edited with a memoir by his grandson, the Rev. Tryon Edwards, D. D., were published in 2 vols, at Andover in 1842.