Edwards, Jonathan, was born at East Windsor, Connecticut, on the 5th of October, 1703. His great-great-grandfather on the paternal side was the Reverend Richard Edwards, a clergyman in London in the time of queen Elizabeth. His great- grandfather, William Edwards, was born in England, came to America about the year 1640, and was an honorable trader in Hartford, Connecticut. His grandfather, Richard Edwards, was born at Hartford, and spent his life there as a respectable and wealthy merchant. His father, Reverend Timothy Edwards, was born in Hartford May 14, 1669. He entered Harvard College in 1687, "and received the two degrees of Bachelor and Master of Arts on the Same day, July 4, 1691, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, 'an uncommon mark of respect paid to his extraordinary proficiency in learning.'" He was ordained pastor of the church at East Windsor in May, 1694. In 1711 he was appointed by the Legislature of Connecticut, chaplain of the troops sent on an important expedition to Canada. He was distinguished for his scholarship, devoutness, and general weight of character. He generally preached extempore, and until he had passed his seventieth year he did not often write the heads of his discourses. He lived to enjoy the fame of his son, and died January 27, 1758. On the maternal side, the great-grandfather of President Edwards was Anthony Stoddard, Esq., who emigrated from the west of England to Boston, and was a member of the General Court from 1665 to 1684. The grandfather of Edwards was the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the most erudite and powerful clergymen of New England. Edwards' mother was Esther, the second child of the Northampton pastor, a lady of excellent education and rare strength of character.
The history of President Edwards cannot be fully understood without considering that both on the paternal end maternal side he was allied with families belonging to the ecclesiastical aristocracy of New England. He was an only son, and had ten sisters, some of whom became the wives of eminent men. He was trained by his father and his four eldest sisters (all of whom were proficient in learning) for Yale College, which he entered in 1716, just before he was thirteen years of age. During the next year his favorite study was Locke on the Human Understanding. "Taking that book into his hand upon some occasion not long before his death, he said to some of his select friends who were then with him, that he was beyond expression entertained and pleased with it when he read it in his youth at college; that he was as much engaged, and had more satisfaction and pleasure in studying it, than the most greedy miser in gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some new-discovered treasure." When about twelve years of age he wrote a paper which indicates that he had been thoroughly interested in the question of Materialism. At about the same age he composed some remarkable papers on questions in natural philosophy. Having distinguished himself at college as an acute thinker, and also as an impassioned writer, he took his Bachelor's degree in 1720, and delivered the "salutatory, which was also the valedictory oration." When he was a boy, probably about the age of seven or eight years, he began to develop his religious character. He writes: "I was then very much affected for many months, and concerned about the things of religion and my soul's salvation, and was abundant in religious duties. I used to pray five times a day in secret, and to spend much time in religious conversation with other boys, and used to meet with them to pray together. I experienced I know not what kind of delight in religion. I, with some of my schoolmates, joined together and built a booth in a swamp, in a very retired spot, for a place of prayer; and, besides, I had particular secret places of my own in the woods where I used to retire by myself, and was from time to time much affected. My affections seemed to be lively and easily moved, and I seemed to be in my element when engaged in religious duties." Reflecting on these fervid emotions, Edwards afterward regarded them as no signs of genuine piety. He was keen in his analysis of character, and was wont to encourage, not only in others, but also in himself, the habit of severe self-examination, and of jealous watchfulness against the influence of self-love. Although from his earliest childhood he had been dutiful, docile, and exemplary in his outward demeanor, yet he writes concerning his boyhood and youth: "I was at times very uneasy, especially towards the latter part of my time at college, when it pleased God to seize me with a pleurisy, in which he brought me nigh to the grave, and shook me over the pit of hell. And yet it was not long after my recovery before I fell again into my old ways of sin. But God would not suffer me to go on with any quietness. I had great and violent inward struggles, till, after many conflicts with wicked inclinations, repeated resolutions, and bonds that I laid myself under by a kind of vows to God, I was brought wholly to break off all former wicked ways, and all ways of known outward sin, and to apply myself to seek salvation, and practice many religious duties, but without that kind of affection and delight which I had formerly experienced." With his characteristic fidelity in scrutinizing his motives, he looked with distrust on his seeking the Lord after this "miserable manner, which," he says, "has made me sometimes since to question whether it ever issued in that which was saving, being ready to doubt whether such miserable seeking ever succeeded." At length, however, but precisely at what period he does not state, he began to entertain an abiding confidence in his having been regenerated by the Holy Ghost. In the poetic and fervid style which often characterizes his writings, he says: "I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him. This I know not how to express otherwise than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world, and sometimes a kind of vision, or fixed ideas and imaginations of being alone in the mountains or some solitary wilderness, far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and rapt and swallowed up in God." On one occasion "I walked abroad alone in a solitary place in my father's pasture for contemplation. As I was walking there, and looking upon the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God as I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction, majesty and meekness joined together; it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty, and also a majestic meekness, an awful sweetness, a high, and great, and holy gentleness. After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast or appearance of divine glory in almost every thing. God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity, and love, seemed to appear in every thing in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for a long time, and in the day spent much of my 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 in 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 thunder-storm, 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." The sharpness of his intellect, the activity of his imagination, the liveliness of his sensibilities, and the depth of his piety, were regarded as signs of his being called of God to the ministry of the Gospel. Having, been a resident scholar nearly two years at Yale College after his graduation, and having pursued his theological studies during that period, he was "approbated" as a preacher in June or July, 1722, several months before he was nineteen years of age. From August, 1722, until April, 1723, he preached to a small Presbyterian church in New York city. His eloquence fascinated his hearers, but he felt compelled to decline their urgent invitations to become their pastor. In his solitary walks along the silent banks of the Hudson he learned more and more of "the bottomless depths of secret corruption and deceit" belonging to his heart, and of the beauty and amiableness of true holiness. "Holiness, as I then wrote down some of my contemplations on it, appeared to me to be of a sweet, pleasant, charming, serene, calm nature, which brought an inexpressible purity, brightness, peacefulness, and ravishment to the soul. In other words, that it made the soul like a field or garden of God, with all manner of pleasant flowers, enjoying a sweet calm, and the gentle, vivifying beams of the sun. 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." It was during his residence in New York that he wrote the first thirty-four of his well- known "Resolutions" for the government of his life.
In September, 1723, he was called to a tutorship in Yale College. Having passed the preceding winter and spring in severe study at the college, he entered on his tutorship in June 1724, and left it in September 1726. After laving declined various invitations to take the oversight of churches, he was ordained February 15, 1727, as pastor of the church in Northampton, a colleague with his celebrated grandfather, Solomon Stoddard. He rose at once into eminence as a preacher, especially as a preacher of the divine law, of the divine sovereignty, of man's entire sinfulness by nature, of justification by faith, and of eternal punishment. He often spoke extempore; he seldom made a gesture; his voice was not commanding; his power was that of deep thought and strong feeling. Dr. Trumbull says that when Mr. Edwards was preaching at Enfield, Connecticut, "there was such a breathing of distress and weeping that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence that le might be heard." A gentleman remarked to President Dwight that when, in his youth, he heard Mr. Edwards describe the day of judgment, he fully supposed that immediate1y at the close of the sermon "the Judge would descend, and the final separation take place." During the delivery of one of his most overwhelming discourses in the pulpit of a minister unused to such power, this minister is said to have forgotten himself so far as to pull the preacher by the coat, and try to stay the torrent of such appalling eloquence by the question, "Mr. Edwards! Mr. Edwards! is not God a merciful Being?" In February, 1729, in consequence of the death of Mr. Stoddard, the entire charge of the congregation at Northampton was devolved on Mr. Edwards. In 1734 and 1735 occurred a remarkable "awakening" of religious feeling in his parish; another occurred in 1740, at which period he became a bosom friend of George Whitefield. During both these developments of religious activity he preached with a force which overawed his hearers. While his parochial labors were multifarious and earnest, he studied the phenomena of the revival with the keenness of a philosopher, and they prompted him to write some of his most acute disquisitions. Indeed, nearly all the works which he published during his ministry at Northampton indicate the degree in which he labored for the promotion or the regulation of those religious "awakenings" for which his ministry was distinguished. Some of these works are merely sermons, others are larger treatises. They bear the following titles: God glorified in Man's Dependence (1731): — A divine and supernatural Light imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God (1734; a sermon noted for its spiritual philosophy): — Curse ye Meroz (1735): — A faithful Narrative of the surprising Work of God in the Conversion of many hundred Souls in Northampton, etc. (London, 1736): — Five Discourses prefixed to the American Edition of this Narrative (1738): — Sinners in the Hands of an angry God (1741; one of his most terrific sermons): — Sorrows of the bereaved spread before Jesus (1741): — Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the true Spirit (1741): — Thoughts on the Revival in New, England, etc. (1742): — The Watchman's Duty and Account (1743): — The true Excellency of a Gospel Minister (1744): — A
Treatise concerning religious Affections (1745; one of his most spiritual an d analytical works): — An humble Attempt to promote explicit Agreement and visible Union among God's People in extraordinary Prayer (1746): — True Saints, when absent from the Body, present with the Lord (1747): — God's awful Judgments in breaking the strong Rods of the Community (1748): — Life and Diary of the Reverend David Brainerd (1749; a volume which exerted a decisive influence on Henry Martyn, and has affected the missionary spirit of the English as well as American churches): — Christ the Example of Gospel Ministers (1749): — Qualifications for full Communion in the visible Church (1749; a treatise of historical as well as theological importance): — Farewell Sermon to the People of Northampton (1750; called "the best farewell sermon ever written").
The last two publications suggest the most sorrowful event of President Edwards' life. He was dismissed from his Northampton pastorate on the 22d of June, 1750. As early as 1744 he had offended many, and among them some of the most influential families in his congregation, by certain stringent measures which he adopted in regard to alleged immoralities prevalent at Northampton. The whole parish was shaken by his resolute and uncompromising reproofs, and was predisposed to resist any subsequent innovation which he might make. His grandfather, Mr. Stoddard, had favored the principle that unconverted persons who are not immoral have a right to partake of the Lord's Supper. The authoritative influence of Mr. Stoddard had induced not only the Northampton Church, but also many other churches, to adopt that principle. Mr. Edwards, after prolonged deliberation, opposed it. The entire, community was aroused by his boldness in controverting the teachings of a man like Solomon Stoddard, "whose word was law." After a prolonged and earnest controversy, he was ejected from the office which he had adorned for more than twenty-three years. He never saw occasion to change the opinions which were so obnoxious to his people; and two years after his dismission he published a work entitled Misrepresentation corrected and Truth vindicated in a Reply to Mr. Solomon Williams's Book on Qualifications for Communion; to which is add a Letter from Mr. Edwards to his late Flock at Northampton (1752). After his death, and after a disastrous controversy through the land, his principles prevailed among the evangelical churches.
At the present day, when the dismission of pastors is so frequent, we cannot easily imagine the mortification and injury which Edwards suffered in consequence of his difficulties with his parish. He was in his forty- seventh year, and had accumulated no property for the support of his large and expensive family. He was compelled to receive pecuniary aid from his friends in remote parts of this country and in Great Britain. His wife was a descendant from the earls of Kingston, and was a lady of rare accomplishments. The description which he wrote of her in her girlhood was pronounced by Dr. Chalmers to be one of the most beautiful compositions in the language. He was married to her on the 27th of July, 1727, and at the time of his dismission, his eldest son, afterwards judge Timothy Edwards, was about twelve years of age; his second son, afterwards Dr. Jonathan Edwards, was about five years of age; and his youngest son, afterwards judge Pierpont Edwards, was an infant of two or three months; his third daughter, afterwards the mother of Aaron Burr, was in her eighteenth year; and his fourth daughter, afterwards the mother of president Timothy Dwight, was in her sixteenth year. He had a family of three sons and seven daughters, another daughter, Jerusha, having died three years before his dismission. She was betrothed to David Brainerd, who had been a cherished inmate of her father's family.
In July, 1751, about a year after his dismission, Edwards was installed pastor of the small Congregational church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and missionary of the Housatonic tribe of Indians at that place. He preached extemporaneously to the Indians through an interpreter. In this uncultivated wilderness he was sadly afflicted with the fever and ague, and other disorders incident to the new settlements. He published a characteristic sermon in 1752, entitled True Grace distinguished from the Experience of Devils. In 1754 he published the most celebrated of his works — his Essay on the Freedom of the Will. Of this essay there are conflicting interpretations. One school of interpreters contend that he believed in a literal inability of the soul to act otherwise than it does act; another school contend that he did not believe in an inability which is natural and literal, but only in one which is moral, figurative, "an inability improperly so called." One school contend that he believed liberty to consist in the mere power of doing what the soul has previously willed, of outwardly executing what the soul has antecedently chosen; another school contend that he believed liberty to consist in the power of electing either of two or more objects — such a power that men are not "at all hindered by any fatal necessity from doing, and even willing and choosing as they please, with full freedom; yea, with the highest kind of liberty that ever was thought of, or that ever could possibly enter into the heart of any man to conceive" (Letter to a Scotch theologian). One school regard Edwards as agreeing with those Calvinists who suppose that "man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to do that which is good and well- pleasing to God, but yet mutably so that he might fall from it," and that "man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;" another school regard Edwards as denying this proposition in its literal, and affirming it only in its figurative sense, and believing that since the Fall man has all the freedom or liberty which he ever had, or can be imagined to have. One class of critics suppose him to believe that motives are the efficient or the necessitating causes of volitions; another class suppose him to believe that the volition is the result of motive as an occasion, rather than the necessary effect of motive as a cause. The latter class interpret his whole theory of the will in the light of the following remark of Edwards to the Scotch divine: "On the contrary, I have largely declared that the connection between antecedent things and consequent ones, which takes place with regard to the acts of men's wills, which is called moral necessity, is called by the name of necessity improperly, and that all such terms as must, cannot, impossible, unable, irresistible, unavoidable, invincible, etc., when applied here, are not applied in their proper signification, and are either used nonsensically and with perfect insignificance, or in a sense quite diverse from their original and propel meaning, and their use in common speech, and that such a necessity as attends the acts of men's wills is more properly called certainty than necessity, it being no other than the certain connection between the subject and predicate of the proposition which affirms their existence." It is asserted by many that Edwards makes no distinction between the will and the sensibilities; it is thought by some that he does make a distinction; the acts of the will being acts of moral choice, the processes of the sensibilities being what he elsewhere terms "natural or animal feelings or affections."
During his virtual banishment to the Stockbridge wilderness he wrote another of his more noted works, entitled The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin defended, etc. The work was finished May 26, 1757, but was not published until 1758, several months after his death. Perhaps the distinctive peculiarity of this treatise is his defense of the doctrine that there was a constituted oneness or identity of Adam and his posterity;" that they constituted, "as it were, one complex person, or one moral whole;" that as a tree, when a century old, is one plant with the little sprout from which it grew — as the body of a man, when forty years old, is one with the infant body from which it grew — as the body and soul are one with each other, so there is a divine "constitution" according to which Adam and his posterity are "looked upon as one, and dealt with accordingly;" that in his descendants "the first existing of a corrupt disposition is not to be looked upon as sin belonging to them, distinct from their participation in Adam's first sin;" that "the guilt a man has upon his soul at his first existence is one and simple, viz., the guilt of the original apostasy, the guilt of the sin by which the species first rebelled against God. This, and the guilt arising from the first corruption or depraved disposition of the heart, are not to be looked upon as two things distinctly imputed and charged upon men in the sight of God," but are one and the same thing, according to an arbitrary constitution, like that which causes the continued identity of a river which is constantly flowing, or of an animal body which is constantly fluctuating. "When I call this an arbitrary constitution, I mean that it is a constitution which depends on nothing but the divine will, which divine will depends on nothing but the divine wisdom." During his retirement at Stockbridge, Edwards wrote his Dissertation concerning the End for which God created the World, and also his Dissertation concerning the Nature of true Virtue. On the former of these treatises he had expended much, and on the latter a life-long study. One class of his interpreters suppose that he wrote the first of these treatises with the design, and that the treatise has been followed with the result, of modifying the popular aspect of Calvinism, and of thereby removing some of the popular objections to the system as formerly held. They suppose that he designed to make the sovereignty of God appear the more amiable by showing that it is intent on the highest interests of his creatures; that the glory of God and the well-being of the universe are one and the same thing, and therefore, when God is said to govern the universe for his own glory, he is also said to govern it for its own well-being. In the second of the two last-named treatises, a treatise which, like the first, and like many of his other essays, was designed to reconcile reason with faith — a treatise the rudiments of which were written in his boyhood, and are found scattered through many of his published works — he reduces all moral goodness to ' the love of being in general," and this love he considers an act of the will as distinct from "animal or natural feeling." Those Calvinistic divines who believe that all the virtues, such as faith, justice, etc., are in their nature active, and are mere forms of benevolence, and that all sin is equally active, and is the elective preference of an inferior above a superior good, appeal to Edwards's Dissertation on Virtue as having given a marked impulse to what has been called by various names, such as the new, or the New England, or the Hopkinsian divinity. The two last-named dissertations were not published until 1788, thirty years after his death. In 1764 eighteen of Edwards's sermons were published in a volume, to which was prefixed his memoir by Dr. Samuel Hopkins. In 1777 his celebrated History of Redemption, in 1788, a new volume of his sermons, in 1789 another new volume of his sermons, in 1793 his Miscellaneous Observations on important Theological Subjects, in 1796 his Remarks on important Theological Controversies, were all published at Edinburgh, Scotland. His published works were collected and printed in eight volumes at Worcester, Mass., under the editorship of Dr. Samuel Austin, in 1809, and have been republished repeatedly in England and America. A larger edition of his writings, in ten volumes, including a new memoir, and much new material, especially his Notes on the Bible, was published at New York in 1829, under the editorial care of Rev. Dr. Sereno Edwards Dwight. Parts of this edition have been republished in England. In 1852, his work entitled Charity and its Fruits was published for the first time, and more recently a volume of his writings has been printed in England, which has never been reprinted in America.
One of most interesting aspects in which president Edwards may be viewed is that of his influence over Whitefield, Brainerd, and two of his theological pupils, Bellamy and Hopkins. Another is that of his influence over European scholars and divines. Several of his treatises were published in Great Britain before they were published in America, and the estimate formed of him by Dr. Erskine, Dr. Chalmers, Robert Hall, Dugald Stewart, Sir Henry Moncrief, Sir James Mackintosh, Dr. Priestley, Dr. George Hill, Isaac Taylor, and others, is higher than that expressed by men of the same relative position in this country. It is a remarkable fact that, while living in a kind of exile as a missionary among the Indians at Stockbridge, he was invited to the presidency of the college at Princeton, New Jersey. He was elected to the office on the 26th of September, 1757. In his first response to the trustees he expressed his great surprise at their appointment, and, among other reasons for declining it, he said, with his characteristic simplicity, "I have a constitution in many respects peculiarly unhappy, attended with flaccid solids, vapid, sizy, and scarce fluids, and a low tide of spirits, often occasioning a kind of childish weakness and contemptibleness of speech, presence, and demeanor, with a disagreeable dullness and stiffness much unfitting me for conversation, but more especially for the government of a college." He was dismissed from his Stockbridge pastorate January 4, 1758, after having labored in it six years and a half. He spent a part of January and all of February at Princeton, performing some duties at the college, but was not inaugurated until the 16th of February, 1758. He was inoculated for the small-pox on the 23d of the same month; and after the ordinary effects of the inoculation had nearly subsided, a secondary fever supervened, and he died an the 22d of March, 1758. He had then resided at Princeton about nine weeks, and had been the inaugurated president of the college just five weeks. His age was 54 years, 5 months, and 17 days. His father died in his 89th year, only two months before him; his son-in-law, president Burr, died in his 42d year, only six months before him; his daughter, Mrs. President Burr, died in her 27th year, only sixteen days after him; his wife died in her 49th year, only six months and ten days after him. The three last named are interred in the same burial ground at Princeton. (E.A.P.)