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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut, the only son of 11 children on October 5, 1703.

His father, Timothy Edwards (1669-1758), was a minister at East Windsor who eked out his salary by tutoring boys for college.

His mother, Esther Stoddard, daughter of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, seems to have been a woman of unusual mental gifts and independence of character.

Edwards was a child prodigy, writing a semi-humorous essay on the nature of the soul at the age of ten.

He was interested in natural history, and at the age of twelve young Jonathan wrote a remarkable essay on the habits of the "flying spider."

At the age of 13 he entered the Collegiate School of Connecticut (now Yale University).

He graduated in 1720 as valedictorian and head of his class and remained there for two more years studying theology.


Edwards was slender and fully six feet tall, and with his oval, gentle, almost feminine face, he looked the scholar and the mystic.

Jonathan Edwards was first attracted to thirteen-year-old Sarah Pierpoint because he saw in her an extraordinary cheerfulness and an almost nun-like love of God.

Sarah was the daughter of James Pierpont (1659-1714), a founder of Yale, and through her mother great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker.

Many smooth and handsome young men courted Sarah, but it was Jonathan, with his prayerful ways and deep love of God, who won her. They married on July 20, 1727 when she was 17, he was 23.

Sarah was a practical housekeeper, a model wife and the mother of three sons and eight daughters.

Edwards' family has produced 14 college presidents, 100 college professors, 100 lawyers, 30 judges, 60 doctors and 100 clergy and missionaries (including his son Jonathan Edwards (1745-1801) a theologian).


On February 15, 1727, Edwards was ordained minister at Northampton, Massachusetts and assistant to his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. He was a scholar-pastor, not a visiting pastor, his rule being 13 hours of study a day.

Solomon Stoddard died on February 11, 1729, leaving Jonathan Edwards the difficult task of the sole ministerial charge of one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the colony.

When Jonathan Edwards preached, he would read his sermons word-for-word in a monotonous tone, rarely lifting his head to look at the listeners. Yet still the power of God moved in people's hearts through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.

In 1731, in Boston, Jonathan Edwards preached his first public attack on Arminianism, then popular in New England, and, in a sermon entitled “God Glorified in Man's Dependence”, called for a return to rigorous Calvinism.

Three years later Edwards delivered a series of powerful sermons on the subject of Calvinism. The result of his sermons was a religious revival in which a great number of conversions were made; Edwards received 300 new members into his church.

In 1740 the British evangelist George Whitefield visited Edwards. Together, the two men started the Great Awakening, which soon was engulfing all New England and breathed new life into religion in America.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was a sermon written by Jonathan Edwards. When he preached it on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut, Edwards was interrupted many times by people moaning and crying out, "What shall I do to be saved?"

The immediate fallout was that men held onto church pews and trees outside to keep from slipping into hell. The power of it was so profound that word of that sermon and it's immediate effects spread all over New England in days and all over England within weeks. The words have endured and are still read to this day.

Experiences in the Great Awakening convinced Edwards that allowing unconverted persons to participate in Holy Communion was wrong. His congregation disagreed and voted to dismiss him in 1750.

Edwards was in high demand. In 1751, he was appointed pastor of the church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts and a missionary to the Housatonic Indians. He preached to the Indians through an interpreter, and boldly and successfully defended their interests by attacking the whites who were using their official positions among them to increase their private fortunes.

During his time in Stockbridge, Edwards composed the treatises on which his reputation as a philosophical theologian chiefly rests. They include A Careful and Strict Enquiry into … Notions of … Freedom of Will … in which he argued that people are free to do as they please and therefore morally responsible for their actions.


On February 16, 1758 Edwards was installed as President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).

Almost immediately after becoming president, Edwards, a strong supporter of smallpox inoculations, decided to get inoculated himself in order to encourage others to do the same. Unfortunately, he died of the inoculation on March 22, 1758.

His last words were, “Trust in God and you will not fear”.

Edwards is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

Source Encarta Encyclopedia

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