Born on October 5, 1703, Jonathan Edwards grew up to become a widely acknowledged religious preacher, philosopher and theologian. Classified as one of America’s major intellectuals, Edward worked on a broad range of original religious concepts.
Truly inspired by Locke’s philosophy and Newton’s scientific discoveries, Edward applied his intellect to reinvent and rejuvenate man’s relation with God in a way that the experience brings God’s divine blessings to His men. In his attempt at bridging the gap between man and God, Edward helped significantly in the development of American Puritanism, a concept of the 16th and 17th century which attempted to purify the institution of church from ‘popery’ of the Roman Catholic times.
The entire content of Edward’s works aims to propagate two basic concepts. First, God is the all-supreme and the all-sovereign. Second, the world is a manifestation of God’s beauty. He believed that ultimate reality is mystical and godly, further strengthened by his statement that this ‘world is an ideal one’. His works focused mainly on the metaphysical concepts of theological determinism. Moreover, Edward played a vital role in the religious movement of The First Great Awakening.
Edward wrote in detail to defend theological determinism in Freedom of the Will. He discussed the concept of free will and full freedom of choice and deemed it incoherent and unintelligible. He questioned libertarian concepts of self-determination that whether the act of choosing is led by a first act of will or is it based on causal reasons.
He stated that our acts of choosing are neither selected by us nor are they based on a motive. Thus it is not in human hands to decide his will for himself and humans cannot be held responsible for their actions.
The principle reason behind supporting theological determinism was his staunch belief in God’s sovereignty, the necessary knowledge of the reasons behind the creation of everything and God’s awareness of future events.
As George Whitefield arrived in America, he brought with himself the revolutionary Great Awakening. Newly converts ruled the Colonies, and Revivals influenced thousands of people through the intensity of their feelings. This was opposed by the ministers who attacked the Revivals. They blamed Whitefield, Edwards and various other preachers of fanning the flames of religious extremism.
Edwards was aware of the great outpour of emotions by the Converts, but he fully defended their cause as he thought it was a gush of divine blessings and grace. In several of his books, he protected the cause, among which are the Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742), and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). Edward’s hopes of a Christian Kingdom were restored by the Great Awakening.
Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was the cause of much reverence and respect from his followers and ordinary Christians. His works like The Life of David Brainerd, Religious Affections and The End for Which God Created the World continue to move and motivate millions of missionaries till date.
Jonathan Edwards passed away at the age of 55, leaving behind an influential work incomplete. Yet his philosophy has had a profound effect on the religious atmosphere of America, and has earned him the respect as the greatest of American theologians.