“Jonathan Edwards is probably the best example in this country of a predestination evangelist. This New England Puritan preached, with equal vigor and insistence, the decrees of God and the responsibility of men.” John H. Gerstner
“As a Bible lover, a Calvinist, a teacher of heart-religion, a gospel preacher of unction and power, and, above all, a man who loved Christ, hated sin, feared God, Edwards was a pure Puritan; indeed, one of the greatest of all the Puritans.” J. I. Packer
“In this world, so full of darkness and delusion, it is of great importance that all should be able to distinguish between true religion and that which is false. In this, perhaps none has taken more pains, or labored more successfully, than he whose life is set before the reader.” Unknown
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is referred to and identified as America’s greatest theologian and philosopher and the last Puritan. God used him as a powerful instrument during the First Great Awakening. Edwards was also a champion of Christian zeal and spirituality. Both Christian and secular scholars agree on his importance in American history.
The riches from Edwards’s writings have been searched, pondered, and evaluated to the present day. His famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” is still being read and studied in America’s public schools as a specimen of eighteenth-century literature. Students of American history pay much attention to Edwards’s scientific, philosophical, and psychological writings while theologians and church historians regard Edwards’s work on revivals as unexcelled in analysis and scope.
Christians to this day continue to read his sermons with great appreciation for their rich doctrine, clear and forceful style, and powerful depiction of the majesty of God, the sinfulness of sin, and Christ’s power to save.
However, not everyone agrees about Edwards’s place in the history of Christian scholarship. There are those who continue to debate his philosophical considerations, his commitment to certain historic Calvinist or Reformed theological doctrines, and his influence upon subsequent generations. As Iain H. Murray notes, “Edwards divided men in his lifetime and to no less degree he continues to divide his biographers”
Edwards was born October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was the only son of eleven children born to Timothy Edwards and Esther Stoddard, daughter of Solomon Stoddard. Both Edwards’s father and maternal grandfather greatly influenced his education and career. Solomon Stoddard served for sixty years as minister of the parish church of Northampton, Massachusetts. He was a powerful force in the pulpit, a leader in the churches of western Massachusetts and along the Connecticut River, and a gifted writer. Timothy Edwards was highly educated and also well known as a preacher.
Like many other ministers in that day, Timothy Edwards conducted a grammar school in his home, preparing boys for Connecticut’s Collegiate School, known as Yale College after 1718. The school was founded in 1701 as an orthodox Congregationalist alternative to Harvard College.
As one Edwards’ biographer explains, “Edwards received his early education in his father’s school, where he was nurtured and instructed in Reformed theology and the practice of Puritan piety. At age thirteen, he went on to the Collegiate School, which as yet had no permanent home. Several towns were competing for the honor of playing host to the fledgling institution. Edwards went to the nearest location, downriver from Windsor at Wethersfield, to begin his studies with Elisha Williams. When the college finally located at New Haven in 1716 under the rector- ship of Timothy Cutler, Edwards went to New Haven, where the course of study included classical and biblical languages, logic, and natural philosophy. He was awarded the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1720, finishing at the top of his class, and then stayed at Yale to study for a master’s degree.”
Edwards’s spiritual life was influenced by various factors. His parents were a godly example and nurtured Edwards toward godliness. He went through several periods of spiritual conviction in his childhood and youth, which culminated in his conversion in 1721 after being impacted by the words of 1 Timothy 1:17, “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Edwards stated regarding his conversion, “As I read [these] words, there came into my soul…a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense quite different from anything I ever experienced before…. I kept saying and as it were singing over those words of Scripture to myself and went to pray to God that I might enjoy Him…. From that time 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. And my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, in the beauty of his person and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in Him.”
Following his education, conversion and an eight month sabbatical, Edwards was ready to begin serving the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!