Jonathan Edwards was born October 5, 1703, in what is now South Windsor, Conn., a part of the parish then known as “Windsor Farmes.” His father, the Rev. Timothy Edwards, the minister of the parish, a Harvard graduate, was reputed a man of superior ability and polished manners, a lover of learning as well as of religion; in addition to his pastoral duties, he fitted young men for college, and his liberal views of education appear in the fact that he made his daughters pursue the same studies these youths did. His mother, a daughter of the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, the minister of Northampton, is said to have resembled her distinguished father in strength of character and to have surpassed her husband in the native vigor of her mind. As regards remoter ancestry and their intellectual and moral qualities, Edwards seems also to have been well born; an exception, however, must be made of the eccentric and possibly insane grandmother on his father’s side, whose outrageous conduct led to her divorce.
Brought up the only son in a family of ten daughters, apart from all distracting influences, in an atmosphere of religion and serious study in the home, amid natural surroundings of meadows, woods, and low-lying distant hills singularly conducive to a life of contemplation, the boy early developed that absorbing interest in the things of the spirit, and that astonishing acuteness of intellect which are the most prominent characteristics of his genius. While a mere child he spent much of his time in religious exercises and in conversation on religious matters with other boys, with some of whom he joined to build a booth in a retired spot in a swamp for secret prayer; he had besides several other such places for prayer in the woods to which he was wont to retire. His mind also dwelt much on the doctrines he was taught, especially on the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in election, against which he at that time violently rebelled. When only ten years of age he wrote a short, quaint, somewhat humorous little tract on the immortality of the soul; at about twelve he composed a remarkably accurate and ingenious paper on the habits of the “flying spider.”
He entered the Collegiate School of Connecticut at Saybrook—afterwards Yale College—at thirteen, and in 1720, shortly before his seventeenth birthday, graduated at New Haven with the valedictory. In his Sophomore year he made the acquaintance of Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding—a work which left a permanent impress on his thinking. He read it, he says, with a far higher pleasure “than the most greedy miser finds when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold from some newly-discovered treasure.” Under its influence he began a series of Notes on the Mind, with a view to a comprehensive treatise on mental philosophy. He also began, possibly somewhat later, a series of Notes on Natural Science, with reference to a similar work on natural philosophy. It is in these early writings that we find the outlines of an idealistic theory which resembles, but was probably not at all derived from, that of Berkeley, and which seems to have remained a determining factor in his speculations to the last.
After graduating he continued to reside for two years in New Haven, studying for the ministry. From August, 1722, till the following April he supplied the pulpit of a small Presbyterian congregation in New York, but declined the invitation to remain as their minister. After returning to his father’s home in Windsor, he received at least two other calls, one of which he seems to have accepted. In September, 1723, he went to New Haven to receive his Master’s degree, was appointed a tutor at the college, entered upon the active duties of that office in June, 1724, and continued in the same till September, 1726, when he resigned his tutorship to become colleague-pastor with his grandfather Stoddard in the church at Northampton.
The spiritual history of Edwards in these years of growth from youth to early manhood is recorded by his own hand in a narrative of personal experiences written at a later date for his own use, in fragments of a diary, and in a series of resolutions which he drew up for the conduct of his own life. These documents, which were first published by his biographer and descendant, Sereno E. Dwight, in 1829, throw a flood of light on Edwards’s character and temperament, and serve to explain much in his life which would otherwise be obscure. He tells us in his narrative how the childish delight in the exercises of religion before referred to gradually declined; how at length “he turned like a dog to his vomit, and went on in the ways of sin;” then how, after much conflict of soul, he experienced toward the end of his college course a genuine conversion, issuing in a new life and, in the course of time, a deep and delightful sense of God’s sovereignty, the excellency of Christ, and the beauty of holiness. There is possibly some exaggeration in Edwards’s description of this lapse and this recovery, but it was at least a very real experience to him, and it doubtless contributed to the emphasis which he afterwards put on conversion in his preaching. His own state after this decisive change was at times one of mystic rapture—“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 wrapped and swallowed up in God.” His diary is the record of a soul straining in its flight. He watches the fluctuations of his moods with almost morbid intensity, and yet in a way by no means merely conventional, and with a singular absence of sentimentality, so evidently sincere and, in a sense, objective are his observations. Of his seventy Resolutions, all written before he was twenty, the following may be taken as a specimen: it is the language of a mind as truly original as religious, and is eminently characteristic. “On the supposition that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed, Resolved: To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.” And he did so act; these resolutions were not empty, they really determined his life.
Edwards was ordained at Northampton, February 15, 1727, being then in his twenty-fourth year. Five months later, July 28, he married the beautiful Sarah Pierrepont, then seventeen, the daughter of the Rev. James Pierrepont, of New Haven, one of the founders, and a prominent trustee, of Yale College, and on her mother’s side, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Hooker, “the father of the Connecticut churches.” Edwards’s description of her, written four years before their marriage, is famous. The union proved a singularly happy one, the intelligence, cheerfulness, piety, and practical sagacity of Mrs. Edwards combining to make her at once a congenial companion and a most useful helpmeet to her zealously devout, highly intellectual, but often low-spirited husband, immersed in his writings and his books. They had twelve children, all born in Northampton. Mr. Stoddard died February 11, 1729, leaving the young minister in full pastoral charge. It was a responsible undertaking for so young a man to guide the affairs of a church reputed the largest and wealthiest in the colony outside of Boston, one too on which the venerable and venerated Stoddard had stamped the impress of his strong personality during a ministry of nearly sixty years. Edwards, as he later confesses, made mistakes. Nevertheless, he succeeded in winning and holding the confidence, admiration, and affection of the people during the greater part of the twenty-three years of his ministry in Northampton. He carried the church through two great periods of revival (1734-35, 1740-42), and added over five hundred and fifty names to its membership. This, however, represents but a small part of his influence in these years. Both by his preaching in Northampton and elsewhere and by his published writings, notably his printed sermons and his works dealing with the revivals, in which must be included his treatise on the Religious Affections, he powerfully affected the currents of religious thought and life throughout New England and the neighboring colonies and, to some extent also, in England and Scotland. His mission had been to recall the Puritan churches, which for some seventy years had languished in a period of decline, to the old high Puritan standards both of creed and of conduct, and to infuse into them a new spirit of vital piety. In this he was largely successful; and still to-day, in spite of wide departures from his theological system, he remains an effectual spiritual force in the churches inheriting the Puritan tradition.
The estrangement between Edwards and his people began in 1744, in connection with a case of discipline in which a large number of the youth belonging to the leading families of the town were brought under suspicion of reading and circulating immoral books. During the excitement of the revival the people had willingly accepted his high demands. But now, in the reaction, flesh and blood rebelled. Edwards, however, was not the man to accommodate the claims of religion, as he conceived those claims, to the weaknesses of human nature. It would not be strange if, under the circumstances, the people looked on their minister as something of a spiritual dictator, exercising a kind of spiritual tyranny. Still, this feeling, so far as it then existed, was not likely to have led to an open rupture, had it not been that four years later, on occasion of an application—the first in those years—for membership in the church, Edwards sought to impose a new test of qualification. He required, namely, that the candidate for full communion should give evidence of being converted, and as such converted person, should make a public profession of godliness. This restriction ran counter to the principles and usage established by Mr. Stoddard, accepted by most of the neighboring churches, and hitherto followed by Edwards himself, according to which, not only might persons be admitted to church membership on the terms of the “Halfway Covenant,” but they might come to the Lord’s Supper, if they desired to do so, even without the assurance of conversion, the hope being that the rite might itself prove a converting ordinance. Edwards was now openly charged with seeking to lord it over the brethren, and the indignation was intense. He, on his part, was convinced of the correctness of his position, and was prepared to maintain it at all costs. The unhappy controversy lasted for two years: Edwards dignified, courteous, disposed to be conciliatory, yet insisting on the recognition of his rights, and showing throughout his great moral and intellectual superiority; the people prejudiced, obstinate, refusing even to consider his views or to allow him to set them forth in the pulpit, bent only on getting rid of him. Finally, on June 22, 1750, the Council, convened to advise on the matter, recommended, by a vote of 10 to 9, the minority protesting, that the pastoral relations should be dissolved. The concurrent sentiment of the church was expressed by the overwhelming vote of about 200 to 20 of the male members. The next Sunday but one Edwards preached his Farewell Sermon.
Edwards was now forty-six years of age, unfitted, as he says, for any other business but study, and with a “numerous and chargeable family” to face the world with. The long controversy and the circumstances attending the dismissal had had a depressing effect on his spirits, and the outlook seemed to him gloomy in the extreme. But his trust was in God, and friends did not fail. From Scotland came the offer of assistance in procuring him a charge there; his Northampton adherents desired him to remain and form a separate church in the town. Early in December he received a call from the little church in Stockbridge, on the frontier, and about the same time an invitation from the Commissioners in Boston of the “Society in London for Propagating the Gospel in New England and the parts adjacent” to become their missionary to the Indians, who then formed a large part of the Stockbridge settlement. After acquainting himself by a residence of several months in Stockbridge with the conditions of the work, and after receiving satisfactory assurances, in a personal interview with the Governor, with regard to the conduct of the Indian mission, he accepted both of these proposals. He had scarcely done so when he received a call, with the promise of generous support, from a church in Virginia.
The opposition which had driven him from Northampton followed him to Stockbridge. For several years a persistent effort was made to obstruct his work, particularly his work among the Indians, and even to secure his removal. But he successfully met this opposition, won the confidence of the Indians, and greatly endeared himself to the “English.” Here, too, in the wilderness he found time and opportunity for the writing of those great treatises on the Freedom of the Will, on the End for which God created the World, on the Nature of True Virtue, and on the Christian Doctrine of Original Sin, which are the principal foundation of his theological reputation.
Meanwhile an event had occurred in Edwards’s family destined to have important consequences—the marriage of his daughter Esther to the Rev. Aaron Burr, President of Nassau Hall, in Princeton. In September, 1757, Mr. Burr died; two days later, the Corporation appointed Edwards as his successor. Edwards was for various reasons reluctant to accept the appointment; he mistrusted his fitness, he especially feared that the duties of the office would seriously interrupt the literary work in which he was now engrossed. Nevertheless, on the recommendation of a Council called at his desire to advise in the matter, he accepted the call. He left Stockbridge in January, and toward the end of the month reached Princeton. But the only work he did as President of the College was to preach for five or six Sundays and to give out themes in divinity to the Senior Class, with whom he afterwards discussed their papers on them. The small-pox was epidemic in the town when he arrived, and as a precautionary measure he had himself inoculated. The disease, mild at first, developed badly, and on March 22, 1758, he died. From his death-bed he sent this tender and characteristic message to his wife, who was still in Stockbridge: “Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature, as, I trust, is spiritual, and therefore will continue forever.” His last words, also characteristic, were, “Trust in God, and ye need not fear.”
A tall, spare man, with high, broad forehead, clear piercing eyes, prominent nose, thin, set lips and a rather weak chin, his whole appearance suggested the perspicacity of intellect and the integrity, refinement, and benevolence of character of one possessing little physical energy, little suited to practical affairs, but intensely alive in the spirit, intensely absorbed in the contemplation of things invisible and eternal. The two qualities, indeed, for which he is most distinguished are spirituality and intellectuality. Spiritual-mindedness was the very core and essence of his being. Religion was his element. God was to him absolute Reality; His will and His thoughts alone constituted the ultimate truth and meaning of things. Nor was this with Edwards a mere philosophical speculation; it was the high region in which he drew vital breath, the solid ground on which he walked. He walked with God. He has been called the “Saint of New England.” Like other saints, he too has on occasion his ecstasies.
To this high spirituality, with its rich emotional coloring, was united a power and subtlety of intellect such as is possessed by only the very greatest masters of the mind. The spiritual world in which Edwards moved was for him no mere shadowy realm of pious sentiment or vague aspiration, but a world whose main outlines, at least, were sharply defined for thought. He conceived it, namely, in accordance with the scheme of things systematized by Calvin, but originally wrought out with the compelling force of transcendent genius by Augustine. The theological thought of Augustine is concerned—to put the matter as simply as possible—with the elaboration of four fundamental ideas: the absolute sovereignty of God; the absolute dependence of man; the supernatural revelation of a divinely originated plan of salvation administered by the Church; and a philosophy of history according to which the whole created universe and the entire temporal course of events are ordered and governed from all eternity with reference to the establishment and triumph of a Kingdom of saints in the Church, the holy “City of God.” Augustine’s conception of the Church is modified, but not in principle rejected, by the Protestant theologians; the other features of the scheme remain substantially unchanged. The idea of God’s absolute sovereignty leads naturally, in connection with the motives supplied by certain teachings of Scripture, Roman jurisprudence, Greek philosophy, and the experiences of a profound religious consciousness, to the doctrines of God’s eternal foreknowledge, His “arbitrary,” i.e., unconditional decrees,—the eternal world-plan,—predestination, election, the historic work of redemption, everlasting punishment for the unrepentant wicked, everlasting felicity for the elect saints. Over against the sovereignty of God stands man’s absolute dependence, historically conditioned, as regards his present spiritual capacities, by the Fall, with original sin, total depravity, and the utter inability of man to recover by himself his lost heritage as its consequence. Hence the great, the essential tragedy of human life—man naturally corrupt, in slavery to sin, at enmity with God, utterly incompetent to change a condition in which, by a sort of natural necessity, he is the subject of God’s vindictive justice, utterly dependent for salvation on the free, unmerited grace of God, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy, while whom He will He hardeneth, revealing alike in mercy and in punishment the majesty of His divine and sovereign attributes.
This, in general, is the scheme which Edwards stands for, he most conspicuously of all men of modern times. His speculative genius gave to this scheme a metaphysical background, his logical acumen elaboration and defence. He modified it in some respects, e.g., in his doctrine of the will. What is more important, he gave a prominence to the inward state of man—the dispositions and affections of his mind and heart—which appreciably affected the relative values of the scheme, and which has, in fact, changed the entire complexion of the religious thought of New England. But as to the general scheme itself, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of life it expresses, there is nothing in that which is essentially original with Edwards. In standing for these doctrines he but champions the great orthodox tradition.
But however little original may be the content of his thought, there is nothing that is not in the highest degree original in his manner of thinking. The significant thing about Edwards is the way he enters into the tradition, infuses it with his personality and makes it live. The vitality of his thought gives to its product the value of a unique creation. Two qualities in him especially contribute to this result, large constructive imagination and a marvellously acute power of abstract reasoning. With the vision of the seer he looks steadily upon his world, which is the world of all time and space and existence, and sees it as a whole; God and souls are in it the great realities, and the transactions between them the great business in which all its movement is concerned; and this movement has in it nothing haphazard, it is eternally determined with reference to a supreme and glorious end, the manifestation of the excellency of God, the highest excellency of being. All the dark and tragic aspects of the vision, which for him is intensely real, take their place along with the other aspects, in a system, a system wherein every part derives meaning and worth from its relation to the whole. People have wondered how Edwards, the gentlest of men, could contemplate, as he said he did, with sweetness and delight, the awful doctrine of the divine sovereignty interpreted, as he interpreted it, as implying the everlasting misery of a large part of the human race. The reason is no revolting indifference, callous and inhuman, to suffering; the reason is rather the personal detachment, the disinterested interest, the freedom from the “pathetic fallacy” of the great poet, the great constructive thinker. It is this large quality in Edwards’s imagination which is one source of his power. Another is the thoroughness and ability with which he intellectually elaborates the details of his scheme. He wrote, indeed, no system of divinity; yet he is the very opposite of a fragmentary thinker, and few minds have been less episodic than was his. His intellectual constructions are large and solid. Of the doctrines with which he deals, he leaves nothing undeveloped; with infinite patience he pushes his inquiries into every minute detail and remote consequence, putting his adversaries to confusion by the unremitting attack, the overwhelming massiveness of the argument. Rarely indeed can one escape his conclusions who accepts his premises. Moreover, by the thoroughness, acuteness and sincerity of his reasoning he powerfully stimulates the intellectual faculties. Even in his most terrific sermons he never appeals to mere hope and fear, nor to mere authority; in them, as in his theological treatises, he is bent on demonstrating, within the limits prescribed by the underlying assumptions, the reasonableness of his doctrine, its agreement with the facts of life and the constitution of things, as well as with the inspired teachings of the Word.
Now these qualities appear, as in his other writings, so also, and perhaps most conspicuously, in his sermons. Edwards’s chief public work and his chief reputation in his lifetime was as a preacher; the fame of his theological treatises is largely, indeed, posthumous. He was a great preacher. In the case of many of the older divines, it is difficult for us now to understand how they could ever have been considered great preachers: to us their sermons seem dry and insipid. But it is not so with Edwards. Even in print, after more than a hundred and fifty years, and notwithstanding the gulf which separates our age from his, his sermons are still deeply interesting. They are interesting because, among other things, they reveal a great and interesting personality. They are instinct with the energy of his intellect, they are vital with the vital touch of his genius. He preached his theology; some of his sermons—for instance, the sermon, or rather combination of sermons, on Justification by Faith—seem to be less sermons than highly elaborate theological disquisitions, adapted to the use of professional students. And there is doubtless no sermon of his which does not reflect, to some extent, his theological system. Edwards was certainly impressed with The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth—the theme and title of one of his ablest discourses. He held that God had revealed Himself not only to the heart, but to the mind of man, and that an intelligent apprehension of the revelation was indispensable, in some measure, alike to saving faith and to the development of Christian character. But it would be a mistake to think of Edwards as preaching the dry bones of his theology. He was far, indeed, from supposing, as some now seem to suppose, that a Christian society can be the more perfectly organized in proportion as all definiteness of theological, that is, distinctively religious, conceptions is eliminated. He had too profound a respect for the intellect to exclude it from matters of the deepest speculative as well as practical moment, and he had too lofty an idea of religion to identify it either with vague, transcendental emotion or with merely personal, social, or political morality. His sermons, however, are by no means all of one type. On the contrary, they are of a great variety of types. They are “doctrinal,” “practical,” “experimental,” and—taking into account the unpublished manuscripts—there is an unusually large number of “occasional” sermons. And there are a good many varieties within the types. But even when the sermons are most “doctrinal,” the practical interest of a living conviction of the truth is never absent. The abstract antithesis of thought and life, of theory and practice, as though thinking were not itself a doing or as though an attitude toward truth were not itself practical or capable of determining other practical attitudes, is an error from which Edwards is wholesomely free.
To say this is not necessarily to approve the content of his doctrinal preaching. The thought of the churches with which Edwards was associated has moved away from his thought. He contended stoutly for his scheme of things, but he fought, it would seem, a losing fight. It is not that he has been refuted by abstract logic; the argument by which he has been set aside, so far as he has been set aside, is the logic of events. The change has been brought about no doubt by many influences. Some of them seem purely sentimental. But there are two things at least of fundamental divergence in the character of our time—the development in us of a critically disciplined historical sense and the dominating influence in our modern science and philosophy of the idea of evolution. These have broken down those hard and fast distinctions between nature and the supernatural, nature and grace, human reason and divine revelation in which Edwards delighted, at least in the form in which he habitually preached them. With the establishment, on the lines of historical criticism, of new canons of exegesis in the interpretation of Scripture and with the gradual disappearance of the idea of the Bible as an external authority, Protestant Christianity is at present confronting the question, whether the entire claim of Christianity to be a supernatural revelation, in the sense in which the term “supernatural” is used by orthodox theologians, has not been misplaced. This is a question which Edwards never raises and which he does not help us directly to solve. He has the mind of a speculative philosopher, has a very profound thought of God, grasps firmly the eternal spiritual significance of things; but he is deficient in the historical sense—his History of Redemption is a wholly uncritical, dogmatic construction, and he is not speculative enough to find, or at least he works under conditions which prevent him from showing, the mediating principles by which the antitheses and contradictions of experience and theory can be reconciled and annulled.
But to return to the sermons. Edwards’s sermons are constructed, in general, on a definite model. We have, first, the Exposition of the text. We have, secondly, a clearly formulated statement of the Doctrine, which is then developed under its appropriate and preannounced divisions. Finally, we have what is variously called the Improvement, Use, or Application, similarly developed. The “Doctrine” is not usually an abstract theological dogma: it is simply the theme of the discourse stated in propositional form. Thus an unpublished sermon on John i. 41, 42 has this for its statement of doctrine: “When persons have truly come to Christ themselves, they naturally desire to bring others also to him.” Another unpublished sermon on John iii. 7 has this: “’Tis no wonder that Christ said that we must be born again.” In another—also unpublished—from the text John i. 47 the doctrine is the similarly simple statement, “’Tis a great thing to be indeed a converted person.” Sometimes, though rarely, the statement of a doctrine is omitted altogether, the text itself being regarded as sufficiently defining the subject. This, however, is never the case with the Application. Indeed, so “practical” is Edwards in his preaching that the Application is sometimes much the larger part of the discourse. In the sermon on John i. 47, for example, it fills about two-thirds of the manuscript. In fact, the proportion of these parts, Exposition, Development of Doctrine and Application, depends entirely on the nature of the theme and the special ends of the sermon. And similarly of the length and number of the subdivisions. One feature is constant—strictly logical arrangement. However finely articulated the sermons may be, they are constructed so as to make a distinctly unified impression. Nor is this unity of impression seriously interfered with, as a rule, by the length of the sermon. Edwards was not in the habit of exhausting the attention of his audience. Occasionally, however, he would develop his theme through two or more sermons. When these appear in the printed editions as a single discourse, the length naturally seems inordinate. In the manuscripts the parts of such compound sermons are indicated by the word “Doc” (Doctrine) at the divisions, suggesting that the preacher was wont, in renewing the theme, to remind his hearers of the precise nature of the subject under discussion.
And as there was no confusion in the thought, so the style of Edwards’s sermons is singularly clear, simple and unstudied. He affects no graces, seeks no adornments, which the subject-matter itself and his interest in it do not naturally lend. “The style is the man” is a saying which peculiarly applies to him. The nobility, strength and directness of his thought, the vividness and largeness of his imagination, the truthfulness and elevation of his character, the intensity of his convictions, his impassioned earnestness are reflected in his discourses. They seem to have been to an unusual degree a spontaneous form of self-expression. But attention is never diverted from the subject to the skill of the workmanship. The object is not to delight, but to convince, and the attainment of this end is sought by direct methods of argument, persuasion and appeal. Yet the style, though simple and straightforward, is very far from being barren. The sermons are full of great, rich, beautiful words; and there are many passages in them of wonderful charm as well as many of great sublimity and rhetorical power. But Edwards’s interest in these seems never merely verbal. He is not a maker of phrases. He makes use of striking metaphor and startling antithesis, his style is often picturesque, he well knows the rhetorical value of iteration, when the repeated phrase is employed in a varied context; but he never seeks to produce his effects by literary indirection. He can be easy, familiar, colloquial even, on occasion, if that suits his purpose; but he is never undignified, never vulgarly sensational, nor does he seem ever to be intentionally humorous. The construction of his sentences is often such as the pedantry of modern standards would condemn; but however old-fashioned, it is seldom indeed that the expression can be called whimsical or quaint. The most determining external influence on his style was unquestionably the old, so-called King James version of the English Bible. His language is saturated with its thought and phraseology. And as he is intimately acquainted with it in all its parts, so he is continually quoting it and constantly surprising us with fresh discoveries, in novel collocations, of its variety, beauty and impressiveness. He was influenced also doubtless by his too exclusively theological and philosophical reading. But it is, in the end, the originality of his own genius, the depth and subtlety and force of his mind and the richness of his spiritual experiences, which we must regard as setting the stamp upon his style. Edwards’s sermons are hall-marked: they have not only interest as historical memorials of the religious conditions of their time; as the personal expressions of an original mind, working in traditional material, indeed, but animating and so refashioning it with the unique form of a great personality, they have also the value of literature.
Largely to the union of the intellectual and emotional elements mentioned—the definiteness of the message, the logical unity of the thought, the singleness and sincerity of the aim, the intensity of the conviction, the thorough knowledge of Scripture, the profound acquaintance, through personal experience, of the religious movings of the human heart—must be attributed, in connection with the state of religious thought and feeling of the time and the respect aroused by the character of the preacher, the power which he exercised on his contemporaries. Of his manner of preaching we have from his pupil, Hopkins, the following authentic testimony. “His appearance in the desk was with a good grace, and his delivery easy, natural and very solemn. He had not a strong, loud voice, but appeared with such gravity and solemnity, and spake with such distinctness, clearness and precision, his words were so full of ideas, set in such a plain and striking light, that few speakers have been so able to demand the attention of an audience as he. His words often discovered a great degree of inward fervor, without much noise or external emotion, and fell with great weight on the minds of his hearers. He made but little motion of his head or hands in the desk, but spake as to discover the motion of his own heart, which tended in the most natural and effectual manner to move and affect others.
“As he wrote his sermons out at large for many years, and always wrote a considerable part of most of his public discourses, so he carried his notes into the desk with him, and read the most that he wrote; yet he was not so confined to his notes, when he wrote at large, but that, if some thoughts were suggested, while he was speaking, which did not occur when writing, and appeared to him pertinent and striking, he would deliver them; and that with as great propriety, and oftener with greater pathos, and attended with a more sensible good effect on his hearers, than all he had wrote.”
The sermons in the present volume have been selected as representative of Edwards the preacher rather than of Edwards the theologian. Any such collection must include at least the following four: the sermon on Man’s Dependence, the sermon on Spiritual Light, the Enfield Sermon and the Farewell Sermon. These are classic. Moreover, they represent Edwards in four of his most distinguishing aspects: as the powerful champion of a theology resting ultimately on the principle of a transcendent, righteous, sovereign Will; as the equally convinced advocate of the mystical principle of an immediate, intuitive apprehension, through supernatural illumination, of divine truth; as the flaming revivalist, with pitiless logic and terrible realism of description, arousing, startling, overwhelming the sinner with the sense of impending doom; finally, as the rejected minister appealing, without rancor or bitterness, from the judgment of this world to the judgment of an infallible tribunal and displaying what must ever make him more interesting, more precious as a heritage to the Church and the world, than any of his opinions or his works, the dignity and repose, the patience, strength and depth of a great character, perfected through suffering and apparent defeat, in what was virtually the Apologia of his ministerial life. These sermons alone would suffice to justify Edwards’s reputation as the foremost preacher of his age. Still, they cannot, of course, be taken as adequately representing the whole range and power of his discourses. In particular, the Enfield sermon, which has loomed so large in the popular imagination of Jonathan Edwards, and which, in fact, is but one—to be sure, the most extreme—of a number of the same type, cannot be taken as fairly representative even of Edwards’s revival sermons. There has, therefore, been added, in this reference, a revival sermon of another type, the sermon on Ruth’s Resolution. This sermon was chosen, not because it is better than some others, but because, while being an excellent sermon of its kind, it is also brief, and so better adapted to the scope of this volume. There has been further added, as representing a type distinctly different from any of the others, the funeral sermon entitled A Strong Rod Broken and Withered, which is certainly one of the noblest, in thought and expression, of Edwards’s discourses, and which is probably unique among his writings as dealing with the subject of civil government and the management of affairs. Had space permitted, the picture of the Christian statesman in this sermon might have been matched by the picture of the Christian minister in one of the ordination sermons; but the omission is the less serious since the conception is so largely realized in Edwards himself.
The above six sermons were selected independently of the fact that they are among the ten published by their author; but this circumstance confirms the choice and, moreover, serves to authenticate the text. Edwards has suffered not a little at the hands of his editors, particularly Dwight, who seems to have been possessed by the idea that his author would appear to better advantage in a style and language more elegant and refined. “Don’t do as Orpah did,” pleads Edwards in the Ruth sermon; “Do not as Orpah did,” is the feeble refinement of his editor. But even the generally accurate Worcester or First American Edition (1809) is not to be implicitly trusted; for instance, two whole pages are omitted at the end of the Enfield sermon, giving to that sermon a startling and bizarre close, wholly out of keeping with Edwards’s habitual manner. Later editions import other errors and, even while professing to follow the Worcester edition, sometimes, in fact, follow not that edition, but Dwight’s (e.g., in the Ruth sermon). The present text is based upon a careful comparison of the original editions, now very scarce, in the Boston Athenæum. The original expressions, ’tis, won’t, don’t, etc., as Edwards himself printed them, have been restored, a number of verbal errors in the later editions corrected and several omitted lines recovered, besides the long passage already mentioned, which is, however, in Dwight, at the end of the Enfield sermon. No attempt, however, has been made to give a facsimile reproduction of the first editions with all their printer’s errors, capricious spelling, antiquated punctuation and uncouth use of capitals and italics. These externalities could but distract the modern reader, while adding nothing essential to accuracy. In these respects, therefore, the more modern usage has been followed. The aim has simply been to give the exact words of the originals and to preserve their spirit, treating the sermons as sermons to be preached and not as essays to be read. Accordingly, while avoiding the extremes of the first editions, italics have been used where Edwards used them to mark divisions, or for special emphasis, somewhat more freely than would be customary now. This edition also follows his, and the Biblical, use of ordinary type in personal pronouns referring to divine beings, the verbal reverence in the modern use of capitals being regarded as needless to enhance the real reverence of Edwards’s thought and possibly a little out of place. Added words are enclosed within square brackets.
Besides the six sermons mentioned, the present collection includes one, the interesting if not exactly great sermon on the Many Mansions, which has not before been published. A copy of this sermon made for the late Professor Edwards A. Park, of Andover, was kindly put at the disposal of the editor by his son, the Rev. Dr. William E. Park, of Gloversville, N.Y.; but it has also been carefully collated with the original manuscript. The editor has also examined the original manuscripts of all the other sermons in this volume, except that of the Farewell Sermon, which could not be discovered. These manuscripts are all in the collection of between eleven and twelve hundred of Edwards’s sermons now in the Yale University Library. Most of these manuscripts are written in an exceedingly minute hand, with many abbreviations and occasionally with insertions in shorthand, on sheets of paper about 3⅝ × 4⅛in. in size, stoutly stitched together. The facsimile of the first page of the sermon on Spiritual Light given in this volume opposite p.21 is representative; a relatively small number are slightly larger. Of the particular manuscripts some account will be found in the notes. The handling and deciphering of these manuscripts give one a curious sense of intimacy with the working of Edwards’s brain and heart: one is with him in his workshop and sees, as it were, the very thing in the making. One seems to feel the intensity of the excitement as, with his audience present in imagination, and with keen delight in the activity of literary creation, he works out his theme. One observes how alternative forms of expression, alternative lines of development, suggest themselves, and how now whole paragraphs, whole pages are struck off at white heat, while now, oftenest towards the end, the barest outlines are jotted down, to be filled out in delivery. But the manuscripts of the sermons which Edwards himself published afford no help in the fixing of the text. The sermons as he printed them are invariably expanded and often greatly altered in other respects; and the copy prepared for the printer is no longer extant. This circumstance should not be overlooked in judging of sermons printed directly from the manuscripts. In the Yale collection, there are sermons which were written out pretty fully; others are only fairly fully written out in parts, others again are mere skeletons. The majority of those of the Northampton period are of the second sort. Among the hundreds of Edwards’s unpublished sermons, there are doubtless many that it would be interesting to have in print just as they stand; it is doubtful if there are any which would add materially to his reputation as a preacher in comparison with the great sermons already published.
The portrait of Edwards in this volume is from a recent photograph of the original painting of 1740. The photograph was kindly furnished by the present owner of the painting, Mr. Eugene P. Edwards, of Chicago, to whom the editor takes this opportunity of expressing his obligations. He also desires to express his thanks to Dr. William E. Park for the use of the copy of the sermon on the Many Mansions; to the publishers for allowing the extra space required for printing this new sermon; to Professor Franklin B. Dexter for generous help in the study of the manuscripts and for permission to photograph the sermon on Spiritual Light; to Mr. Charles K. Bolton, Librarian of the Boston Athenæum, for courtesies in the use of the first editions; and to Mr. George N. Whipple of Boston, for verifying a number of references.