Hartford County, Connecticut
Jonathan Edwards, who is considered the greatest of modern divines, was a native of this town (East Windsor). He was born Oct. 5th, 1703, about one mile north of the first Congregational church, and a few rods north of a small stream crossing the road, called Stoughton's brook. His father's house (the Rev. Timothy Edwards) stood on the east side of the road, and resembled very much the appearance of Mr. Hooker's, 'He was educated at Yale College, and took the degree of bachelor of arts in 1720, before he was seventeen years of age. His uncommon genius discovered itself early, and while he was yet a boy he read Locke on the human understanding with a keen relish. Though he took much pleasure in examining the kingdom of nature, yet moral and theological researches yielded him the highest satisfaction. He lived at college near two years after taking his first degree, preparing himself for the office of a minister of the gospel. In 1722 he went to New York, at the request of a small society of English Presbyterians, and preached a number of months. In 1724 he was appointed a tutor in Yale College, and he continued in that office, till he was invited in 1726 to preach in Northampton, Massachusetts. Here he was ordained as colleague with his grandfather, the Rev. Mr. Stoddard, February 15, 1727. In 1735 his benevolent labors were attended with uncommon success; a general impression was made upon the minds of his people by the truths which he proclaimed; and the church was much enlarged. He continued in this place more than twenty three years, till he was dismissed in 1750.
In August, 1751, he succeeded the Rev. Mr. Sergeant as missionary to the Housatonnoc Indians at Stockbridge, in Berkshire county, Massachusetts. Here he continued six years, preaching to the Indians and the white people; and as he found much leisure, he prosecuted his theological and metaphysical studies, and produced works which rendered his name famous throughout Europe. In January, 1758, he reluctantly accepted the office of president of the college in New Jersey, as successor of his son-in-law, the Rev. Mr. Burr; but he had not entered fully upon the duties of this station, before the prevalence of the small pox induced him to be inoculated, and this disease was the cause of his death, March 22, 1758, in the fifty-fifth year of his age.
The following is a catalogue of his publications: a sermon preached at Boston on 1 Cor. i. 29, 30, 1731; a sermon preached at Northampton on Matt. Xvi. 17, 1734; a narrative of the work of God in the conversion of many hundreds of souls in Northampton, 1736; five discourses on justification by faith alone, pressing into the kingdom of God, Ruth's resolution, the justice of God in the damnation of sinners, and the excellency of Jesus Christ, 1738; sinners in the hands of an angry God, a sermon preached at Enfield, 1741; thoughts on the revival of religion, 1742, a sermon at the ordination of the reverend Robert Abercrombie, 1744; at the instalment of the reverend Samuel Buell, 1746; a treatise on religions affections, 1746; an attempt to promote agreement in prayer for the revival of religion, 1746; life of the reverend David Brainerd, 1749; an inquiry into the qualifications for full communion in the church, 1749; a reply to the reverend Solomon Williams' answer to the inquiry, 1752; a sermon preached at Newark, 1752; an inquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, &c., 1754; the great doctrine of original sin delended, 1758. Since his death the following works have been published from his manuscripts; eighteen sermons, with his life, written by the reverend Dr. Hopkins, 1765; the history of redemption, 1774; on the nature of true virtue, 1788; God's last end in the creation; thirty three sermons; twenty sermons, 1789; miscellaneous observations, 1793; miscellaneous remarks, 1796. [Source: Connecticut Historical Collections, John Warner Barber, pub. 1836 ]
The year 1703 witnessed the birth of two children, each of whom were destined to become world-renowned religious leaders, though in widely differing spheres of action. They were Wesley, in the Old World, and Edwards in the New. The subject of this sketch was born October 5, in East Windsor, in the Connecticut Colony. He was the only son among the eleven children of Rev. Timothy Edwards, who was for more than sixty years pastor of the church at East Windsor. His mother was a woman of more than ordinary intelligence, having a profound knowledge of Scripture, and the theology of the times. From her, even more than from his father, Jonathan Edwards inherited his peculiar talents.
He was a precocious boy, taking deep interest in his studies, and was a keen observer of nature. In his twelfth year we find him writing theological essays. At thirteen he entered Yale College, which had then been in existence only fifteen years. There is just a suspicion of his having indulged to some extent in the usual follies of students, there being some accounts of a "disturbance" during his connection with the college. If such be a fact, it would seem to be the only break in the strict regularity of his life. He graduated with high honors at seventeen. He was, from earliest childhood, inspired with a deep reverence for religion, although it presented itself to him in its most austere form.
The exact date when he united with the church is not known. "The Church," of course, signified the Puritan Independents, or Congregationalists, who were at that time under the special protection of the government in New England - in fact, themselves constituted the government. Indeed, it was only about eleven years before Edwards' birth that Episcopalians, Baptists, and Quakers were excused from the compulsory support of the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. After leaving college he remained two years at New Haven, pursuing his theological studies. Then he received a call to a Presbyterian church in New York. After preaching there eight months, he returned to his father's home in Windsor. He accepted a tutorship in Yale College in 1724, and continued to perform his duties in that capacity with great efficiency for two years. From his diary at this period we learn of his deep and increasing piety, and growing inclination to abstain from worldly pleasure.
In 1727 he went to Northampton in Massachusetts, and was ordained as colleague to his grandfather, Rev. Solomon Stoddard, after whose death he succeeded to the pastorate. Northampton had been settled about three-quarters of a century when Edwards took up his residence there, and had already become a thriving village, the home of considerable wealth and refinement. Its church was considered the most important one in the province, outside of Boston. Jonathan Edwards is described as being at this time tall and slender, slightly above six feet in height, and of great gravity of manner. He is said to have devoted thirteen hours a day to study, preparing two sermons each week. His only diversions were his solitary rides or walks.
A few months after his ordination he was married to Sarah Pierrepont, a beautiful and pious girl of seventeen, who remained his faithful companion throughout his life, and only survived him a few months. A numerous family of children were born to them, and were admirably reared by Mrs. Edwards. One of them, Jonathan Edwards the younger, afterwards became almost as celebrated as his father, whom he very closely resembled.
With the growth of the country, the public opinion was undergoing a change with regard to certain theological dogmas. Among those doctrines which people were beginning to call in question, were the Trinity, endless punishment, the atonement, and justification by faith. These Edwards considered it his duty to defend to the utmost of his ability, and to that end preached sermons, and wrote and published books which still continue to be held in high esteem by those who are in sympathy with his teachings. Much of his preaching was stern and monitory, and calculated to work upon the fears of his auditors. One sermon of this nature has become famous. It was preached at Enfield, Conn., in July, 1741. The congregation became convulsed with agony to such an extent that he was obliged to pause in his discourse, and request them to be quiet, so that he might be heard.
The early settlers of New England were distinguished for their severe morality and high integrity. But as men grew prosperous and wealthy, they also grew more lax, so that at length the moral condition of the people seemed to be at a low ebb. About the year 1710 there came a very remarkable reaction, which has since been known as the "Great Awakening." To this change the preaching of Edwards contributed in a marked degree. A similar revival took place about the same time in England, in consequence of the labors of John Wesley. In many instances the popular excitement became very great, and was marked by excesses which were rebuked by some of the more conservative ministers. Among the results of the Awakening were the breaking down of the enormous influence of the Puritan clergy, and the rapid increase in the number of uneducated and itinerant preachers.
But at length Jonathan Edwards met with an unexpected reverse of fortune. Having seen fit to preach against the admission of unconverted persons to the Communion, a practice then very common, since only church members were allowed to vote; and also against the circulation of certain immoral books among the young people of his parish; a great controversy arose, and in consequence he was dismissed from the church, June 22, 1750, after a pastorate of twenty three years. He continued to preach occasionally during a few months, and then, by vote of the town, he was forbidden the further use of the Northampton pulpit.
In the following year he went to Stockbridge, then a frontier town, as pastor, and also as a missionary to the Indians, who formed the greater part of the settlement. With him he took his wife and ten children. One of his daughters, Esther, was shortly after married to the Rev. Aaron Burr, President of Nassau Hall, now Princeton College. Her son became the celebrated Aaron Burr, Vice President of the United States, the slayer of Alexander Hamilton.
In 1754 Jonathan Edwards published the work, by which he is best known as an author, the Freedom of the Will. Upon the death of his son-in-law he was called to the presidency of Princeton, and accepted it. He went to Princeton in January, 1758. Finding the small-pox prevalent, he was inoculated with it according to the medical custom of the time. His constitution, worn out prematurely by his life of incessant toil, broke down, and he died on the 22nd of March. [Source: Biographical Sketches of Preeminent Americans, Volume 1; By Frederick G. Harrison; Publ. 1892; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack.]
BACK -- HOME
© Copyright GenealogyTrails