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Jonathan Edwards

1703–1758
Portrait of Jonathan Edwards by Joseph Badger (1708–65). (Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

Major works:
A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred SoulsSome Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New-England • “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” • “Justification by Faith Alone” • “Pressing into the Kingdom of God”

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is recognized today as a great theologian and philosopher, “one of America’s five or six major artists,” in the words of the historian Perry Miller, possessed of “an intelligence which, as much as Emerson’s, Melville’s, or Mark Twain’s, is both an index of American society and a comment upon it.” Edwards was not only a minister in Northampton, Massachusetts, but also a philosopher who bridged Puritan theology with Enlightenment thought; his sermons have shaped American Protestantism perhaps more than any other figure. But during his lifetime he was best known as a leader of what is now called the Great Awakening. Through narratives, treatises, sermons (including the much-anthologized “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”), and letters, Edwards transformed a series of small-town revivals into a larger movement that has been credited with both giving birth to American evangelicalism and laying the groundwork for the American Revolution. He went on to publish theological works characterized by powerful logic and pungent imagery: A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, which Miller called “the most profound exploration of the religious psychology in all American literature”; the defenses of Calvinism Original Sin and Freedom of the Will; and also the majorly influential Life of David Brainerd.

Read an excerpt from

Personal Narrative

Jonathan Edwards

The first that I remember that ever I found any thing of that Sort of inward, sweet Delight in GOD and divine Things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those Words, 1 Tim. i. 17. “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise GOD, be Honor and Glory for ever and ever, Amen.” As I read the Words, there came into my Soul, and was as it were diff used thro’ it, a Sense of the Glory of the Divine Being; a new Sense, quite different from any Thing I ever experienced before. Never any Words of Scripture seemed to me as these Words did. I thought with my self, how excellent a Being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that GOD, and be wrapt up to GOD in Heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in Him. I kept saying, and as it were singing over these Words of Scripture to my self; and went to Prayer, to pray to GOD that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of Affection. But it never came into my Thought, that there was any thing spiritual, or of a saving Nature in this.
From about 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. I had an inward, sweet Sense of these Things, that at times came into my Heart; and my Soul was led away in pleasant Views and Contemplations of them. And my Mind was greatly engaged, to spend my Time in reading and meditating on Christ; and the Beauty and Excellency of his Person, and the lovely Way of Salvation, by free Grace in him. I found no Books so delightful to me, as those that treated of these Subjects. Those Words Cant. ii. 1. used to be abundantly with me: I am the Rose of Sharon, the Lilly of the Valleys. The Words seemed to me, sweetly to represent, the Loveliness and Beauty of Jesus Christ. And the whole Book of Canticles used to be pleasant to me; and I used to be much in reading it, about that time. And found, from Time to Time, an inward Sweetness, that used, as it were, to carry me away in my Contemplations; in what I know not how to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet Abstraction of Soul from all the Concerns of this World; and a kind of Vision, or fix’d Ideas and Imaginations, of being alone in the Mountains, or some solitary Wilderness, far from all Mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in GOD. The Sense I had of divine Things, would often of a sudden as it were, kindle up a sweet burning in my Heart; an ardor of my Soul, that I know not how to express.
Not long after I first began to experience these Things, I gave an Account to my Father, of some Things that had pass’d in my Mind. I was pretty much affected by the Discourse we had together. And when the Discourse was ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary Place in my Father’s Pasture, for Contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looked up on the Sky and Clouds; there came into my Mind, a sweet Sense of the glorious Majesty and Grace of GOD, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them both in a sweet Conjunction: Majesty and Meekness join’d together: it was a sweet and gentle, and holy Majesty; and also a majestick Meekness; an awful Sweetness; a high, and great, and holy Gentleness.

Read a passage from Personal Narrative by Jonathan Edwards
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