The New England Theology, Its Historical Place -- By: Henry A. Stimson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 079:315 (Jul 1922)
Article: The New England Theology, Its Historical Place
Author: Henry A. Stimson


The New England Theology, Its Historical Place

Henry A. Stimson

Now that not only the mighty men who created the New England Theology, but the strong-minded men who constituted their audience have passed away, a sketch of the men and their work may be of interest. Though the material is sufficiently abundant, it is not apt to be at hand.

The hundred years from 1730 to 1830 cover the distinctive period of the growth and development of what is known as the New England Theology. It began with the constructive writings of Jonathan Edwards, and, though it called out the most remarkable group of original thinkers that America has produced, it did not get much beyond an elucidation of his views.

The historian, Bancroft, said: “He that will know the workings of the mind of New England in the middle of the last century, and the throbbings of its heart, must give his days and nights to the study of Jonathan Edwards.”

Edwards was born at East Windsor, Conn., in the year 1703; graduated at Yale in 1720; and became pastor in Northampton, Mass., in 1727.

It will be recalled that the eighteenth century early produced in Europe, and in England especially, a remarkable group of philosophical and theological thinkers. Hobbes, Locke, Spinazo, Malebrauche, Leibnietz and the Encyclopaedists; Tindal, Woolston, Morgan, Collins and Bolingbroke, the English Deists; Boyle, Newton and others of the scientists of the Royal Society. These exerted a powerful influence on this side of the Atlantic. Milton, who during the preceding century had not been referred to in America, began to be read.

Note.—Readers who desire ampler treatment of the subject will find it authoritatively in the volume, The New England Theology, by the late Prof. George Boardman, from which I have freely drawn.

The influence of the Non-Conformists of England who had drifted towards, or into, Unitarism, was strongly felt over here. The state of religion on both sides of the water was very low. Bishop Butler a little later wrote that in a visit to 100 churches in London one could not tell by anything he heard whether the church was Christian, Mahommedan or Buddhist. Patterson, the English historian, says: “Never was mortality so universally preached and never was it so little practiced as in the eighteenth century.”

Great laxity of morals everywhere followed the decay of religious doctrine. This continued through the century. Stoddard, Edwards’ grandfather and predecessor in Northampton, had adopted the Halfway Covenant, which allowed the reception of unregenerate men into the church, and the young and earnest pastor, Edwards, found himself ca...

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