Jonathan Edwards-Puritan Paradox -- By: W. Glyn Evans

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 124:493 (Jan 1967)
Article: Jonathan Edwards-Puritan Paradox
Author: W. Glyn Evans

Jonathan Edwards-Puritan Paradox

W. Glyn Evans

[W. Glyn Evans, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology, Wheaton Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois.]

Jonathan Edwards was, in his day, a misunderstood man. The intervening years have turned up nothing to prove him to be otherwise to the successive generations of Americams who have stopped long enough to look his way. There is no doubting his paradoxical life and influence. Objectivists like Rufus Suter could compare him to Pascal, a born scientist who sacrificed his enormous gifts to a cause which eventually died out.1 Vergilius Ferm agrees that though Edwards imparted a tremendous impact to his local environment he actually defended “a lost cause.”2 Even Ola Winslow, his definitive biographer, mourned that his brilliance was lost in the theological system which was beginning to decay, and even though his ideas were fresh and buoyant, they came to be identified with formal Calvinism and hence were rejected.

His proponents of the type like Gerstner and Turnbull have done their best to paint his Calvinism in bright, attractive colors, scarcely noticing how quickly the hues fade. Turnbull especially tried to update him and make him over into a twentieth-century caricature of what he was. No amount of glossing can take the harsh note out of Edwards’ message, and to say that the gross sins of the day demanded such stern words is to forget how little appreciated would Edwards be in our twentieth century, a far more bloody and rebellious age than that of Edwards.

He was a paradox in many ways. He was a scientist, yet a revivalist; he was a philosopher, yet a soul winner; he was a rationalist, yet a stirrer of the emotions; he was an idealist, yet his sermons were painfully practical; he was a meticulous scholar, yet his revivals (1735 and 1740) both ended in

emotional and mental disorders; he was a devoted husband and family man, yet he was turned out of his Northampton church after twenty-three years of faithful service; he was a strict Calvinist, yet he emphasized the need for an experiential religion; he was an expository, carefully reasoned type of preacher, yet he stirred his listeners to emotional reactions hardly seen before in the history of New England.

How can we explain such a person? Or, more particularly for our purpose, how can we explain Edwards’ theology and preaching technique in the light of the startling results which issued from them? How, really, can we explain Edwards’ effectiveness?

Edwards’ Effectiveness

We begin at the beginning. Was E...

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