Christian History Home > 2003 > Issue 77 > Jonathan Edwards: A Gallery - The Mind Shapers
Jonathan Edwards: A Gallery - The Mind Shapers
Edwards modeled himself as theologian, philosopher, and pastor after outstanding figures in each field.
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John Calvin, the forerunner of the Reformed tradition, leaves his imprint upon Edwards in a variety of ways. The Reformer's influence especially pervades Edwards's writings and sermons on the Arminian controversy, including Freedom of the Will (1754) and Original Sin (1758).
Calvin's most significant contribution to Edwards's thought is related to the Puritan theologian's doctrine of the "new sense." While this doctrine owes something to British empiricist John Locke (see below), Edwards forged it with help from John Calvin. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin wrote of a "sense of sweetness" (sensus suavitatis), that is, the believer's newfound ability, through the regenerating and illuminating work of the Spirit, to see the truth and beauty of the gospel.
Edwards uses this expression throughout his writings as he describes his new relation to God and the world. The river valley was sweet, the words of the Psalmist were sweet, the young lady in New Haven whom he would eventually marry was bestowed with the sweetness from God, and, above all, Christ's work was "sweet and glorious … like green pastures" to his soul.
While Edwards learned how to preach from Puritan sermon manuals, he learned most from the "Connecticut River Valley School of Preaching." This informal school had a faculty of two: Timothy Edwards and Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan's father and maternal grandfather, respectively.
The young Edwards's grandfather wielded an impressive influence. Dubbed the "Pope of the Connecticut River Valley," he was held in such veneration that in his old age (tradition has it) a crude highway was built from Boston to Northampton to transport him to Harvard commencements.
Boston born and Harvard educated, Stoddard arrived as the second minister of the Congregational church at Northampton in 1672, holding the post until his death in 1729. Edwards joined his grandfather in 1727 as an apprentice and associate, a relationship cut short by Stoddard's death.
In the history of the Northampton church he traced in his Faithful Narrative, Edwards recounts five seasons of "harvests," or revivals, that contributed to the growth of that church. By the time Edwards arrived as associate minister, it had grown to be the largest church in New England outside of Boston—and Northampton had become a model Puritan town. As Edwards ascended to the pulpit and, over time, experienced his own "harvests," he saw these movements as but further waves of the revivals enjoyed during his grandfather's tenure.
Stoddard's "affectionate" preaching—aimed at moving the whole person, including heart, soul, and mind—had contributed to these harvests. And this preaching left its mark on his young associate. It was the same sort of preaching that Edwards had heard, growing up, from his father, who ministered in East Windsor, Connecticut. As Edwards learned what the Puritans called "the art of prophesying" from these examples, he developed a respect for the power of bare rhetoric—of verbal imagery and metaphor. He learned to move congregations not by theatrics but by ideas brilliantly and vividly expressed.
Edwards did not, however, follow in his grandfather's footsteps entirely. Stoddard had handled church membership in the New England Congregationalist tradition of the Half-Way Covenant. This policy allowed for the baptism of children to parents who had not professed Christ and a fully open communion for both regenerate and unregenerate participants.
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