The Puritans and Edwards
Questions about the spiritual meaning of America have become especially vital and engaged. In the presidential election of 1984, for example, both major party candidates professed a faith in Christianity and acknowledged the Christian sources of American history. Like their predecessors in high political office, they routinely invoked God’s blessing on America and spoke of American history as that of a “redeemer nation.”
While twentieth-century identifications of America with the “Promised Land” are common, the historical sources of this identity are less clear. Great evangelical leaders of our past are rightly celebrated for their fervent gospel preaching, but their views on America are generally ignored.
This is especially true of Jonathan Edwards, America’s foremost theologian and champion of religious revival. Most studies of Edwards focus on his evangelical preaching. But, Edwards also had a good deal to say about his native New England as a “covenant people” and a “New Israel.” In articulating these themes, he followed the lead of his Puritan predecessors and anticipated much of the language we hear spoken today by political and religious leaders.
Edwards was ordained at Northampton in 1726. Within a year of that date New England experienced the “Great Earthquake” of November 1727. The quake began, according to several accounts, with a “flash of light,” which was then followed by a “horrid rumbling” and “weighty shaking” that continued to reverberate throughout the evening. Weymouth’s Thomas Paine recalled the incident: “The motion of the Earth was very great, like the waves of the sea… . The strongest houses shook prodigiously and the tops of some Chimnies were thrown down…. It affected the People of N-E, especially ...