The Northampton Eviction
Jonathan Edwards was, for the most part, a withdrawn, soft-spoken man. Yet much of his life was caught up in controversy, and he faulted himself for an argumentative tendency.
The "Resolutions" he drew up while serving a small congregation in New York in 1722-23 are laced with reminders "never to say anything at all against anybody." He clearly struggled with "egotism" and "dogmaticalness" (as he put it) that he afterwards regretted.
"If I had more of an air of gentleness," Edwards lamented while tutoring at Yale in 1725, "I should be much mended."
But he never quite developed that air. He had been the pastor at Northampton for six years when the Connecticut River Valley was scandalized in 1734 by the calling of Robert Breck, a Harvard graduate suspected of Arminianism, as the pastor of the church at Springfield, just downriver from Northampton. The ministers of the Hampshire Association tried to have the call rescinded. But they could persuade neither the Springfield church nor the civil authorities in Boston to interfere, and Breck was duly installed.
As the pastor of the Connecticut Valley's greatest church, Edwards played a leading role in the controversy, writing the Hampshire Association's Letter of protest and taking the occasion to preach against Arminianism. This earned him a reputation for "meddling with the controversy in the pulpit"—not to mention the lasting enmity of Robert Breck.
For a time, it seemed Edwards could afford to ignore the costs of
the Breck debacle. In December 1734, "the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in" among the people of Northampton in the first of the great revivals he would see there, and "a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion" brought "more than 300 souls ...