Benjamin Franklin Compared to Jonathan Edwards

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Kendra Hughes
Professor Machann
English 2327
March 24, 2010

Errata in the Hands of an Un-Angry God:
A Comparison of Edwards and Franklin

Oberg and Stout put it best in the introduction of their book Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Representation of American Culture, “It is difficult, if not impossible to, think of two more widely studied colonial figures than Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards. As Franklin and Edwards have been studied individually over generations, so also have they been looked at together” (Oberg and Stout 3). Through their influential writing and critical evaluations of how to improve oneself, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin both encompass American themes that ultimately define them as part of American literature. While living in different times and writing for different reasons they share the common themes of self-improvement, the setting and accomplishment of goals, and the importance of cohesion of society. By studying Edwards’ “Personal Narrative”, “Resolutions”, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, and excerpts from Benjamin Franklin’s “Autobiography”, found in Norton’s Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym, their distinct individual ideas, and these shared fundamental themes of American literature can be seen.

Their personal narratives show how their environment impacted them to better themselves. Jonathan Edwards’ “Personal Narrative” portrays his progress towards a more close relationship with God. “His family was followers of the Congregationalist Church, and from early childhood, he followed a Christian life” (Edwards 385). Edwards’ autobiography, “Personal Narrative”, begins with him saying, “I had a variety of concerns and exercise about my soul from my childhood; but had two more remarkable seasons of awakening, before I met with that change, by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things, that I have had” (Edwards 386). Edward completes a sojourn that brings him closer to God. This discovery helped him in his evaluation of what it took to become a better Christian in God’s eyes. On the other hand however, Benjamin Franklin less closely adhered to his family’s Christian beliefs. As a Deist, Franklin believed that there was a “Supreme Being” and that it is ones own chore to discover reality through reason. In his autobiography, he reveals a few instances that altered his way of life. Case in point, he had qualms about not further pursing his relationship with Miss Read when he left for England. Franklin calls these wrong doings or regrets “Errata” (Franklin 473). The spirituality of Edwards and Franklin, although different, and very distinctive, their works resonate their exposure and the impact it had on their personal improvement and growth.

Also, as a Deist, Franklin believed he determined his inevitability by his own accord. This encouraged him to set and accomplish goals to achieve what he desired in life. His autobiography portrays his faults and his accomplishments. This lack of modesty in revealing his errata is targeted towards his assembly, the American man, with hopes of prompting them to augment themselves and progress upon their deficiencies. Franklin rallied for the reformation of the American man through self-evaluation and correction. On the contrary, Edwards believed that it was God’s divine will of which men were the selected few who could entered into heaven after life. Edwards focused his writings towards Christians more so than just purely Americans. His goal was to prepare Christians to become these select individuals that gained entrance into heaven. Christians under Edwards felt responsible to live better lives and to set examples for the congregation and the community. As Christian individuals, just as Franklin’s Americans, they continually believed that one must examine and self-asses their place in life, the church, and the community. In the book Early American Literature: A...
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