English Literature I
December 10, 2011
Jonathan Edwards at a Crossroad of Puritanism and Enlightenment
Jonathan Edwards is a fascinating individual in eighteenth century literature and one of the most important figures of his time. He is the son and grandson of Puritan preachers and a product of a Puritan background. He is known as an Enlightenment philosopher, theologian, orator, and scientist. Edwards is a leading figure in the early years of the “Great Awakening”, a period of bringing Puritans back to their former religion and reintroducing old practices, which spread rapidly from Northampton to Massachusetts to Connecticut. Edwards writing style was shaped by his upbringing and education and strict Puritan influences. Intense passion and feeling is the driving force behind his writings. The rise and fall in his life as a preacher from being popular to being dismissed is similar to his own personal moments of revelation to moments of utter despair. Early Puritan themes in writing consisted of practical and purposeful matters. Puritan writers sought to glorify God by being humble especially in writing. Rules were very strict and possibly led to Edwards strive for perfection in many aspects of his life. Edwards “belonged to an elite extended family that was part of the ruling class of clergy”. From a young age, religion was a major force in his life. In Puritan life, the head of the family was the father who had “authority over families and households.” The Puritan belief consisted of ultimate “Sovereignty to God” in all things. It must also be noted that “good order” was “enforced by strict surveillance” and the consequences was “strict punishment.” Edwards remained loyal to the “theology inherited from seventeenth century Puritans” as regards the ” Sovereignty to God” meaning God got credit for anything good that happened, particularly in relation to “salvation” (Marsden 3). To attain an accurate view of Edwards writing, we first had to understand his cultural background and strong religious upbringing. Edwards’s internal struggle is mentioned in his writing, especially; Personal Narrative, the reader can sense the inner turmoil Edwards faced as a young boy by moments of exuberance and moments of despair. Edwards says, “The first time was when I was a boy, some years before I went to college, at a time of remarkable awakening in my father’s congregation. I was very much affected for many months and concerned about the things of religion…..my soul’s salvation” (Norton 386). For a young boy to “pray five times a day in secret” and spend much time “in religious talk with other boys “shows Edwards enthusiasm, and a “kind of delight” in religion. The struggles are noted in a sad tone of despair as the reader becomes aware of his pain “my convictions and affections wore off; and I entirely lost all those affections and delights, and left off secret prayer……and returned like a dog to his vomit, and went o in ways of sin” (387). Hating the way he felt during the moments of despair guided his attempts to convert others. Edwards’s intention was to restore his congregation to the original religious commitment that he felt was lost since the first days of Puritans coming to America. He wanted his congregation to be actually moved by the principles of their belief (385). Edwards’s youth ended at the age of eleven when he entered Collegiate School of Connecticut, later known as Yale College. In order to attend this college, applicants had to show they were expert in Greek authors and poetic and oratorical verse. (Marsden 7). “The days were rigorous; the goal was to prepare young men for the ministry” (Tracey 25). During this time, Edwards awoke every morning at four, and studied thirteen hours every day. His days also included walks in nature and he believed that in nature he could communicate with God, which was different than other Puritan authors. He was...
Cited: Edwards, Jonathan. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The Norton Anthology of
American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton & Company, 1999. 200-211.
Guru, Phillip F. "American Evangelical." Hill and Wang. New York. 2005
Higgins. Andrew. “Questions and Answers on Edwards.” 2011.Notes in class.
Marsden. George M. Jonathan Edwards a Life”. Yale University Press. New Haven. 2003.
Tracey. Patricia J. “Jonathan Edwards, Pastor: Religion and Society in Eighteenth Century
Northampton. NY: Hill and Wang. 1980.
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