Four Reasons Not to Study Jonathan Edwards

This is a website devoted to the writings and philosophy of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the Puritan/pastor/philosopher. Here, we commonly examine his extant works, tease out the implications of the same, and discuss the richness of his voluminous writings in conversation with competent and able scholars who have devoted years to pouring over Edwards’s thoughts.

As studying Jonathan Edwards has been a major intellectual challenge for me over the past ten years – not to mention an outstanding source of devotional piety –  I thought it might be appropriate to also give some cautions to beginning scholars. Henceforth, in this brief article, I present

Four Reasons NOT to Study Jonathan Edwards


1. Edwards is Trendy. There is no doubt that Jonathan Edwards has experienced a stunning upsurge in popularity in the  previous century. Despite Ezra Stiles’s woebegone prediction that Edwards’s writings would soon be relegated to the dustbin of history, the opposite has happened. The Wigged Puritan has mounted an incomparable comeback in the last one hundred years. Ever since Perry Miller’s work in the 1950’s, Edwards has been on a virtual tear. The lauding of Reformed stalwarts Martyn Lloyd-Jones and R.C. Sproul have been a boon to Edwards’s reputation. Popularizers such as John Piper and Sam Storms have brought Edwards to unseen heights. Scores of doctoral dissertations have been written on the Northampton Pulpiteer. Major publishers such as Crossway cannot seem to crank out enough books to satisfy the trending popular thirst for more of Edwards. I have compiled a list of outstanding books, most of which have been written in the last ten to twenty years, that comb through Edwards’s major thoughts and ideas extensively. They sell like hotcakes.

And yet popularity alone is not sufficient. If you ask me, trends and fascinations alone are not compelling enough reason to begin a lifetime of study on any particular historical person. Since what can be read in one lifetime is so minuscule compared to what we need to know, we ought to choose better reasons to study any particular saint in history than that they are currently popular. Edwards’s biography is not nearly as adventuresome as Livingstone or Carey. His works are not nearly as quotable as Spurgeon’s. His life story not as significant as Luther’s. His theology not as paradigmatic as Calvin’s. Yes, reading Edwards will be richly rewarding to those who try, but his mere popularity alone is not a good enough reason. If you are undeterred still, read on and consider that

2. Edwards is Difficult. If you are expecting to immediately dive into Edwards and reap dividends, perhaps I can caution you and save you some time. He is a very hard read at times. Please do not begin with the Freedom of the Will. Yes, Sproul says that “this is the most important work ever published in America,” but please do not interpret that as in any way suggesting that it is one of the most approachable works. It is relentlessly logical. It is dense in its progression. It circles around and around again. It assumes the reader has technical awareness of the issues at hand. Its language is dated. It engages interlocutors that have long been dead. It argues at a philosophical level that transcends 98% of the books you will find in the average Christian bookstore!

Now this is not to suggest that Edwards is impossible to understand however. Far from it. Begin with his sermons if you like. His sermons at times can be rather easy to understand (if very difficult to live up to!). And there are more readable works such as the The Religious Affections, which I believe, most Christians can read to great devotional benefit, even if being lost in his vocabulary or argumentation at points. But if you are still so eager to dive into even Edwards’s more difficult works and treatises, be warned that

3. Edwards is Voluminous. Very few people will ever make it through the entire corpus of Edwards’s own writings. In fact, this is impossible since many of his works are still being transcribed from his nearly indiscernible handwriting. What does exist in print fills 26 volumes of the Yale Editions. The websight (a wonder of the modern world in its own right) contains somewhere around 70 volumes of digitized works. And yet more keep being added. This is because Edwards thought and wrote with his pen in hand almost every day of his life.

Please understand: Edwards is not an author or subject of study that one can “master.” His works are too many. The hill is too high. The mountain nearly impossible to scale. Without trying to frustrate the scholar, our hopes of reading all that Edwards has to say about biblical interpretation, theology, sermonizing, philosophy, typology, and history (to name a few) cannot be mastered by any one person. This is why relentless dialogue between scholars of various fields is so important. He is not like other writers who have just a handful of works which one can easily digest in the course of a few months or years. Edwards is the Mount Everest of Puritan theology. But if you still persist, consider

4. Edwards is (Mostly) Orthodox. His Calvinism will offend your modern sensibilities. He will drive you back to your Bible over and over. He will preach the damnable sinfulness of man until your conscience aches. He will insist on divine predestination and the sovereignty of God. He will tell you that you cannot convert yourself. He will close all possible doors on universalism. He is the exemplar of Puritan High Orthodoxy. If this offends you, it would be better to turn elsewhere. Jonathan Edwards believed in the doctrines of grace and the essential tenets of Reformed (or Calvinistic) orthodoxy. Evangelicals with wimpier theological bona fides will find themselves pressed between the rock of Edwards’s relentless logic and the hard place of his King James Bible. In short, Edwards will insist that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9) and that there is “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

And yet just when you have Edwards all “figured out,” he will go ahead and thwart you with his innovative doctrine of continuous creation, or his flirtation with panentheism (in places), or by refusing to use the inherited traditional language of justification agreed upon in the Reformed tradition.

Conclusion. Perhaps it would be better NOT to study Jonathan Edwards. There are easier men to read. There are others out there who will not stun your conscience as often or insist so much on holy living as Edwards. There are those who will leave you with a warm feeling instead of a knot in your stomach and a cramp in your brain. There are others whose writings can be digested in a few light readings.

But not Edwards.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a life-time companion who will challenge you, demand rigorous intellectual engagement from you, and stir your soul to reconsider the greatness and the beauty of God – Jonathan Edwards is just the friend you are looking for.


Book Review – “Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts,” by Toby K. Easley

You have probably already heard something of Jonathan Edwards’s reputation as a preacher. It has been said that Edwards was a drab manuscript reader who held his notes just a few inches from his face. It has been said that when he did look up occasionally from his ink-quill notes, the famed Puritan held his gaze unflinchingly, fixed upon the bell rope, dangling helplessly near the back of the plain-style church.

You may have even gone on to actually read many of Edwards’s long-form sermon manuscripts, and wondered whether you wouldn’t have been bored nearly to death yourself listening in the Northampton Church for hours upon end! And yet somehow this man was used as a spark in one of the greatest revivals in the history of our young nation, in the Great Awakening (1740-1742).

So, how do we reconcile the fact that Edwards has a reputation as a mere dissertation reciter (apparently bringing no more panache and flare into the pulpit than a court-stenographer), with the fact that Edwards is also the famed fire-and-brimstone herald of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which shook its hearers to the ground in Enfield Connecticut?

This is the challenge that Dr. Toby K. Easley (D.Min, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) tackles in his new book Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts.  Simply stated, Dr. Easley  seeks to discover whether Jonathan Edwards ever progressed as a preacher. Did he get better as he aged? Could he ever put away the notes? Did he ever go “off script”? Could he ever set aside his well-prepared treatises and simply let fly from the sacred desk?

In other words, did Edwards ever go “beyond the manuscripts?”


In this exceptionally well-written work, Easley argues that, yes, Edwards did progress as a preacher. He did learn new ways to articulate his well-formulated and richly ornate sermons. Throughout this work, Easley traces the personal development of Jonathan Edwards as a preacher and homiletician. To do so, Easley monitors closely three factors: (1) First Edwards’s personal biography. Dr. Easley guides us through the chronological events which shaped Edwards as a preachers. (2) Second, Easley interacts with some of the sermons themselves as pieces of oratory and rhetoric, examining and comparing their content. (3) Third – and this is what makes the book relentlessly fascinating – Easley personally combed through many of the sermon manuscript notebooks themselves, looking for clues as to how Edwards progressed (or stagnated?) as a preacher and orator. To do so, Easley ventured to Yale’s Beinecke Library to study them firsthand. In fact, as readers will see, Easley identifies five stages through which Edwards progressed as a pulpiteer.

The following are the handful of stages (in this reviewer’s own words) which Dr. Easley identifies in Jonathan Edwards as a developing preacher. Many readers will find that they too have tread some of the same ground ourselves over the years.

1. The Listener. Edwards began his preaching career far before he ever wrote a sermon or entered a pulpit. Most preachers do. He began as a sermon hearer. As the son of another Puritan divine of note, Timothy Edwards, and the grandson of the famed preacher Solomon Stoddard (who by the way, eschewed notes and advocated for impassioned and informed extemporaneous sermons), young Jonathan learned what a sermon ought to sound like far before he ever preached one. His own father’s methodology probably influenced his work from an early age, and Edwards’s penchant for accuracy, depth, and clarity likely bound him to well-structured written forms from early on.

2. The Manuscript Addict. In his earliest stages of sermon manuscripting, Edwards wrote his thoughts out in the fullest possible way. This would prove to become a difficult, but not impossible, habit for Edwards to break. He clearly preferred thinking his thoughts out in long form before entering the pulpit to address God’s people in the church. His other writings such as his Miscellanies bear this truth out. He thought pen in hand, and couldn’t help it. His early stages of preaching in New York, Bolton, and Northampton show sermons that most closely resemble written treatises: full, precise, and well-ordered. Early on, Edwards began with the standard Puritan sermon order of Text, Doctrine, and Application (Use), and would hardly deviate from this for the rest of his life. This stage of full manuscripting would continue, for the most part, throughout the 1720’s and 1730’s.

3. The Experimenter.  As Edwards further progressed in his career, he began using some modifications to the full-manuscript form. This may have been motivated by his desire to excel in the areas that his grandfather Stoddard had excelled, namely in delivery, and it may also have been encouraged by the shortage of paper, which Edwards consumed ravenously for all of his writing projects. He began using some abbreviations, and even symbols to convey words and even fuller thoughts. For instance, he uses a circle with a dot in the middle to represent “the world.” Or an X for Christ, or a concept related to Christology.

We should be very clear here: Edwards never did fully throw away the full-manuscript format, even as he sought to make his manuscripts more “user friendly” for delivery. Arched, horizontal lines across the duodecimal sized handmade notebooks, often served as visual cues, marking major sections. Some words were printed in all capitals to stand out and help summarize entire paragraphs while preaching. These flourishes were helpful for those moments when the preacher utilizes extempore expressions, and then returns to his notes to recover his bearing. Sermons for funerals or public occasions (preaching for the Boston clergy, for instance) continued to be written out in full hand however.

4. The Whitefield Admirer: A major leap seems to have happened in Edwards’s thinking about homiletics when George Whitefield came to town. In Whitefield, Edwards saw firsthand just how powerful oratory can be, when the preacher does not use prepared notes, but instead delivers the sermon from memory. Eye contact, easy of expression, natural speech – all seemed more powerful from Whitefield’s noteless exhortations. From this point on, Edwards appears to have been convicted to some degree about the deficiencies of his own preaching, perhaps hearing the now-gone voice of his Grandfather Stoddard echoing in his mind as well. Though he could not quite fully ditch the manuscripts, this period after 1740 begins to show evidence that Edwards tried harder and harder to make his notes briefer and more portable for pulpit delivery. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, for instance exists in two extant forms: one which is written in full, and another which exists in a bare minimal outline form.

5. The Mature Orator: The final stage of development took place, according to Dr. Easley, after Edwards left Northampton and began preaching to the Indians at Stockbridge. Here, he had to balance two different congregations; one English speaking and the other a Native American congregation through an interpreter. In this stage, Edwards re-preached prior sermons, and simplified many others as he worked on his major works such as Freedom of the Will. Commonly, he dropped technical terms and adopted illustrations from nature, hunting, and the broader human experience. The very nature of these congregations almost forced Edwards to learn new ways to communicate besides his well-tailored manuscript recitations.

If I might interject my own thoughts at this point – I wonder what would have happened if Edwards had gone to Stockbridge before Northampton? If he had learned to preach the simpler before the more complex? Would his time with the Mahicans have enabled him to speak more comfortably to his Colonial audience as he developed greater confidence in a more natural or free-speaking manner? We can only guess. God’s sovereignty ordered Edwards’s life as it has unfolded in our history books, and Stockbridge would be the conclusion to his career rather than the beginning.

Interestingly, Easley tells us the story of the time that Edwards – close to the time of his death – lectured for the students at Princeton holding them spellbound for nearly two hours. According to eyewitnesses, the time passed as if it was but a few moments. Edwards was riveting. As the eager young students consumed Edwards’s rich teaching, we can only wonder what it would have been like to see and hear Jonathan Edwards in his “prime,” confident, mature, and completely competent; having learned to preach in various settings with masterly control. Sadly, there are no recordings of Edwards, and we have only the eyewitness accounts and the manuscripts to help us. History tells us that Edwards died only a few weeks into his tenure as college president.

Overall, Jonathan Edwards: Beyond the Manuscripts is excellent.

Throughout, it contains applications for modern preachers learning our sacred art of exhortation. Dr. Easley gives many and varied suggestions for his pulpiteering readers, and one just may find some notable similarities between Edwards’s preaching journey and his own. To find one fault in this work, I could wonder why more pictures where not included of the manuscripts themselves. Easley describes them capably enough, but I often found myself asking, “I wonder what that manuscript looked like!” Only two pictures of the manuscripts themselves are included in the back, and I would have liked to see firsthand what some of Edwards’s sermons looked like, particularly in his outlining periods. But this is only a minor critique, and the book certainly excels this one flaw.

Perhaps many of us too, would do well to consider Jonathan Edwards’s journey as we press on to go “beyond the manuscripts.”

Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington

Edwards Studies is pleased to be talking today with Dr. Jeffrey Waddington, a voice that you may find familiar from his excellent work on the Reformed Forum. Besides being a frequent contributor on the podcast East of Eden, Dr. Waddington is an ordained minister in the OPC and an occasional contributor to Reformation 21. He is also the author of The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. 

Pleased to have you Jeff!

Brother, I am thrilled to be able to spend time with you today. I was looking around your site and am quite impressed with the architecture and interior design of the place. Excuse me while I take a swig of my piping hot blondie coffee! You have outdone yourself in bringing together a multimedia extravaganza of Edwards articles, videos, and reviews. I am overwhelmed. It warms the cockles of my heart!


We will talk about your book in just a few moments, but tell us what is going on with the Reformed Forum lately? Are there big plans for the East of Eden show? There have only been a couple in 2015 and just one in 2016. What gives?

The Reformed Forum board recently met over the net (and though I was absent) and the big topic of discussion is our upcoming third annual theology conference at Greyslake, IL in October. We have thoroughly enjoyed the first two conferences and look forward the teaching and the interaction with the folks who come from all over the US and Canada. As for East of Eden the slackened pace of getting this podcast out is simply a matter of logistics for the three of us involved: Nick Batzig from the Savannah area, David Filson from Nashville, and myself from the greater Philadelphia area. We love doing the podcast and hope to get back into a regular routine. Please pray that the Lord would grant us schedules that mesh and the energy to tend to our pastoral charges and do the podcast and all the other writing we do. Thanks for asking about the forum and the Edwards podcast.

How did you get into Jonathan Edwards? Was it through John Piper like the majority of us, or through your English Literature class like a few others of us around here?

Years ago as a Salvation Army officer (Wesleyan-Arminian pastor) I picked up a copy of Iain Murray’s bio on Edwards but did not read it until I came into the Reformed community through a PCA congregation in Ithaca, NY. I actually had read a fair bit of John Piper and loved him. But I did not act on his hints sprinkled throughout his various books and articles. And I did read Edwards in my tenth grade English class back in 1980 but I was not a believer at the time. I remember reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and not being bothered by it at all. It was the plain gospel truth. Of course, as you know, Matthew, Edwards could rhapsodize just as lyrically on the joys of heaven as a world of love. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. I came into the Reformed community and purchased the two volume Banner of Truth edition of The Works of Edwards and began reading a little at a time. When I came to the Philly area to study at Westminster Seminary I purchased Piper’s delightful annotated edition of Edwards’s The End of Creation and fell in love with the aesthetic on display in the very way Edwards wrote The End. After that I took an independent study with Sam Logan, then president of Westminster and thoroughly enjoyed myself. That course was based on the taped lectures of John Gerstner on Edwards. Gerstner was just brilliant. Now as you know I have my differences with Gerstner, which are not inconsiderable, but in this series (which I would love to see on CD or MP3) he just shines. While I entered the PhD program at Westminster intent on doing something with Abraham Kuyper’s common grace doctrine, Sam Logan convinced me to work on something to do with Edwards. So I eventually took the PhD seminar on Edwards that Sang Lee offered at Princeton Theological Seminary. I took that course in 2003, just after his volume in the Yale edition of Edwards’s Works had been published. It was delight to learn from Lee, with whom I differ as well. He was gracious and an enjoyable professor. I had the privilege and pleasure of helping him edit the Princeton Companion on Jonathan Edwards. It took me a very long time to complete my PhD but I finally did under the supervision of William Edgar at Westminster. Edgar is a brilliant apologist interested in all things cultural. He was knowledgeable and encouraging.

Your 2015 book is entitled The Unified Operations of the Human Soul: Jonathan Edwards’s Theological Anthropology and Apologetic. Break that down for us – first the title, then the subtitle. What are you doing here?


The book is slightly revised version of my Westminster dissertation (very slightly revised!) for which I was awarded a PhD in 2013. I am challenging John Gerstner’s contention that Edwards was an exemplar of the classical method of apologetics. The heart of my argument is that Edwards rejected the hierarchical faculty psychology of the day (for instance as advocated by “Old Brick” Charles Chauncey, Edwards’s Boston nemesis). Faculty psychology at its worst thinks of the human soul as made up of three little agents called will, intellect, and emotions (or in Edwards’s case, just intellect and will). Edwards, I would argue, advocates the standard Reformed and Puritan notion of the convergence of the distinct yet inseparable powers or capacities or capabilities of the human soul. It is one person who wills, thinks, or feels. So the expression “unified operations of the human soul” simply tries to capture that facet of Edwards’s thinking that is capsulized in his notion of the new sense. The new sense or spiritual understanding involves the whole person or whole soul. Someone can understand to a certain extent the truth of the Christian faith without embracing it or being wowed by it. I was that way for many years. I am a preacher’s brat and a preacher myself. But I did not come to faith in Christ until I was 18 years old. Again this is somewhat standard Reformed anthropology (er…, doctrine of man). The new sense is at the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. He knew his intellectual endeavors defending the Christian faith against Enlightenment thinking would not bring a person to Christ without the Holy Spirit working a new heart in him or her. We might say with good reason that the true religious affections were the heart of Edwards’s apologetic. Affections are not to be equated with the emotions. I would argue, as others have as well, that affections are thoughtful volitions or we might say clear-headed thoughts that stir the will and emotions. Affections therefore have a volitional, emotive, and intellectual component. The subtitle is all about how Edwards’s understanding of man interacted with his view of the apologetic task. The heart of the book is the chapter on the relation of the intellect and will and how they must work together in regeneration to bring about true saving faith. The defense of the faith (the apologetic task) involves, to use the language of the Westminster assembly divines, the enlightenment of the mind and the renewal of the will. In that chapter I challenge Gerstner’s notion of the indirect effects of sin on the human mind. I interact with Alvin Plantinga’s use of Edwards on this topic in his justly famous Warranted Christian Belief to get at the problem. So in the end I argue that Edwards was an eclectic apologist who reflects his educational background and era and so draws from various philosophical streams that can assist him in making a biblical case for whatever doctrine Edwards is seeking to defend. The esteemed church historian Doug Sweeney kindly reviewed the book on the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS website. Where I might challenge Dr. Sweeney, who is gracious as the day is long, is his suggesting I was trying to make Edwards look like a presuppositional apologist. I am a presuppositionalist myself, or better, a covenantal apologetics guy. And I did argue that Edwards resembles Cornelius Van Til at times. I would still argue that. But Edwards insofar as Edwards was Reformed and his defense of the Christian faith reflected that, that far he looks like Van Til. Don’t worry if you don’t know who Van Til is. That may be a conversation for another time. I would be happy to fill your readers in on that score.

If you would, talk briefly about how Edwards saw humanity under this classic fourfold rubric: how man was created, fallen, redeemed, and consumated? Help us understand how these “states” work together. 

Edwards read his Bible but he also read the Scottish Presbyterian Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State in which Boston unpacks the movement of man as created good and holy, the fall of man into sin and misery, his restoration plus in redemption, and the summing up of redemption in the consummate state when all the saints and angels gather together to live with the Triune God in the new heavens and new earth. Man’s thinking capacities reflect his spiritual condition in each state. The only way to transition from the fallen state to a redeemed state is if the Father draws the unbeliever, with the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the unbeliever so that they freely embrace Jesus Christ by faith, repenting of his or her sin and pursuing holiness. Edwards followed this basic Reformed understanding of how a sinner becomes a saint.

How does this fit together with the Imago Dei (the image of God) in man? Did Edwards see this as a key component in man’s identity? 

The image of God is a big deal for Edwards and figures prominently in his defense of the doctrine of original sin. Adam and Eve were created in righteousness, holiness, and knowledge. In other words, they were not created neutral. Edwards follows the standard view that the image has a broader and narrower reference. The broad reference is to our ability to think, communicate, relate. I would call these the preconditions for exercising the image in the narrower reference. The narrow reference refers to our holiness, righteousness, and knowledge. Adam and Eve possessed the image in both senses at creation and for some time thereafter. In the fall, we lost the image in its narrow sense but retained, in a twisted and defaced manner, the broad image. Redemption restores the lost narrow image and in fact goes beyond mere restoration. Yes, this was a key component of Edwards’s understanding of who and what man is.

You have used the word “analog” in your writings. Is that an Edwardsian phrase? How does he view man as an analog of God, and what does that say about God’s nature and attributes? 

The question closely follows on the last and overlaps with it a bit. When I say that man is an analog (or analogue for you dictionary geeks out there) of God, I am talking about how we were created to reflect God in our very being and beliefs and behavior. This is not Edwards’s language although I do think it reflects his theology. I guess I could say that the word analog images the reality Edwards is getting at when he talks about the way that man resembles God his maker. Edwards understood that God is Creator and man is creature but he also saw that we are called to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We are to be holy. And with the coming of the Son in the flesh, we are to be conformed to the image of the Son (an image of the Image, we might say) Jesus Christ. God, Edwards tells us, has an intellect and will (this enters into Edwards’s discussion of the Trinity, but that is a discussion for another day too) and so do we. Our intellect and will worked harmoniously in the garden but the fall brought a disruption to that harmony. Redemption restores it. And we spend the whole of our Christian life growing into greater and greater conformity to God so that we once again image forth in our own lives the Son of God Jesus Christ (as argued, for instance, in Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10). Edwards talks about this throughout his sermons and in the treatise on The End of Creation and the Religious Affections, etc.

Let’s tie in the “apologetics” aspect here. Give us a brief rundown of how Edwards goes about defending these constructions against the pressing threats he perceived in his own day.

Edwards did not pen an apologetics handbook or manual. If he had it would have made my life easier. Maybe! We have to glean his understanding of how to defend the Christian faith from his actual defense. Edwards attacks his opponents head on. But I would argue he does it graciously but with surgical precision. In Original Sin Edwards goes after the notion that Adam and Eve were created neutral and that we sin merely by imitation of bad examples. he deconstructs the idea that death is a blessing and affirms a Reformed notion of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us (albeit with his own creative touches). In Freedom of the Will Edwards defends the compatabilist notion that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility coexist when properly understood. Edwards’s target is libertarian free will. Edwards’s rejection of faculty psychology is on full display here. Edwards reduces the idea of libertarian free will (that we have the ability to choose A or B from a state of complete equilibrium under no influence of prior motives). Take a look at Edwards’s sermons and semi-private notebooks and you will see how he reacts to deism and other challenges to the Christian faith. Edwards affirms common grace (that the Holy Spirit is active in the world mitigating the worst effects of sin and allowing for human flourishing to occur and for the gospel to be spread and for sinners to become saints and come into the church) and he affirms natural or general revelation. This is God’s revelation of himself in creation (including us human creatures). Edwards also affirmed something called the “prisca theologica” or primitive theology. This is the idea that the human race has passed along accounts of revelation from Adam to Noah to Abraham to whoever and that this accounts for some similarities between different religions and is a form of special revelation and general revelation. This primitive theology cannot save since it is twisted and perverted as it gets past down from generation to generation. But it means, among other things, that no one is free from exposure to God’s revelation in nature, primitive theology, and Scripture (special revelation). Edwards was an acute and effective apologist. I do not happen to think he was perfect. I think we have made progress since his day and would not want to go back to his day. But he is not afraid to use sanctified reason and Scripture in his defense of the faith and that is a good thing.

Do you have more research to do in this area or do you have any plans for future projects along these lines?

I am interested in everything (well, almost) theological (and philosophical, political, military, and historical, etc) and so my work extends well beyond Edwards. In that regard I suppose I am like Edwards himself. However, I try to keep abreast of the latest developments in Edwards scholarship and always am reading something by or about Edwards. As Piper would say, Edwards is one of my constant companions and conversation partners. I am looking on doing something where I compare Edwards on the unified operations and the work of the 19th and 20th century Dutch Reformed biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos on the soul. I once noted on Facebook that Vos wrote in four pages in his newly translated Reformed Dogmatics on the soul what i tried to say about Edwards in my dissertation in more than 200 pages. Ugh!! I would also like to do work on Edwards the exegete. Perhaps I may revisit the question of how much influence John Locke had on Edwards. I am one who does not think it was as radical as others have thought. Feel free to make recommendations brother!

How about some shout outs and recommendations for our readers. 

Marsden’s  Life is the best biography on Edwards. It is well written and makes Edwards understandable in terms of his own age. Murray’s bio is still worth reading. I think Stephen Nichols’s Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought is a wonderful intro to the life and thought of Edwards. McDermott and McClymond’s Theology of Jonathan Edwards is encyclopedic, but I have many major reservations about the book (and not just because they critique me in a few footnotes!). Craig Biehl’s Infinite Merit is a magisterial treatment of Edwards’s understanding of justification within the broader spread of God’s purposes in Christ and his unchanging rule of righteousness. This website has to be must read as well. Check out for articles and podcasts related to Edwards and Reformed theology in general. Various websites connected with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (reformation21 and Place for Truth, for instance) are worth checking out. I also frequent the Desiring God site and love various Piper books. I also recommend checking out the Gospel Coalition site as well. This is not to say I agree with everything these sites or authors say. But they are worthwhile. There are many others.

Thank you so much for chiming in Jeff! Hope you will write an article or so for us here at Edwards Studies, can we count on that from you sometime brother? 

Absolutely. Let me have some recommendations and I will run with them.

The Rhetoric of the Revival: The Language of the Great Awakening Preachers, by Michal Choinski (Book Review)

Rhetoric is, in essence, the power of spoken or written words.

Considered in this way, rhetoric is the force of both oral and printed language to guide or compel one’s audience to think, feel, or respond in a certain way to a given message. Rhetoric is used in political speeches. It is used in court testimony. Yes, it is used in sales pitches too. And it is most certainly employed in preaching.

As preachers, the proponents of the Great Awakening in America (1739-1745) used rhetoric as a tool to better convey the power of the Gospel to the hearts of their hearers in their own time and setting. We ought not to fault them for that. Of course, they were hoping to lead their churches and open-air audiences towards faith in Jesus Christ and to “awaken” their lives to eternal realities.

In his new book The Rhetoric of the Revival: The Language of the Great Awakening Preachers, young scholar Michal Choinski treats his readership to an outstanding and thorough evaluation of the rhetorical pulpit devices of such men as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennant among others. Although the whole history of rhetoric in preaching would certainly make for a very fine study (as would a study of rhetoric geared towards modern best practices in preaching), Choinski limits the parameters of this intensive work to those preachers centering around the time of the Great Awakening in the colonies in America.


The fact that intentional uses of rhetorical strategies were employed in the especially fervent times of the Awakening should not come as a surprise to anyone. While the term “rhetoric” can sometimes have the distasteful flavor of purposeful manipulation, the practice itself is rooted in nothing less than the desire and intention of the preacher or speaker to give a message that is compelling and persuasive to his audience. In this way, there is nothing “wrong” with using rhetorical strategies. After all, if a Bible preacher believes the Gospel is true, he should deliver his message of hope as effectively and as forcefully (read: persuasively) as he is able. Certainly Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 as well as Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17 both bear marks of rhetorical strategy. Both witness to the biblical mandate to speak the truth of the Word of God with both winsomeness and power with the goal of persuasiveness in mind.

A few more words about this book will precede a general survey of its contents.

Michal Choinski

First of all, it is noteworthy that this book is the first in a new series of monographs published by the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. This new series, in cooperation with by Verlagsgruppe Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht is entitled “New Directions in Jonathan Edwards Studies” and Michal Choinski’s contribution constitutes Volume 1 of this exciting new line. Some readers of will recall that both Kenneth Minkema and Michal Choinski have already been interviewed on this page.  If this first edition is an indication of what is to come, Edwards devotees are sure to greatly benefit from this series as it unfolds. What we have here in Choinski’s work is a first-rate work of scholarship and technical expertise, without sacrificing readability. Choinski, by the way, teaches American Literature at the Institute of English Studies at the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland.

The book opens with a standard evaluation of rhetoric, its history, key definitions, and development. Choinski here pays special attention to its Greek roots, marking observations by Aristotle, Cicero and others. In fact, Aristotle defined rhetoric as a “faculty of considering all the possible means of persuasion on every subject” (p. 15). Traditionally, Choinski tells us, rhetoric is considered under five headings as follows: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery (p. 18). Among these headings rhetorical speech can be further evaluated under such marks as clarity, grandeur, beauty, character, and sincerity, among others (p. 25).

In a subsequent section, Choinski makes the leap from rhetorical speech in general to preaching in particular. After all, giving a sermon is one of the most important forms of human-to-human oral communication. Here, Choinski considers contributing ideas from such men as St. Augustine and Erasmus, the noted humanist. Arriving closer to his historical period of choice, Choinski gives the reader an important reminder when he notes that “The core of Puritan preaching that emerged from medieval schemes after the tide of the Reformation is encompassed in the fundamental effort to understand God’s Word and to explicate it to the hearers” (p. 36, emphasis added).

From the Puritans, then, to the Colonial preachers, Choinski begins to focus the lens closer and closer to the revivalist preachers which stood upon the shoulders of their forefathers. These men advanced the rhetorical strategies of preaching to include such novelties as camp meetings and open-air gatherings. As religious services sometimes moved from the pulpits to the fields,  what constituted preaching methodology necessarily changed as well, especially when accommodating the poor and larger audiences, then previously possible in “meeting house” settings. This is not to say, however, that the Great Awakening was a purely out-of-doors social movement. But surely the power of awakening-style preaching intentionally modified to  utilize the maximal power of persuasion possible.

At this point, Choinski enumerates several factors that seem to be quintessential of revivalist preaching. It incorporated to various degrees (1) intensified emotions on the part of the speaker and the audience, (2) encouraged implicitly or explicitly bodily manifestations among hearers, (3) was attended by extraordinary occurrences such as perceived signs and wonders, (4) raised issues of necessary spiritual discernment (5) prompted tensions between clerical and lay authority, (6) and resulted in new associations, organizations, and institutions (p. 46-47).

Pages 52-54, though short, are key for understanding the rest of the text. Here Choinski discusses several hallmarks that will be discussed often throughout the rest of the work, notably the drive or push towards hearers experiencing the “new birth” as the ultimate goal of revival preaching; the unapologetic stirring of such emotions as fear, joy, enthusiasm, and disgust from the audience; and even the utilization of delivery techniques heretofore considered as “theatrical” (Whitefield will be a case in point on this matter, later; see his section in pages 117-146).

In a section that may feel like an unnecessary digression from the main topic (p. 55-56), Choinski then takes the reader through a brief history of three successive generations of Puritan colonialists in America, briefly recounting some key of the players, events, and the overall cultural mood. Here of course, he mentions the famous “Half-Way Covenant” so controversial to those who felt the force of its compromise firsthand.

Finally then – and I do admit that Choinski has taken us the long route to get here – we get to the meat and the heart of the book. From this point forward, we are settling in to discuss the six revivalist preachers that the writer will analyze for the rest of the book. In other words, we adjust from a wide-angle to close-up lens. Edwards scholars will breathe a sigh of relief that the Northampton Sage comes first in order (yes!), and gets a full treatment of three of his sermons; namely The Future Punishment of the Wicked (p. 82-92), Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (p. 93-105), and The Distinguishing Marks (p. 106-116).

Readers of this website will want to find the nearest hammock and a glass of cold ice-tea in order to settle in and enjoy this part. This is why we bought the book in the first place!

In my view, Choinski does his finest work combing through these three Edwardsian sermons. His section on Sinners is particularly riveting in my view. He analyzes Edwards’s choice of imagery, and metaphor, even his use of the tension-retaining present tense. All the while, he notes how Edwards carefully selected each verbal component of his sermon to strike the very heart of the reader with sheer terror. He discusses Edward’s structure and pace. He dissects Edwards’s use of “sensual tactility” (p. 94). Edwards’s goal here, he notes, is to induce a sense of “emotional despondency” (p. 99), and Edwards does that very well! Choinski notes, “for the moment of the delivery of this part of the discourse, the congregation gathered to listen to the preacher, in their minds actually becoming the sinners in the hands of an angry God” (p. 100, emphasis added).

Choinski calls these subtle twists and turns of language “inexplicit communicative stragegies hidden under the verbal layer and interwoven with it” (p. 93). Brilliant. Together, these rhetorical strategies build slowly, yet irrevocably  upon the shoulders of the congregation. As history has well recorded, the sermon landed in Enfield like a bolt of electricity from the sky. Edwards hardly finished the sermon due to the outbreak of fervent emotion from troubled listeners. His “rhetoric of revival” hit the mark perfectly.

I have one quibble with Choinski, despite the thoroughness and remarkably informative content of this work. I sincerely wish he had chosen Heaven is a World of Love rather than giving us two sermons from Edwards (back to back) on Hell. This would have been a wonderful way to dispel Edwards’s undue reputation as a merely “fire and brimstone” preacher. Back to back, Sinners and Heaven would have been a powerful tandem to show how Edwards was just as capable of driving his audience towards the ecstasies of joy as well as the throes of terror.

Attentive readers will greatly enjoy Choinski’s work in Whitefield and Tennent as well as Edwards. Studies of Dickinson, Parsons, and Croswell add texture to the overall analysis. Lesser known preachers, they are remarkable in their own right and worthy of consideration.

Overall, I found this book to be excellent. Choinski’s writing is lucid and clear. His pace is sometimes slower than I would like, but this is a doctoral dissertation converted to a book after all! It is informative, well-written and complete. Truly, this is a magnificent study on a completely engaging topic. His sources are well chosen, and his use of Edwards and Whitefield contribute to our beloved field of study remarkably.

Had he chosen Heaven is a World of Love to analyze rather than double-dip on the brimstone, it would have been even one notch better in my view.






Don Whitney’s Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards and Its Influence on His Pastoral Ministry (Book Review)

Back in May, Edwards Studies had the opportunity to interview Dr. Don Whitney about his 2014 work, published by Peter Lang, entitled Finding God in Solitude: The Personal Piety of Jonathan Edwards and Its Influence on His Pastoral Ministry. In that brief interview, Dr. Whitney was able to share with our readers how he came to know and love Jonathan Edwards (read the interview here). As many of you probably already know, Dr. Whitney has a great fascination with the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life (prayer, fasting etc.) and has written about these themes extensively in his more popular books such as Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Praying the Bible among others.


In this brief  book review, we will delve more fully into his published dissertation on Jonathan Edwards and explore some of its primary themes. As the title suggests, the book primarily centers around two questions: First, how did Jonathan Edwards practice the spiritual disciplines? And secondly, how did his practice of these acts of piety effect his pastoral leadership? This is an interesting question, because Whitney is attempting to examine the intersection (conflict even?) between the Northampton Sage’s personal spiritual quest and his public leadership in the local church.


The book opens in the introduction with the primary task of the study in view stated clearly “The goal of this study is to evaluate the personal piety of Jonathan Edwards and the extent to which it influenced his pastoral ministry” (1).

As all dissertations do (this one reads very smoothly, like a well written book, but its academic genesis is not entirely concealed from the reader) he begins with definitions. Here, Whitney focuses on a few important definitions of terms such as “piety,” and “godliness.” In doing so, he is busy about the work of setting the parameters for an historical understanding of who the Puritans were, so crucial to his study. Whitney avers “There was no more characteristic ingredient of the English Puritan tradition than its emphasis on fervency in general and devotional piety as an expression of truly Biblical Christianity, and there was no more faithful heir to that tradition than Jonathan Edwards” (16).

Rounding out his introductory section, Whitney illuminates his readers on several important characteristics of Puritan ministers, namely their emphasis on catechizing (25), preaching (27-30), and the pastoral care of church members, including the controversial implementation of the Half-Way covenant (33). Concluding the first part of the book, Whitney notes the ascendance and increasing popularity of Edwards studies in general, and acknowledges hoping to contribute positively to the same by examining more fully how Edwards’s own personal practices of devotional piety helped (or in some ways even hindered) his ecclesiastical leadership.

In the first full chapter, Whitney gives his readers a very able summary of Edwards’s life and ministry. This is essentially a very compressed biography of the Awakening Preacher. And while this section does not necessarily break any new ground on the life of Jonathan Edwards, it does give the reader the benefit of a refresher course, or perhaps even an inauguration, into the basics of Edwards’s primary life events. Not surprisingly, Whitney tells of Edwards’s early life, conversion, education, marriage to Sarah, early ministry endeavors, revival encounters, and discusses his primary written sources. He also tells of his dismissal from the Northampton Church, foreshadowing his forthcoming assessments of Edwards possible failures as a pastor. Finally, concluding the chapter, he tells of Edwards’s time in Stockbridge (his most productive years from a written standpoint), as well as his short term as president of Princeton, and finally his death.

In chapter two, Whitney begins to focus in more closely on Edwards’s practices of piety, or to use his own preferred parlance, his “spiritual disciplines.” Here, the reader finds much encouraging material which sounds very much like some of the positive illustrations given in his more popular books, especially Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. In many ways, this chapter highlights Edwards very favorably. For instance, Whitney commenting on Edwards’s obvious love for the Lord, says “As Jesus was fully God, Edwards yearned for the closest possible relationship with Jesus. As Christ was the perfect man, Edwards wanted to harmonize every part of his life with the example of Christ” (77). Thus Edwards’s driving passion above all things was glorifying God in his life and emulating God’s Son in his sanctification.

Among the practices of Edwards’s piety discussed, it is clear that he favored and tended towards those which emphasized the structured consumption of the Bible. Thus, Bible reading, Bible memory, and copious notetaking on Scripture are predominant aspects of Edwards’s daily discipleship (78-81). Whitney says, “Care should be taken not to overlook the essential fact that prayerful study and prolonged meditation on the text of the Bible was the supreme means by which Edwards sought to know and experience God and to pursue conformity to the person and work of Jesus Christ” (81, emphasis added). Whitney believes that Edwards did not assign to all spiritual disciplines equal weight, at least in terms of his practice. Instead, he gave those practices which emphasize heavy doses of Bible consumption the most effort and time. For Edwards, his great joy was in reading and digesting the Bible. His copious Miscellanies and Notes on Scripture bear witness in this regard. It is hard to find much fault with a man so devoted to the Bible.

This is not to say, however that Edwards did not practice other spiritual disciplines. As Whitney catalogs, Edwards also practiced fasting (his rigorous monitoring of his diet is famous), journaling, and he led his family and children in regular gathered worship at the table and catechism in his study. More than that, there is no question that Edwards was also a man of prayer, as well as a man of the book. As for prayer, Edwards writes in one place that it “seemed natural for me, as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent” (85). Of course, the participation in the sacraments and public church attendance hardly need be mentioned since Edwards was a congregational minister for most of his professional life.

Yet at the same time, Whitney begins to notice a pattern in Edwards’s life that has been also observed by most others who examine the wigged Puritan’s life: Edwards by far preferred those spiritual disciplines that take place when one is completely alone in solitude as over against those practiced alongside other Christians. Hence, Whitney considers “solitude” as a separate but overlapping practice of its own (97-101). Along the way, Whitney drops hints that this preference for being alone will ultimately cause greater problems for Edwards in regards to his social and ecclesiastical relationships. This observation is not necessarily novel on Whitney’s part, but it does illustrate the practical truth that our personalities often bear impact on our public ministry (for better or for worse) in some ways.

In one interesting section (103-108), Whitney considers whether or not Edwards might have been a “mystic.” Though many definitions of this term have been offered, no particular category seems to fit Edwards neatly here. His great work The Religious Affections definitely show that Edwards preferred the revealed truth in Scripture as over against personal revelations of various kinds (dreams, visions, impressions on the mind, etc). Yet at the same time, there are instances in his Personal Narrative when he seems to describe ecstatic experiences, and at least one “vision” of Christ that defies tidy categorization. Eventually, Whitney admits that the definition of “mystic” is in the eye of the beholder, and allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusion.

In chapter three, Whitney then turns his attention to the minister’s public life. Quoting Samuel Hopkins, Whitney mentions that Edwards “commonly spent thirteen hours every day in his study” (109). This is hardly a public aspect of ministry, of course. But this time alone would bear fruit from the pulpit. And while this might be considered extremely pious pious by some, other readers will begin to draw more and more attention to the fact that this habit of solitude was not necessarily helpful as regards his relationships with his parishioners or the people of Northampton in general.

For his part, Edwards believed that his best use of time – even for the sake of his people – was alone in writing. For this reason, Whitney uses this chapter to summarize some of Edwards’s attempts to use solitude for the sanctification of his church. Obviously he dutifully prepared sermons intended for public proclamation (119). The pulpit was the most obvious place where his personal piety and public duties met and overlapped. But Edwards also crafted scores of thoughtful, insightful letters for the edification of many people: family, friends, ministers, inquirers, and church members. In some ways, Edwards was probably a better counselor through these means than in person. Even in writing his longer treatises and books, Edwards usually had the good of the godly collective in mind: he wrote to address problems he perceived in his own local church and in the broader evangelical community.

At the concluding section of the book, Whitney makes clear what thoughtful readers have already begun to suspect all along: Edwards was an extraordinary gifted man, whose practices of piety and gifts for ministry saw their best use in personal (even private) hours in the study. At the same time, his withdrawn and unsocial temper probably cost him respect in the eyes of many people. There is no doubt Edwards was “pious” by the best definition, however. Whitney says, “The list of Edwards’s devotional practices is so evidently congruent with those set forth in the Bible that doubters of this assertion must accept the burden of proof to identify a recognized practice of piety that cannot also be found in Edwards’s life” (133). This is all very good.

Edwards’s ultimate goal, Whitney notes, is described best on pages 136-137. Here the author states clearly that Jonathan Edwards sought happiness above all, defined correctly as “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.” I concur with this assessment wholeheartedly. This may come as a surprise to some who view Edwards as a staunch, dry, cold, doctrinally bent Puritan. But it does not come as a surprise to anyone who has read much of Edwards’s own works. His pursuit of joy, Whitney believes, is part and parcel of his pursuit of the spiritual disciplines. “Edwards was willing to sacrifice, if necessary, any happiness in this world-since it was temporary-in order to experience unending happiness in Heaven” (136). But it also must be observed that he found the most joy alone in Christ rather than with other believers.

So, did Edwards’s predilection for solitude hurt him as a pastor? Many think yes. Whitney does too, and admits that as far as his own congregation was concerned, Edwards’s impersonal temper probably caused him harm in the long run in terms of his congregant’s opinion of their minister. In many ways, he clearly had trouble relating to common folk, and their ability to relate to and understand their pastor suffered for it. The “Bad Book Case” and the Communion Controversy are a case in point. All the while, Whitney contends, Edwards sought to use his God-given gifts to the betterment of his people, even if what Edwards yearned to use most (his gifts of writing) were not duly appreciated in his own time.

Towards the end of the book, Whitney makes a most interesting comparison between Jonathan Edwards and the Puritan Richard Baxter (149). Baxter spent much time traveling from home to home in his parish personally catechizing his fellow churchmen. In this section, Whitney wonders on paper who had the greater impact. Edwards or Baxter? Whitney says that “In terms of example, nearly all pastors would probably find greater success in following something closer to Baxter’s methods than Edwards” (150). If pastors are looking for a role model, he thinks it better to emulate Baxter. And yet Whitney also seems to think that despite this, Edwards had the greater and longer impact in terms of church history due to the legacy of treasures Edwards left us in print. It would be hard to argue with that assessment.

Overall, I recommend this book wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.




Edwards Conference 2016 Audio Links

2016 Talks & Sermons

We’ve got all the audio links up and ready for your thoughtful consideration, thanks to the good and kind folks who sponsored the Edwards Conference 2016 this year.


Revd Dr Kevin Bidwell
Devotion on Matthew 6  –  The Lord’s Prayer & the Glory of God

Revd Iain H Murray
“Jonathan Edwards & Preparation for Revival

Revd Dr Gerald McDermott
“Can Reason Tell Us Anything About God? Edwards Against Modern Protestant Theology”

Revd Dr William Schweitzer
“A True Sense of the Glory of God: Jonathan Edwards & the Beatific Vision”

Revd Andrew Kerr
Sermon on: The Glory of God in Isaiah 6:1-8  –  Motivation for Ministry

Revd Dr Kevin Bidwell
Devotion on 2 Thessalonians: 2  –  The Glory of God in the Day of The Lord 

Revd Dr Iain D Campbell
“Religious Affections to the Glory of God”

Dr Douglas Sweeney
“God Glorified through the Forward March of Time: Jonathan Edwards & the History of Redemption”

Revd Dr Guy Waters
“Jonathan Edwards, The Gospel of John, & the Glory of God”

Revd Dr Michael Bräutigam
“Jonathan Edwards on the Transformative Power of Contemplating the Beauty of Jesus Christ”

Panel Discussion


Why Was Jonathan Edwards a Postmillennialist? By Obbie Tyler Todd

[Editor’s Note: The following article has been reposted, with permission by the author, from The Edwardsian. Please visit Obbie Tyler Todd’s site devoted to the study of the life and works of Jonathan Edwards.]

In 1959, C.C. Goen declared that Jonathan Edwards was “America’s first major postmillennial thinker.” It was not a compliment. According to Goen, Edwards’ heterodoxy catalyzed this unique strain of eschatology and subsequently steered America in the direction of “manifest destiny.” Finding no trace of postmillennialism in Puritan creeds such as the Westminster Confession of the 1640s, Goen locates the origin of this “new” end-times theology in Edwards. Despite the historical lacunae in Goen’s tenuous thesis, it still indicates a development in the way this particular eschatology was perceived. While Edwardsian scholarship has grown exponentially since the efforts of historian Perry Miller, Edwardsian eschatology has done the exact opposite. In some sense postmillennialism has gone the way of the theological dodo, begging the question: why was Jonathan Edwards a postmillennialist?

Over a century after Edwards’ death, the modified postmillennialism of modern thinkers like Shailer Matthews and Harry Emerson Fosdick repulsed conservative theologians. According to George Marsden, “Postmillennialism, by far the prevalent view among American evangelicals between the Revolution and the Civil War, helped provide the framework for this approach to secularization.” Postmillennialist liberals were typically optimistic about the spiritual progress of the culture. Where fundamentalists saw the rise of evolutionary theory and the loss of prayer in schools, modernists saw the dawn of the age of knowledge and understanding. (Most fundamentalists responded instead with rapture eschatology.) New York City pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick, who both summarized and inaugurated the fundamentalist-modernist controversy in 1922 with his famous “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”, declared, “I believe in the victory of righteousness upon this earth, in the coming kingdom of God whereon Christ looking shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, but I do not believe in the physical return of Jesus.” Much like its science curriculum, postmillennialism had evolved. And many scholars pointed the finger at Jonathan Edwards.

Edwards’ eschatology, while unique today, contained elements rather typical for his time. According to John F. Wilson, “Edwards thought on postmillennialism represented, therefore, nothing remarkably new until the Enlightenment transformed it.” In other words, it wasn’t Edwards who adapted millennial thought; it was later postmillennialists who adapted Edwards. For example, like most Reformation thinkers since Luther, Edwards’ interpretation of Revelation led him to identify the Pope as the Antichrist. Moreover, consistent with his epoch, Edwards’ millennial hopes were inextricable with his view of America as a covenant people. The Northampton Sage’s covenant theology contained both the covenant of grace and a national covenant that made heavy use of fast sermons and jeremiads calling the “peculiar” people of God to repentance. Like the “Jewish church,” America’s corporate identity as a chosen people manifested a strong sense of hope for deliverance in the earthly future. For this reason Harry Stout has called the federal covenant the “master organizing principle of New England culture.” Therefore, despite his departure from the Half-Way Covenant (“Stoddardeanism”), Edwards also drank deep from the well of American covenantalism.

An impressive panoply of Edwards’ postmillennialism is found in his An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies Concerning the Last Time (1748). In this publication, Edwards outlines not simply a vision for the American church, but a global expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In his very first sentence Edwards declares, “In this chapter we have a prophecy of a future glorious advancement of the church of God.” Edwards’ ecclesiology stretched far beyond Northampton or Stockbridge or New England; it was an international vision suited for a global Great Commission.

For Edwards, the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s served as the prelude or possibly even the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ upon the earth. Therefore, evident in other works such as A History of the Work of Redemption (1774), Edwards interpreted the events of his time through a deeply Christological lens that saw significance and meaning in everything – from British battles with Catholic France to the rise or fall of orthodoxy in a local association. He very much believed himself to be living in the midst of a global Awakening of biblical proportion, even arguing that the triumphs of the Antichrist in Revelation 11 (the slaying of the witnesses) and Revelation 16 (the timing of the pouring out of the vials) must have occurred prior to the Protestant Reformation. Edwards’ postmillennialism provided a sanguine worldview capable of sustaining such weighty expectations of glory.

Edwards outlines his global vision of Christian unity as such: “As ‘tis the glory of the church of Christ, that she, in all her members, however dispersed, is thus one, one holy society, one city, one family, one body; so it is desirable, that this union should be manifested, and become visible; and so, that her distant members should act as one, in those things that concern the common interest of the whole body, and in those duties and exercises wherein they do with their common Lord and Head, as seeking of him the common prosperity.” (Humble Attempt) The telos of the millennium, according to Edwards, was the realized union of God’s people with one another and with their Head. For this reason Rhys Bezzant has dubbed Edwards both an “ecclesial internationalist” as well as an “ecclesial millennialist.” His eschatology was horizontal as well as vertical. The postmillennial optimism that died with the world wars of the twentieth century was birthed in the open-air pulpits of a revolutionary Awakening. According to Allen Guelzo, “It was the fondest hope of Jonathan Edwards that the Great Awakening of the 1740s was simply the overture to the Day of Judgment and the thousand-year reign of God directly on earth, the Millennium, when ‘religion shall in every respect be uppermost in the world.’”

Edwards understood the millennial reign as primarily exercised through the church. Christ’s rule would be extended as the church expanded steadily through the success of the Gospel. The millennium itself, according to Edwards, was the climax to the history of the church that “witnesses Christ’s rule with minimal opposition in the world, with the saints in heaven as co-rulers through the church militant on earth.” (Jonathan Edwards and the Church, 153) In order to fulfill the inauguration of Christ’s millennial reign on earth, Edwards included in Humble Attempt a summary of a “Memorial” sent by ministers from Scotland rallying for an international prayer meeting. In it Edwards set forth his hope that ministers would encourage their congregants to meet for weekly “concerts of prayer.” These meetings would be the means through which God would consummate his salvific work around the world. Avihu Zakai locates this penchant for revival and insists, “By placing revival at the center of salvation history, Edwards conditioned many generations of Protestants in America to see religious awakenings as the essence of sacred, providential history.” In some sense Edwards’ postmillennialism has reached relative extinction in most evangelical circles. In another sense it lived on in the national optimism of successive American generations. Taking seriously the covenant made between God and His people, Jonathan Edwards was a postmillennialist who interpreted the monumental events of his age through an acutely Christological and especially optimistic lens.