Posted in theology

Who was Jonathan Edwards?

By Elizabeth Prata

The Puritans are certainly worth reading. If you follow this blog for even a short time, you know I’m going to bring those guys up, lol. They were part of my pre-salvation, arousing a curiosity in me as to the worth of God, that they would leave all they knew to come to the New World so as to worship. That alone told me the worth of Jesus, something in my sinful, unconverted state I didn’t understand but was curious about.

Jonathan Edwards is considered the ‘last Puritan’. He is also almost universally acknowledged as America’s greatest theologian. Joel Beeke, a Puritan authority, said Edwards “was a powerful force behind the First Great Awakening, as well as a champion of Christian zeal and spirituality.”

Edwards lived from 1703-1758. During his shortish life, he wrote profusely, constantly, and expertly. His writings on theology were well-founded and concise, always pointing to the greatness of God.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says “His work as a whole is an expression of two themes — the absolute sovereignty of God and the beauty of God’s holiness.”

Encyclopedia Britannica says, “Jonathan Edwards, (born October 5, 1703, East Windsor, Connecticut [U.S.]—died March 22, 1758, Princeton, New Jersey), greatest theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism, stimulator of the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening,” and one of the forerunners of the age of Protestant missionary expansion in the 19th century.

That is an incredible legacy.

He ascended his first pulpit as a sole pastor in Northampton, the most important church in Massachusetts outside of Boston. In his first published sermon, preached in 1731 to the Boston clergy and significantly entitled God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him, in the Whole of It. Edwards preached 1 Corinthians 1.29, 30, 31, saying at the outset, “All the Good that they have is in and through Christ; He is made unto us Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, and Redemption.”

Edwards is well known for his many books, such as The End for Which God Created the World, The Life of David Brainerd, which inspired thousands of missionaries throughout the 1800s, and Religious Affections, which is “probably the most profound analysis of spiritual experience ever written – and by the most brilliant philosopher/theologian to ever come from North America (and possibly the English language)” says one reviewer.

He also penned the ’70 Resolutions’, “As a young man – a teenager, really – Jonathan Edwards set down on paper a series of thoughts and practices to help cultivate his growth in grace. (See 2 Peter 3.18)  Edwards then re-read this list at least once a week to keep his mind focused and renewed. The result was that he became a man of humble godliness, who was to become a significant spark used to ignite one of the greatest revivals known to history.” (Source)

Edwards had a wide range of interests. He was was pastor, writer, theologian, missionary supporter, college President, but also a natural history expert. He was very interested in natural history and took long walks or horse rides with pen and notebook in hand to take notes on his observations. As a precocious 11-year-old, he’d observed and written an essay detailing the ballooning behavior of some spiders. He later published this as a scientific essay titled “The Flying Spider”.

When people think of Jonathan Edwards they most likely think of his most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. In that sermon, widely acknowledged for sparking the Great Awakening, a massive revival where many souls were won to God, Edwards used hard truths and vivid imagery to make clear the dangerous state of the unconverted. He used a spider allusion, given his knowledge of and interest in the crawling arachnid. Here are just a few excerpts-

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock. 

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. 

Wrath and God’s offense at sin and sinners is much discarded in the face of love and roses and our worth and lovableness, as many teach today (especially female ‘Bible teachers’). But we must understand the sinfulness of sin, God’s hate toward sin, and our precarious state as an unbeliever. Edwards made that vividly plain to the listeners that day in 1741.

In fact, they were so struck, they kept crying out in spiritual agony, pitching themselves toward the altar asking piteously “What shall we do to be saved?” Eventually the cries and mayhem were such that Edwards had to stop preaching, and pastors went down the aisles to pray with people and talk of salvation.

Though Edwards is famous for his focus on hell in that particular sermon, his voluminous works contained much more focus on heaven. For example, he is known for his book Heaven, a World of Love.

If you are unfamiliar with Jonathan Edwards, he is a good one to look up. His works are edifying and challenging, not to mention noteworthy. His contribution to the faith stands as monumental, 300 years after his passing into glory.

Further Resources

Meet the Puritans: Jonathan Edwards, by Joel Beeke (essay)

Jonathan Edwards: Author Bio by Banner of Truth (essay)

Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards by Elisabeth D. Dodds (book)

Jonathan Edwards: Teaching series Stephen Nichols (6 videos) I enjoyed this course on Edwards. The first message is free. The rest are behind a paywall. I recommend it though, it’s an easy way to learn about the man, and so interesting.

Resolutions with Jonathan Edwards, 5 Minutes in Church History with Stephen Nichols. Take a listen, it’s only 5 minutes!


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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