A Chronology of the Life, Ministry, and Writings of Jonathan Edwards
[1701 / Yale College established]
1703 / Born October 5, East Windsor, Connecticut
He had 10 sisters (no brothers), all of whom were at least 6 ft. tall! Jonathan’s paternal grandmother was a chronic adulteress who bore another man’s child. She was psychotic, often given to fits of perversity, rage, and threats of violence (her sister murdered her own child and her brother killed another sister with an ax). She eventually deserted her family and was finally divorced by Jonathan’s grandfather.
Edwards received extensive theological training from his father during his early years and could read Latin by the age of six, Greek and Hebrew by twelve.
[1706 / Benjamin Franklin born]
[1710 / January 9, Sarah Pierpont born, New Haven, Connecticut]
1712 / spiritual awakening at East Windsor; builds prayer booth in the swamp (though not saved)
[1715 / death of Nicholas Malebranche, a French Augustinian Catholic philosopher]
1716-20 / Undergraduate at Yale College
The average age for beginning college was 16. He began his studies in September at Connecticut Collegiate School at Wethersfield. In October he moves to New Haven to study in the newly built Yale College but soon returns to Wethersfield because of disagreement with tutor Samuel Johnson. Upon Johnson’s removal, Edwards returns to New Haven in June. During his senior year (during the winter of 1719-20) he fell deathly ill with pleurisy. In September he delivered the valedictory address in Latin.
1719-20 / writes “Of Insects”
1720-22 / M.A. student at Yale
1720-21 / preaches first formal sermon, Christian Happiness (see Addendum on Edwards the Preacher)
1721 (spring [April?]) / Intense religious experiences (conversion?) begin (the impact of 1 Timothy 1:17)
Edwards’ journey into an all-absorbing love affair with the sweetness of God’s presence began with his meditation on one verse of Scripture.
"The first that I remember that ever I found any thing of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. 1:17, 'Now unto the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen.' As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused thro' it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be wrapt up to God in Heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in Him. I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of scripture to myself; and went to prayer, to pray to God that I might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do; with a new sort of affection” (“Personal Narrative”).
1721 / writes “Of the Rainbow,” “Of Light Rays,” begins work on “Natural Philosophy,” “Of Atoms,” “Of Being,” “Prejudices of the Imagination”
1722 (August) to 1723 (April) / Pastor of a Presbyterian church in New York City
In late fall of 1722 he began to record his Resolutions. The 70th, and last resolution, was written on August 17th, 1723. In December he started a spiritual diary in which he wrote intermittently from 1722 to 1725, with four additional entries in 1734-35. During this period he also begins the “Catalogue” of books he had read or wished to read. [By the time Edwards arrived in New York he had been embroiled for nearly eighteen months in an argument with his father and mother concerning the nature of conversion. See Yale 10:261-78. Writing in his Diary on August 12, 1723: “The chief thing, that now makes me in any measure to question my good estate, is my not having experienced conversion in those particular steps wherein the people of New England, and anciently the dissenters of Old England, used to experience it, wherefore, now resolved, never to leave searching till I have satisfyingly found out the very bottom and foundation, the real reason, why they used to be converted in those steps”]
1722 / Timothy Cutler, rector of Yale, together with one of the two tutors and five local ministers declared they had converted to Anglicanism (this came to be known as “The Great Apostasy”). The latter was feared because of its accommodation to “Arminian impulses” (Yale, 14:50), its openness to Latitudinarianism, and the potential for corruption and authoritarianism in its ecclesiological practices.
1722 (October) / He writes his first entry in what was to become known as The Miscellanies. These entries, of which there are over 1,400, varied in length from a short paragraph to several pages.
“My method of study, from my first beginning the work of ministry, has been very much by writing; applying myself in this way, to improve every important hint; pursuing the clue to my utmost, when anything in reading, meditation or conversation, has been suggested to my mind, that seemed to promise light in any weighty point. Thus penning what appeared to me my best thoughts, on innumerable subjects for my own benefit. The longer I prosecuted my studies in this method, the more habitual it became, and the more pleasant and profitable I found it” (Letter to the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, Oct. 19, 1757).
1723 (April) / New York City pastorate ends
1723 (summer) / returns home at East Windsor on May 1
Writes poem in praise of Sarah Pierpont (she was only 13 at the time).
1723 (September) / receives his M.A. from Yale; his thesis, written in Latin, was on the doctrine of imputation (of Adam’s sin to his posterity and of Christ’s righteousness to the believer)
1723 (September) / begins a new notebook titled “The Mind”
1723 (October 23rd) / writes letter on Spiders
1723 (October) / begins Notes on the Apocalypse
1723 (November) to 1724 (May) / Pastor of church at Bolton, Connecticut
1723 (November) / writes “Apostrophe to Sarah Pierpont”
1723 / “Miscellanies” aa-94
1724 (January) / begins Notes on Scripture
1724 / “Miscellanies” 94-146
1724-26 (elected on May 21) / Tutor at Yale (serious illness in the fall of 1725 that lasted three months: “In this sickness God was pleased to visit me again with the sweet influences of his Spirit. My mind was greatly engaged there, on divine and pleasant contemplations, and longings of soul” [Personal Narrative])
In September of 1724 he has an unidentified spiritual crisis that casts him into a depression that lasts for three years. The following entry in his Diary is dated September 26, 1726:
“’Tis just about three years, that I have been for the most part in a low, sunk estate and condition, miserably senseless to what I used to be, about spiritual things. ‘Twas three years ago, the week before commencement; just about the same time this year, I began to be somewhat as I used to be” (Yale, 16:788).
1725 / “Miscellanies” 152-195
1726 (April-July) / preaches intermittently at Glastonbury, Connecticut
1726 / On August 29 is asked to assist his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard in Northampton; resigns tutorship in September; accepts the call to Northampton in November
1726 / “Miscellanies” 196-237, 261-262, 267-274, 313-314
1727 / He is ordained on February 15, 1727.
1727 (July 28) / Marries Sarah Pierpont
Fall of 1727 – he experiences a dramatic recovery from the three-year depression.
1727 (October 29) / massive earthquake shakes New England ; a brief spiritual awakening results. Edwards preaches Impending Judgments Averted Only by Reformation on December 21st, a colony-wide fast day.
1727 / “Miscellanies” 238-255, 279-305, 315-317
1728 (September or October) / he begins the notebook, Shadows of Divine Things, later Images of Divine Things. He continued to add new entries until 1756.
1728 (August 25) / their first child, Sarah, is born
1728 / “Miscellanies” 256-260, 265-266, 275-278, 306-310, 318-384
1729 (February 11) / Stoddard dies and Edwards becomes Pastor of church
The church in 1735 had approximately 620 members. It was customary for Edwards to spend 13 hours a day in his study. However, contrary to widespread opinion, he was anything but an academic recluse. He was always available both to his family and his congregation and generally received them into his study for counseling and prayer.
1729 (Spring) / Edwards experiences “acute emotional and physical fatigue, apparently accompanied by a loss of voice, that manifested all the signs of an anxiety disorder that modern psychologists often equate with creativity” (Yale, 14:13). He took a 17-day trip to New Haven (late April to early May), but suffered another collapse in early June that made it impossible for him to preach for a month.
[1729 (December) / his sister Jerusha dies of a “malignant fever”]
1729 / “Miscellanies” 385-454
1730 (January) / begins “Discourse on the Trinity”
1730 (April 26) / their second child, Jerusha, is born
1730 (October) / makes first entries in his “Blank Bible”
1730 / “Miscellanies” 455-487
[1731 / Edwards may have met George Berkeley (1685-1753) on a trip to Newport ]
1731 (January) / “Miscellanies” beginning at no. 488
1731 (May 7) / purchases “Negro girl named Venus” in Newport, Rhode Island
1731 (July 8) / preaches God Glorified in Man’s Dependence at the public lecture in Boston (this became the first of his sermons to be published; it was based on 1 Cor. 1:29-31)
1732 (February 13) / their third child, Esther, is born
1733 (January) / “Miscellanies” 612
1733 (December) / “Miscellanies” beginning at no. 625
1734 (April 7) / their fourth child, Mary, is born
1734 (August) / preaches A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to be both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine
1734 (November) / preaches series on Justification by Faith Alone (95 pages in the Yale edition!); “Miscellanies” 668
1734-35 / First wave of revival in Northampton and Connecticut Valley
1735 (June 1) / Joseph Hawley, Edwards’ uncle, commits suicide by cutting his throat
1734-35 / the case of Robert Breck
First Church , Springfield , decided to call Robert Breck, an Arminian, as its pastor. He was installed and ordained in January 1736 despite the opposition of a majority of the Hampshire County ministers, one of whom was Edwards.
1735 / preaches The Most High, a Prayer-Hearing God
1736 (August) / “Miscellanies” 698
[1736 (August 21) / his sister Lucy dies of “throat distemper”]
1736 (August 31) / their fifth child, Lucy, is born
1736 (Fall-Winter) / Joseph Bellamy comes to study with Edwards
1737 / A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions (between 1737 and 1739 it went through three editions and twenty printings)
On March 13th the gallery in Edwards’ church split in the middle and crashed down on the parishioners below. No one died. A new meetinghouse was dedicated on December 25th.
1738 / preaches The Excellency of Christ
1738 (April-October) / preaches Charity and Its Fruits (published in 1851)
[1738 / John Wesley begins Methodist revivals in England ]
1738 (July 25) / their sixth child and first boy, Timothy, is born
1738 (October) / “Miscellanies” 756
1739 (February) / “Miscellanies” 788
1739 (between March and August) / preaches series of 30 sermons on the History of the Work of Redemption, based on Isaiah 51:8 (published in 1774)
1739 (August) / “Miscellanies” 807
1739 (winter) / “Miscellanies” 832
1740 (January) / “Miscellanies” 841
1740 (June 20) / their seventh child, Susannah, is born
1740 (August) / “Miscellanies” 847
1740 / George Whitefield’s preaching tour of New England sparks First Great Awakening (1740-42)
Whitefield arrives in Northampton on October 17 and preaches Sunday morning and again in Edwards’ home that evening, as well as three more times over the next two days. Whitefield reported that Edwards “wept during the whole time of the exercise. According to Edwards, “the congregation was extraordinarily melted by every sermon; almost the whole assembly being in tears for a great part of sermon time” (4:545).
1740 (November) / preaches They Sing a New Song; “Miscellanies” 859-860
1740 / writes A Personal Narrative
George Claghorn believes the Personal Narrative “may have been written in response to a request from his future son-in-law Aaron Burr. In a letter to Edwards in March 1741, Burr thanks him for his of December 14, 1740, adding: ‘I desire to bless God that he inclined you to write and especially to write so freely of your own experiences; I think it has been much blessed to my spiritual good. Though I have often heard and read of others’ experiences, I never [met] with’m anything that had the like effect upon me. It came in a most seasonable time, and was the means of clearing up several things that I was in the dark about’” (16:747).
It is likely, notes Claghorn, that “Edwards probably did not intend his account to be published, and without knowing what restrictions he put on the distribution of the manuscript, we cannot say whether anyone beyond Edwards’ closest acquaintances read it before his death” (16:748).
1741 (May) / “Miscellanies” 862
1741 (July 8) / preaches Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
1741 (August-September) / “Miscellanies” 874; Great Awakening peaks in Northampton
1741 (September 10) / preaches Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God as the Yale commencement speech
1741 (December) / Arrival at Edwards’ home of Samuel Hopkins (who would later become the only eyewitness to write a biography of Edwards). Of Edwards, he writes:
“Though he was of tender constitution, yet few students are capable of a closer or longer application, than he was. He commonly spent thirteen hours, every day, in his study. His usual recreation in summer, was riding on horseback and walking. He would commonly, unless prevented by company, ride two or three miles after dinner to some lonely grove, where he would dismount and walk a while. At such times he generally carried his pen and ink with him, to note any thought that might be suggested, and which promised some light on any important subject. In the winter, he was wont, almost daily, to take an axe, and chop wood, moderately, for the space of half an hour or more.”
1741 (December) / “Miscellanies” 903
[1742 / Revival breaks out in Scotland ]
1742 / Sarah Edwards’ ecstatic experiences (began on January 20, through February 4)
“His account of his wife’s spiritual experience is one of the most striking passages in all he ever wrote, and Sarah’s own narrative . . . is an amazing testimony to how much of heaven can be enjoyed upon earth” ( Murray , 193).
1742 (March 16) / Northampton covenant
1742 (June) / “Miscellanies” 991
1742 (Fall-Winter) / writes Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England
1742 / begins sermon series (concluded in 1743) that would eventually be published as Religious Affections
1743 (May 9) / their eighth child, Eunice, is born
[1743 (September) / Charles Chauncy publishes his response to Edwards: Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England]
Chauncy’s overall assessment of the revival: “For myself, I am among those who are clearly in the Opinion, that there never was such a Spirit of Superstition and Enthusiasm reigning in the Land before. . . . A good Number, I hope, have settled into a truly Christian temper: Tho’ I must add, at the same time, that I am far from thinking, that the Appearance, in general, is any other than the effect of enthusiastick [sic] Heat. The goodness that has been so much talked of, ‘tis plain to me, is nothing more, in general, than a Commotion in the Passions.”
1744 (begins in March) / “Young Folks’ Bible” (or, the “Bad Books”) case
1744-1749 / Types of the Messiah (Misc. 1069)
1744 / “Miscellanies” 1067-1069
1745 (May 26) / their ninth child and second son, Jonathan, is born
1746 / publishes A Treatise concerning Religious Affections
[1746 / College of New Jersey ( Princeton University ) established]
1747 (May 6) / their tenth child, Elizabeth, is born
1747 (May-June) / the visit (May 28) and death (Oct. 9) of David Brainerd
1747 (October) / 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
1748 (February 15) / death of daughter Jerusha
[1748 (June 19) / death of Edwards’ uncle, John Stoddard, his greatest benefactor]
1748 (summer) / “Miscellanies” 1101
1749 / An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend David Brainerd
1749 (August) / An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, concerning the Qualifications Requisite to a complete Standing and full Communion in the Visible Christian Church
1750 (April 8) / their eleventh child and third son, Pierpont, is born
1750 (June 22) / Dismissed from Northampton pastorate
1750 (July 2) / Preached his farewell sermon on 2 Cor. 1:14
· His requests for an increase in salary (11 children)
· His response to "bundling" among the youth
· His sermons on "bad books" and public identification of the innocent
· His opposition to Stoddard's doctrine of the Lord's supper as a "converting ordinance"
[Four days after preaching his farewell sermon he wrote to John Erskine: “I am fitted for no other business but study, I should make a poor hand at getting a living by any secular employment. We are in the hands of God, and I bless him, I am not anxious concerning his disposal of us.” Edwards actually continued to fill the pulpit on several occasions from July through November at Northampton after his dismissal.]
1751 (June) / Settles in Stockbridge, Massachusetts , as pastor and missionary to Indians
1751 (March) / “Miscellanies” 1180
1751 (October 18) / family moves to Stockbridge
[1752 / Benjamin Franklin’s electrical experiment with the kite]
1752 (June 29) / third daughter, Esther, marries Aaron Burr, president of the New Jersey College (later named Princeton ). Their son, Aaron Burr, Jr., was to become Vice-President of the U.S.
1752 / publishes Misrepresentations Corrected and Truth Vindicated (a reply to Solomon Williams on the qualifications necessary for communion)
1752 (August) / “Miscellanies” 1200
1752 (September 28) / preaches “True Grace, Distinguished from the Experience of Devils”
1753 (March 14) / writes his last will and testament
1753 (April) / completes the first draft of Freedom of the Will
1753 (winter) / “Miscellanies” beginning with no. 1227
1754 (December) / publishes A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the modern prevailing Notions of Freedom of the Will
In the summer of 1754 Edwards fell into a serious illness that lasted seven months
1755 (February 11-13) / reads recently completed Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World to Bellamy and Hopkins; The Nature of True Virtue finished shortly thereafter (published in 1765)
1755 / Timothy Edwards, Jonathan’s father, finally ends his ministry in East Windsor at the age of 87
1756 / “Miscellanies” beginning with no. 1281
1757 (February) / revival breaks out at Princeton (the College of New Jersey ); renews Edwards’ hopes for genuine outpouring of the Spirit
1757 (May) / Final draft of The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin defended
1757 (September 24) / Aaron Burr, Edwards’ son-in-law (Esther) and president of the College of New Jersey , dies
1757 (September 29) / the trustees of the College of New Jersey write and offer the presidency
1757 / “Miscellanies” beginning with no. 1358
1758 (January 8) / He preaches his farewell sermon to the Indians at Stockbridge
1758 (January 27) / his father, Timothy, dies
1758 / Original Sin published
1758 (February 16) / Installed as President of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University )
In his letter of October 19, 1757, Edwards responded to the invitation of the Trustees that he take up this new position. Among the reasons why he felt unfit for the task is the following:
“I have a constitution in many respects peculiar unhappy, attended with flaccid solids, vapid, sizy and scarce fluids, and a low tide of spirits; often occasioning a kind of childish weakness and contemptibleness of speech, presence, and demeanor; with a disagreeable dullness and stiffness, much unfitting me for conversation, but more especially for the government of a college” (Yale, 16:726).
He also cited what he believed was his deficiency “in some parts of learning, particularly in algebra, and the higher parts of mathematics.”
1758 (March 22) / Dies of smallpox inoculation
One month after assuming his position at Princeton Edwards was inoculated for smallpox (February 23rd). He contracted a fever from which he died on March 22. His final words were written to his daughter, Lucy:
"Dear Lucy, it seems to me to be the will of God that I must shortly leave you; therefore give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell yer, that the uncommon union, which has so long subsisted between us, has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever: and I hope she will be supported under so great a trial, and submit cheerfully to the will of God. And as to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you."
Sarah was herself quite ill when she received the news by letter. On April 3, she wrote to her daughter Esther:
"What shall I say: A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud. O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left to us! We are all given to God: and there I am and love to be. Your ever affectionate mother, Sarah Edwards."
1758 (April 7) / Edwards’ daughter, Esther, dies (leaving two infants, Sally and Aaron, the latter was to become Vice-President of the U.S. , but sadly did not become a Christian)
1758 (October 2) / Sarah Edwards dies from dysentery in Philadelphia (she was 48)
The youngest Edwards child, Betty, died three years later at the age of fourteen. Of the seven daughters, Eunice lived the longest, dying in 1822 at the age of seventy-nine.
1771 / Edwards’ mother dies at the age of 98
After Edwards’ death, the task of preparing his manuscripts for publication was taken up by Samuel Hopkins and Joseph Bellamy.
Edwards the Preacher
- There are approximately 1,200 extant sermons, probably four-fifths of the original number.
- His favorite sermon texts, in order of preference: Matthew, Luke, Isaiah, Psalms, John, 1 Corinthians, Proverbs, and Romans.
- “Edwards considered every sermon to be, in a very literal sense, ‘occasional.’ That is, every sermon, despite the abstract tone resulting from the conventions of the traditional sermon, form, is a response to a specific situation in society” (Yale 10:138).
- Many, if not most, of Edwards’ later theological treatises, for which he is justly famous, appear to have been built on sermons he earlier preached.
- His sermon “booklets” were 3 7/8 inches by 4 1/8 inches.
(1) Text (the Scripture passage, often followed by a definition of difficult terms, parallel passages, and a brief explanation of its meaning)
(2) Doctrine (structurally the most complex part of a sermon; usually begins with a brief, singular statement of the doctrine; however “sometimes, when the Scripture text is a clear, concise statement of thesis in itself and in need of no explication, Text and Doctrine elide and the Scripture quotation becomes the statement of doctrine” [Yale, 10:38]; often the doctrine is divided into a number of individual propositions, each of which is then developed under subheadings such as Inquiries, Observations, Arguments, and Reasons)
(3) Application (in most sermons this is the largest section, often longer than the Text and Doctrine combined; the focus is experience and practice).
In his early years Edwards wrote out his sermons in full manuscript form. With the onset of the Great Awakening in 1740 many of his sermons were in outline form only. Many believe this was due in part to the influence of Whitefield who had perfected the art of extemporaneous preaching.
His delivery was undramatic. He had an unimpressive voice, but did not preach in a monotone.
According to his student, Samuel Hopkins,
“his delivery was easy, natural and very solemn. He had not a strong, loud voice; but appeared with such gravity and solemnity.” When asked if Edwards was “eloquent”, Stephen West remarked, “He had no studied varieties of the voice, and no strong emphasis. He scarcely gestured, or even moved; and he made no attempt, by the elegance of his style, or the beauty of his pictures, to gratify the taste, and fascinate the imagination. But, if you mean by eloquence, the power of presenting an important truth before an audience, with overwhelming weight of argument, and with such intenseness of feeling, that the whole soul of the speaker is thrown into every part of the conception and delivery; so that the solemn attention of the whole audience is riveted, from the beginning to the close, and impressions are left that cannot be effaced; Mr. Edwards was the most eloquent man I ever heard speak” (Banner, 1:cxc).
An obituary that appeared on April 10, 1758, described him thusly:
“As a preacher, he was well known, neither quick nor slow of speech. His language was full, but not ornamented. He regarded thoughts more than words. Precision of sentiment and clearness of diction formed the principal character of his style. In middle life he appeared emaciated (I had almost said mortified) by intense study and hard labour; hence his voice was a little low for a large assembly, but much helped by a proper emphasis, just cadence, and great distinctness in pronunciation.”
There is some evidence that early in his career he tended to read his sermon manuscripts. However, Solomon Stoddard had spoken harshly against the practice and no eyewitness ever records him reading a manuscript. By the 1740s sought to memorize his sermons and brought only an outline into the pulpit with him (“By the time of his death over a third of his surviving sermon manuscripts were outlines rather than the fully written work of earlier years,” Murray, 189). He often inserted extemporaneous remarks when helpful.