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Who was Jonathan Edwards?
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was the third president of Princeton University, although he died a year after he was elected. He was educated at Yale, preached in New
How did the Enlightenment affect the United States?
America did not develop its own philosophical tradition until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the period before the American Revolution and the founding of the new republic, the excitement of liberty from oppressive government, the dignity of the individual, and rights to private property were all highly motivating ideas.
These optimistic ideas were inspirational in the writings of Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others. The American separation of church from state, as an article of individual liberty—against oppressive government religion, and for free thought and speech—came directly from Enlightenment ideas, as did the division of the powers of government and the distrust of government.
It should be noted, however, that libertinism and outright atheism were to remain European phenomena for a very long time. Under the inspiration of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), American Protestant religious philosophy flourished in the late eighteenth century in a New England Born-Again movement known as "the Great Awakening."
York City, and became a leader of the Great Awakening in 1729 in Massachusetts. His theology was a Puritan form of Calvinism.
Edward's interest in philosophy included Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715), the Cambridge Platonists, and John Locke (1632-1704). He was himself an idealist, similar to George Berkeley (1685-1783), who held that human minds are made up of thoughts and sensations, God being the only true substance.
What was original in Jonathan Edwards' view of God?
Jonathan Edwards developed the idea that God loves and is delighted by Himself and creates us and other creatures as part of this joy in Himself. Edwards taught that God's love is disinterested and that he is supremely beautiful, infusing the entire world with "His Loveliness." By comparison, the beauty seen by mortals is "secondary," an imperfect copy of what God sees.
Was Jonathan Edwards merciful toward sinners?
Not in the least. Jonathan Edwards thought that many humans were depraved and that a real Hell awaited them. There is a tone of delight in these facts in his 1741 sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Edwards not only believed that sinners would be punished, but that God himself had no pity for their agony. He wrote:
If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.
And, insofar as the virtuous strive to emulate God, Edwards felt it is fitting that they enjoy the suffering of such sinners in Hell. In 1758, in his "Why Saints in Glory Will Rejoice to See the Torments of the Damned," Edwards wrote:
When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!
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