The Decline and Fall of New England Congregationalism
Rev. Angus Stewart
(slightly modified from an article first published in
the Protestant Reformed
The City Set on a Hill
The New England Theology
Of the various parts of God's earth, New England would
appear to have been one of the most favoured. Settled in the sixteenth
century by godly Congregationalist pilgrims, it had complete freedom from
the oppressive Church of England, and liberty to worship according to the
dictates of conscience, in the light of the Scriptures. In the next
century it was graced with America's greatest philosopher-theologian,
Jonathan Edwards, and had experienced the Great Awakening. Indeed, New
England had several revivals, varying in extent, both in the preceding and
Yet by the beginning of the twentieth century and even
before, New England Congregationalism was apostate. How can we account for
this great spiritual fall? This essay seeks to trace the decline and fall
of New England Congregationalism, from the pilgrim settlers, through
Jonathan Edwards, to the demise and death of the distinctively "New
England Theology," in the end of the nineteenth century.
(II) "The City Set on a Hill"
At daybreak, November 9, 1620, the Mayflower, carrying
one hundred and forty-four persons, made landfall off the tip of Cape Cod,
Massachusetts. Of the hundred and five passengers, which boarded the ship
in Plymouth, England, only thirty-five were actually pilgrims. The rest
were either "indentured servants or persons of particular skills likely to
be useful in the new colony."
The people compacted themselves in a civil covenant under the rule of God,
and a church covenant was formed of those who desired to be gathered in
the name of Christ. The "holy experiment" had begun; "the city set on a
hill" was being built.
Covenanting was to prove the norm in the churches. The
church in Salem at its organization declared,
with the Lord and with one another, and doe bynd ourselves in the presence
of God, to walk together in all his waies, according as he is pleased to
reveale himself unto us in his Blessed word of truth.
It was felt
that a more extensive statement was not required, and, at the time, no
suitable confession was readily available. The emphasis on the Bible,
rather than on confessional orthodoxy, was in accord with the ideas of
John Robinson, the leader of the English Separatists in Leiden, whose
ideas many of the pilgrims brought with them.
many, extreme hardships in the New World, including a very harsh first
winter, the little colony survived and grew. Through immigration and
expansion, other colonies were soon established, including those in
Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire. By 1630, one thousand
Puritans had arrived in New England, and over the next decade eighteen
thousand Englishmen settled there.
The Congregationalists (or Independents) and the Puritans, both being
experientialist Calvinist groups, were doctrinally homogenous, though they
differed in their views of the Church of England. Gradually, the proximity
to their Congregational brethren, and the physical distance to the
Established Church in England, led to the Puritans' severing their old
ties and forging new ones: they became Separatists.
In May 1631,
the Massachusetts General Court decreed to limit the franchise to the
Congregationalist churches. This enactment was characteristic of the
Massachusetts and New Haven colonies, but not those in Plymouth or
Connecticut. Nevertheless it did serve to repress Anglican sympathizers.
Congregationalism, unofficially but essentially, became the next thing to
a state church in New England.
As Williston Walker observes,
coming body of Christians, not violently out of sympathy with the views of
the founders, would organize themselves after the pattern with which the
founders had connected the franchise, and which was in so many respects
attractive to the advanced Puritan.
By 1639, of the
approximately thirty-three churches of New England, only two had pastors
inclined to Presbyterianism.
significant threat to the New England way of church life came in the
celebrated Roger Williams. Much lauded by later democratic America, as a
martyr for freedom, the erratic and outspoken Williams was the nemesis of
the New England clergy. Theologically, his significance lies in his
radical separatism. He advocated complete separation between church and
state, and held to a "pure church" of "visible saints," which was to
separate from all "worldly" sister churches. He denied paedobaptism,
since, for him, baptism was a sign and confession of God's grace in
He was, in short, an Anabaptist.
Williams was expelled to Rhode Island, where he remained a Baptist only a
few weeks, before coming to the opinion that Christianity was broader than
denominations. Rhode Island, though, more or less officially,
Congregationalist, became a centre for the disaffected and the mainstay of
the Baptists. Sadly, the Baptists were largely of the "General" variety,
with their heresy of universal atonement. These Baptists made converts in
the rest of New England.
had been a loose cannon right from the start, the next "troubler of
Israel" was, in the beginning, perceived as a warm-hearted and pious
"mother in Israel." Mrs. Hutchinson, at first, merely comforted and
exhorted women, but she was a charismatic and magnetic figure, and soon
men were found in her audience ... and heresies in her orations. She was
an Antinomian; sanctification did not involve obedience to God's law. For
her, the evidence of justification was an immediate revelation by the
indwelling Spirit. Those who responded that the justified sinner must keep
the law out of thankfulness, Mrs. Hutchinson decried as legalists, who
were reimposing the Covenant of Works.
had significant connections including the governor, Henry Vane, as well as
significant followers in the churches of Boston, where she lived. The
legal machinery of Boston proved unable to resolve the matter and, since
it had now become a concern for the whole colony, a synod was called.
Delegates from the churches of both Massachusetts and Connecticut met in
Boston for nearly three weeks in September 1637. Eighty-two errors were
ascribed to the Hutchinson view and, six months later, she was banished
and also found her way to Rhode Island.
One of the most
significant aspects of the Hutchinson controversy was what it revealed of
Boston itself. The delegates from the Boston church had objected to
synod's resolution and some had even walked out. Fifty-eight individuals
who signed a protest against synod's decision later refused to express
contrition and were disarmed, and some also were disenfranchised. With
that, opposition in Boston was silenced, but it was a work of civil
authority more than grace.
An even more
subjective tendency was seen in the emergence of the Quakers. With their
inner light, they made God's revelation in the Scriptures redundant and
derogated the intrinsic worth of Christ's atonement.
The New England magistrate sought, at first, to repress the most
obnoxious Quakers with the death penalty. Between 1659 and 1661, four
individuals were executed for repeatedly denouncing Massachusetts' civil
and church powers.
However, in 1677 punishment was reduced to whipping. Soon after the
accession of William and Mary to the throne of England (1688), a new
charter was granted to the New England colonies, giving freedom of
religion to all Protestants, including the Quakers.
instances of radical doctrine indicate that seventeenth century New
England was not an idyllic, homogeneous society.
Furthermore, the immigrants over this period included "fugitives from
justice, soldiers of fortune and men seeking wealth" rather than God.
Perhaps, the biggest problem of all for the New England Puritans was the
second and third generations: they were mostly unconverted. The spiritual
zeal of many of the first settlers, enflamed, as it was, by their
persecutions in the Old World, was largely unknown to their children. For
many, the Protestant work ethic (to use Weber's phrase) had degenerated
into greed. For others, the rough frontier life, coupled with the perils
of the Indian wars, resulted in a deprived religious education.
spiritual declension was particularly evident in the refusal of the
majority of parents to present their children for baptism. There was
widespread alarm and various remedies were considered. Two important
Puritan ideals were involved, and both were firmly rooted in the founding
of the colonies: the church-in-society or "holy commonwealth" model, and
the pure church principle. Those strongly supportive of the "holy
commonwealth" idea insisted that the church must maintain her influence in
the civil order and so were more favourable to lowering church membership
requirements. Others contended fiercely for the Congregational view of the
"gathered church" consisting of those who had responded to the call of
Christ. The church was forced to make a decision: it was the former view
that was to win out.
championed the position that unconverted persons professing adherence to
the fundamental articles of Christianity and not living in notorious sin,
could have their children baptized. Though not in God's Covenant of Grace
inwardly, they nevertheless partook of its blessings externally. They
were, so to speak, halfway in the covenant. The profane practice of the
"Half-Way Covenant" (as it was later known) spread, but not all agreed
with it, and so a synod was called.
Synod of 1648 hesitated and formulated no definite statement. It did,
however, officially approve the doctrinal parts of the Westminster
Standards (1643-47), while allowing individuals and congregations to
formulate their own creeds should they so desire.
Deliberately rejecting Westminster's Presbyterian government, the
delegates drafted their church polity: the Cambridge Platform of Church
Discipline. Two points need to be noted here: first, the Cambridge
Platform allowed for churches without elders, and, second, it ascribed
only advisory authority to the broader assemblies. Thus, as David Engelsma
the kingship of Christ over the church in its two basic respects: rule
over the congregation by a body of elders and authority over the united
congregations in prescribed areas by an authoritative synod.
In 1650, only
one third of the New England churches had elders. Many ministers were
pleased at this, for it gave them greater ruling power.
One scholar has produced detailed evidence of a lordly spirit amongst the
pastors, and a corresponding lack of respect for them amongst the people.
Evidences of rebellious congregations are not wanting either, and the weak
inter-church polity of the Cambridge Platform, in many instances, proved
regarding baptism continued. Although several ministers, like Increase
Mather, and many godly laymen protested strongly against the Half-Way
Covenant, it continued to gain support. Then, at the Synod of 1662, the
church at large placed her rubber stamp of approval on the Half-Way
Covenant. The world had entered the church through the baptismal font. The
theological debate was not, of course, laid to rest. Rather, the lines of
demarcation had been greatly sharpened, and the anti-synodalists continued
to write and preach against the Half-Way Covenant. Synod's decision did
not help stop the declension in the "holy commonwealth." One eighteenth
century historian wrote,
A little after 1660 there
began to appear a Decay; and this increased to 1670, when it grew very
visible and threatening, and was gradually complained of and bewailed by
the Pious among them; and yet more in 1680, when but few of the first
portrayals were presented at the "Reforming Synod" of 1679-1680 in Boston.
By now the Half-Way Covenant was no longer the issue; that struggle had
already been lost. The problem was the spiritual deadness and moral laxity
of the church.
For a time much repentance was evident in the New England churches but
it soon passed. Synod had made the mistake of seeking to deal with
symptoms, rather than the church's actual disease.
positive step taken by the synod was the adoption of the Savoy Declaration
of 1658, which was the Westminster Confession as modified by the English
Independents. Again, weakness, even in this, is evident. First, the
guarded expressions of Savoy regarding the role of the civil powers in
church affairs were dropped to give the magistrates more authority in
doctrinal questions. Second, the chapter on baptism was altered to allow
for the Half-Way Covenant.
Covenant had not been properly dealt with. Instead, it was tolerated,
approved and even permitted confessionally. Reformation was required but
the church was blind to it. She had now commited herself to a vicious
practice which would work in the church as a cancer.
"Stoddardeanism" and Further Decline
baptismal question refused to go away. The Half-Way Covenant was a
compromise, and, like all compromises, was unstable. Soon, for example, in
Boston, no type of commitment at all was required of those presenting
children for baptism.
Discipline was now even more difficult, and a moralistic strain can be
detected in the preaching. As P. Y. De Jong puts it, "The Christian came
to be more and more identified with the decent, industrious and prosperous
serious theological objection was raised: If a non-professing member is
permitted to have his children baptized, why should he be refused
admission to Christ's other sacrament, the Lord's Table? Soon a prominent
minister arose who accepted this reasoning: the formidable Solomon
Stoddard of Northampton (1643-1729), the so-called, "Pope of Western
the outwardly moral but unregenerate church member was permitted, nay
commanded, to come to Communion. Stoddard himself said that his first
experience of salvation had occurred at the sacrament, and so the Lord's
Table was also presented as a converting ordinance. Stoddard had first
expressed his views publicly at the Reforming Synod in 1679, but it was
not until 1700 that he went into print with them in his book, Instituted
Churches. By 1704, he was setting it forth fully to his congregation. He
did not go without opposition. Increase Mather wrote against his views;
but, by 1709, Mather was satisfied with Stoddard's explanation.
However, it ought not be thought that Stoddard denied the necessity of
regeneration. On the contrary, he was strongly evangelistic and even
"developed" the Puritan doctrine of preparation/"seeking."
"Stoddardeanism," as it was called, was widely accepted in the churches,
especially in the west. Demoralized ministers saw in it a means of
maintaining the church's influence in the colonies and unregenerate
members supported its introduction. Church attendance continued to
decline; the preaching of the Word was diluted; the downward spiral
the ideological world of New England was changing. The liberal humanism of
Grotius, the materialism of Hobbes, the new mechanics of Newton and the
empiricism of Locke were discussed in America. This is not to say that all
who came across these new ideas accepted them, though some, of course,
did. Rather, they provided new ways of looking at the world; raised new
questions, and questioned old ways. The spirit of New England was
beginning to sigh under the old Puritan regime. The sovereignty of God,
the depravity of man and the atoning death of Jesus Christ no longer
gripped the colonists. The strict puritan lifestyle was unappealing to
many, and those itching ears in the pews (or in the house or field) were
very open to new ideas. For the vast majority still wishing to retain some
religion, there was the softer, less doctrinal, more humane, religion of
the English Latitudinarians, like Jeremy Taylor, John Tillotson, Daniel
Whitby and Samuel Clarke.
More and more a hazy type of Christianity began to appear and the
essential dignity and liberty of man became almost a religious principle.
"Arminianism" was increasing and things were looking bleak for New
(III) Jonathan Edwards
On July 8, 1731, a young
minister preached the Public Lecture at Boston. His text was I Corinthians
1: 29-31: "That no flesh should glory in his presence ..." The address was
entitled, "God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of
Man's Dependence upon Him in the Whole of it."
In the second point of his application, near the end of his sermon, the
young man explicitly attacked the Arminianism of his day:
doctrines and schemes of divinity that are in any respect opposite to such
absolute and universal dependence on God, derogate from his glory, and
thwart the design of our redemption.[31
was Solomon Stoddard's recent successor in Northampton, Jonathan Edwards
Trinitarian and Calvinistic sermon caused quite a stir, but the godly were
greatly encouraged. Next month, the sermon was published by two of those
in the audience, who included in their preface these words:
therefore but express our great thankfulness, that the great Head of the
church is pleased still to raise up from among the children of his people,
for the supply of the churches, those who assert and maintain these
Edwards was now introduced to the wider New England world.
praise was not to be the last Edwards was to receive. B. B. Warfield's
appraisal encapsulates the man: "Jonathan Edwards, saint and
metaphysician, revivalist and theologian, stands out as the one figure of
real greatness in the intellectual life of colonial America."
Very much a product of the New England Puritan world, Edwards,
nevertheless, transcended it. If the preceding history is necessary to
place him and help understand him, the succeeding century is a veritable
mystery without him
(1) Edwards' Philosophy
For all his
voluminous writings, Edwards is an elusive thinker and evaluations vary
widely. Despite all his greatness, he had serious weaknesses. On a more
prosaic level, one dictionary speaks of him as "a hardline Calvinist
divine, with a bent for philosophy."
For a proper evaluation we need to get beyond the eulogies and engage in
serious analysis. To that end the second prong in the last quotation
provides an excellent point of entry: we must consider Edwards'
position could be summarized as sensationalist-idealist-occasionalist. The
first he came to largely through John Locke's, Essay Concerning Human
Understanding (1690), which he read at the age of fourteen. This book
brought him more pleasure "than the most greedy miser finds, when
gathering up handfuls of silver and gold, from some newly discovered
Though not agreeing with Locke on several points, Edwards did accept
Locke's basic position that seeing is a sensation on the retina, which
produces ideas. John Gerstner explains Edwards' joy in Locke's work: "It
is as if Edwards had been scanning the heavens through a telescope and
Locke came along and explained how the telescope worked."
Newton also played a role:
first reading of the Principia, the Optics [both by Newton] and the Essay
[of Locke], he seems never to have doubted but that modern science's
distinctive policy toward reality, primally exemplified in these works,
was simply right.
Locke with his sensations of colour, roughness, coldness etc., denied the
reality of any underlying substance, Edwards reasoned that since the
sensations were only known in ideas, it is the idea which is reality.
Edwards, like Berkeley, through Locke, arrived independently at idealism.
which Edwards offers for his idealism involves atoms, which, in Newtonian
science, were considered the indivisible building blocks of the world.
Since atoms resist penetration or "fracture," Edwards argued that their
primary characteristic is solidity. For Edwards, unlike Newton, resistance
implied activity, a putting forth of effort. But since atoms (by their
very definition as indivisible) can withstand an infinite fracturing
force, they must have an infinite resistance.
Since only God
has infinite power, the resistance or solidity or substance of all atoms,
and hence all things, is, as it were, God. Moreover, since atoms and
resistance (which includes motion and the relation of all atoms) are
merely the creative power of God, the whole physical universe is nothing
but the acting Deity.
Edwards goes one step further: since all matter is spirit or ideas, and
ideas can only be known by minds, and the only One capable of thinking the
whole universe is God, then the universe itself is an expression of the
Thus when Edward's preached at the Public Lecture, that, "all is in a
mere, and most absolute, and divine dependence on the Father, Son, and
Holy Ghost," not all heard and understood all that he said and meant.
In the third
component of our philosophical portrayal of Edwards - his occasionalism -
we have, as it were, the bond which unites the other two seemingly
disparate elements. After all, if the universe is only an idea, an
expression of the Divine mind, how can the scientific method be utilized?
Here Edwards, similar to Malebranche, posits his occasionalism. The world
is external to both God and us; and God communicates His ideas to us as we
examine the world. Yet, this is not a mere mechanical construction. For
Edwards, God's actions in this world are strikingly immediate. As we look
at an object, God, by His sovereign constitution, simultaneously produces
the idea of it in our minds.
secular thinkers sought to turn the modern science against the God of the
Bible, and many Christian theologians were troubled and sought some form
of compromise, Edwards saw no problem at all. Instead, with some sharp
philosophical tinkering of his own, there was a perfect harmony between
the Scriptures and the new ideas.
As Jenson astutely remarks, "For Edwards, Newton and more problematically
Locke were sheer theological inspirations."
(2) Edwards' Apologetics
Much has been
written on Edwards' apologetics: Was he an evidentialist or a
This question labors under at least four difficulties. First, the
clear lines that are now drawn were not firmly entrenched in the
eighteenth century. Second, Edwards writes for different audiences at
different times and can be quoted out of context. For example, a
presuppositionalist must recognize that Edwards' treatment of "The
insufficiency of reason as a substitute for revelation," is an argument
against the Deists.
Third, the sheer volume of Edwards' writings, in the light of the first
two points, gives vast scope for different interpretations. Fourth, as a
Calvinist, Edwards' views on general revelation and the noetic effects of
sin, are similar to those that undergird the presuppositionalist position.
classicus for Edwards as an evidentialist is found in his Freedom of the
ascend, and prove a posteriori, or from effects, that there must
be an eternal cause; and then secondly, prove by argumentation, not
intuition, this being must be necessarily existent; and then thirdly, from
the proved necessity of his existence, we may descend, and prove many of
his perfections a priori.
his notes on "The Mind," Edwards, in number 54, entitled, "Reasoning,"
fuses to the cosmological argument, those also from design and motion.
Edwards adds another argument, more peculiarly his own, from the
impossibility of the existence of nothing.
by which we prove the being of God, if handled closely and distinctly, so
as to show their clear and demonstrative evidence, must be metaphysically
relation between reason and revelation, Edwards writes,
Great part of
Tindal's arguing, in his Christianity as old as the Creation, proceeds on
this ground, That since reason is to judge whether there be any
revelation, or whether any pretended revelation be really such; therefore
reason, without revelation, or undirected by revelation, must be the judge
concerning each doctrine and proposition contained in that pretended
revelation. This is an unreasonable way of arguing.
It is evident
from the quotation that Edwards denies the apodosis, that reason is to
test every doctrine within that revelation, independent of its prior
acceptation of the revelation as a whole. Yet it is equally evident that
he grants the protasis: reason is to judge the claims of a proposed
Edwards also believes that full conviction can only be wrought by the
inner testimony of the Holy Spirit.
Persons of an
ordinary degree of knowledge are capable, without a long and subtile train
of reasoning, to see the divine excellency of the things of religion: the
are capable of being taught by the Spirit of God, as well as learned men.
The evidence, that is this way obtained, is vastly better and more
satisfying, than all that can be obtained by the arguings of those that
are most learned, and greatest masters of reason.
only gives reason such an exalted role regarding the existence of God and
the divinity of the Scriptures, but he makes an astounding claim
concerning the Trinity of Divine Persons in the Godhead:
I think that
it is within the reach of naked reason to perceive certainly that there
are three distinct in God, each of which is the same [God], three that
must be distinct; and that there are not nor can be any more distinct,
really and truly distinct, but three, either distinct persons or
properties or anything else; and that of these three, one is (more
properly than anything else) begotten of the other, and that the third
proceeds alike from both, and that the first neither is begotten nor
(3) Edwards' Theology
"rationalism" influenced his theology. Occasionally we see the intrepid
Edwards boldly going where angels fear to tread. Calvin and Turretin, for
example, when stating that they cannot fully explain why a righteous Adam
should choose to sin, both say that we must remain sober and go only as
far as the Scriptures.
Edwards was not satisfied, and posited "confirming grace," "sufficient
grace" and several other subtle distinctions. Gerstner paints Edwards here
as a great horse, stuck in the mud, whose struggles to get out serve only
to sink him deeper.
Not only his
rationalism, but his idealism-occasionalism led to problems.
In 1758, Edwards' Original Sin was published. In this work he valiantly
seeks to defend the truth against heresy, particularly that of Dr. Taylor
of Norwich, England. However, Edwards' presentation of our unity with Adam
is defective. In Edwards' idealism there is no underlying substance or
identity of consciousness in a person; instead, God wills his successive
But if a person is, by the mere constitution of God, why cannot God
constitute the whole of humanity in Adam? Thus, for Edwards, man is guilty
in Adam, not primarily through immediate, or even mediate, imputation, but
because Adam's apostasy is truly and properly his.
This is a radical doctrine, striking at the heart of Adam's covenant
headship. As Gerstner observes, "It eliminated any vestige of
representationism or federalism."
Edwards also falls back on occasions in Original Sin, upon imputation
language. After all, he has to, for he goes on to exegete Romans 5: 12f.
Furthermore, Edwards sets forth the orthodox doctrine of the
imputation of Christ's righteousness to His people.
In 1754, with
Freedom of the Will, Edwards made his famous defence of the bound will.
However, this work is not without serious philosophical and theological
First, it is built upon a modified Lockean psychology, which not all
will accept. Second, the intellectualists (those who hold to the primacy
of the understanding) will hardly accept Edwards' voluntarist position
(primacy of the will). Third, it repeatedly appeals to "common sense," a
notoriously varying entity. Fourth, it depends upon an acceptance of
Edwards' occasionalism. Fifth, Edwards seems to present persons as having
a "steady-state" character. In reality, the holy and sinful desires of a
Christian fluctuate. Sixth, Edwards does not define "nature," or "motives"
and how they work. Seventh, Edwards merely states his definitions of terms
at the outset. These are open to challenges.
there are several objections and these have been often presented
especially by the Old School Presbyterians.
First, the emphasis on the voluntary tended to present sin more as an
act and less as a disposition. Second, the distinction between natural and
moral ability, was open to misunderstanding. Edwards taught that all men
had the faculties to believe, as rational moral creatures, but they had
not the will; though they could naturally believe in Christ, morally they
Edwards' doctrine appears very similar to Amyrault's. Of the French
heretic, Schaff writes,
He also makes a
distinction between natural ability and moral ability, or the power to
believe and the willingness to believe; man possesses the former, but not
the latter, in consequence of inherent depravity.
The extent of
the atonement was not something which Edwards wrote much upon, though
there are passing references to it in his works. For example, Gerstner
quotes the following from an unpublished sermon on Revelation 14: 3: "He
[i.e. Christ] has died for them [i.e. those who go to heaven] and not for
However, it is strange, considering Edwards' conscious opposition to
Arminianism and his vast literary output, that he did not produce a
lengthy, reasoned defence of the particularity of Christ's sacrifice.
is his writing a commendatory preface to Joseph Bellamy's, True Religion
Delineated (1750), containing, as it did, the heresy of governmental
atonement. "Perhaps," someone might say, "Edwards had not read the book."
Impossible. Edwards "commonly spent thirteen hours, every day, in his
study" and was a voracious and intense reader.
It cannot be argued, either, that Bellamy's presentation of the
governmental theory was obscure. It was not; Bellamy gave over a dozen
pages to it, and made many references to it throughout the book.
Edwards even sent Bellamy's book to John Erskine, the Scottish
this brief evaluation of the controversial aspects of Edwards' theology,
we must also point out that his idealism is evident in his treatment of
and in his famous work, Concerning the End for which God Created the World
His definition of virtue as "benevolence to being in general," is
informed by his philosophical outlook.
Furthermore it has been a matter of inquiry if Edwards was tainted
with Pantheism or Panentheism.
Gerstner himself grants that Edwards "was pantheistic by implication and
panentheistic by intention," though "he did not believe that God is all in
the sense of possessing identity with all being."
It is no wonder that in the prefaces to Edwards' books we often find
references to his being too philosophical, metaphysical and abstruse.
arises here concerning the creeds. In a letter to John Erskine dated July
5, 1750, after his ejection from the pastorate at Northampton, he states
that "there would be no difficulty" in his "subscribing to the substance
of the Westminster Confession."
Edwards goes on to say that he sees the "presbyterian government" as
"most agreeable to the word of God." Therefore, it is clear that the
propositions in the confession, with which he is not in complete accord,
are not merely church political but doctrinal. Regarding confessional
subscription, Edwards does not see it as a necessity. It is sufficient
that the congregation is content that the minister soundly confesses the
W. G. T. Shedd,
then a New England Congregationalist, observed in 1858, that his
denomination was not sufficiently confessional in its stance.
He probably exaggerates the importance of confessions to the New
England fathers, but he is certainly correct when he observes that the
tendency of Congregationalism's "highly republican system [is] to call out
rigorous and independent thinking."
His recommendation must be taken seriously: "The theorizing spirit of
the individual divine needs, therefore to be both aided and guided by
Without doubt, Edwards' inquisitive and speculative genius would have
been better served had he theologized with a greater conscious dependence
upon the historic confessions of the Church.
It is important
to note also, that although Northampton "apparently had elders from its
beginning," Stoddard's last elder died on the very day that he did. In
fact, "the office of elder was virtually defunct throughout Edwards'
ministry." This was partly due to Edwards' error in viewing them as civil,
rather than ecclesiastical, officers.
This weakness in Northampton's church polity only served to limit the
rule of Christ through elders in the supervision of the pastor's dogmatic
(4) Edwards' Revivalism
religious idealism, the accusations of Pantheism and his emphasis on the
Christian's affections, it is not surprising that a mystical strain can be
detected in Edwards' writings.
Neither was this out of keeping with his New England heritage, which
placed great emphasis on Christian experience.
Similarly, in his evangelical Calvinism, Edwards stood as a direct
descendant of the preparationist-revivalist tradition.
Edwards' doctrine of "seeking" is clearly presented in John Gerstner's,
Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist, and here, again, there are problems.
For example, Gerstner writes,
He would not
usually call upon them [unbelievers] to believe and be saved ... because
that was not in the realm of their ability, but called them to seek to be
enabled to believe and be saved because that was in the realm of their
that although Edwards preached predestination and perseverance, he set
forth the marks of grace as so exacting, and the deceitfulness of sin and
the devil as so unfathomable, "that assurance became a relatively rare
thing." Thus, Gerstner states, "It has been said that none of his
followers claimed to have it, but rather remained dubious to the end of
emphasis on experience and the ability of the will in choosing good
affected his view of the children of Christian parents. Though a
Paedobaptist, Edwards was known to address these children as "young
Contra Calvin, Edwards claimed that most elect children would be
regenerated, not in infancy, but in later life, with a conversion
experience. Edwards offers two reasons for his position. First, otherwise
most of the elect would never experience their sinful natures alone.
Following this line of reasoning, Edwards argued that ministers who were
converted in their infancy would be at a disadvantage in counselling their
congregation, for they would not understand the conversion experiences
that their parishioners would undergo. Second, Edwards argues that
regenerated infants would never know a deep religious experience of their
deliverance from sin and misery.
God's covenant relationship with believers and their seed, in the line
of continued generations, was being buried.
predecessor, Edwards emphasized the danger of damnation and used the most
vivid and powerful imagery.
However, unlike Stoddard, Edwards had an additional philosophical
rationale: his sensationalism.
This affected his view of preaching. Thus Edwards states,
benefit that is obtained by preaching, is by impression made upon the mind
in the time of it, and not by any effect that arises afterwards by a
remembrance of what was delivered.[96
delivery was unemotional and he merely read his manuscript, his preaching
sparked revivals; first, in 1734-35 during his sermons on Justification by
Faith Alone, and second, in the Great Awakening of 1740-41.
Again, in themselves, the revivals were not a totally new phenomenon.
Stoddard, for example, had several "harvests," as he called them, in
and Edwards' father was a noted revivalist.
Yet in the geographical extent, duration and excesses, the revivals did go
beyond former experiences.
critical of many evil practices and carnal attitudes, which became
associated with the revivals. In Part IV of his Thoughts on the Revival
(1742), he inveighs against "spiritual" pride, immediate revelations of
the Spirit, rash judgments upon the spiritual state of others, spurious
"Christian" experiences, lay preaching and disorderly singing.
Some ministers invaded the provinces of others; other ministers were
charged with being unconverted; conventicles were established. In some
churches, hymns were introduced and women began to pray aloud in mixed
cryings out were common place, especially at the preaching of George
Whitefield. Whitefield encouraged these things as a mark of the Spirit's
working; and Edwards was only slightly more cautious. Edwards held that
the revivals could not be condemned on this account, since Scripture did
not forbid these things. "The design of Scripture is to teach us divinity
and not physic and anatomy," he asserted.
He goes further and tells us that when these bodily contortions occur
under the "preaching [of] important truths of God's word urged by proper
arguments and motives," he rejoices in them, and "blesses God for them as
the "irregularities," Edwards viewed the revivals as a wonderful work of
God, at least on par with God's work in creation.
Edwards was postmillennial and he saw in the revivals, God's hand in
ushering in the New Age. "The latter day glory," he thought, "is probably
to begin in America" (which he identifies as the "isles" of Isaiah 60: 9),
and in New England no less!
So powerful an
influence had the revivals upon him that they affected his perspective,
not just on the future, but on church history. In his History of
Redemption (1774), Edwards writes,
From the fall of
man, to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been
carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God. Though there
be a more constant influence of God's Spirit always in some degree
attending the ordinances; yet the way in which the greatest things have
been done towards carrying on this work, always have been by remarkable
effusions, at special seasons of mercy, as may fully appear hereafter in
our further prosecution of our subject.
4: 26: "Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD," refers to the
The Reformed and covenantal view of church history had been
In keeping with
the postmillennial hopes and catholicity in his work, An Humble Attempt to
Promote Explicit and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer
for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on
Edwards has kind remarks for August Franke, the German Pietist.
He even approves of John Wesley "so far as he is familiar with his work."
Edwards' postmillennial hopes were in vain. The Great Awakening petered
out; disorder had been introduced to the churches; Arminianism had
prospered on the revivalist soil and Baptist notions spread. To top it
all, in less than a decade after the Great Awakening, the people of
Northampton, supposedly the town most gifted with the gracious visitation
of God, unceremoniously deposed Edwards. Perhaps the greatest irony is
that Edwards was actually deposed for reformation! For some time, he had
been considering Stoddard's Half-Way Covenant. In 1749, the controversy
started when he published a work opposing it: 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.
Within a year he was gone. What does this indicate concerning the
spirit of revival and the Spirit of Reformation?
(IV) "The New England Theology"
death, in 1758, Edwards had helped to sharpen the distinctions between the
various "schools of thought" within New England Congregationalism. In his
defence of the revivals, though also opposing the fanaticism of Davenport
and Croswell, his most serious opposition was from Charles Chauncey
(1705-1787), minister of Boston First Church. In his famous work,
Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England (1743),
Chauncey decried the experientialism of the revivals as essentially
irrational and thus repugnant to the orderliness of the Christian faith.
Instead, he stressed the means of grace and the instituted church.
For all this,
Chauncey was not orthodox. With his optimism regarding human ability and
his giving reason the highest place in the Christian life, he was, in
Edwardsean terminology, an Arminian. Though he never explicitly repudiated
the authority of the Bible, he was later to deny the eternality of the
punishment of the wicked. For Chauncey, the duration of the suffering was
proportionate to their sins in the body before death.
indication of the downward trend in New England Congregationalism is seen
in Experience Mayhew's book, Grace Defended (1744). Though professing to
hold election and reprobation, Mayhew denied that the best deeds of the
regenerate are sins and taught that diligent attendance upon the means of
grace was a condition to receiving regeneration.
By now many
"Strict Congregational" or "Separatist" churches had been formed by
pro-revival enthusiasts. Attaching high regard to religious experiences
and visions, and lacking an educated ministry, they were soon torn apart
by internal divisions. While many churches gradually died out, others
joined the growing Baptist movement.
Congregationalism was now divided into two camps: the New
Lights—pro-revivalist and anti-Half-Way Covenant—and the Old Lights. This
latter group itself was divided; containing implicit Universalists and
Unitarians, as well as more orthodox Calvinists, who held to the Half-Way
It was these
New Lights who were the heirs of Jonathan Edwards; and what a legacy he
left them! The two leading first generation Edwardseans, Joseph Bellamy
(1719-1790) and Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), both received part of their
training in Edwards' home and were Edwards' closest friends. Two important
"New Divinity" men (as they were also called) proceeded from his loins,
his son Jonathan Edwards Jr. (1745-1801) and his grandson, Timothy Dwight
recognized as a theologian of the first order. His key ideas on the will,
original sin and virtue furnished matter for dogmatic reflection for the
next century, and those who differed from Edwards' conclusions had to
provide good reasons for so doing. Edwards was understood as having
furthered theological science and his successors sought to develop and
perfect his system. Furthermore, as Foster notes, Edwards "did much to
instill his spirit, the spirit of unfettered, rational inquiry, into the
next generation of ministers."
His rigorous habits of study and disinterestedness in "worldly affairs"
were presented as a model.
Edwards not only provided a theological agenda for the New Divinity men -
to be pursued with scholarly intensity. His revivalism furnished the
Edwardseans with a program for the transformation of New England society
and his postmillennial vision supplied the necessary encouragement.
Thus, the "New
England Theology" can be properly viewed as consisting of "logical"
developments of, or subtle revolts from, Edwards' theology, with each
thinker having his own theological emphasis or doctrinal aberration, and
each successive generation moving further from the truth. Through it all,
Edwards' influence, his achievements, his ideas are always there, even
though the steady drift of "Consistent Calvinism" was to Arminianism (and
beyond). Only a broad outline of the major players and movements in the
tragedy need to be presented here.
(1) Joseph Bellamy and Samuel Hopkins
noted, Bellamy's significance lies chiefly in his introducing (with
Edwards' imprimatur) the Grotian view of the atonement into the New
England Theology. In connection with his treatment of the moral government
of God, the "harsher" aspects of election and reprobation were softened.
In his struggles with the justice of God in condemning mankind for the sin
of Adam, he stressed man's culpability in his actual sins. In his
preaching, he emphasized natural ability more than moral inability; more
of the, "You should" and less of the, "You cannot."
1750s and 60s, Bellamy strayed into what can only be called New
England moralism, and soon he was to be found encouraging men to enlist in
the American Revolution (1775-1783). Armed with Edwards' notion of virtue,
Bellamy sought to infuse Republicanism with religious meaning—benevolence,
God's universal providence, law, morality.
Although a key player in New England Theology, his influence declined
with his old age, in his last decade. Nevertheless, sixty young ministers
had trained under his tutelage, including John Smalley (1734-1820) and
Jonathan Edwards Jr.
His True Religion Delineated was, next to Edwards' writings,
the most important work in the early New England Theology.
Hopkins the Edwardseans derived two of their sobriquets. While others
referred to his followers (with more or less disdain) as "Hopkinsians" or
"Hopkintonians," Hopkins liked to define himself as a "Consistent
Calvinist." Hopkins' first book had a high-Calvinist-sounding title,
Sin through the Divine Interposition an Advantage to the Universe
(1759). It was an abstract work on a subject that needs to be treated with
much care and wisdom. Many were repulsed by his presentation of Calvinism.
Hopkins also taught that the use of the means of grace by the
unregenerate only served to make them more guilty. By many he was seen to
discourage church attendance and to slight the Holy Spirit's use of the
means which He ordained. Another of Hopkins' idiosyncrasies was his
insistence that all Christians should be willing to be damned for God's
Hopkins' "Consistent Calvinism," he held that somehow God's sovereign
decree includes man's freedom, whereby he possesses the ability to repent.
Bellamy's governmental theory of the atonement is taken a step
further, in that Hopkins completely overthrew the doctrine of the
imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. Hopkins also denied
original sin: "there is strictly speaking, no other sin but actual sin."
Hopkins "developed" not only the doctrinal ideas of Edwards, but also his
experientialism. The subjective side of New England Puritanism had been
boosted by the revivals, and the questioned was raised: If an act of the
will and a conversion experience are required of a Christian, how should
we regard children of believers? Hopkins with his voluntaristic outlook,
latched upon the faith of the parents, rather than the objective promise
of God, as the grounds for baptism. Hopkins, also like Bellamy, used his
revivalist activism to attack social evils. With Edwards, Hopkins
identified the essence of sin as selfishness and defined virtue as
"disinterested benevolence," but he made major modifications.
He applied his theory to slavery and denounced it so vehemently that he
was dismissed from one church and emptied another.
However, unlike Bellamy, the American Revolution fell under his
disapprobation. The reason ... it dampened revivals!
ideas were included in his book,
The System of Doctrine
(1793). Now the New Divinity men had a "systematic theology," and this,
with Edwards' and Bellamy's works, was to be the core diet of the
(2) The Second and Third Generation "Edwardseans"
generation New Divinity movement also contained many "close reasoners,"
but of them all it was Jonathan Edwards Jr. whose mind was the sharpest.
Sadly, he carried this with him into the pulpit and his philosophical and
metaphysical preaching was not always intelligible to lesser mortals, and
only served to empty the church.
His fondness for conceiving of God as moral governor, allied to his great
fears of the revolutionary ideas and the general looseness in morals at
that time, brought out in him a legalistic strain.
the Younger (as he was known) was of a conservative bent and did not make
any further significant doctrinal deviations, his contemporary, Nathaniel
Emmons (1745-1840), was probably the boldest of the New Divinity men. A
key doctrine for Emmons was the sole causality of God. Regarding Adam's
fall, he averred, "a divine energy took hold of his heart and led him to
sin." This did not happen only to Adam; Emmons even applies Philippians
2:13 to the ungodly. God, he says, "works in them ... both to will and to
do of his good pleasure; or, produces those moral exercises in their
hearts, in which moral depravity properly and essentially exists."
works in Adam's sin and ours in the same way (i.e., as author), the
relationship between Adam's sin and mankind, in Emmons is very weak. For
Emmons, not only are we not guilty in Adam, but we cannot even receive
from him a depraved nature ... for the simple reason, that we do not have
one. "There is no morally corrupt nature distinct from free voluntary
Emmons found himself, with Samuel Spring (1746-1819), at the head of a
minority party within the Consistent Calvinists: the "Exercisers." The
opposing faction, led by Hopkins and John Smalley, the "Tasters," would
speak of a depraved nature, which had an inclination (or taste) for the
good or evil.
In the last
half of the eighteenth century, as the "Consistent" Calvinists sought to
be "higher" than Calvinism, while, at the same time, denying basic
orthodox doctrines, their theology became more and more twisted and
deformed. The Old Calvinists largely remained quiet and produced few
thinkers or works of note. Thus the way was clear for further apostasy
amongst the Arminians. With the American Revolution (1775-1783), the winds
of the spirit of the age were blowing their way too. As Richard Mosier put
it, "the 'Revolutionary' could no more admit a sovereign God, than he
would a sovereign king."
By 1805, they
were so advanced in their heresy and were sufficiently strong to have an
Unitarian, Henry Ware, appointed as Hollis Professor of Divinity at
Harvard College. It was never to be regained for orthodoxy. In 1819,
George Bancroft brought Hegelianism to Harvard from Berlin, and the
Unitarians were at the forefront of the elitist Transcendentalist
Through this period, the popular preaching and writing of the extremely
capable, William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), brought additional prestige
and acceptability to the Unitarians. The Unitarians and Universalists
effectively joined hands. "The Universalists," it was said, "believed that
God was too good to damn them, while the Unitarians held that men were too
good to be damned."
Their differences, being more social than theological were easily
A split in
Congregationalism resulted. From 1817 to 1840, almost one hundred churches
went over to Unitarianism. Only one succumbed in Connecticut. Several were
lost in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and western Massachusetts. However,
it was the older towns of eastern Massachusetts where most damage was
sustained. Boston was hit particularly badly; of its fourteen
Congregational Churches in 1800, all but two became Unitarian.
Worse still, some with unitarian leanings remained in the Congregational
In response to
the loss of Harvard, the Old Calvinists and the New Divinity men banded
together and founded Andover Theological Seminary in 1808. In a compromise
move, the Professorship of Theology went to a pupil of Nathaniel Emmons,
Leonard Woods (1774-1854), and that of Biblical Literature went to Moses
Stuart (1780-1852), who was of the Old Calvinist camp.
face of "Consistent Calvinism" had changed, largely through the influence
of Edwards' grandson, Timothy Dwight, who was President of Yale. Dwight
began to profess uncertainty regarding metaphysical matters, like the will
and causality. Instead, he spoke of intuition, more in line with the
Scottish Common-Sense Philosophy, so important in orthodox Presbyterian
Through Edwards' grandson, the Edwardseans were largely disinherited
of the key Edwards heritage: his view of the will.
Revivalist Legacy and "The New Haven Theology"
revivalist legacy remained, and at Yale, under Dwight's preaching, several
revivals broke out in the early eighteen-hundreds, with the greatest one
coming under Asahel Nettleton (1783-1843) in 1820. Revivals occurred in
many parts of New England,
and even farther abroad, in the South and in the West, where the
famous camp meetings issued in the most gruesome bodily effects—jerking,
running, barking etc.
New England had
learned one lesson from the Great Awakening, and the visions and faintings
were severely limited. However, with the decline in the orthodoxy of the
preached word, the rampant individualism of the revivals resulted in the
usurpation of the church's work by all sorts of "societies."
The preaching was increasingly modified to appeal to the modern
democratic ideas—everybody had to have a free choice.
It was in the
fusion of Jacksonian America and the New England Theology that revivalism
was to reach its culmination. The egg laid nearly a century earlier
finally hatched and out popped a fast-talking, free-willist revivalist:
Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875). From 1824 to 1831, Finney's "new
measures," brought great revivals in New York State.
In a 1827
Conference in New Lebanon, New York, he had been forbidden by the two
leading New England revivalists, Nettleton and Lyman Beecher (1775-1863),
from entering their territory.
However, Beecher was more liberal in his theological views than
Nettleton. In 1831, when Nettleton was in very poor health, Beecher
reneged and invited Finney to his pulpit in Boston. Finney was to spew
forth his Pelagianism for over a quarter of a century in New England.
As Finney was
destroying the churches with his heretical preaching, the supposedly
Edwardsean, Nathaniel William Taylor (1786-1858), also a revivalist, was
inculcating his false doctrine, dubbed "New Haven Theology," at Yale
Divinity School (established 1822). For human responsibility, Taylor
argued, "power to the contrary" is required. Infants do not have souls and
therefore cannot be damned, and all virtue (not sin!), ultimately can be
reduced to self-love.
sided with Taylor, and Leonard Woods, though opposing Taylor, had not the
theological capability to refute him. "Taylorism" had now effectually all
the theological schools and disseminated its views through the various
quarterly periodicals it controlled.
the New England Theology, now in its New Haven form, managed to continue
for a few more years, producing important thinkers like the great liberal,
Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), the church historian George Park Fisher
(1827-1909) and its last great systematizer, Edwards Amasa Park
(1808-1900). With Park, the New England Theology died, but the
Congregational Church in New England had died some years ago. The land of
the pilgrims, of the Mathers, of Stoddard and of Edwards, had become a
"waste howling wilderness" again.
treatment of the decline and fall of New England Congregationalism has
been brief and many aspects of this history cry out for further treatment,
there is much merit in presenting an overall picture of the period. We
have been able to identify the main points of departure from the faith,
and to trace a general decline through all the stages of the church,
culminating in the rank apostasy of the New Haven Theology.
with Frank Lawrence's basic thesis, we have seen that "the tide of
Liberalism was edging in long before the time of Jonathan Edwards."
Contrary to popular opinion, not all the first settlers were pilgrims, and
many of their children did not seek the heavenly country either. Vast
numbers of the successive immigrants desired worldly gain and not Christ.
These problems could have been successfully dealt with, without the
peculiar state and church relationship then existing and without the
compromise of the Half-Way Covenant and the resulting loss of discipline.
At this point, Christ's covenant with the seed of believers was profaned.
This was a decided movement towards the world and the breaking down of the
antithesis. It was also a loss of true paedobaptism and, hence, a step
towards the Anabaptism and individualism inherent in Congregationalism.
Disturbing throughout the whole period is the lack of true
confessionalism and the emphasis on experience.
These last two
problems help us to understand Jonathan Edwards. Though an ardent
Calvinist, he was not truly Reformed. His soteriology tended towards
individualism and experientialism, with its emphasis on the immediacy of
the work of the Spirit. His ecclesiology was weak regarding confessions,
elders and baptism. The "normal" work of the Spirit of the Covenant in
sovereignly bestowing grace through the ordained means - the preaching and
the sacraments - week in and week out, was played down in favour of an
There is some truth in Bushnell's critique of Edwards:
The attention he
had bestowed on the will gave a still more intense form of individualism,
probably to his teachings ... It makes nothing of the family, and the
church, and the organic powers God has constituted as vehicles of grace.
It takes every man as if he had existed alone, presumes that he is
unreconciled to God until he has undergone some sudden and explosive
experience, in adult years, or after the age of reason; demands that
experience, and only when it is reached, allows the subject to be an heir
resulted and they wrought havoc.
rationalistic tendency and idealist philosophy modified the Reformed view
of the bondage of the will, original sin and virtue. None of this is to
deny his theological genius (though admittedly some of the luster is
removed) or the intrinsic value of many of his works; it is merely to
reiterate the fears expressed by many Old School Presbyterians.
B. B. Warfield
opines, "It was in his sermons that Edwards' studies bore richest fruit."
To this we should add the high quality of his Scriptural exegesis, and
stress that much of his writings are sound and that they make highly
stimulating reading. His intense devotion to his studies and his earnest
longings for greater conformity to Christ are worthy of emulation.
Furthermore, Edwards deserves particular commendation for his valiant
stand for the glorious Doctrines of Grace, in a time when the flood of
Arminianism threatened to overwhelm the Congregational Churches.
Edwards' very greatness was to prove a weakness for the New Divinity men.
As George Gordon realized, "Edwards' size and passion win even for his
errors a kind of consecration."
Edwards was unable to finish his projected summa, A Rational Account of
the Main Doctrines of the Christian Religion Attempted.
His system was never completed and presented as a harmonious whole,
with every part in its proper place. Thus the Edwardseans, working within
Edwards' works almost as one would a confession, did not have the full
picture. They sought to draft a perfected theological system from Edwards'
ideas, and it could not be done. Idealist flaws were in the original and
as the New Divinity men faced new theological problems, Edwards' theology
was drastically deformed.
There was not only a change in emphasis, but also in substance. The New
England Theology was a maimed Calvinism; a provincial monstrosity.
Aberrations like Taylor and Finney resulted; it could not long continue;
the writing was on the wall.
The decline and
fall of Congregationalism in New England is a tragedy—great men, noble
hopes, powerful movements, passionate theological debates and disputes,
and finally ... apostasy. How is the gold become dim! How are the mighty
 Hugh Brogan, Longman History of
the United States (Great Britain: Book Club Associates, 1985), p. 36.
 Quoted in Peter Y. De Jong, The Covenant Idea in New England
Theology, 1620-1847 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945), p. 84.
 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
 Allen Carden, Puritan
Christianity in America: Religion and Life in Seventeenth-Century
Massachusetts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 15-16.
 De Jong, Op. cit., pp.
 The other New England states, Maine
and Vermont, were later settled largely by expansion from the existing
colonies and so were also Congregationalist.
 Williston Walker, The History of the Congregational
Churches in the United States (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons,
1899), p. 114.
 Ibid., p. 116.
 Ibid., p. 132.
 Mark A. Noll, A History of
Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1992), pp. 56-60.
 Walker, Op. cit., pp.
 Frank A. Lawrence, The Decline of Calvinism in New England before
Jonathan Edwards, unpublished Masters thesis for Pittsburgh-Xenia
Theological Seminary, 1951, pp. 89-90.
 In a letter dated March 25, 1669,
John Owen wrote to the New Englanders,
We only make
it our hearty request that you would trust God, with his truth and ways,
so far as to suspend all rigorous proceedings, in corporal restraints and
punishments, on persons that dissent from you, and practise the principles
of dissent, without danger or disturbance to the civil peace of the place
(quoted in William Orme, The Life of John Owen [Gospel Mission
Press: Choteau, Montana, repr. n.d.], pp. 153-154).
 Walker, Op. cit.,
 In keeping with the subjective tendency of Puritanism, the three
movements were experientialist.
 Lawrence, Op. cit., p. 90.
 A similar practice was introduced
in many Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, in the nineteenth century
(John Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Church [Grand Rapids:
Baker, 1949], p. 87).
 De Jong, Op. cit., p. 104.
 David J. Engelsma, "The Cambridge Platform: A Reformed Option? (A
Review Article)," PRTJ, XXIX, 1, 53 (November, 1995).
 David Harlan, The Clergy and
the Great Awakening in New England
(Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980), p. 44.
 Ibid., pp. 31-47.
 Ibid., pp. 31-32.
 Quoted in De Jong, Op. cit.,
 For a summary of the evils that
synod identified and the recommendations she made, see Walker, Op. cit.,
 Walker, Op. cit., p. 190.
 De Jong, Op. cit., p. 127.
 Ibid., p. 124.
 See John H. Gerstner's
Solomon Stoddard, A Guide to Christ (Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli
Deo Gloria, repr. 1993), p. vii.
 Frank Hugh Foster, "New England Theology," in Samuel Macauley Jackson
et al eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge,
vol. VIII (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1910), p. 131.
 Contained in Edward Hickman ed.,
The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Great Britain: BOT, repr.
1974), pp. 3-7. Hereafter abbreviated Works, II.
 Works, II:6.
 Works, II:2.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, "Edwards
and the New England Theology," The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield,
vol. IX (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1981), p. 515. For several other
tributes to Edwards, see the quotations in Iain Murray, Jonathan
Edwards: A New Biography (Great Britain: BOT, 1987), pp. xv-xvii.
 Anthony Flew ed., A Dictionary
(London: Pan Books, 1979), p. 102.
 Edward Hickman ed., The Works
of Jonathan Edwards, vol. I (Great Britain: BOT, repr. 1974), p. xvii.
Hereafter abbreviated Works, I.
 John H. Gerstner, The Rational
Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, vol. I (Powhatan, Virginia:
Berea Publications, 1991), p. 41.
 Robert W. Jenson, America's
Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1988), p. 23.
 Gerstner, Op. cit., vol.
I, pp. 42-43.
 Allen C. Guelzo, Edwards on
the Will: A Century of Theological Debate (Middletown, Connecticut:
Wesleyan University Press, 1989), p. 30.
 Ibid., p. 31.
 Works, II:6.
 Jenson, Op. cit., p. 31.
 Cf. Gerstner: "Edwards was
confident that sound philosophy and theology cohere" (Op. cit.,
vol. I, p. 83).
 Jenson, Op. cit., p. 23. Though positing a more substantial
dependence on Locke, Perry Miller also recognizes Edwards' originality in
fusing his own philosophical system (Jonathan Edwards
[Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1959], pp. 48-49).
 For a recent example, see Scott
Oliphant, "Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Apologist," WTJ, 57, 165-186
 Contained in Works,
 Regarding Van Til, there is the
additional question, concerning his claim to be in the line of true
presuppositional Reformed apologetics.
 Works, I:16.
 Works, I:ccxxvi.
 Works, I:16; cf. Gerstner,
Op. cit., vol. I, pp. 120-121, 129.
 Works, I:85. It is clear
what type of answer Edwards was expecting to the "apologetics" questions
he put to his students. The first reads, "How does it appear that
something has existed from eternity?" (Works, I:690).
 Works, II:479; italics
 Edwards' remarks succeeding this
quotation support this contention. For a different understanding of
Edwards' statement, see Oliphant, Op. cit., 176-177.
 Works, II:17.
 Thomas A. Schafer ed., The
Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. XIII "The 'Miscellanies,'" (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 257; italics mine. For
similar remarkable statements of Edwards concerning reason and the
Trinity, see David J. Engelsma,
Trinity and Covenant, unpublished Masters thesis for Calvin
Theological Seminary, 1994, pp. 88-89.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I:XV:viii;
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. James T.
Dennison, Jr., vol. I (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R, repr. 1992), pp.
 John H. Gerstner, Jonathan
Edwards: A Mini-Theology (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1987), p.
37. For a fuller treatment, see John H. Gerstner, The Rational Biblical
Theology of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Powhatan, Virginia: Berea
Publications, 1992), pp. 303-322.
 Cf. Glen T. Miller: Edwards'
idealism "informs his theology throughout his life" (The Rise of
Evangelical Calvinism: A Study in Jonathan Edwards, unpublished
Doctoral thesis for Union Theological Seminary, New York, 1971, p. v).
 Underlying this is Edwards' view
of continuous creation.
 Commenting on Edwards' view of mankind's unity in Adam, William
Cunningham pronounces, "This idea has no sanction from Scripture, and is
indeed quite unintelligible as a supposed description of an actual
reality" (Historical Theology, vol. I [London: BOT, repr. 1960], p.
 Gerstner, Op. cit., vol.
II, p. 331.
 Charles Hodge, who opposes
Edwards' theory of our identity with Adam, points out that Edwards also
teaches both immediate and mediate imputation in Original Sin (Systematic
Theology, vol. II [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1986], pp. 207-208,
 For example, in his famous
sermons on "Justification by Faith Alone," in Works, I:622-654.
 Curiously, Edwards' father,
Timothy, who was also a Congregational minister, chose for his Masters
thesis at Harvard College, the question, "Whether or not indifference is
of the essence of free will." He answered, of course, in the negative
(Guelzo, Op. Cit., pp. 17-18).
Ibid., pp. 72-83.
 Ibid., p. 207. Though,
there have been many famous Calvinists, like Thomas Chalmers, who rated it
 Charles Hodge, for example, sees
this distinction as "unscriptural" and "dangerous" (Op. cit., vol.
II, pp. 265-267).
 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of
Christendom, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1983), p. 481.
 Gerstner, Mini-Theology,
 Quoted by Murray, Op. cit.,
 Guelzo, Op. cit.,
pp.132-135, cf. pp. 296-297, nn. 102, 106, 109, 115, 117.
 Works, I:cxxiii.
 See, for example, Schafer ed.,
Op. cit., vol. XIII, pp. 256-263.
 Contained in Works
I:94-121. See John H. Gerstner, "An Outline of the Apologetics of Jonathan
Edwards, Part II," BibSac, 133, 101-102 (1976).
 The Nature of True Virtue (1765)
is in Works I:122-142. Gerstner defends Edwards' work from the many
charges made against it (The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan
Edwards, vol. III, [Powhatan, Virginia: Berea Publications, 1993], pp.
 See Gerstner, Op. cit.,
 Ibid., 104, 107.
 Works, I:94, 532.
 Works, I:cxxi; italics
 Gerstner, Op. cit., vol.
III, pp. 410-411.
 W. G. T. Shedd, "Symbols and
Congregationalism," in his Theological Essays & Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy
(Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, repr. 1981), pp. 319-353.
 Ibid., p. 345.
 Ibid., p. 346; italics
 Gerstner, Op. cit., vol.
III, p. 409.
 In tracing the decline of New
England congregationalism, this paper naturally emphasizes the weaknesses
of Edwards' ecclesiology. This is not to deny Edwards' many rich insights
in this area (cf. Thomas A. Schafer, "Jonathan Edwards' Conception of the
Church," Church History, XXIV, 51-66 [March, 1955]).
 Edwards gave his approbation to
his wife's mystical experiences. Also he failed to condemn all the
faintings and cryings out which accompanied the revival (cf. Joseph Tracy,
The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the time of
Edwards & Whitefield [Great Britain: BOT, repr. 1976], pp. 226-230).
 Cotton Mather even had several conversations with angels in his study
(Noll, Op. cit., p. 89).
 Miller, Op. cit., p. iv.
 John H. Gerstner, Jonathan
Edwards, Evangelist (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, repr.
 Ibid., p. 95; italics
 Ibid., p. 192.
 Cf. Gerstner's chapter,
"Preaching to Young Vipers," Ibid., pp. 34-39.
 Gerstner, Rational Biblical
Theology, vol. III, p. 433.
 Wilson H. Kimnach, "The Brazen
Trumpet: Jonathan Edwards' Conception of the Sermon," in Charles Angoff
ed., Jonathan Edwards: His Life and Influence (USA: Associated
Univeristy Presses, 1975), pp. 37-38.
 John H. Gerstner, "An Outline of
the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards, Part I," BibSac, 133, 3 (1976).
 Quoted in Kimnach, Op. cit.,
p. 42; italics mine.
 For the latter, see especially,
his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (Works,
 In 1672, 1682, 1695, 1711 and
1717. Interestingly, Edwards stressed the continuity of his work with that
of Stoddard (Works, I:347).
 De Jong, Op. cit., p. 140;
Kimnach, Op. cit., p. 33.
 Works, I:397-420.
 For other criticisms, see Allen
Baird, "The 'Great Awakening,' Was it?" British Reformed Journal,
19, 4-10 (July-Sept. 1997); De Jong, Op. Cit., pp. 140-144.
 Works, I:394; italics
mine. Though Edwards would denounce the Pelagianism and "enthusiasm" of
the modern Charismatics, they have some grounds for appealing to him in
support of some of their physical aberrations.
 C. C. Goen ed., The Great
Awakening (New Haven: Yale University Press), p. 344.
 Works, I:381-383.
 Works, I:539.
 Works, I:539.
 Contained in Works,
 Works, I:600.
 Gerstner, Evangelist, p.
 Contained in Works,
 Walker, Op. cit. pp.
 Foster, Op. cit., p.
 Joseph A. Comforti, Samuel
Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement
(Grand Rapids: Christian University Press, 1981), pp. 36-37.
 Cf. Steven R. Pointer, "Seeing
the Glory," Christian History, XVIII, No. 1, 28-30 (1999).
 Mark R. Valeri, Joseph
Bellamy: Conversion, Social Ethics, and Politics in the thought of an
Eighteenth-Century Calvinist, unpublished Doctoral thesis for
Princeton University (1985), pp. 180-185.
 Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 91.
 Foster, Op. cit., p. 134.
 Quoted in De Jong, Op. cit.,
 Conforti, Op. cit., pp.
 Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 91.
 Guelzo, Ibid., p. 126.
Hopkins' heterodox doctrines spread farther than New England. One of the
reasons adduced by Classis Hackensack, for its secession from the Reformed
Church in America in 1822, was the presence of "Hopkinsian" views in
the mother church (Kromminga, Op. cit., p. 109).
 Interestingly, Edwards the
Younger was trained under both Bellamy and Hopkins.
 Robert L. Ferm, Jonathan
Edwards the Younger: 1745-1801
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 85-87.
 Ibid., pp. 63-65.
 Quoted in Guelzo, Op. cit.,
 Quoted in Ibid., p. 111.
Emmons trained eighty-seven ministers (Ibid., p. 92).
 Quoted in C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of
American History (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1964), p. 25.
 Ralph Waldo Emerson, though,
was too radical even for the Unitarians, and resigned his pastorate in
 Quoted in Alec R. Vidler,
The Church in an Age of Revolution: 1789 to the Present Day (Great
Britain: Penguin, 1961), p. 239.
 Interestingly, the New England
Unitarians played a significant role in the establishment of government
schools in the United States. It was an Unitarian from Massachusetts,
Horace Mann (1796-1859), who became "the father of American public
education." Right from the beginning, "this New England Unitarian layman .
. . more than any other shaped the moral ethos of public schools" (Martin
E. Marty, "Hell Disappeared. No One Noticed. A Civic Argument," Harvard
Theological Review, 78:3-4, 391 ).
 Walker, Op. cit., pp.
 Dwight, with his key role at
Yale, was instrumental in forging the Plan of Union (1801) between the
Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The purpose of the Plan was to pool
the combined Calvinistic strength of the two denominations in evangelising
the West, which was then opening up to expansion. This union led to a
break down in discipline. Greater loss was sustained by the Presbyterians,
who were more orthodox.
 Guelzo, Op. cit., pp.
 For example, Guelzo mentions
many revivals under various Edwardsean ministers, from 1781 to 1821 (Ibid.,
 See, for example, Noll, Op. cit.,
 Democracy, as Arthur C. McGiffert observes, "demands a God with whom
man may cooperate, not one to whom they must submit" (quoted in Singer,
Op. cit., p. 170).
 It was Beecher's daughter, Harriet
Beecher Stowe, who, in keeping with her father's opposition to slavery,
wrote the famous Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852).
 Guelzo, Op. cit., pp. 256-257; Foster,
Op. cit., p. 137.
 Guelzo, Op. cit., pp.
 Lawrence, Op. cit., p. 92.
 De Jong also makes this point (Op.
 Interestingly, the Savoy
Declaration, Congregationalism's modification of the Westminster
Confession of Faith, omitted the latter's treatment of the means of
catholick visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and
ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this
life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit
make them effectual thereunto (XXV:3; italics mine).
 Quoted in Guelzo, Op. cit.,
p. 276; italics Bushnell's.
 Warfield, Op. cit., p.
 See, for example, Edwards'
famous "Resolutions," Works, I:xx-xxii.
 Thus Herman Bavinck when
listing several theologians in Europe and America who stood firm against
the advance of Arminianism in the eighteenth century concludes, "and
especially Jonathan Edwards" (The Doctrine of God, trans. William
Hendriksen, [Great Britain: BOT, repr. 1991], p. 367; italics mine).
 George A. Gordon, Humanism
in New England Theology (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1920), p. 13.
 Gerstner reproduces Edwards'
outline for this work (Rational Biblical Theology, vol. III, pp.
 It ought also be pointed out
that Edwards' successors did not share his idealist philosophy.