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The Decline and Fall of New England Congregationalism

Rev. Angus Stewart

(slightly modified from an article first published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal)


(I) Introduction
The City Set on a Hill
Jonathan Edwards
The New England Theology


(I) Introduction

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 succeeding centuries.

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"

(1) Foundations

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."[1] 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,

We covenant 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.[2]

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.[3]

Despite the 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] As Williston Walker observes,

All late 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.[7]

By 1639, of the approximately thirty-three churches of New England, only two had pastors inclined to Presbyterianism.[8]

(2) Early Threats

The first 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 conversion.[9] He was, in short, an Anabaptist.

In 1635, 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.[10]

While Williams 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.

Mrs. Hutchinson 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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

These three instances of radical doctrine indicate that seventeenth century New England was not an idyllic, homogeneous society.[15] Furthermore, the immigrants over this period included "fugitives from justice, soldiers of fortune and men seeking wealth" rather than God.[16] 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.

(3) "The Half-way Covenant"

New England's 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.

John Cotton 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.[17]

The Cambridge 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.[18] 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 observes,

[It] denies 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.[19]

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.[20] One scholar has produced detailed evidence of a lordly spirit amongst the pastors, and a corresponding lack of respect for them amongst the people.[21] Evidences of rebellious congregations are not wanting either, and the weak inter-church polity of the Cambridge Platform, in many instances, proved impotent.[22]

The controversy 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 generation remained.[23

Even worse 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.[24] 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.

The most 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.[25]

The Half-Way 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.

(4) "Stoddardeanism" and Further Decline

Still the 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.[26] 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 citizen."[27]

Also the 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 Massachusetts."

For Stoddard, 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.[28] 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."

Eventually, "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 continued.

Increasingly, 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.[29] 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 England.


(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."[30] In the second point of his application, near the end of his sermon, the young man explicitly attacked the Arminianism of his day:

Hence those 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

The preacher was Solomon Stoddard's recent successor in Northampton, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).

This profoundly 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:

We cannot 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 evangelical principles.[32

Jonathan Edwards was now introduced to the wider New England world.

This high 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."[33] 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."[34] 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' philosophy.

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 treasure."[35] 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."[36] Newton also played a role:

From his 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.[37]

However, while 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.[38]

One support 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.[39] 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 Divine mind.[40] 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.[41]

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.[42]

While some 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.[43] As Jenson astutely remarks, "For Edwards, Newton and more problematically Locke were sheer theological inspirations."[44]

(2) Edwards' Apologetics

Much has been written on Edwards' apologetics: Was he an evidentialist or a presuppositionalist?[45] 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.[46] 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.[47]

The locus classicus for Edwards as an evidentialist is found in his Freedom of the Will:

We first 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.[48]

Similarly, in his notes on "The Mind," Edwards, in number 54, entitled, "Reasoning," fuses to the cosmological argument, those also from design and motion.[49] Edwards adds another argument, more peculiarly his own, from the impossibility of the existence of nothing.[50] Edwards averred,

The arguments 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 treated.[5

Regarding the 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.[52]

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 revelation.[53]

However, 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.[54]

Edwards not 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 proceeds.[5]

(3) Edwards' Theology

Sadly, Edwards' "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.[56] 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.[57]

Not only his rationalism, but his idealism-occasionalism led to problems.[58] 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 moments.[59] 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.[60] 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."[61]

However, 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.[62] Furthermore, Edwards sets forth the orthodox doctrine of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to His people.[63]

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 problems either.[64] 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.[65]

Theologically, there are several objections and these have been often presented especially by the Old School Presbyterians.[66] 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 were unable.[67] 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.[68]

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 the world."[69] 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.

Most surprising 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.[70] 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.[71] Edwards even sent Bellamy's book to John Erskine, the Scottish Presbyterian.[72]

To conclude this brief evaluation of the controversial aspects of Edwards' theology, we must also point out that his idealism is evident in his treatment of the Trinity,[73] and in his famous work, Concerning the End for which God Created the World (1765).[74] His definition of virtue as "benevolence to being in general," is informed by his philosophical outlook.[75] Furthermore it has been a matter of inquiry if Edwards was tainted with Pantheism or Panentheism.[76] 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."[77] It is no wonder that in the prefaces to Edwards' books we often find references to his being too philosophical, metaphysical and abstruse.[78]

A question 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."[79] 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 faith.[80]

W. G. T. Shedd, then a New England Congregationalist, observed in 1858, that his denomination was not sufficiently confessional in its stance.[81] 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."[82] His recommendation must be taken seriously: "The theorizing spirit of the individual divine needs, therefore to be both aided and guided by symbols."[83] 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.[84] 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 enterprise.[85]

(4) Edwards' Revivalism

Considering his 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.[86] Neither was this out of keeping with his New England heritage, which placed great emphasis on Christian experience.[87] Similarly, in his evangelical Calvinism, Edwards stood as a direct descendant of the preparationist-revivalist tradition.[88] Edwards' doctrine of "seeking" is clearly presented in John Gerstner's, Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist, and here, again, there are problems.[89] 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 ability.[90]

Gerstner notes 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 their lives."[91]

Edwards' 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 snakes."[92] 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.[93] God's covenant relationship with believers and their seed, in the line of continued generations, was being buried.

Like his predecessor, Edwards emphasized the danger of damnation and used the most vivid and powerful imagery.[94] However, unlike Stoddard, Edwards had an additional philosophical rationale: his sensationalism.[95] This affected his view of preaching. Thus Edwards states,

The main 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

Although his 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.[97] Again, in themselves, the revivals were not a totally new phenomenon. Stoddard, for example, had several "harvests," as he called them, in Northampton,[98] and Edwards' father was a noted revivalist.[99] Yet in the geographical extent, duration and excesses, the revivals did go beyond former experiences.

Edwards was 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.[100] 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 assemblies.[101]

Faintings and 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.[102] 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 such."[103]

Setting aside the "irregularities," Edwards viewed the revivals as a wonderful work of God, at least on par with God's work in creation.[104] 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![105]

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.[106]

Thus, Genesis 4: 26: "Then began men to call upon the name of the LORD," refers to the first revival.[107] The Reformed and covenantal view of church history had been overthrown.

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 Earth (1747),[108] Edwards has kind remarks for August Franke, the German Pietist.[109] He even approves of John Wesley "so far as he is familiar with his work."[110]

However, 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.[111] 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"

Before his 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.

Another 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.[112]

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.

New England 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 Covenant.

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 (1752-1817).

Edwards was 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."[113] His rigorous habits of study and disinterestedness in "worldly affairs" were presented as a model.[114] 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.[115]

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

As already 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."

During the 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.[116] 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.[117] His True Religion Delineated was, next to Edwards' writings, the most important work in the early New England Theology.

From Samuel 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 glory.

For all Hopkins' "Consistent Calvinism," he held that somehow God's sovereign decree includes man's freedom, whereby he possesses the ability to repent.[118] 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."[119]

Like Bellamy, 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.[120]  He applied his theory to slavery and denounced it so vehemently that he was dismissed from one church and emptied another.[121] However, unlike Bellamy, the American Revolution fell under his disapprobation. The reason ... it dampened revivals![122]

Hopkins' key 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 succeeding generations.

(2) The Second and Third Generation "Edwardseans"

The second generation New Divinity movement also contained many "close reasoners," but of them all it was Jonathan Edwards Jr. whose mind was the sharpest.[123] 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.[124] 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.[125]

Whereas Edwards 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."[126]

Although God 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 exercises."[127] 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."[128]

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 movement.[129] 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."[130] Their differences, being more social than theological were easily overcome.[131]

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.[132] Worse still, some with unitarian leanings remained in the Congregational Church.

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.

However, the 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 circles.[133] Through Edwards' grandson, the Edwardseans were largely disinherited of the key Edwards heritage: his view of the will.[134]

(3) The Revivalist Legacy and "The New Haven Theology"

Edwards' 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,[135] 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."[136] The preaching was increasingly modified to appeal to the modern democratic ideas—everybody had to have a free choice.[137]

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.[138] 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.[139]

Moses Stuart 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.[140]

After Taylor, 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.


(V) Conclusion

Although this 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.

In accordance with Frank Lawrence's basic thesis, we have seen that "the tide of Liberalism was edging in long before the time of Jonathan Edwards."[141] 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.[142] 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 "outpouring-of-the-Spirit" model.[143] 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 of life.[144]

The revivals resulted and they wrought havoc.

Edwards' 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."[145] 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.[146] 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.[147]

However, 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."[148] Edwards was unable to finish his projected summa, A Rational Account of the Main Doctrines of the Christian Religion Attempted.[149] 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.[150] 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 fallen!


[1] Hugh Brogan, Longman History of the United States (Great Britain: Book Club Associates, 1985), p. 36.
[2] Quoted in Peter Y. De Jong, The Covenant Idea in New England Theology, 1620-1847 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1945), p. 84.
[3] Ibid., pp. 81-82.
[4] Allen Carden, Puritan Christianity in America: Religion and Life in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), pp. 15-16.
[5] De Jong, Op. cit., pp. 83-84.
[6] The other New England states, Maine and Vermont, were later settled largely by expansion from the existing colonies and so were also Congregationalist.
[7] Williston Walker, The History of the Congregational Churches in the United States (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1899), p. 114.
[8] Ibid., p. 116.
[9] Ibid., p. 132.
[10] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), pp. 56-60.
[11] Walker, Op. cit., pp. 138-145.
[12] 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.
[13] 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).
[14] Walker, Op. cit., pp.147-148.
[15] In keeping with the subjective tendency of Puritanism, the three movements were experientialist.
[16] Lawrence, Op. cit., p. 90.
[17] 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).
[18] De Jong, Op. cit., p. 104.
[19] David J. Engelsma, "The Cambridge Platform: A Reformed Option? (A Review Article)," PRTJ, XXIX, 1, 53 (November, 1995).
[20] David Harlan, The Clergy and the Great Awakening in New England (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980), p. 44.
[21] Ibid., pp. 31-47.
[22] Ibid., pp. 31-32.
[23] Quoted in De Jong, Op. cit., p. 123.
[24] For a summary of the evils that synod identified and the recommendations she made, see Walker, Op. cit., p. 187.
[25] Walker, Op. cit., p. 190.
[26] De Jong, Op. cit., p. 127.
[27] Ibid., p. 124.
[28] See John H. Gerstner's "Introduction" to Solomon Stoddard, A Guide to Christ (Ligonier, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, repr. 1993), p. vii.
[29] 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.
[30] Contained in Edward Hickman ed., The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. II (Great Britain: BOT, repr. 1974), pp. 3-7. Hereafter abbreviated Works, II.
[31] Works, II:6.
[32] Works, II:2.
[33] 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.
[34] Anthony Flew ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy (London: Pan Books, 1979), p. 102.
[35] Edward Hickman ed., The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. I (Great Britain: BOT, repr. 1974), p. xvii. Hereafter abbreviated Works, I.
[36] John H. Gerstner, The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards, vol. I (Powhatan, Virginia: Berea Publications, 1991), p. 41.
[37] Robert W. Jenson, America's Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 23.
[38] Gerstner, Op. cit., vol. I, pp. 42-43.
[39] Allen C. Guelzo, Edwards on the Will: A Century of Theological Debate (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), p. 30.
[40] Ibid., p. 31.
[41] Works, II:6.
[42] Jenson, Op. cit., p. 31.
[43] Cf. Gerstner: "Edwards was confident that sound philosophy and theology cohere" (Op. cit., vol. I, p. 83).
[44] 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).
[45] For a recent example, see Scott Oliphant, "Jonathan Edwards: Reformed Apologist," WTJ, 57, 165-186 (1995).
[46] Contained in Works, I:479-485.
[47] Regarding Van Til, there is the additional question, concerning his claim to be in the line of true presuppositional Reformed apologetics.
[48] Works, I:16.
[49] Works, I:ccxxvi.
[50] Works, I:16; cf. Gerstner, Op. cit., vol. I, pp. 120-121, 129.
[51] 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).
[52] Works, II:479; italics Edwards'.
[53] Edwards' remarks succeeding this quotation support this contention. For a different understanding of Edwards' statement, see Oliphant, Op. cit., 176-177.
[54] Works, II:17.
[55] 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.
[56] 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. 606-611.
[57] 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.
[58] 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).
[59] Underlying this is Edwards' view of continuous creation.
[60] 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. 514).
[61] Gerstner, Op. cit., vol. II, p. 331.
[62] 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, 217-220).
[63] For example, in his famous sermons on "Justification by Faith Alone," in Works, I:622-654.
[64] 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).
[65] Ibid., pp. 72-83.
[66] Ibid., p. 207. Though, there have been many famous Calvinists, like Thomas Chalmers, who rated it very highly.
[67] Charles Hodge, for example, sees this distinction as "unscriptural" and "dangerous" (Op. cit., vol. II, pp. 265-267).
[68] Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. I (Grand Rapids: Baker, repr. 1983), p. 481.
[69] Gerstner, Mini-Theology, p. 58.
[70] Quoted by Murray, Op. cit., p. 137.
[71] Guelzo, Op. cit., pp.132-135, cf. pp. 296-297, nn. 102, 106, 109, 115, 117.
[72] Works, I:cxxiii.
[73] See, for example, Schafer ed., Op. cit., vol. XIII, pp. 256-263.
[74] 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).
[75] 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. 259-303).
[76] See Gerstner, Op. cit., 100-107.
[77] Ibid., 104, 107.
[78] Works, I:94, 532.
[79] Works, I:cxxi; italics mine.
[80] Gerstner, Op. cit., vol. III, pp. 410-411.
[81] W. G. T. Shedd, "Symbols and Congregationalism," in his Theological Essays & Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, repr. 1981), pp. 319-353.
[82] Ibid., p. 345.
[83] Ibid., p. 346; italics Shedd's.
[84] Gerstner, Op. cit., vol. III, p. 409.
[85] 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]).
[86] 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).
[87] Cotton Mather even had several conversations with angels in his study (Noll, Op. cit., p. 89).
[88] Miller, Op. cit., p. iv.
[89] John H. Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, repr. 1995).
[90] Ibid., p. 95; italics Gerstner's.
[91] Ibid., p. 192.
[92] Cf. Gerstner's chapter, "Preaching to Young Vipers," Ibid., pp. 34-39.
[93] Gerstner, Rational Biblical Theology, vol. III, p. 433.
[94] 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.
[95] John H. Gerstner, "An Outline of the Apologetics of Jonathan Edwards, Part I," BibSac, 133, 3 (1976).
[96] Quoted in Kimnach, Op. cit., p. 42; italics mine.
[97] For the latter, see especially, his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (Works, II:7-12).
[98] In 1672, 1682, 1695, 1711 and 1717. Interestingly, Edwards stressed the continuity of his work with that of Stoddard (Works, I:347).
[99] De Jong, Op. cit., p. 140; Kimnach, Op. cit., p. 33.
[100] Works, I:397-420.
[101] 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.
[102] Works, I:368.
[103] 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.
[104] C. C. Goen ed., The Great Awakening (New Haven: Yale University Press), p. 344.
[105] Works, I:381-383.
[106] Works, I:539.
[107] Works, I:539.
[108] Contained in Works, II:278-312.
[109] Works, I:600.
[110] Gerstner, Evangelist, p. 92.
[111] Contained in Works, I:431-478.
[112] Walker, Op. cit. pp. 270-271.
[113] Foster, Op. cit., p. 133.
[114] Joseph A. Comforti, Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement (Grand Rapids: Christian University Press, 1981), pp. 36-37.
[115] Cf. Steven R. Pointer, "Seeing the Glory," Christian History, XVIII, No. 1, 28-30 (1999).
[116] 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.
[117] Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 91.
[118] Foster, Op. cit., p. 134.
[119] Quoted in De Jong, Op. cit., p. 167.
[120] Conforti, Op. cit., pp. 110, 117-123.
[121] Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 91.
[122] 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).
[123] Interestingly, Edwards the Younger was trained under both Bellamy and Hopkins.
[124] Robert L. Ferm, Jonathan Edwards the Younger: 1745-1801 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), pp. 85-87.
[125] Ibid., pp. 63-65.
[126] Quoted in Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 111.
[127] Quoted in Ibid., p. 111. Emmons trained eighty-seven ministers (Ibid., p. 92).
[128] Quoted in C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of American History (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1964), p. 25.
[129] Ralph Waldo Emerson, though, was too radical even for the Unitarians, and resigned his pastorate in 1832.
[130] Quoted in Alec R. Vidler, The Church in an Age of Revolution: 1789 to the Present Day (Great Britain: Penguin, 1961), p. 239.
[131] 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 [1985]).
[132] Walker, Op. cit., pp. 343-344.
[133] 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.
[134] Guelzo, Op. cit., pp. 227-229.
[135] For example, Guelzo mentions many revivals under various Edwardsean ministers, from 1781 to 1821 (Ibid., p. 92).
[136] See, for example, Noll, Op. cit., p. 169.
[137] 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).
[138] 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).
[139] Guelzo, Op. cit., pp. 256-257; Foster, Op. cit., p. 137.
[140] Guelzo, Op. cit., pp. 272-273.
[141] Lawrence, Op. cit., p. 92.
[142] De Jong also makes this point (Op. cit.).
[143] Interestingly, the Savoy Declaration, Congregationalism's modification of the Westminster Confession of Faith, omitted the latter's treatment of the means of grace:
Unto this 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).
[144] Quoted in Guelzo, Op. cit., p. 276; italics Bushnell's.
[145] Warfield, Op. cit., p. 523.
[146] See, for example, Edwards' famous "Resolutions," Works, I:xx-xxii.
[147] 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).
[148] George A. Gordon, Humanism in New England Theology (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920), p. 13.
[149] Gerstner reproduces Edwards' outline for this work (Rational Biblical Theology, vol. III, pp. 564-565).
[150] It ought also be pointed out that Edwards' successors did not share his idealist philosophy.