I chose this topic because I was interested to know why John Edwards’ own congregation turned against him and outcast him, and was also intrigued to find out what befell of him in the later part of his life. The following is several sources documenting the dismissal of Edwards’ from his congregation in New Hampton and his life afterwards.
Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather Solomon Stoddard died on February 11th, 1729. He left his grandson the difficult job of being the only minister in charge of one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the colony. All during his service in Northampton his preaching brought outstanding religious revivals. Jonathan Edwards became a key figure in what is now known as the First Great Awakening that took place during the 1730s and 1740s.
Tensions flared as Edwards refused to continue his grandfather’s practice of practicing an open communion. His grandfather (Stoddard) believed that communion was a “converting ordinance.” Other congregations of the area had also been convinced of this, and as Edwards believed that this was harmful, his public disagreement with the idea caused him to be relinquished of his duty as minister in North Hampton.
After his dismissal from North Hampton Edwards moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This was a frontier settlement where he ministered to a small congregation and served as missionary to the Housatonic Indians. Here he had more time to study and write. He finished his celebrated work, “The Freedom of the Will” in 1754.
Edwards became president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in early 1758. He was a easy and popular choice as he had been a friend of the College since its founding and was the most respected American philosopher-theologian of his time. Sadly, Edwards died on March 22, 1758 of a fever at the age of fifty-four following an experimental vaccination for smallpox. He was buried in the President’s Lot in the Princeton cemetery beside his son-in-law, Aaron Burr.
The 1750 dismissal of Jonathan Edwards by his Northampton congregation was very disheveled, him being one of the greatest theologians in American history. Another aspect worth looking at is that friends and enemies alike agreed that in this drawn out and utterly degrading dismissal, Edwards continued to love and pray for these people, even when they showed their fangs.
Salary disagreements and power conflicts marred his ministry during the 1740s. In one particular occasion some teen boys in the church passed around a midwife’s manual, and used it to harass and make suggestive comments in front of girls. When the boys were caught the were summoned before the church, their response, according to documents of the proceedings, was “contemptuous … toward the authority of this Church.” Edwards made the decision to read to the church a list containing, indiscriminately, the names of both the young men along with the witnesses of the wrong doing. Several parents grew angry with Edwards.
Yet another issue was with Edwards’ personality and style as a minister. For instance at the beginning of his ministry at Northampton, Edwards’ decided that he would regularly visit his congregants but would instead come to their side when called upon as needed or in the case of sickness or some other emergency. This made many in the church see him as quite cold and distant.
Even though Edwards was very successful, his church and area ministers began to disapprove of him in 1748. He wanted stricter requirements on receiving communion than did his grandfather Solomon Stoddard. Edwards believed that there were too many hypocrites and unbelievers being accepted into church membership; therefore, he developed a rigid screening process. This controversy was a large contributing factor behind his dismissal from the Northampton church in 1750.Scholars see this event as a turning point in American religious history. Many believe Edwards’ ideas of reliance on God’s grace instead of good works began the rejection of Puritan attitudes from previously prevalent beliefs in New England.
Edwards’ next post was not near as grand. He ministered a small English church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he also served as a missionary to 150 Mohawk and Mohegan families. He served there from 1751 to 1757.
Even on the frontier, Edwards was not forgotten. In late 1757 he was called to be president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Sadly, he only got to work here for a few months. On March 22, 1758, Jonathan Edwards died of a fever following an experimental small pox vaccination. He was buried in Princeton cemetery.
The research I have done on the latter part of Jonathan Edwards’ life has made me feel sorry for him. At first, after reading some of his excerpts, I viewed him as just a scary pastor who loved to preach on condemnation; however, I now understand he was also a very honorable, religious, well educated, and hard working individual. He was outcast and shunned by those he served and loved, and died of a tragic death at a relatively early age. I’m glad I researched this because I now have a better understanding of Jonathan Edwards and the reasons behind his dismissal and knowledge of his latter life.
The following videos are examples of how Jonathan Edwards feels.
Jonathan Edwards Resolutions part 1.
Jonathan Edwards Resolutions part 2.
If interested in his preaching style, the following is his most famous sermon “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”