June 22, 2007

McNeill on Edwards

"Edwards (d. 1758) must be regarded as the most eminent of American Calvinists. As a boy he was gifted with remarkable powers of observation and experienced mystical states. ‘We are to conceive of the divine excellence as infinite, general love,’ he wrote at the age of sixteen, and at seventeen, ‘Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God.’ At twenty, he resolved ‘diligently to look into our old divines concerning conversion.’ These are typical themes of his preaching. Having graduated from Yale at seventeen, he briefly served a Presbyterian church in New York, was for two years a tutor at Yale, and became the colleague and successor of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in Northampton, Massachusetts. He preached the wrath as well as the love of God, and his tall, almost motionless form and pale, grave face lent impressiveness to his clear message. In his theology and in his treatment of the emotions he added humane elements to Calvinism, but in his preaching he elaborated the theme of hell as John Calvin never did. For Calvin, hell was alienation from God; for Edwards it was endless physical torment pictured in realistic detail. Yet he never lost his deep sense of the essentially loving nature of God. Even his lurid warnings were uttered in compassion, and his object in all preaching was to lead sinners to grace."

John T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (Oxford Univeristy Press, 1954), p. 362.

I saw the above quote referenced in Dr. Glenn Kreider's excellent article, "Sinners in the Hands of a Gracious God." Dr. Kreider wrote his doctoral dissertation on Jonathan Edwards' Interpretation of Revelation 4:1-8:1.

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