An Overview of Edwards' Thought

portrait of Jonathan Edwards Michael J. McClymond has an interesting approach to the writings of Jonathan Edwards.

McClymond suggests that Edwards takes six different approaches to thought:

  1. Apprehension (of religious affections)
  2. Speculations (upon the nature of being and the mind)
  3. Contemplation (of God's personal work in the human soul)
  4. Valuation (of true virtue)
  5. Narration (of God's work in the community)
  6. Persuasion (of the people of God's demands toward sin and true renewal)

As McClymond notes, for Edwards, there are two essentially important questions:

  • How may I know (understand, experience) God?
  • How may I know (verify, instruct, convince) that I or others know God?

Edwards tended to cross boundaries the eighteenth-century made between apologetics and spiritual perception. Typical thinkers tended to stress that apologetics appeal to rational argumentation and logical and/or empirical proofs, while they regulated a spiritual perception of the world to faith as inward subjectivity. Edwards, on the other hand, insisted on using inner, spiritual experience as a defense of Christianity and rational argument as a way of setting out the benefits and limits of inward subjectivity.

According to Edwards, a right relationship with God will have genuine, but not excessive, emotions, so one must distinguish between true and false revivalist experiences. This can be understood at the level of corporate redemption in a people, as well as in personal experience.

Edwards is deeply concerned with setting forth a view of creation that ties beauty and ethics together with being and knowledge. God's moral and aesthetic beauty are at the heart and serve as the foundation of all morality and beauty. He believes that God constructs the human person (mind, will, and affections) in such a way that personhood corresponds with ethics and beauty. [The larger overview.]


  1. How are Edwards' different approaches to thought present in our selections from Edwards for this week?
  2. How does Edwards seek to use reason to test revival experience in "Sarah Pierrepont," "Personal Narrative," or "A Faithful Narrative"? How does he use spiritual experience as a form of apologetic?
  3. What style of persuasion is present in Edwards' two sermons? How do they differ?
  4. How is Edwards' view of God present in each work?
  5. In what way does "Sarah Pierrepont" or "Personal Narrative" typify Edwards' view of the human person and/or his aesthetics?

McClymond, Michael J. An Approach to the Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.