Abigail Akin

Religion 319 – Jonathan Edwards

Prof. Westblade

2 December 2015


True Religion


In the early to mid-1700s, two great thinkers came to the forefront of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Chauncy. As Edwards and Chauncy watched the Great Awakening unfold before them, a myriad of questions arose for them: was the Great Awakening from God or Satan? How should membership be determined within the Church? Yet, underlying these questions a more foundational inquiry existed: what was true religion? True religion can only be determined by one’s view of man and on this subject, Edwards and Chauncy disagreed. Chauncy viewed man as dualistic in nature whereas Edwards viewed man as holistic.[1] True religion aligns with Scripture and reason under the holistic rather than the dualistic viewpoint.

To have a full understanding of Chauncy and Edwards, one must first recognize the context from which they came and the events that shaped their childhood. Chauncy and Edwards both grew up in a heavily Puritan culture. New England was originally settled in 1620 by Puritans fleeing England in pursuit of religious liberty. During their first years in the New World, the Puritans formulated and cultivated their beliefs with little hindrance from others. As the years passed, others came with different motivations than religious freedom. Those in the Colonies now had to face new challenges and issues within their churches. In addition to the surge of immigrants, the Colonies also had to be aware of the power struggles going on back home in England, especially considering New England’s own environment could change relatively quickly depending on who was in power in England. For this reason the Colonies kept a close eye on the events in their homeland, for depending on the ruler they would have more or less freedom for their Puritan beliefs. Struggles often became wars and wars spread across the water to the Colonies. Many battles were fought against the Indians and the French. One of the most important wars that had a direct effect on the Edwards’ family was the Queen Ann’s War which started in 1702. Edwards was born in 1703, 2 years before Chauncy. As the boys grew up, fear of attacks and massacres sent the Colonies into turmoil. In the Edwards’ house, Jonathan grew up surrounded by the family praying and telling stories about the Deerfield massacre in which Jonathan’s cousins, aunt and uncle were taken by Indians.[2] The Queen Ann’s war did not end until 1713. Thus, some of the most formative years for Edwards and Chauncy were ones of war and upheaval.

Charles Chauncy was born in Boston on January 1st, 1705. His father was a merchant and his mother’s father was on the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.[3] At age seven, Chauncy’s father died, leaving his mother alone with three children to raise. The following year, Chauncy started at Boston Latin which instructed him in Latin and prepared him to meet the requirements of Harvard College. Chauncy began his studies at Harvard in 1717 at the young age of 12. During this time in the Colonies, it was not unusual for children to attend college at an early age, but the usual age was 16.[4] Four years later, he graduated with his undergraduate and after waiting the customary three years, Chauncy was awarded his master’s degree in divinity. Thus by nineteen, Chauncy had achieved his masters. He returned to Harvard and was given the award of “Scholar of the House.”[5] One important person to note was a man named Wigglesworth. During his years at Harvard, Chauncy watched and participated in the college controversy between the Protestants and the Anglicans. Chauncy had friends on both sides of the issue, so he heard and understood the positions taken by both sides very well. One such friend, teacher, and mentor was Wigglesworth.[6] During the controversy, Wigglesworth had been questioned on whether or not he leaned towards Anglicanism. He was found not to, yet he did lean towards rationalism. Wigglesworth’s influence in Chauncy’s college years played a large role in shaping Chauncy’s view of the nature of man. In 1726 a position opened with the First Church of Boston and by the following the year, Chauncy was given the position.

In the early 1730s, Chauncy became known and respected in Boston.[7] It was also during this time that the Great Awakening began in Northampton and started to spread across New England. In Boston, Jonathan Edwards’ A Faithful Narrative was published. Chauncy and his pastor-friends read and discussed the events taking place in Northampton.[8] At the beginning of the Great Awakening, Chauncy supported it, believing that the spiritual revolution was instigated by God. Yet as the Awakening matured some extremists argued that “…the Holy Spirit operated only in spectacular ways, and the more spectacular the better…”[9] As the events unfolded with Tennent, churches, including Chauncy’s own, were internally conflicted over whether or not pastors were truly saved if they did not have great outward conversion experiences. Chauncy too began to question what true conversion should look like. From Chauncy’s grappling with the question of conversion, the question of what is true religion followed. To answer that, he had to draw upon his understanding of how God created human nature.

Chauncy believed God made human nature dualistic with multiple faculties, some higher and others lower. From the years of study of Aristotle under Wigglesworth, Chauncy believed that the mind, or reason, was the highest faculty of a human being, while emotions were the lowest. He argued that reason is what constitutes man as intrinsically human. Sin came from Adam and Eve’s act of submitting to emotion instead of reason.[10] Thus it makes sense that Chauncy saw “…the affections as first of all unruly emotions, which could serve the good only when brought into submission to properly informed reason.”[11] It would also explain why he wrote that “Truth, an enlightened mind, and not raised Affections, ought always to be the guide of those who call themselves man…”[12] Reason, not “raised Affections” or emotions, should dictate the actions of the believer. This is true religion. If true religion is based on reason, then conversions would naturally not be proven by high emotional outpourings but by level-headed reason as the base of a man’s faith and conversion. Edwards’ holistic view stands in sharp contrast.

Jonathan Edwards came from a family of Puritan pastors. On his father’s side, his grandfather was a pastor in Wales, his father was a chaplain for England in the Queen Ann’s War, later becoming the minister of East Windsor. His mother’s father was Solomon Stoddard who was considered almost a pope in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts.[13] Coming from such a family of strong and influential pastors, it is not surprising that Edwards became the man he did. Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703. Edwards’ father was a “formidable figure in his own domains – his home and his church…”[14] As Edwards grew from infancy to childhood, like Chauncy, he heard stories and news about Queen Ann’s War; by age 11 his father was off ministering as a chaplain for the war. During this time, his father wrote home to instruct Edwards and his sisters on what they should be learning. Two years later in 1716, Edwards attended Collegiate School which by his third year was renamed Yale. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in 1720 and by 1722 he had earned his Master’s degree. While at Yale, he had a great fascination with science and in particular, spiders. He studied theology and graduated at the top of his class. After finishing with his master’s degree, Edwards preached at the Presbyterian Church in New York. From there, he returned to Yale and tutored until 1726, when he left to become ordained at his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard’s, church in Northampton.

Throughout those years, Edwards was constantly questioning whether or not he was truly saved. He kept a journal in which he recorded what he was feeling concerning his spiritual life. Even as an adult, Edwards still remained fascinated with trying to understand what true conversion looked like. As the Great Awakening began to grow more extreme, Chauncy’s work titled Seasonable Thoughts of the State of Religion was printed in 1743. Edwards understood Chauncy’s worries about the Great Awakening but upheld his original belief that the extreme stances were only taken up by outliers to the movement. In response to the raised questions concerning what true religion, and thus conversion, looked like, Edwards drew from his past sermons and years of personal contemplations to write Religious Affections.

Edwards understood that true religion is based on the idea that God made man to be holistic in nature, with reason (the head) and affections (the heart) as equal—interdependent upon each other. Another might confuse affections with emotions, but to Edwards they were separate entities. Emotions are surface-level feelings, whereas affections are the core of the human heart. Emotions may or may not be linked to an object, but affections are always linked to an object. One might say that they are angry, yet the emotion may not be directed towards anything in particular. But when one says that they are affectionate, the question remains towards what or whom. Affections “…are both good and bad, non-religious and religious. Religious affections do not function differently from non-religious affections, but have different objects… religious affections seek God and Spiritual things.”[15] To Edwards, affections are the core motivations of the human heart, forever guiding man’s actions. Yet religious affections must “involve ‘a fervent, vigorous engagement of the heart in religion’ that displays itself in love for God with all the heart and soul [mind].”[16] Only through the Holy Spirit interceding and changing the affections towards desiring Him is one saved, but this is not at the expense of reason. It is through reason that God touches the heart. When God changes the heart of a person, that person is now attracted towards God and the affections will express a deep love towards Him. To Edwards “…true religion consists not of cold, indifferent speculation, but in an intense inclination of the mind expressed in terms of attraction which is in its highest and most noble state, [is] love.”[17] Thus, in Edwards’ perspective, God made humanity holistic in nature with reason and affections as interdependent; one cannot exist without the other.

It follows then that, for Edwards, true conversion was not based solely on reason or emotions but rather on something much more difficult to pin down. True conversion is God changing the affections towards Him, and this is not something that can easily be judged from the exterior, for it takes place at the core of the individual. Those who converted in the Great Awakening with high emotions could be saved as much as those who experienced little emotional change, for only God knows the heart and mind. For this reason, Edwards was not against the Great Awakening, but he did caution the extreme sides to rethink their stances on true conversion and to think about religious affections instead.

As seen above, Chauncy and Edwards disagree on the nature of man and thus true religion. Only one can be correct. It seems that Chauncy’s argument falls short when faced with Scriptures and reality. Chauncy argues for a dualistic understanding of humanity, yet if humanity is made in the image of God, then would not God’s personality be dualistic as well, with some faculties higher and lower? Would this not also mean that God should only use emotion and affections sparingly and mainly use reason as it is the best faculty? Yet, God shows emotions as well as the deepest affections which humans cannot even grasp throughout all of Scriptures. It is understandable why Chauncy wants to divide the nature of man, however, when looking to Scriptures. There is only one God in three Persons working simultaneously with each other in perfect unity. By looking to God’s nature, understanding that God made mankind’s nature to align with His, Edwards’ argument of the holistic man with interdependent faculties agree with Scriptures the closest.

Another aspect of Chauncy’s argument that seems unscriptural is one consequence of reason-based religion. Man loses the beauty and joy found in Christianity. With the understanding of the holistic nature of man, Edwards combines both reason and the deeper emotions found in the affections. In this, he retains the argument that reason is needed but creates a fuller picture of the life of a Christian, for from affections joy and love naturally flow. Chauncy has to deal with a religion that potentially becomes cold, unfeeling and dead. This seems to go against Scriptures. In Romans 15:13 Paul asks God to “fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope…” In Psalms 47:1, the verse commands all the nations to “shout to God with cries of Joy.” If reason is the highest faculty and emotions the lowest, why would Paul and God both be asking that the people be joyful? But in Edwards’ understanding, if one’s affections are towards God, then shouting for joy and being filled with joy and peace do align with Scriptures.

Chauncy might argue that during the Great Awakening, many claimed to be converted by “raised affections” yet once the emotional high was gone they had returned to their old ways. Edwards saw this problem, but was not surprised nor thought that it falsified his argument; for true religious affections would never wain as time went by. From his own experience of years of struggling to know if he was truly saved, Edwards knew firsthand how devious and crafty the devil was and was not surprised to see non-religious affections that outwardly seemed like real religious affections. Besides Edwards’ personal life experience, he also grew up with a father and grandfather that experienced small revivals that had people that seemed converted who returned to their old ways as time passed. Thus, Edwards was not unfamiliar with false raised affections, but argued that the devil was responsible and that no true religious affection was ever there in the first place.

Both Chauncy and Edwards came from relatively similar backgrounds – they both grew up in Puritan families, they went to college and got their Bachelor’s degrees, then went on to get their master’s degrees and became pastors. Yet in spite of their similarities, their conclusions on true religion were different. Chauncy understood that God had made man to be dualistic in nature with the reason as the highest faculty, whereas Edwards argued that religious affections formed the foundation of for true religion. From the understanding the idea of man being made in God’s nature to the lack of joy, Chauncy’s arguments fall apart when analyzed with Scripture and reason. One comes to the conclusion that Edwards’ perspective of the holistic view of man best explains true religion, since Edwards’ argument remains true to Scriptures and reason while creating a more full and beautiful understanding of Christianity.




Chauncy, Charles. Enthusiasm described and caution'd against. A sermon preach'd at the Old Brick Meeting-House in Boston, the Lord's Day after the commencement, 1742. With a letter to the Reverend Mr. James Davenport. By Charles Chauncy, D.D. one of the Pastors of the First Church in said town. [Twenty lines from Luther]. Boston, MDCCXLII. [1742]. Eighteenth Century Collections Online. Gale. Hillsdale College. 24 Oct. 2015


Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1985/issue8/820.html. Online. 3. Dec. 2015


Griffin, Edward M. Old Brick, Charles Chauncy of Boston, 1705-1787. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980.


Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.


McClymond, Michael J., and Gerald R. McDermott. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.


Richard A. Hutch., “Jonathan Edwards’ analysis of religious experience,” Journal of Psychology & Theology 6, no. 2 (Spr 1978): p 123-131, Accessed October 22, 2015.


[1] Fishard A. Hutch, “Jonathan Edwards’ analysis of religious experience,” Journal of Psychology &Theology 6, no. 2 (1978): 123.

[2] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 16.

[3] Edward M. Griffin, Old Brick, Charles Chauncy of Boston, 1705-1787. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 13.

[4] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 13.

[5] Edward M. Griffin, Old Brick, Charles Chauncy of Boston, 1705-1787. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 20.

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8] Ibid., 38-39.

[9] Ibid., 54.

[10] Fishard A. Hutch, “Jonathan Edwards’ analysis of religious experience,” Journal of Psychology &Theology 6, no. 2 (1978): 125.

[11] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 283.

[12] Charles Chauncy,” Seasonable thoughts on the State of Religion in New England: a treatise in five parts”. Page 327

[13] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 11-18.

[14] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 17.

[15] McClymond, Michael J., and Gerald R. McDermott. The Theology of Jonathan Edwards. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 312.

[16] Ibid., 312

[17] Fishard A. Hutch, “Jonathan Edwards’ analysis of religious experience,” Journal of Psychology &Theology 6, no. 2 (1978): 128.