Thomas Ohlgren

Gabrielle D’Virgilio

Dr. Westblade

18th Century Theology, Jonathan Edwards


The 1750s – Enlightenment and War in Colonial America

I.               Basic Facts and Map

a.     Popultation

                                               i.     Rose from 250,000 whites in 1700 to 1.5 million in 1755

                                             ii.     Population included Scots, Germans, and even English convicts

                                            iii.     Manners, style, habits of the time

II.             The Enlightenment

a.     University Roots

                                               i.     Rise in importation of Enlightenment literature/philosophy

a.     (Russell 29) “In the 18th century, Jeremiah Dummer… sent over to America 700 books… which formed the Yale library. During the same period, Thomas Hollis, a liberal Baptist in Enlgand, gave a large collection of writings to Harvard College.”

b.     People like Adam Smith flourishing during the 1750s

a.     Theory of Moral Sentiments published 1759

b.     Montesquieu died 1755

c.     Rousseau returns to Calvinism and Geneva in 1755. Publishes his second work, Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men

c.     Locke,Tillotson, Collins, Wollaston, Bacon, Newton, Clarke and Cheyne, John Toland

a.     Comprised the “New Learning” pact

                                                                                                     i.     Think Locke and his Essay Concerning Human Understanding – “ground of belief” based upon experience (tabula rasa) rather that a priori principles or innate ideas. Thus, complex ideas derived from simple ideas and classified according to Baconian principles. Induction.

                                                                                                   ii.     So, move to empirical origins of all human knowledge. Clergymen, for the most part, enthusiastically clung to these new ideas and tried to incorporate them into a larger order of the universe governed by a Supreme being, God.

                                                                                                  iii.     (Walters 31) So, people like John Toland publish Christianity Not Mysterious(1696) which argue that credible religions much display logical consistency first and foremost, over faith and the word of the Lord.

                                                                                                  iv.     Harvard College and Dudleian Lectures of 1755

1.     Express purpose of “the proving, explaining, and proper use and improvement of the principles of Nartural Religion.”

b.     Period of Innovation, Experiment

                                               i.     Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)

a.     Experiment and innovation in the 1750s

a.     Lightning Rod Experiment in 1752

                                                                                                     i.     Flew a kite in a storm. Used to invent the lightning Rod. Following the experiments lightning rods were installed on the Pennsylvania State House and the University of Pennsylvania

                                                                                                   ii.     Albany Congress in 1754

1.     Proposed Plan for Union, some of which were adopted in the Articles of Confederation not too much later

                                                                                                  iii.     Whale Oil Lamps 1757

1.     Franklin provided for night lights in the streets of Philadelphia

                                             ii.     Science and Arts

a.     Encyclopedie published by Denis Diderot 1752

a.     Included mechanical arts and was a symbol of the enlightenment


c.     Enlightenment Effect on Religion in America

                                               i.     Arminianism

a.     Denial of Calvinist Doctrine

a.     (marsden 433) Jonathan Mayhew and the West church of Boston – guest preaches’s sermon The Absurdity and Blasphemy of Depretiating Moral Virtue “attacking teaching of salvation by grace alone.”

                                                                                                     i.     the doctrine of a total ignorance, and incapacity to judge of moral and religious truth, brought upon mankind by the apostacy of our first parents, is without foundation.” – Mayhew

b.     Based upon new principles of interpreting scripture

                                                                                                     i.     Charles Chauncy included in this crowd (old light). Move towards doctrine that align with reason

1.     1748 The Salvation of All Men.

2.     Note, Chauncy opposed Deists and deduced his conclusions from scripture, but still denied the traditional Calvinist doctrines

                                                                                                   ii.     In terms of intellectual development, doctrines like the trinity came into question frequently for those who placed reason above the ‘mystery’ inherent in such a scriptural doctrine. Skepticism replaced by human experience and reason.

b.     Judging biblical texts according to current standards of reason:

a.      (Marsden 435) In the 1950s we are seeing some of the domestic reactions to the Great Awakening just a couple of decades earlier. For one, the great awakening of the 1720s brought about a division within the puritan church between “Old lights” and “New lights.” The “old lights” found the testimonies and preaching of the great awakening to be overly-emotional. Edwards’ own accounts in A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions should come to mind. As a reaction to what the Old lights saw as a dangerous path, some rejected this emotional outpouring in favor of more deistic notions of God, if not Arminian. One should look to Charles Chauncy, Edwards great theological opponent, for such views: Seasonal Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England(1743). Furthermore, one should look at John Taylor’s Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin and A Key to the Apostolic Writings.

b.     There’s an interesting issue at work here which I believe Edwards himself sought to clear up his whole life. As Kerry Walter’s puts it: “the Great Awakening was a last-ditch effort on the part of orthodox Calvinists to derail Arminianism and rationalist challenges to the traditional Puritan “Scheme of Grace.”” As we know, church membership in N.E. began to wane and so Edwards, and others, took it upon themselves to awaken the church. The awakening of the 1740s was aimed at those brought up in the church but who had fallen away. Nevertheless, there is a dichotomy inherent in the awakening which was both a reaction and a cause for more Arminian/deistic religious outlooks in N.E. On the one hand, the Calvinist doctrine (including the 5 points ratified by the Synod of Dort in 1619 – Walters 36) placed a heavy emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the depravity of man. As such, man can do nothing in order to rectify or improve his standing before God. Human actions don’t merit salvation and human reason was understood to be incapable of understanding the cosmos and God’s plan for all of time. This intense concentration upon predestination appears to be at odds with the nature of the tent revivals of the 1740s. Many of the sermons were Jeremiad-like fire-and-brimstone sermons that hopefully whipped attendees back into that Augustinian piety. While preaching the orthodox doctrines of predestination and total depravity, the sermons also encouraged listeners to throw off laziness and misdirection and more forcefully “push” their way into heaven. It is interesting that for how strongly the puritans adhered to Calvinistic, predestination like theology they also seemed to cherish a sort of self-determination.

                                             ii.     Deism

a.     Franklin’s Deism

a.     (Russell 65) Franklin attended church service throughout his life and avoided views which deemed abhorrent to the prevailing thought of the time.

b.     However, he was deeply intrigued as a youth by Wollaston’s Dissertation on Natural Religion (1724) – He would soon become a “thorough deist”

                                                                                                     i.     (Russell 66) As such, Franklin believed that Felicity was to be achieved through the good life which was more important to the success of religion than was orthodoxy.”

b.     Others, besides Edwards, saw this influential doctrine

a.     Edwards’ cousin Joseph Hawley

                                                                                                     i.     Went to Cambridge in 1744 and apparently showed a “pronounced deistis trend in that he was unwilling to accept supernatural revelation unless it was consistent with the ‘divine light of natural reason’” (later came to sense with help of John Hooker)

b.     John Adams, Ezra Stiles

                                                                                                     i.     Adams in 1755 notes that “the principle of deism” were making progress.

1.     He heard a speaker dismiss the miracles of Jesus as merely story

                                                                                                   ii.     1759 Ezra Stiles reported “vitiated morals of Deism” were spreading”

1.     Interestingly, he blamed new, freethinking trends to the French and Indian War, which he says introduced the colonies the deism of those British soldiers.


III.           Jonathan Edwards and his works

a.     Defining Free Will

                                               i.     (Marsden 437) – 1753 Edwards publishes A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of Will, Which Is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue, Reward and punishment, Praise and Blame

a.     Comes as a reaction to the growing strains of Arminianism within the church, including Charles Chauncy

b.     Other important works

                                               i.     Original Sin 1758, The End for Which God Created and The Nature of True Virtue 1755.

                                             ii.     Also worked on a book harmonizing the OT and NT

c.     Kicked off the Pulpit

                                               i.     1751, voted 200-23 by his congregation to leave

d.     Death

                                               i.     Dies of a smallpox inoculation in 1758

                                             ii.     Was elected President of University of New Jersey just two months earlier

IV.           French and Indian War – World Politics

a.     Brief Overview

                                               i.     The French and Indian War was the North American chapter of the Seven Years’ War. Winston Churchill referred to it as the first world war, as it gets its name from the royal French forces allied with various American Indian forces and the Spaniards fighting against the British Empire. Beyond being the first major world conflict, retrospectively it has been termed the first media war: “It generated an explosion of images meant to commemorate battles, honor their winners, merchandise images, and manipulate public opinion” (Gilman). Perhaps the most well-known examples of the media of the the time comes from Benjamin Franklin. In 1754, Franklin publishes one of the earliest editorial cartoons, titled Join or Die, portraying the American Colonies as a disjointed snake.

b.     Territorial Expansion

                                               i.     Both New England and New France wanted to expand their territories for economic enhancement, especially within fur trading. Each asset up trading posts and forts, claiming portions of the vast territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, known as the Ohio Country. Both powers took advantage of the Native Americans to protect their territories and ward of any attempts of the other becoming too strong.

                                             ii.     Religious Ideology

a.     English colonists feared a French take over due to New Frane’s governance from Roman Catholic hierarchy and missionaries. For the predominantly Protestant British settlers, French control would mean a great loss to their religious freedom.

b.     The French feared the anti-Catholicism prevalent in English territories. Catholicism was enduring persecution under English Law.

                                            iii.     Celoron’s Expedition

a.     Prior to the 1750s, The Governor-General of New France ordered Pierre-Joseph Celoron to lead an expedition to the Ohio Country to remove British influence from the area, as well as gaining the allegiance of the Native Americans.

c.     Effects

                                               i.     Resulted in the British conquest of all of New France, the land east of the Mississippi River, as well as Spanish Florida. The French ceded its control of French Louisiana, the land west of the Mississippi, to its ally, Spain, to compensate their loss of Florida.

                                             ii.     France lost most of its colonial presence north of the Caribbean.

                                            iii.     The victory of the British would eventually prove a costly one as the debt induced upon winning the war would lead directly to a series of taxation fights with the colonists which would ultimately spark the War for Independence.



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Gilman, C. (2006). "Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian war, 1754-1763.". The Journal of American History, 93(1), 147-150. Retrieved from

Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003. Print.

May, Henry Farnham. The Enlightenment in America. New York: Oxford UP, 1976. Print.

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