With liberal, humanistic philosophy being taught in the classrooms of academia’s highest institutions, a Christian foundation, heritage, or influence is doubtful. But for many Ivy League schools, their very purpose stemmed from religious roots, and many were impacted by influential preachers who at times led these institutions as their presidents.
One such college president was Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards was a Congregational pastor, a leader of America’s Great Awakenings, and a president of the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University.
On October 5, 1703, Jonathan Edwards was born. He was the only son of Reverend Timothy and his wife Esther’s eleven children. Growing up in a Puritan home, Jonathan was raised under the influence of education and orderly living; and before going to college, he had a grasp on Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. Jonathan entered Yale College at age thirteen and earned his undergraduate degree and subsequently, his graduate degree.
Before age 30, Jonathan Edwards became pastor of the church of Northampton, Massachusetts, one of most influential churches in New England at that time. It was in this position that many theologians and historians credit Edwards with beginning, or greatly influencing, America’s First and Second Great Awakenings.
After serving as pastor of the church of Northampton for almost 25 years, Edwards served as a missionary to the Mahican and Mohawk people. It was during this time that Edwards wrote a number of his major works, including A Careful and Strict Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, and The Nature of True Virtue.
In 1757, this man of passion and discipline was elected president of the College of New Jersey. He accepted the position in 1758 and held it until his death only a few months later. Along with preaching in chapel, Edwards lectured the senior class and challenged them to study and write about theology and philosophy. Even though his time at the college was brief, Edwards influenced his students. According to “A Princeton Companion,” students in the senior class enthusiastically commented on “the light and instruction which Mr. Edwards communicated.”
Edwards was not only a man of the Bible. He studied and wrote about metaphysics, atomist theory, optics, light, gravity, and others. While in Yale, he spent most of his time writing on philosophy. He pored over Newton’s theories and Locke’s philosophy. Edwards studied each subject with purpose and in detail. Throughout his education, he wrote copious notes and read to fully grasp the topic at hand, questioning what he read, then searching to answer his questions.
Edwards believed that all areas of science and philosophy portrayed something of God’s character. And he believed that nature partly reflected God’s beauty, orderliness, and consistency.
According to many theologians and even secular philosophers, Edwards is one of the greatest theologians, most prolific writers, and most influential men in American history. These accolades stem from the singleness of Edwards’ passion for his Lord and Savior.
His passion is easily seen by simply thumbing through some of his sermons and other works. Whether he wrote about God’s sovereign role in salvation in The Freedom of the Will or about the life of an influential missionary in Life of David Brainerd, Edwards’ writings laid bare the human soul and God’s character.
One of the works that impacted Jonathan’s own life was his own collection of 70 resolutions, which he wrote between the years of 1722 and 1723. His resolutions expressed how he desired to live his life—on purpose and with passion. Resolution 28 states: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” Resolution 4 states: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”
In part of his attempt to fulfill his resolutions, Edwards spent hours studying God’s Word, sometimes even refusing to eat when he was absorbed in his study. He even carefully removed the stitching from a Bible, inserted blank pages between every page, and restitched the Bible so that he could take meticulous notes during his times of study.
Edwards was a man of education, service, study, and passion. Whether pastoring a large church, studying God’s Word or the physical world, serving as a missionary, or teaching college students, Edwards was passionate about glorifying his Savior and Lord. May all Christians follow Edwards’ example and serve the Lord with such purpose and passion, and may all colleges, secular and Christian be exhorted to place in leadership those who exemplify, as Edwards did, such passion in their own study of temporal subjects and such passion in their love for Creator God.