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Edwards with a Southern Accent

How Northampton Made Waves in Dixie

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Pastor, Marion, Illinois

ABSTRACT: The New England successors of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards were some of the first abolitionist voices in the United States. But the New England Theology did not stay in New England. Nor were Edwards’s ideas always deployed for the abolitionist cause. In the Southern Presbyterian and Southern Methodist churches, Edwards was not regarded highly among the most outspoken advocates of slavery. Southern Baptists, on the other hand, managed to reconcile the New England Theology with a strong commitment to slavery. These Edwardseans were neither New School nor Old School in the purest sense, quickly defending, but not always celebrating, the great Southern evil. While Edwards’s ideas were powerful enough to shape the South and indeed the nation, ideas themselves can be wielded in much different, and even dangerous, directions.

When Jonathan Edwards arrived in Princeton in 1758 to become president of the College of New Jersey, it was the farthest south he had ever lived. He died two months later. Indeed, for someone who has been dubbed “America’s theologian,” the fact that Edwards spent virtually his entire (and relatively short) life in New England is a testament to his influence and the power of his ideas.1 For over a century after his death, those ideas were collectively known as the “New England Theology,” becoming the dominant theological tradition in most orthodox churches and seminaries in the land of the Pilgrims.

As the first American-made school of Calvinism in the history of the United States, the New England Theology was as bold as it was innovative, and it produced some of the first abolitionist voices in the new republic. While Edwards himself had owned slaves and had denounced only the Atlantic slave trade, his ideas were developed further by his disciples in order to condemn the very institution he had not condemned. Among these ideas were the freedom of the will, natural and moral ability, disinterested benevolence, religious affections, and the moral government of God.

These so-called “New Divinity” men included black and white preachers alike. In 1776, Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), one of Edwards’s two chief disciples, addressed his Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans to the Continental Congress.2 Also in 1776, Revolutionary War veteran and black Congregationalist pastor Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833) penned his essay “Liberty Further Extended: Or Free Thoughts on the Illegality of Slavekeeping.”3 In 1790, Edwards’s own son Jonathan Edwards Jr. helped organize the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom and the Relief of Persons Unlawfully Holden in Bondage, a group that also included Edwards’s grandsons Timothy and Theodore Dwight. Planted in the soil of revivalism, the Edwardsean tradition bore the fruit of reform.

“Edwards’s ideas were developed further by his disciples in order to condemn the very institution he had not condemned.”

But the New England Theology did not stay in New England. And once it left the Puritan confines of Massachussetts and Connecticut, it evolved in a number of different ways. Just as Edwards’s ideas could be wielded to abolish slavery, they could also be weaponized to defend it. By the antebellum period, Jonathan Edwards had adopted a Southern accent among an unlikely people in an unexpected place. By examining how one school of theology could be applied to radically different moral ends, the reader can better understand the vast American legacy of Jonathan Edwards while also considering how theology itself has never united American Christians without the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). With the influence of Jonathan Edwards now growing in contemporary American evangelicalism, may his legacy in the antebellum South provide today’s church with a vivid example of the power of ideas to capture the human mind — and the power of sin to employ those ideas in different, and sometimes dangerous, directions.

Edwards Goes West

Just as Edwards’s ideas transcended race, they also crossed denominational lines and traversed geographical boundaries. The 1820s and 30s featured an explosion of Edwardsean thinking in the American West during the Second Great Awakening. For instance, much to the contempt of Edwards’s New England successors, the controversial revivalist Charles G. Finney claimed that Edwards was the true author of his “New Measures.” The so-called “burned-over district” in western New York, which catapulted Finney to national fame, was itself filled with transplanted New Englanders. In his lectures on revival at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he would eventually serve as president, Finney appealed to Edwards well over a dozen times, even likening himself to the Northampton theologian.4

A month after Lyman Beecher decided to leave New England to rescue the West from Catholicism and infidelity, he wrote to his son at Yale Divinity School and urged, “Next after the Bible, read and study Edwards.” The life and writings of Edwards, he insisted, “stand unrivaled.”5 Beecher eventually became the first president of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, introducing Edwards’s ideas in the classroom and across the entire Midwest. As his daughter Harriet Beecher Stowe recounted after the war, “Dr. Beecher and his sons, it was soon found could race and chase and ride like born Kentuckians, and that ‘free agency’ on horse-back, would go through mud and fire, and water, as gallantly as ever ‘natural inability’ could.”6 Under the Plan of Union (1801), which united Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches for the sake of western expansion and helped to proliferate Edwardsean ideas along the frontier, Beecher could jump from a Boston Congregationalist church to a Cincinnati Presbyterian church without leaving his New England Theology behind — much to the chagrin of local Old School Presbyterians, who would eventually put Beecher on trial for heresy.7

Both Presbyterians, Finney at Oberlin and Beecher at Lane, were influenced by the New Haven Theology, yet another species of the New England Theology originated by Nathaniel W. Taylor at Yale. Both also supported the anti-slavery cause, albeit in different degrees. In fact, when Beecher reflected on the Old School–New School schism of 1837 in the Presbyterian church, he saw two issues lying underneath: abolition and the New England Theology. “The South finally took the Old School side,” he said years later. “It was a cruel thing — it was a cursed thing, and ’twas slavery that did it.” Beecher then added,

And it was ideas that did it. It was ideas concerning God and man — ideas concerning the divine administration, the government of the universe, the origin of evil — that convulsed the Church and convulsed the nation; and why should they not? Theology and politics are next of kin.8

In short, the Presbyterian church had split over how to integrate modern ideas and moral reform into a confessional faith.9 Ideas like natural ability and human responsibility and moral influence inevitably became bound with the issue of slavery. Historian George Marsden has effectively demonstrated how “the roots of New School Presbyterianism” can be “traced back to none other than Jonathan Edwards.”10 Therefore, in 1837, Northern Presbyterians did not simply choose the side of freedom. In many ways, they also sided with the New England Theology.

Southern ‘Stonewalling’ of Edwards

But were there Edwardseans in Dixieland? Was the South impenetrable to the New England Theology? When Finney hailed “the great revival” in the winter of 1857–1858, which “prevailed throughout all the Northern states,” he bemoaned the fact that “slavery seemed to shut it out from the South.”11 Although his judgment was not entirely accurate, many Edwardseans in the North had long perceived the South as a place where their ideas were not welcomed.12 And for good reason. In the Southern Presbyterian church, among the most outspoken advocates of slavery, Edwards was not regarded highly. At South Carolina College, for example, James Henley Thornwell (1812–1862) defended the idea that Southern slaveholding was a “triumph of Christian benevolence,” even comparing a slaveowner and his slaves to a father and his children in The Rights and Duties of Masters (1850).13 However, Thornwell was not a defender of Jonathan Edwards. In fact, he believed that Edwards’s view of personal identity defied “the plainest intuitions of intelligence,” and he called Edwards’s belief in sin as the privation of good “a mere juggle with words.”14

Thornwell was not alone in his disdain for Edwards. As Sean Michael Lucas has shown, Virginian Presbyterian Robert Lewis Dabney was so hostile to Jonathan Edwards’s works that a fellow Southerner claimed that he “cuts up Edwardsism by the roots.” Dabney dismissed the “intricacy and impractical” theology of Religious Affections as “too anatomical.” Ultimately, what Dabney detested most about Edwards’s theology was that which so many New School Presbyterians appreciated: its attention to the heart. Instead, Dabney believed in order and tradition. Therefore, as one might expect, Dabney supported a rigid interpretation of the Westminster Confession and chattel slavery. In fact, Dabney served as chief of staff for Confederate general and fellow Presbyterian “Stonewall” Jackson.15 While certainly not all Presbyterians in the South resisted the New England Theology, Edwardseans like Hezekiah Balch, Isaac Anderson, and Gideon Blackburn ministered primarily in the Appalachian Mountains, where, interestingly, the plantation system was not as embedded as it was in the deeper South.16

Southern Methodists could sometimes be as scathing in their critiques of Edwards as the Presbyterians. In 1845, Kentuckian Albert Taylor Bledsoe (1809–1877), an Episcopal priest turned itinerant Methodist, published his blistering Examination of President Edwards’ Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will and argued that Edwards’s concept of freedom was not nearly free enough. “For Bledsoe,” says Michael O’Brien, “Edwards was muddled, tautological, and, while asserting freedom of the will, made it too dependent upon the authority of a ‘strongest motive’ to justify the assertion.”17 Not surprisingly, Bledsoe was a staunch supporter of slavery, serving in the Confederacy as chief of the War Bureau and as assistant Secretary of War. After the Civil War, Bledsoe was even a leading voice against Reconstruction. In antebellum America, while adherence to the New England Theology was by no means a sure sign of abolitionism, and although many New England Theologians were rather tepid abolitionists, vehement opposition to Edwards’s theology often overlapped with strong pro-slavery sentiment.18

“Vehement opposition to Edwards’s theology often overlapped with strong pro-slavery sentiment.”

Conversely, some Methodists who opposed slavery digested Edwards — but not completely. As part of his Christian Library, John Wesley edited five of Edwards’s works, but none were published in their entirety. In fact, Wesley’s version of Religious Affections was only a sixth of the original size! In his section “To the Reader,” Wesley called the famous work a “dangerous heap, wherein much wholesome food is mixt with much deadly poison.”19 The result was, in the words of historian Joseph A. Conforti, “an increasingly Methodized Edwards” during the Second Great Awakening.20 In the South, Edwards’s Calvinism did not settle well in the strict stomachs of Presbyterians, nor did it suit the Arminian diet of Methodists.

Dixie Divinity

However, there was one group in the antebellum South that managed to reconcile the New England Theology with a strong commitment to slavery. While these evangelicals inhabited a Southern landscape unfamiliar to the bustling cities of New England, they believed their similarities with Edwards far outweighed their differences. But they were not who many, including Edwards, would have expected to promote his ideas. They were Baptists. And they defended the name of Jonathan Edwards almost as vigorously as they defended the institution of slavery. On the eve of the Civil War, Georgia pastor Charles Dutton Mallary had both on his mind. In 1860, he boasted, “The world has seen the light and felt the power of but few men more remarkably than President Edwards. He was not less distinguished for piety than for gigantic intellect; and it was the meekness and gentleness of his piety that went far to make him, as a Christian, so prosperous and so great.”21 But Mallary was not as welcoming to New Englanders as he was to the New England Theology. During the Civil War, in the very last letter he ever penned, Mallary wrote, “If the Federals should get possession of my poor body, I shall tell them I am a rebel.”22 In one of the great ironies of American religious history, the theology of abolitionists was adopted by those who reviled abolitionists.

The New England Theology crossed the Mason-Dixon line along two primary routes: (1) Northerners who migrated to the South and (2) Southerners who read the works of Jonathan Edwards and his New England disciples. In these two ways, Edwards adopted a Southern accent, one might say. In truth, Northerners had been shaping Southern culture for over a century before the Civil War, bringing their ideas (and their books) with them. Oliver Hart, the chief architect of the first Baptist association in the South, was sent to Charleston by the Philadelphia Association. Having personally listened to George Whitefield during the Great Awakening as a young man, Hart admired Jonathan Edwards as a revivalist and relished A Faithful Narrative (1737), modeling his own ministry after Edwards’s. In February 1830, a set of books from Hart’s library was gifted to a young Baptist preacher named Basil Manly Sr. (1798–1868). One of the books was titled Edwards Against Chauncy.23

But Manly was absorbing more than books. Indeed, he had already been influenced by a New Englander as a student at South Carolina College: Jonathan Maxcy (1768–1820). The former President of Rhode Island College not only venerated Edwards but also adopted the teachings of the New Divinity school, who regarded Maxcy’s doctrine of atonement as one of the finest examples of their own.24 As a result, over the next few decades, Manly became an avid defender of both slavery and Edwards. Owning over forty slaves, Manly was a cofounder of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet he also became intimately familiar with Edwards’s Freedom of the Will (1754) and even wrote to his son about his reading of The Nature of True Virtue (1765). Although in the wake of the Missouri Compromise (1820) Manly acknowledged that an “inconsistency between slavery and a perfect equality and freedom can never be removed so long as those terms embrace the same ideas they do at present,” he did not see an incompatibility between Edwards’s ideas and the enslavement of human beings.25 Neither, apparently, did his son. “When I contrast the feeling of my heart with the exercises of that blessed man of God, Jon. Edwards,” the younger Manly once recorded in his diary, “I am astonished at the coldness of my own heart.”26 Edwards helped to convict the Manlys of their sinfulness, but not of their slavery.

Through his writings, Jonathan Edwards seemed to convert, call, and commission young Baptists into the South. Where and when they encountered Edwards’s ideas, however, typically determined their eventual position on the so-called “negro question.” In 1816, Richard Furman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, proposed the works of Edwards as tools for “the conversion of sinners.”27 Years later, Furman’s proposal became prophecy when Basil Manly Jr., who would draft the Abstract of Principles at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was converted as a freshman at the University of Alabama largely by reading Edwards’s Personal Narrative (1740).

Edwards could also exert his influence upon Baptists by calling them away from the South and away from college. When Richard Fuller matriculated at Harvard in 1820, he would be among only 9 percent of students in Cambridge from the South for the next forty years.28 Nevertheless, an illness prompted doctors to transport Fuller, to, of all places, Northampton, Massachusetts. The “impressions” made upon Fuller by Edwards’s life and legacy during his recovery were apparently so strong that he returned to Harvard and to South Carolina with a newfound call to ministry. Although Fuller did not become a Baptist until returning to the South, he confessed years later that it was in Northampton that his mind “awoke from its obvious sleep.”29

Eventually serving as the third president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Fuller also chaired the committee that authored the preamble of the Convention in 1845. In that same year, a series of letters between Fuller and Francis Wayland on the issue of slavery was published, establishing Fuller as one of the leading pro-slavery voices in America. However, according to Mark Noll, the exchange was “one of the United States’ last serious one-on-one debates where advocates for and against slavery engaged each other directly, with reasonable restraint, and with evident intent to hear out the opponent to the extent possible.”30 Like Manly Sr., Fuller conceded certain evils of slavery and was even accused by many Southerners of being “too moderate.”31 Still, Fuller, who once praised missionary David Brainerd for his zeal to save the lost, also contended for the right to enslave the lost.32

As demonstrated by Fuller at Harvard, Southerners who ventured to New England and encountered Edwards’s thought still returned as Southerners at heart. Likewise, when New Englanders traveled South to evangelize Southerners, they usually retained their anti-slavery views, and they were often sent out with Edwards’s ideas. John Mason Peck (1789–1858), the first home missionary of the Triennial Convention, who served in Missouri and Southern Illinois for over forty years, was a former Congregationalist from Litchfield County, Connecticut, the so-called “seedbed of the New Divinity movement.”33 While waiting for a decision by the Triennial Convention in 1815, Peck purchased a copy of The Life of David Brainerd. In his diary he wrote, “Oh, what would I not willingly do or suffer if I could live as devoted as this eminent servant of God! His singular piety and devotedness to the cause of Christ affected me so much that frequently I shut up the book and indulged myself in meditation and prayer.”34 Remarkably, the year after Peck headed southwest, inspired by the example of David Brainerd, a new Presbyterian mission was established in Southern Tennessee for the Cherokee: Brainerd Mission. The Edwardsean legacy of missions in the South was not relegated to Baptists.35

As a Whig who opposed pro-slavery Jacksonian politics, Peck represented many New Englanders who moved to the frontier. In St. Louis, for instance, Peck instituted a day school that taught slave children. Between 1818 and 1822, blacks and whites worshiped together under Peck’s pastoral care. Eventually, Peck’s colleague, freedman John Berry Meachum, assumed leadership of the congregation and helped establish the First African Baptist Church of St. Louis. Peck also supported anti-slavery groups like the Friends of Humanity.

Through his writings and his disciples and even his own stomping grounds, Jonathan Edwards had a profound effect upon Baptists in the antebellum South. (One Baptist was even nicknamed “the Jonathan Edwards of the South.”)36 However, much like the rest of the country, other social and political factors determined one’s exact position on the issue of slavery.

Defending Slavery with Abolitionist Ideas

If anti-Edwardseans were often characterized by a more vehement pro-slavery sentiment, and if New England Theologians like Peck, Finney, and Beecher brought their abolitionism with them to the West and South, were Southern Edwardseans more “moderate” in their defense of slavery? Did abolitionist instincts develop more strongly among Southerners who held to Jonathan Edwards’s ideas? The answer is a bit more complicated in the South than it appeared to be in the North. Although Manly Sr. and Fuller were, at times, more reasoned and restrained in their defenses of slavery, they were slaveowners nonetheless. Moderate Calvinism did not produce moderate slaveholding, if you will. Ultimately, by the 1830s, individual prejudices and regional contexts usually could not be overcome. On one hand, the New England Theology was powerful enough to transcend nearly every racial, economic, and cultural barrier that divided evangelicals in antebellum America. Within the South, for instance, Edwardsean Baptists like James Madison Pendleton and Thomas Meredith voiced their opposition or reluctance to slavery.37 But throughout the majority of the South, Edwards’s ideas were generally not powerful enough to turn evangelism into emancipation. Instead, the same ideas that propelled missions were often weaponized to support slavery.

Richard Furman was the inaugural president of the Triennial Convention,38 established in 1814. Like Adoniram Judson, the first American overseas missionary, and like Andrew Fuller, the founding secretary of the Baptist Missionary Society in England, Furman adhered to an Edwardsean brand of Calvinism that emphasized the freedom of the will, natural ability, and the responsibility of sinners to believe the gospel.39 More than any American Baptist of his generation, Furman was a catalyst for domestic and overseas missions. However, in 1823, when Furman addressed the governor on behalf of the newly formed South Carolina Baptist Convention in the wake of the foiled Denmark Vesey slave revolt, he made an unconventional argument on behalf of slavery. In his Exposition of the Views of the Baptists, Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States (1823), Furman was forced to answer the question of how slaves arrived in America. He contended that “the Africans brought to America were, in general, slaves, by their own consent, before they came from their own country, or fell into the hands of white men.” He concluded, “Consequently, the man made a slave in this manner, might be said to be made so by his own consent, and by the indulgence of barbarous principles.” In other words, by their own free will, slaves chose to become slaves.

In Furman’s view, “the wisest and best policy” for nations is to “consider and acknowledge the government of the Deity, to feel their dependence on him and trust in him, to be thankful for his mercies, and to be humbled under his chastening rod; so, not only moral and religious duty, but also a regard to the best interests of the community appear to require of us.”40 Incredibly, Richard Furman argued that slaves wrenched from their homes in Africa had become slaves by their own free choice, and that South Carolina’s slave-ocracy was established by God for the good of all. The freedom of the will and the moral government of God, two ideas that had supported the abolitionist cause in the North, were employed in the service of slavery in the South. In a terrible contradiction, the very concepts that aided Southerners in converting Africans could also be used to enslave them. Although Furman contended for the theological education of slaves in the treatise, he too was a slaveholder.

In 1845, when Southern Baptists severed ties with the Triennial Convention for the rights of domestic missionaries to own slaves, the resulting denomination stood as a testament to just how inextricable slavery and missions had become in the Southern Baptist mind. The inaugural president of the Southern Baptist Convention, William B. Johnson, was a product of New England Theology. Taught by New Divinity man John Waldo in grade school and influenced by Jonathan Maxcy at South Carolina College, Johnson had once commended a fellow South Carolina Baptist for being “imbued with the Spirit of New England Theology.”41 Like John Mason Peck, Johnson held to the signature doctrine of the New England Theology: the moral governmental theory of atonement.42 Also like Peck, Johnson believed in evangelizing the lost for God’s glory and the good of the moral universe. And yet, just as Peck had wielded the New England Theology to advocate against slavery, Johnson used it to argue for slavery.

In Johnson’s Address, he declared that the aim of the Convention was “the glory of our God” and “the profit of these poor, perishing souls.”43 As the only American to ever preside over two Baptist missionary conventions (he also served as the fourth president of the Triennial Convention), Johnson did more than perhaps any Christian of his era to mobilize missions for the sake of the African people. Yet tragically, few Americans did more than Johnson to baptize the concept of slavery as an evangelistic good. Ultimately, the most enduring legacy of Jonathan Edwards in the South was not abolitionism, but pro-slavery missions, a paradox that appeared, oddly enough, in Edwards himself. On one hand, Edwards handed Southern Baptists the ideological tools to evangelize the lost with a robust doctrine of sovereign grace. On the other hand, the same ideas that were often weaponized to defend the institution of slavery in the South were never employed by Jonathan Edwards for that specific purpose. In some ways, in their zeal for revival and their inveterate belief in a hierarchical society based upon slavery, Southern Edwardseans resembled Edwards more than his own New England successors. In other ways, they bore little resemblance to the Northampton theologian.

Theological Crisis

As E. Brooks Holifield has noted, in the antebellum period, “Southern treatises bristled with allusions to Edwards.”44 In fact, the New England Theology and its conception of freedom had a direct impact upon the events leading to the Civil War. In 1790, an antislavery sermon by Jonathan Edwards Jr., titled “The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade, and of Slavery,” made its way into the hands of one Owen Brown, who would thereafter become an ardent abolitionist.45 Brown made certain to pass on his militant views to his son John, who would eventually lead the infamous raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.46 By innovating further upon Jonathan Edwards’s ideas, the New England Theology shaped the South — and the course of American history.47

“Antebellum Christians could apply the same theological ideas about freedom to vastly different ends.”

But just as Americans divided over the nature of freedom, antebellum Christians could apply the same theological ideas about freedom to vastly different ends. The story of Jonathan Edwards’s abolitionist successors in New England and his slaveholding followers in the South is an important part of what Mark Noll has called the “theological crisis” of the Civil War era.48 In fact, from Southern Edwardseans to “Black Fundamentalists,” American history has been marked by different groups who held to similar doctrines and yet arrived at opposite moral conclusions on racial issues.49 In the antebellum South, Edwards’s ideas did not always find fertile soil in the Presbyterian or Methodist or other evangelical denominations.50 But among Southern Baptists, the New England Theology adopted a Southern accent, one that quickly defended, even if did not always celebrate, the institution of slavery.51 These Edwardseans were neither New School nor Old School in the purest sense. Instead, they often embodied both.52

However, Baptists could sometimes be more Old School than New School. Patrick Hues Mell, who would eventually become the longest tenured president of the Southern Baptist Convention (1863–1871, 1880–1887), was an Edwardsean who once referred his readers to Edwards’s “able treatise” on The End for Which God Created the World.53 Mell seemed to exhibit a higher degree of militancy on the issue of slavery than many of his Southern Edwardsean contemporaries. His pro-slavery work in 1844 was titled Slavery, A Treatise, Showing that Slavery is Neither a Political, Moral, Nor Social Evil. One cannot help but wonder whether Mell had a bit of Old School flavor that influenced his views, as his mother Cynthia was “brought up in the strictest mode of Congregationalism” and raised her son according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. According to one Presbyterian minister, Mell was a “perfect reproduction of his mother.”54 In the antebellum South, perhaps the best theological indication of one’s degree of support for the institution of slavery was not his opinion of Jonathan Edwards, but rather what he thought of Edwards’s abolitionist disciples. Not surprisingly, Mell repudiated Samuel Hopkins, whom he did not consider “a Calvinist at all.”55 In the antebellum South, a higher Calvinism was often coupled with a higher view of slavery.

Although Jonathan Edwards’s Northern and Southern successors were not united on abolitionism, the nature of freedom, or the natural ability of slaves, most all of them acknowledged with Edwards that “the will always is as the great apparent good is.”56 And this is almost certainly how the very same ideas about God and man and salvation could produce such radically different moral outcomes. On the issue of emancipation, Edwardseans disagreed about what was right because they could not agree about what was best. The so-called “greatest apparent good” was not defined the same in the South as it was in the North. Therefore, groups with the same theological mind did not share the same will, so to speak.

Edwardsean ideas would last well beyond the Civil War in both the North and the South, in both black and white churches. Charles Octavius Boothe (1845–1924) pastored black congregations in Mississippi and Alabama in the postbellum years. In Plain Theology for Plain People, originally published in 1890, Boothe defined theology as “the knowledge of God and of the divine government,” noting “God’s control of men and demons in the interest of his moral government.”57 Indeed, Edwardsean ideas could be employed in a number of different contexts and churches in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even twentieth centuries. But as the Southern Edwardseans demonstrated in the antebellum period, and as Edwards himself had impressed upon his own generation, while ideas are powerful enough to change a nation, ideas themselves are not enough to change the minds and hearts of sinners.

  1. Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of Jonathan Edwards (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). Jonathan Edwards had lived outside of New England for less than a year. His first pastorate was at a Presbyterian congregation in New York City (1722–1723). 

  2. The concepts of the freedom of the will and human responsibility that would catalyze the modern missions movement were also utilized by Hopkins to denounce slavery. “He commands us to go and preach the gospel to all nations, to carry the gospel to them, and not to go and with violence bring them from their native country without saying a word to them, or to the nations from whom they are taken, about the gospel or any thing that relates to it.” See Samuel Hopkins, A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans, Showing it to be the Duty and Interest of the American Colonies to Emancipate all their African Slaves (1776), in The New England Theology: From Jonathan Edwards to Edwards Amasa Park, ed. Douglas A. Sweeney and Allen C. Guelzo (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 154. 

  3. According to Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, “No New Divinity preacher ever attacked the power of sin with greater prophetic force.” See Hambrick-Stowe, “All Things Were New and Astonishing: Edwardsian Piety, The New Divinity, and Race,” in Jonathan Edwards at Home and Abroad: Historical Memories, Cultural Movements, Global Horizons, ed. David W. Kling and Douglas A. Sweeney (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 128. For an interesting look into Haynes’s thought, see John Saillant, Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753–1833 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). 

  4. Citing Jonathan Edwards, Finney boasted, “This great man was famous in his day for new measures.” See Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, 2nd ed. (New York: Leavitt, Lord & Co., 1835), 241. 

  5. Lyman Beecher, The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher, ed. Barbara M. Cross (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 2:177. 

  6. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Men of Our Times; Or Leading Patriots of the Day (Hartford: Hartford Publishing Co., 1868), 535. 

  7. According to James R. Rohrer, “the men who dominated the Congregationalist missionary movement were overwhelmingly Edwardseans who typically regarded the other clerical factions as insufficiently orthodox.” See Rohrer, Keepers of the Covenant: Frontier Missions and the Decline of Congregationalism, 1774–1818 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 13. Western Baptists also divided along similar lines as the Old School and New School Presbyterians. In 1820, a missionary traveling down the Mississippi River noted that a “rivalry” had developed in the Baptist churches between the Princeton and Andover schools of Calvinism. See Timothy Flint, Recollections of the last ten years, passed in occasional residences and journeyings in the valley of the Mississippi, from Pittsburg and the Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Florida to the Spanish frontier; in a series of letters to the Rev. James Flint, of Salem, Massachusetts (Boston: Cummings, Hilliard, and Company, 1826), 114. 

  8. Beecher, Autobiography, 2:323. 

  9. According to George Marsden, slavery was not the main issue between Old School and New School Presbyterians. Instead, “the crucial issue . . . was the nature of unregenerate men.” See George M. Marsden, The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), 84. The Old School claimed that New School Presbyterians were telling impenitent sinners that they were in full possession of all abilities necessary to obey God’s commands. The consequence was that New Schoolers, in the Old School view, seemed to diminish sin and the importance of the rebirth. 

  10. Peter J. Wallace, “The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience,” in American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History, ed. Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd, and Kurt W. Peterson (South Bend: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), 91. 

  11. Charles G. Finney, Memoirs of Reverend Charles G. Finney (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1876), 442, 444. 

  12. For instance, in 1823, when Andover graduate Nathan W. Fiske visited Savannah, Georgia, on a mission trip, African slaves were some of his primary subjects of evangelistic conversation. Having been converted largely by reading Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Fiske was astonished at so many blacks and poor whites who were “extremely ignorant and stupid” in the things of God. See Nathan Welby Fiske, Memoir of Nathan W. Fiske . . . Together with Selections from His Sermons and Other Writings (Amherst: J.S. and C. Adams, 1850), 25, 16. 

  13. J.H. Thornwell, The Rights and the Duties of Masters (Charleston: Steam-Power Press of Walker & James, 1850), 6, 37. 

  14. James Henley Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, ed. J.B. Adger, 4 vols. (1871–73; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 1:350, 381–82. 

  15. Sean Michael Lucas, “‘He Cuts Up Edwardsism by the Roots’: Robert Lewis Dabney and the Edwardsian Legacy in the Nineteenth-Century South,” in The Legacy of Jonathan Edwards: American Religion and the Evangelical Tradition, ed. D.G. Hart, Sean Michael Lucas, and Stephen J. Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 200–214, 206. 

  16. Douglas A. Sweeney, “Evangelical Tradition in America,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards, ed. Stephen J. Stein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 228; E. Brooks Holifield, The Gentlemen Theologians: American Theology in Southern Culture, 1795–1860 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1978), 191–98. 

  17. Michael O’Brien, Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810–1860 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 269. 

  18. As Kenneth Minkema and Harry Stout have shown, post-revolutionary Edwardseans in the North did not necessarily share the abolitionist views of the New Divinity. See Kenneth P. Minkema and Harry S. Stout, “The Edwardsean Tradition and the Antislavery Debate, 1740–1865,” The Journal of American History 92, no. 1 (June 2005), 61. 

  19. Jonathan Edwards, An Extract from a Treatise Concerning Religious Affections: In Three Parts, in The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., Volume XXIII (Bristol: William Pine, 1773), 178–79. 

  20. Joseph A. Conforti, Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 34. 

  21. Charles Dutton Mallary, Soul-Prosperity: Its Nature, Its Fruits, and Its Culture (Charleston: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1860), 51–52. 

  22. Samuel Boykin, History of the Baptist Denomination in Georgia (Atlanta: Jas. P. Harrison & Co., 1881), 2:355. 

  23. Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity, vol. 2, Beginnings in America (Scotland, UK: Mentor, 2010), 275. 

  24. Northern Edwardseans recognized Maxcy as one who held to the most pristine form of their doctrine of atonement. See Jonathan Maxcy, “A Discourse, Designed to Explain the Doctrine of Atonement,” in The Atonement: Discourses and Treatises by Edwards, Smalley, Maxcy, Emmons, Griffin, Burge, and Weeks, ed. Edwards Amasa Park (Boston: Congregational Board of Publication, 1859), 89. 

  25. Basil Manly Sr., “On the emancipation of slaves,” in Soldiers of Christ: Selections from the Writings of Basil Manly Sr. & Basil Manly Jr., ed. Michael A.G. Haykin, Roger D. Duke, and A. James Fuller (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2009), 63. 

  26. The younger Manly is quoted and described in Anne C. Loveland, Southern Evangelicals and the Social Order, 1800–1860 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1980), 15. 

  27. Richard Furman, “Conversion Essential to Salvation,” in The Life and Works of Dr. Richard Furman, D.D., ed. G. William Foster Jr. (Harrisonburg: Sprinkle Publications, 2004), 438. 

  28. O’Brien, Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810–1860, 19. 

  29. James Hazzard Cuthbert, Life of Richard Fuller (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1878), 42, 63. 

  30. Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 36–37. 

  31. J.M. Pendleton, Reminiscences of a Long Life (Louisville: Press Baptist Book Concern, 1891), 126. 

  32. Richard Fuller, Sermons by Richard Fuller (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1877), 102–3. 

  33. Joseph A. Conforti, Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism and Reform in New England between the Great Awakenings (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1981), 16. For an excellent treatment of the revivals in Litchfield at the beginning of the Second Great Awakening, see David W. Kling, A Field of Divine Wonders: The New Divinity and Village Revivals in Northwestern Connecticut, 1792–1822 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993). 

  34. Quoted in Rufus Babcock, Forty Years of Pioneer Life: Memoir of John Mason Peck, D.D. (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1864), 51–52. 

  35. Peck’s own family had a more personal connection to the Northampton theologian. His wife, Sally Paine, was Edwards’s great-granddaughter. In a letter written to his wife on February 20, 1847, from Boston, James B. Taylor remarks, “Mrs. Peck is a great-granddaughter of Jonathan Edwards.” See Life and Times of James B. Taylor, ed. George Boardman Taylor (Philadelphia: The Bible and Publication Society, 1872), 208. 

  36. Jeff Robinson, “‘Our great distinguishing characteristic’: H.H. Tucker and the Battle for Church Purity, Part I,” Founders Ministries, June 5, 2015, https://founders.org/2015/06/05/our-great-distinguishing-characteristic-h-h-tucker-and-the-battle-for-church-purity-part-i/. 

  37. Meredith was somewhat ambivalent on the issue. In a pamphlet in 1847, he wrote, “It has been no part of the writer’s object to perpetuate the Institution of Slavery. Although he has doubts whether a state of servitude, such as that which now exists at the South, may not, under some circumstances, be most conducive to the well-being of the poor laboring classes, still he is not, and never has been, an advocate of slavery on general principles.” Meredith later added, “He believes that slaveholding is, per se, wholly inoffensive.” See Thomas Meredith, Christianity and Slavery: Strictures on Rev. William Hague’s Review of Doctors Fuller and Wayland on Domestic Slavery (Boston: Gould, Kendall and Lincoln, 1847), 3–4. Meredith was just as opposed to Northern extremists as he was to slavery itself. Therefore, while anti-slavery in some respects, he was not an abolitionist. 

  38. The official name was the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions. 

  39. In his second edition of The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1801), Andrew Fuller acknowledged his debts to Edwards’s Freedom of the Will in distinguishing between natural and moral inability. 

  40. Richard Furman, Exposition of the Views of the Baptists, Relative to the Coloured Population of the United States, in Communication to the Governor of South Carolina (Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1823), 11, 4. 

  41. Greg Wills, “The SBJT Forum: The Overlooked Shapers of Evangelicalism,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 3, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 87. 

  42. A technical definition of this view, begun by Joseph Bellamy, is as follows: “As a public exhibition of the evil consequences of sin and God’s displeasure with it, Christ suffered the equivalent of damnation in order to maintain the honor of the law, to vindicate the Moral Governor, and to achieve the most good for his moral universe. Christ did not endure the actual penalty of the law, but suffered extralegally, non-savingly, and non-transferrably as a substitute for punishments in order to satisfy public (general) and rectoral justice and to open the door for sinners to be pardoned of their sins upon faith by a good and just Ruler.” See Obbie Tyler Todd, The Moral Governmental Theory of Atonement: Re-envisioning Penal Substitution (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2021), 7. 

  43. Hortense C. Woodson, Giant in the Land: The Life of William B. Johnson (Springfield: Particular Baptist Press, 2005), 207. 

  44. Holifield, Gentlemen Theologians, 191. 

  45. Edwards Jr. made a distinction between natural and moral ability when he argued that slavery produced indolence and other vices in the slaveholders, effectively dehumanizing them. “These vices enfeeble both the body and the mind,” Edwards contended, “and unfit men for any vigorous exertions and employments either external or mental; and those who are unfit for such exertions are already a very degenerate race; degenerate, not only in a moral, but a natural sense. They are contemptible too, and will soon be despised even by their negroes themselves.” See Jonathan Edwards Jr., The Injustice and Impolity of the Slave Trade and of Slavery (1791), in Sweeney and Guelzo, The New England Theology, 162. 

  46. James P. Byrd, “We Can If We Will: Regeneration and Benevolence,” in After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology, ed. Oliver D. Crisp and Douglas A. Sweeney (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 63. 

  47. In fact, one could argue that Edwardsean ideas impacted the American Revolution itself in the South. In 1778, a member of the new Virginia House of Delegates named James Madison wrote to his old professor at Princeton, Samuel Stanhope Smith, who had become the founding president of Hampden-Sydney College. Smith had asked Madison for his thoughts on an informal treatise on free will and determinism. Influenced by the Scottish Common-Sense Philosophy of his mentor John Witherspoon, Smith contended that “the liberty of moral action necessarily follows” from human experience and reason. But Madison disagreed. Instead, he appealed to Jonathan Edwards’s Freedom of the Will to critique the notion of a self-determining will. Amazingly, it was Madison, a layman in the Episcopal church with deistical leanings, who defended a necessitarian doctrine of providence against Smith, a Presbyterian, who contended for a libertarian position. While Madison’s reply is lost, the exchange illustrates once again how Presbyterians in the South were often wary of Edwards’s ideas and also how those same ideas could be attractive to pro-slavery founders seeking to reconcile their own enlightened sense of freedom with a robust doctrine of providence. 

  48. Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006). 

  49. Daniel R. Bare, Black Fundamentalists: Conservative Christianity and Racial Identity in the Segregation Era (New York: New York University Press, 2021). 

  50. In the third volume to her biography of Alexander Campbell, Eva Jean Wrather records Campbell’s years as a student in Glasgow, Scotland: “When he turned from men to books, during this pregnant winter at Glasgow, Alexander apparently found a new favorite in Jonathan Edwards and continued his study of two old friends, John Owen and John Newton. Edwards and Owen, he later recorded, he ‘read with rapture,’ convinced that Edwards was ‘the greatest theologian ever produced’ on American soil, and that Owen ‘was in England what Edwards was in America — the tallest of the giants.’” See Eva Jean Wrather, Alexander Campbell: Adventurer in Freedom; A Literary Biography (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2005), 3:89. In the Restorationist movement, however, Edwards was not a prominent theological figure. 

  51. This is not to say that Edwardsean defenses of slavery were not sinister and calculating in their argumentation. In his Elements of Moral Science, John L. Dagg framed Africans as the cursed descendants of Ham from Genesis 9 and insisted that slavery was the best possible situation for the Africans. See J.L. Dagg, The Elements of Moral Science (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1860), 343. 

  52. Conversely, some Baptists in the South who rejected the theology of both Edwards and the Edwardseans could be adamantly anti-slavery. John Leland, the Virginian who opposed the great Southern evil, hurled critiques at the New Divinity, Andrew Fuller, and the “metaphysical, long-winded Mr. Edwards.” See John Leland, “Part of a Speech, Delivered at Suffield, Connecticut, on the First Jubilee of the United States,” in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, ed. L.F. Greene (New York: G.W. Wood, 1845), 524. 

  53. P.H. Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverance: Stated and Defended from the Objections of the Arminians, in a Review of Two Sermons, Published by Rev. Russell Reneau (Charleston: Southern Baptist Publication Society, 1858), 48. 

  54. P.H. Mell, Jr., Life of Patrick Hues Mell (Louisville: Baptist Book Concern, 1895), 11. 

  55. Mell, Predestination and the Saints’ Perseverance, 27–28. For an excellent treatment of Mell’s doctrine of providence, see T.J. Daugherty, The Divine Decree and the Providence of God: The Foundation of the Theology of Patrick Hues Mell (PhD diss., Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2021). 

  56. Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 146–47. 

  57. Charles Octavius Boothe, Plain Theology for Plain People (1890; repr., Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2017), 4, 15. 

is pastor of Third Baptist Church in Marion, Illinois, and adjunct professor of theology at Luther Rice College and Seminary. He is the author of Let Men Be Free.