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Jonathan Edwards The Great Preacher Essay

1585 words - 6 pages

He was a man whose very words struck fear into the hearts of his listeners. Acknowledged as one of the most powerful religious speakers of the era, he spearheaded the Great Awakening. “This was a time when the intense fervor of the first Puritans had subsided somewhat” (Heyrmen 1) due to a resurgence of religious zeal (Stein 1) in colonists through faith rather than predestination. Jonathan Edwards however sought to arouse the religious intensity of the colonists (Edwards 1) through his preaching. But how and why was Edwards so successful? What influenced him? How did he use diction and symbolism to persuade his listener, and what was the reaction to his teachings? In order to understand these questions one must look at his life and works to understand how he was successful. In his most influential sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, Jonathan Edwards’ persuasive language awakened the religious fervor that lay dormant in colonial Americans and made him the most famous puritan minister of the Great Awakening in North America.

In order to understand Edwards use of language however, one must look at his early life and formative influences. His family undoubtedly shaped his religious career because “[H]e was the only son among the eleven children of Rev. Timothy Edwards and Esther Edwards, the daughter of influential puritan clergymen Solomon Stoddard” (Wachal 1). Growing up in a religious family must have influenced his career path. Then “Edwards attended Yale School of theology at 13 years of age” (Paposian 1). This is important because at Yale, Edwards would create his own “unique style of preaching” (“Jonathan Edwards” Dictionary 1). Here “his theology which soon came to be known as Edwardseanism had developed in his youth as a product of his attempts to apply enlightenment thought to traditional Calvinism” (Wachal 2). Edwards was influenced by “Locke’s ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding’”(1717) which said that for an individual to truly experience the word of god he must “possess empirical knowledge, that is experience it firsthand, which contrasted with Calvinism’s idea of predestination” (1). Locke’s essay had a great impact on Edwards because it made him realize that when he gives sermons, his listeners should experience firsthand the message of God by making his audience more in tune with their spiritual selves. At Yale he was also interested in the workings of the human mind (1). His foray into the human mind would help him in life to manipulate others to listen to his message. Overall his childhood and early years would help Edwards persuade others to listen to his message. He does this well with his brilliant use of persuasive language to manipulate the emotions and thoughts of others.

Edward’s is able to persuade his listeners to follow his doctrine by manipulating their emotions and thoughts while they listen to his sermon. In his speeches “Edwards evoked vivid, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human...

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