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Jonathan Edwards

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The extensive role religion played in the lives of early Americans was exemplified during the Great Awakening, when religious revivals reinstated the importance of religion and ultimate salvation into Christian society. Arguably the most influential minister during in the Great Awakening movement was Jonathan Edwards, whose emotionally intense sermons spread religious fervor, as well as controversy throughout the early American colonies. His radical biblical teachings and religious expectations received both criticism and reverence, but most importantly culminated an intensified belief in the importance of spiritual devotion throughout the 1730s and '40s.

Jonathan Edwards was born the 5th of October in 1703 in Eastwindsor, Connecticut. He was the only brother in a family of ten female siblings. His father, Timothy Edwards, was a prestigious minister whose devotion to religion he impressed on his son. Edwards attended Yale as a theology student at 13, and his veneration of the Holy Spirit was evident through his extensive biblical studies. His passionate conviction in God and his desire to preach was rewarded at nineteen, when he was called to New York to minister a church(Encyclopedia of World Biography). Not long after, Edwards wedded Sarah Pierrepont, a woman as pious and messianic as himself. In his early twenties, he wrote a brief address to his future wife, describing her as having "a strange sweetness in her mind... you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this Great Being." His untainted devotion to God was reflected even in his choice of woman, and he adored Pierrepont as both a wife and a religious companion. Their absorption of God intensified through one another, and Edwards began preaching in Northhampton, Massachusetts, at one of the leading churches in the American colonies(Yale Collection of American Literature). It was around this time in Edward's life that his reputation spread, particularly during the relatively popular religious revival of 1734(Wainwright).

It was Edward's unique beliefs as a minister that drew attention from both critics and the Christian society as a whole. He described the richest aspect of American Puritanism as "the individual heart's experience of spiritual and emotional rebirth." His focus on the individual's relationship with God and the touch of Grace as a specific and overwhelming experience, rather than the accustomed belief that reliance on simply good deeds and virtuous acts will allow one to enter Heaven was exemplified in the reception of his sermons from his congregation. Ironically, while Edward's adopted his father's atypical policy that one mustn't publically declare their conversion, or rebirth, experience to be admitted to the Lord's Supper, the emotionally overwhelming reaction extracted from the congregations during his sermons were so common that it drew criticism from skeptical ministers(Encyclopedia of World Bibliography). A witness to his "evangelical" preaching portrayed reactions as almost terrifying, stating "within minutes, a deafening roar of sobs, groans, screeches, howlings and yellings exploded into the village green...sinners convulsing in spiritual distress crumpled to the ground, their bodies contorting with violence" (Winiarski). While Edward's devout reverence for God was sincere, it was also morbid, and his deep, God-fearing characteristics were embedded into his preaching.

Edward's use of intense auditory imagery in his preaching began to spread to congregations throughout the colonies. Other ministers began emulating his style, and frenzied religious fervor began to manifest in sermons, creating religious hysteria in society. Arguably the most dramatic sermon in the history of American Protestantism, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," brought intense outbursts from listeners, hypnotized by descriptions of an

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