Jonathan Edwards’ Grandfather, Solomon Stoddard

Almost everyone has heard of Jonathan Edwards, but very few are familiar with Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), Edwards’ grandfather. Stoddard was an influential force in New England Puritanism, often referred to as the “Pope” of the Connecticut Valley of western Massachusetts. He was a powerful preacher who saw five (possibly six) revivals during his fifty-eight-year pastorate in Northampton. Yet, he has often been marginalized because of his very unique view of the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance.” I wrote a book that was just published this week exploring Stoddard’s view of Communion against the changing face of Puritanism reflected in the Half-Way Covenant. While Stoddard firmly believed in the doctrine of divine election, he also believed that God was so gracious and sovereign that no one could judge whether a person was elect or not. Consequently, he crafted an evangelical theology based upon the preaching of the gospel and viewed the Lord’s Supper as another form of preaching for the conversion of sinners.  I have dedicated this book to two congregations where the bulk of my pastoral ministry life has been spent: College Church, Northampton, MA, where I was for twenty-five years, and Community Fellowship Church, West Chicago, IL, where I am now. Though this book is an academic work that I hope will find its way to colleges and seminaries, I also hope it will be a good read for pastors and lay-folks who think deeply and enjoy Puritan history. Copies of Beyond the Half-Way Covenant can be purchased through Wipf and Stock Publishers online and in a few weeks online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I was interviewed by my friend Christopher Castaldo in his weekly blog. Chris is the Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal located at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College; his questions are in bold print. Why is Solomon Stoddard a significant figure? Stoddard was an influential force in second generation New England Puritanism. He has often been marginalized because of his controversial view of the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance.” It is this misunderstood view that I have tried to clarify. George Whitfield spoke of the influence of Stoddard’s writings when he visited Edwards in Northampton. John Erskine wrote of Stoddard’s reputation in the foreword to a reprint of Stoddard’s “The Safety of Appearing at the Day of Judgment in the Righteousness of Christ,” a book considered by historians as one of the top books in American intellectual history. How did Solomon Stoddard influence his grandson, Jonathan Edwards? Stoddard was a mentor to Edwards and loomed large as the one who most greatly influenced him in his development as a preacher and in his understanding of spiritual awakening. In fact, Stoddard and Edwards together experienced a local revival during the two years Edwards served as Stoddard’s associate. Stoddard continued to be influential over Edwards even twenty years after Stoddard’s death. Edwards publicly opposed his grandfather’s view of Communion, which still held sway in the Northampton church; such a move sealed his doom, and led to his eventual dismissal. What does Stoddard teach today’s pastors and church leaders? Stoddard has usually been viewed as an introduction to Edwards and rarely has he been studied for himself. Stoddard was a magnificent man, a great preacher (more engaging than Edwards), and a true statesmen for revival. At a time when most New England churches were thinking how to have a pure visible membership, Stoddard was developing a theology that would cast the gospel net as wide as possible. Stoddard also provides us with a fresh view of the Lord’s Supper which was not an innovation, but derived from his study of English Puritanism and Scottish Presbyterianism.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What a coincidence stumbling across this entry.
    You see, I’ve read a couple books on Edwards and the Awakening lately and noticed the tendency to get past Stoddard as quickly as possible. I noticed the same pattern when I took church history courses years ago. Yet, for some reason, I realized that writing Stoddard off as a proto-liberal concerned only with keeping his church attendance numbers up is unfair.
    Stoddard had evangelistic passion just as his grandson did. His ministry inspired awakenings just as his grandson’s did. He thought carefully about theological issues just as hid grandson did.
    Sure, Edwards had the greater long-term impact on evangelical theology but his grandfather deserves more than being remembered as simply “the grandfather.”

    Reply

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