Early Edwards (1720's)

These selections from Jonathan Edwards' early writings already evince the themes that will form the backbone of his later, more developed theology and philosophy. 

Edwards adopts a form of eighteenth-century philosophical idealism, a position that holds that material existence is really a perception of the mind's consciousness of various qualities such as light, color, motion, and so on. That human beings hold common conceptions of the universe is because all qualities are upheld by the consciousness of a divine Mind. Nothing exists without being perceived. Therefore, rather than saying that there is "something" in objects that causes us to perceive them in certain (often incorrect) ways, our perceptions occur within ourselves and are caused by God. We can never experience anything without perceiving it.

Note the following themes and questions:

"Of Being" (1721)

  1. The human mind cannot contemplate "nothing" as a positive value.
  2. Infinite Being (i.e. God) is omnipresent and necessary, so all space outside, beyond, and before creation is God.
  3. God's consciousness upholds all aspects of existence of which we are unaware.
  4. If one were to contemplate a world without light or motion, it would have no solidity since things are solid as they resist space by extending themselves. Motion is necessary for existence.
  5. The spiritual/mental is more substantial in existence than the "physical."


  • Can you imagine "nothing"? What would it be like if you tried?
  • What does it mean to believe that God upholds the creation?
  • Why does Edwards hold that the spiritual is more real than the physical?
  • How would Edwards respond to the quantum theory of reality?

Beauty of the World (1725)

  1. The beauty of the physical world derives from its "consent" to Being (i.e. God), that is the world mirrors a higher reality of spiritual harmony and proportion.
  2. The various aspects of the world belong together by design; this correspondence mirrors a harmonious mind or soul.
  3. Some simple beauties are obvious and immediate, while complex beauties are not so obvious but finally superior as objects of contemplation.


  • Do the various aspects of the world seem like they "belong together"?
  • Does the beauty of the world need to be related to "higher" spiritual realities? Why or why not?

Images of Divine Things (1728)

  1. The world mirrors divine truths by God's intention.
  2. Often the type is a repeated pattern, while the anti-type (the thing anticipated) is a one time occurrence.
  3. Therefore, the scriptures interpret nature by showing us the spiritual mysteries that the world's objects are types of. (e.g. The sublimity of the world is a type of the sublimity of God's work in the heavens.)


  • Do you find Edwards' belief in material-spiritual correspondences convincing? Why or why not?
  • Which correspondences did you find interesting or surprising?

The Mind (1723)

  1. Why is something excellent? Because it has the formal qualities of proportion and unity; even complex beauty can have an overall simple unity. 
  2. All beauty exists in identity of relation or correspondence.
  3. Pleasure results from perceiving what agrees with being. The complex beauty of the world can include or incorporate some disproportions.
  4. Self-love is not truly excellent because excellence needs to consent in relation to another.
  5. The consent of bodies and the harmony of the world are types of the mutual love of beings for one another.
  6. To say that the material world exists only in perception is not to deny that the material world is real; rather, God orders the world of perceptions to be perfectly correspondent as if the material world existed in a more gross manner.


  • Can moral action be beautiful? Can ideas be beautiful?
  • How do we know when something is harmonious? How do we know when we are "consenting to" or in harmony with God?

Resolutions (1722) & Apostrophe to Sarah Pierpont (c. 1723)


  • How would you characterize Edwards' resolutions?
  • Which ones do you find interesting or surprising?
  • How does the short apostrophe on Pierpoint illustrate some of Edwards' ideas about beauty and consent?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding