Home  »  Volume XV: English COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 13. The Relations of Edwards to the Deistic Controversy

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

IV. Edwards

§ 13. The Relations of Edwards to the Deistic Controversy

Now the Edwardian theology was a part of the great deistic debate which took its root in the everlasting question of the origin of evil in the world. It was a three-cornered contest. The Calvinists and the infidels both believed in a kind of determinism, but differed over the nature of the determining cause. The Calvinists found this cause in a personal Creator, omnipotent and omniscient, to whom they did not scruple to carry up all the evil as well as all the good of the universe—“c’est que Dieu,” as Calvin himself states categorically, “non seulement a preveu la cheute du premier homme, et en icelle la ruine de toute sa posterite, mais qu’il l’a ainsi voulu.” The deists, who at this time formed the fighting line of the infidels, while verbally acknowledging the existence of God and theorizing on the nature of evil, virtually regarded the universe as a perfectly working machine in which there was no room for a personal governor or for real sin. To the Arminians, including the bulk of the orthodox churchmen, the alliance between Calvinism and deism seemed altogether to outweigh the differences. As Daniel Whitby declares in the preface to his discourses On the Five Points of Calvinism (1710; reprinted in America), to hold God responsible for evil is to play directly into the hands of the atheists. And so the age-old dispute between Augustinian and Pelagian, and between Calvinist and Arminian, took on a new life from the deistic controversy, and there sprang up a literature which undertook to preserve the idea of an omnipotent personal Creator and at the same time to save his face, if the expression may be tolerated, by attributing to men complete free will and accountability for their actions.