The controversy over human deprivation which raged throughout the eighteenth century was no mere intramural squabble among theologians but an important phase of the evolution in Western man’s estimate of his nature and potentialities. By the time Jonathan Edwards entered the lists to champion the hated doctrine of original sin, he saw himself as not only defending a particular dogma but also combating an increasingly dominant drift of opinion which had already engulfed much of Europe and was encroaching dangerously upon America.
John Taylor’s treatise was perhaps the boldest and most impressive assault on the doctrine which more than any other contradicted the Enlightenment view of man, and it haunted Edwards throughout all the pressing duties and personal hardships of the years just before and during his sojourn at Stockbridge. Ultimately, he was able to develop a thorough rebuttal of Taylor which focused on three major issues: the fact and nature of original sin, its cause and transmission, and God’s responsibility for man’s sinfulness.
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Clyde A. Holbrook was William H. Danforth Professor of Religion at Oberlin College.