Jonathan Edwards’ object in this book is to distinguish between true and false religion by showing the marks of a saving work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In his preface, Edwards stresses the importance of using “our utmost endeavors clearly to discern . . . wherein true religion does consist.” For “till this be done, it may be expected that great revivings of religion will be but of short continuance.”
Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in East Windsor, Connecticut to Timothy and Esther Edwards. He began his formal education at Yale College in 1716, where he encountered the Calvinism that had influenced his own Puritan upbringing. In 1727, he was ordained as minister of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts. The First Great Awakening began in Edwards’ church three years later, which prompted Edwards to study conversion and revival within the context of Calvinism. During the revival, Edwards preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and penned many of his most popular works, including The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, and The Life of David Brainerd. When the revival subsided, the church of Northampton became increasingly suspect of Edwards’ strict requirements for participation in the sacraments. Edwards left Northampton in 1750 to become a minister at a missions church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1757, Edwards reluctantly became president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), where he hoped to complete two major works—one that expanded his treatise on the history of redemption, and the other on the harmony of the Old and New Testaments. His writing ambitions were interrupted by his death in 1758, when he died of complications stemming from a smallpox inoculation.