Research beyond borders
The diversity of the early modern Reformed Protestant tradition has long been of great interest to me, both in its internecine polemics and as it manifested itself differently according to various national or local conditions and circumstances. After having completed a master’s thesis in 2015 in my native South Africa on Dutch Reformed theology during 17th and 18th centuries, I was keen for my PhD research to take the ferry across the North Sea and focus on post-Reformation Reformed theology in the English context. In 2016 the Lord graciously opened a door at the University of Cambridge to pursue my PhD in this field where I recently (Sept. 2019) defended my dissertation entitled: ‘John Edwards of Cambridge (1637-1716): A reassessment of his position in the later Stuart Church of England’.
Edwards was a prominent – albeit controversial – divine in the Church of England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Born in 1637, Edwards attended St John’s College, Cambridge, where he also served as a fellow from 1659 to 1672. During his fellowship, he also served as vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, where his preaching was popular among the academic community.
He would later also serve in ministry at St James’ Church in Bury St Edmunds (today St Edmundsbury Cathedral), St Sepulchre’s Church in Cambridge (commonly known as ‘the Round Church’), and St Peter’s Church in Colchester. Due to his ailing health, he retired from the ministry in 1686 and spent the rest of his life in Cambridge in full-time study and writing., From 1692 onwards, he published more than 40 works in the remaining 24 years of his life.
Edwards had inherited a strong polemical spirit from his fervently Presbyterian father Thomas Edwards. In the first decade and a half of the 18th century, he went on a relentless anti-Arminian campaign against eminent Arminian contemporaries, including John Tillotson, William Sherlock, Gilbert Burnet, Daniel Whitby, Simon Patrick, and Edward Fowler. Edwards sensed a need to write in defence of Reformed orthodoxy, which he was convinced was the Church of England’s official position as established during the Reformation in her Articles and Homilies.