Birthplace: Waterbury, CT
Location of death: Newport, RI
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Hopkinsian, opponent of slavery
American theologian, from whom the Hopkinsian theology takes its name, was born at Waterbury, Connecticut, on the 17th of September 1721. He graduated at Yale College in 1741; studied divinity at Northampton, Massachusetts, with Jonathan Edwards; was licensed to preach in 1742, and in December 1743 was ordained pastor of the church in the North Parish of Sheffield, or Housatonick (now Great Barrington), Massachusetts, at that time a small settlement of only thirty families. There he labored -- preaching, studying and writing -- until 1769, for part of the time (1751-58) in intimate association with his old teacher, Edwards, whose call to Stockbridge he had been instrumental in procuring. His theological views having met with much opposition, however, he was finally dismissed from the pastorate on the pretext of want of funds for his support. From April 1770 until his death on the 20th of December 1803, he was the pastor of the First Church in Newport, Rhode Island, though during 1776-80, while Newport was occupied by the British, he preached at Newburyport, Massachusetts, and at Canterbury and Stamford, Connecticut. In 1799 he had an attack of paralysis, from which he never wholly recovered. Hopkins's theological views have had a powerful influence in America. Personally he was remarkable for force and energy of character, and for the utter fearlessness with which he followed premises to their conclusions. in vigor of intellect and in strength and purity of moral tone he was hardly inferior to Edwards himself. Though he was originally a slave owner, to him belongs the honor of having been the first among the Congregational ministers of New England to denounce slavery both by voice and pen; and to his persistent though bitterly opposed efforts are probably chiefly to be attributed the law of 1774, which forbade the importation of negro slaves into Rhode Island, as also that of 1784, which declared that all children of slaves born in Rhode Island after the following March should be free. His training school for negro missionaries to Africa was broken up by the confusion of the American War of Independence. Among his publications are a valuable Life and Character of Jonathan Edwards (1799), and numerous pamphlets, addresses and sermons, including A Dialogue concerning the Slavery of the Africans, showing it to be the Duty and Interest of the American States to emancipate all their African Slaves (1776), and A Discourse upon the Slave Trade and the History of the Africans (1793). His distinctive theological tenets are to be found in his important work, A System of Doctrines Contained in Divine Revelation, Explained and Defended (1793), which has had an influence hardly inferior to that exercised by the writings of Edwards himself. They may be summed up as follows: God so rules the universe as to produce its highest happiness, considered as a whole. Since God's sovereignty is absolute, sin must be, by divine permission, a means by which this happiness of the whole is secured, though that this is its consequence, renders it no less heinous in the sinner. Virtue consists in preference for the good of the whole to any private advantage; hence the really virtuous man must willingly accept any disposition of himself that God may deem wise -- a doctrine often called "willingness to be damned." All have natural power to choose the right, and are therefore responsible for their acts; but all men lack inclination to choose the right unless the existing "bias" of their wills is transformed by the power of God from self-seeking into an effective inclination towards virtue. Hence preaching should demand instant submission to God and disinterested goodwill, and should teach the worthlessness of all religious acts or dispositions which are less than these, while recognizing that God can grant or withhold the regenerative change at his pleasure.
The best edition of Hopkins's Works is that published in three volumes at Boston in 1852, containing an excellent biographical sketch by Professor Edwards A. Park. In 1854 was published separately Hopkins's Treatise on the Millennium, which originally appeared in his System of Doctrines and in which he deduced from prophecies in Daniel and Revelation that the millennium would come "not far from the end of the twentieth century."
University: Yale University (1741)
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