Little is known of his birth and early life. He was converted to Methodism under George Whitefield and became an itinerant preacher in Britain and Ireland. He is believed to have been the author of a rare pamphlet written in response to an anonymous attack on Methodism, An answer to part of an anonymous pamphlet, entitled, 'Observations upon the conduct and behaviour of a certain sect, usually distinguished by the name of Methodists.' By J.E. (1744). He ministered in Dublin and Limerick, suffering from the civil unrest in Dublin in the early 1750s.
He is said to have 'swallowed John Calvin whole'. With others holding strong Calvinist leanings who were dissatisfied with the itinerancy and with being 'mere evangelists', he withdrew from WM in England in the mid-1750s, probably while stationed in Leeds. Taking many of his people with him, he became an Independent minister and built the White or Whitehall Chapel in Leeds, where he remained until his death. He published A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1756, revised in 1769) and in 1758 edited and republished Robert Trail's book of 1692, A vindication of the protestant doctrine of justification and its preachers and professors from the unjust charge of antinomianism, a defence of Calvinism against Arminianism. His most successful publication, The Christian Indeed (1757) reached a seventh edition in 1775 under the title The Conversion of a Mehometan. This became 'a hugely successful evangelical tract' in America, going through seven editions between 1791 and 1817.
Edwards was closely associated with the work of Whitefield and corresponded with him throughout his life. Whitefield, however, was critical of aspects of Edwards' ministry, questioning his judgement and party spirit.