According to Edwards, what do healthy, strong members of that town foolishly believe? Why do they think this?
According to Edwards, what do healthy, strong members of the congregation foolishly believe? Why do they think this?
In Edwards’ view, the members of the congregation he’s addressing believe that they will be saved from Hell by their own actions rather than by the grace of God. More specifically, they believe that simply living good and righteous lives is enough to spare them from God’s ultimate punishment. With this sermon, Edwards is trying to convince them that only what he refers to as “the great change of heart,” or a personal spiritual experience of God, will save them from His wrath, and that merely following the prescriptions of a religious life is no substitute for being genuinely born again:
How dreadful is the State of those that are daily and hourly in Danger of this great Wrath, and infinite Misery! But this is the dismal Case of every Soul in this Congregation, that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious they may otherwise be.
As to why they believe this, Edwards thinks it is due to their own vanity and arrogance, and a “falling away” from the true word of God; they trust more in their own judgment than in the actual words of scripture (or at least Edwards’ interpretation of it). This view was at the heart of the Great Awakening, an effort by Edwards and others to reverse what they saw as a sort of watering down of church doctrine that resulted in people observing the forms of religion without understanding what was at its core.
According to Edwards, healthy, strong members of the town foolishly believe their own strength and abilities can save them from God's wrath.
In Edwards's opinion, those who have yet to descend to the depths of hell are only momentarily safe because of God's mercy. He accuses the members of the town of trusting their own healthy constitutions to keep them out of the fires of hell. Perhaps members of the town believe in their relative safety because they have conceivably lived what they consider to be good lives: after all, they have refrained from self-indulgent habits and have pursued every righteous course known to them.
You are kept out of Hell, but don’t see the Hand of God in it, but look at other Things, as the good State of your bodily Constitution, your Care of your own Life, and the Means you use for your own Preservation. . . if God should let you go, you would immediately sink. . . plunge into the bottomless Gulf, and your healthy Constitution, and your own Care and Prudence, and best Contrivance, and all your Righteousness, would have no more Influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a Spider’s Web would have to stop a falling Rock.
Basically, in his sermon, Edwards argues the strong and healthy members of the town should rely less on their own contrivances than on God to keep them from the fires of hell.