According to Edwards, what do his listeners mistakenly feel keeps them from falling into hell?

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According to Edwards, his listeners feel that their "prudence and care to preserve their own lives" will prevent them from falling into hell. In other words, he says that people rely on their wisdom to keep them out of hell, but, according to Edwards, this attempt is futile, as wise...

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According to Edwards, his listeners feel that their "prudence and care to preserve their own lives" will prevent them from falling into hell. In other words, he says that people rely on their wisdom to keep them out of hell, but, according to Edwards, this attempt is futile, as wise men die early as often as those who are not wise. 

Edwards also says that people rely on what he calls their own "contrivances," or schemes, to avoid hell. When they hear about hell, they tell themselves that they will avoid it and use their own means, including their own wisdom, to escape hell. However, Edwards points out that such schemes are useless if people do not accept God. People's desires to come up with schemes to avoid damnation do not work, and death and the pits of hell will reach them no matter what schemes they come up with. 

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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is a sermon in which Edwards instills fear into his congregation to persuade them to experience a conversion of faith. The premise of his sermon lies in one of his many metaphors to show that the only reason they have not died and gone to Hell is because of God’s “power and pleasure” to keep them alive. In one section, he says:

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

In other words, God is ready at any moment, without warning, to strike a person down to Hell. There is nothing that a person who has not been “born again” can say or do to keep this from happening; God is completely in control. Therefore, people mistakenly believe that a person can keep himself from falling by his own actions, rather than God’s pleasure. Even if a person has “reformed (his) life in many things” and goes about the motion of being a Christian, they cannot truly be safe from Hell unless they experience a change of heart and convert. According to Edwards, a person cannot merely act like a Christian; they have to truly experience a conversion of faith.

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In his 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards paints a vivid picture of the precarious position of those who transgress against God. Speaking of the fiery pit that is open beneath them, he warns people that sinners are in God’s hands and that he dangles them over this abyss. He warns them that it would be a mistake not to believe that they are in such a position, basing his argument on a Biblical passage: “Their foot shall slide in due time” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Presenting the idea of the “slippery slope” literally, Edwards aims to convince everyone that a misstep is only a matter of time. People are “walking over the pit of hell on a rotten covering.”

People would also be mistaken to think that their own actions play a role in keeping them from damnation. Although they must try to avoid sin, it is not entirely possible. Only God’s will can save them: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any moment, out of Hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

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