According to Jonathan Edwards in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” the only thing that keeps sinners out of hell is God’s mercy. All sinners (that is, all people) richly deserve to go to hell, he says. The only reason they do not all go to hell is because God has elected not to give them what they deserve. This can be seen in a number of places in the text of the sermon. Let us look at two such places.
First, we can see this in the doctrine that forms the basis of the first major section of the sermon. Edwards starts this section off by saying that
There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.
He goes on to say that God’s will is completely arbitrary and that there is no reason that God should allow any of the “wicked men” (which, again, means all people) to be spared damnation. The only reason that everyone does not go to hell is because God happens to will it.
Later on, we see Edwards reiterate this idea. He says that people have made God very angry. He says that they all deserve to be cast into the pit of hell. He tells that that
'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment…
In this passage, Edwards emphasizes that all people are so wicked that they have enraged God and that it is only God’s hand and God’s mercy that prevents them from being cast into hell for the punishment they deserve.
Thus, Edwards is saying in this sermon that it is only God’s mercy that keeps people out of hell. There is nothing that people can do to deserve salvation. They can only do their best to be grateful to God and hope that he continues to will that they be kept out of hell.