Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards

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How does Edwards's tone in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" influence his congregation?

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In this sermon, Edwards combines a condemning tone with some pretty vivid figurative language to deliver a message that would shock his audience into turning from sin and accepting God's grace.

Edwards begins with a verse from Deuteronomy that sets the tone immediately: "Their foot shall slide in due time." This verse reflects God's anger with the Israelites who failed to follow God's laws, but Edwards quickly aligns the wickedness of his congregation with the Israelites. He uses the image of a slipping foot to show the precarious position of those living in sin; God will not tolerate it for long before he delivers a final judgement, casting those who choose sin into Hell.

Consider the imagery that Edwards uses in explaining how the members of his audience are on a path toward eternal devastation:

That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

This is a pretty terrifying image, painting a mental picture of being suspended on a thin layer of earth above a lake of brimstone—a "wide, gaping mouth" ready to capture and eternally torment each congregational member who has not chosen to truly follow God. Edwards also allows for another ending here: God currently saves each one of them from Hell and allows them time to choose a different path to a different eternity.

Edwards's tone achieved its intended effect. Reportedly, before he even finished his sermon, members of the congregation begged for salvation and fell into the floor, crying and screaming in terror. This was especially significant because this sermon was delivered in a town where there seemed to be a little pocket of "thoughtless and vain" holdouts in the Great Awakening revival which was sweeping the area. Yet the tone achieved quite an impact at the church where Edwards delivered it in Enfield and is still studied and remembered nearly 300 years later.

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Edwards's tone is threatening, and he tries to convince his listeners to repent for their sins and return to God immediately by instilling fear. He uses horrible descriptions of the eternal fate that would await them if God decided to let them fall. He emphasizes that God could make this decision at any time....

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