How is fear used as a motivator in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards is what is sometimes called a "hellfire and brimstone" type of sermon. The main purpose of the sermon is to persuade sinners in the congregation to renounce their sins and reconcile themselves with God and neighbor. Rather than motivating his congregation by describing the joys of Heaven, or evoking the sacrifice of Jesus, Edwards tries to frighten them by vividly evoking the horrors and torments of Hell.

Edwards evokes the precariousness of the sinner's situation first by the metaphor of a person walking on a steep slippery slope alongside an abyss. At any moment, the sinner can lose his or her footing, and once the sinner slips, fall is inevitable. The second dramatic image is that of the sinner dangling like a disgusting spider over a burning pit, depending only on a thin thread to avoid immolation. In both cases, the image evokes not just the torment of Hell, but the precariousness of the sinner's situation and the utter dependence of humanity on God for salvation. 


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