How does Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" reflect Puritan religious beliefs?

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Jonathan Edwards had been steeped in the Calvinist theology of the Puritans from an early age. As time went on, however, it became clear to him, as for many brought up in the same tradition, that something of the original spirit of Puritanism had been lost.

Like most denominations, Calvinism...

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Jonathan Edwards had been steeped in the Calvinist theology of the Puritans from an early age. As time went on, however, it became clear to him, as for many brought up in the same tradition, that something of the original spirit of Puritanism had been lost.

Like most denominations, Calvinism had become ossified into a system of formal observances, to which many adherents paid lip-service without feeling any kind of emotional attachment to their creed. Belief had become a matter for the head, not for the heart. What preachers such as Edwards sought to do, then, was to urge people to look inside themselves and reconnect with their deepest emotions. Only there would they find that inner light which would guide them in their daily lives.

In that sense, one could describe Edwards as a Puritan of the spirit, in that he sought in his various sermons—most notably, "Sinners in the hand of an Angry God"—to drive home the message that true religion lies in the emotions, not the reason. Its was this emotional aspect of Puritanism which had largely fallen by the wayside by the time Edwards came to give his famous sermon. Hence the necessity of a "Great Awakening" that, among other things, would revive the emotional spirit that had once animated Puritans in the profession of their faith.

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For a correct statement of fact, Jonathan Edwards is hardly Puritan, in fact it is perhaps the perfect antithesis of Puritan belief. Puritans, as strict Calvinists, believed that God determined before the beginning of the world who would be saved. Those who had received some indication that they were the recipient of God's undeserved merit were known as the "elect," but it was determined long ago. There was no free will involved.

Edwards was a product of the first Great Awakening which rejected Puritan ideas. He once commented that the people of New England needed

not so much to have their heads stored as their hearts touched. It is a reasonable thing to right persons away from hell.

His sermons reject the idea of predestination; rather he preached that all persons could be recipients of God's salvation, and that justification came from faith in Christ. All persons in Edwards' view could be saved; but all persons also could burn in hell if they did not repent. His most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God illustrates this point:

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.

It is interesting to note that Edwards did not appeal to the emotions of his hearers as did his contemporary George Whitefield; his sermons were read calmly and dispassionately; yet when he was finished, several minutes were required to calm the congregation who often shrieked and howled in terror of hell. One would never see such in a Puritan service.

 

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