How does Jonathan Edwards compare and contrast Heaven and Hell in his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The fire and brimstone sermon by Jonathan Edwards is meant to throw fear into the hearts of those wayward Puritans- of his congregation, for as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and the herald of all resolutions." Paradoxically, Edwards was a Calvinist who believed in predestination, yet he also believed people are responsible for their actions. And, so, he preaches a sermon that is replete with fear-inspiring imagery.

The prevailing image of this sermon is the image of the bottomless pit of hell whose fiery floods wax high enough to burn the gossamer thread that holds the unworthy souls who are weighted down with wickedness in the first place. Edwards speaks in hyperbole: "the floods of God's vengeance"; "the fiery floods of fierceness"; the bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string and justice bends the arrow at your heart."

This frightening sermon of Edwards is constructed around a passage from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament of the King James Version of the Bible: "The foot shall slide in due time."  Using the metaphor of a slippery slide, Edwards, at a revival where his famous sermon was given, points to the dangers of spiritual sliding.  The yawning abyss waits for the sinners, whose wickedness makes them "heavy as lead," and only the "mere pleasure" of God keeps them from burning in the images of "fiery floods" and "fire of wrath."  Especially, the image of the sinner held over the fires of hell by only a gossamer thread is effectively fear-inspiring as many Puritans fled in fear from Edwards's revival.

Read the study guide:
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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