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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards
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How does Edwards use repetition at the end to heighten the effect of his sermon?

Edwards uses repetition of certain words and phrases to emphasize the fact that time is passing, that Christ's call is in fact a plea, and that this is the only day when people have this chance. Edwards' sermon was not only powerful but also extremely important. He had a huge impact on many people in his life and after his death he became a major figure in the Great Awakening. Edwards' main ideas were the sovereignty of God, original sin, justification by faith alone, and true virtue; these were all things that were talked about throughout the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening was an event where Edwards was one of many preachers who preached at camp meetings which attracted thousands of listeners. Many conversions took place because of what they preached.

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Near the end of his sermon, Edwards says,

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition? Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ? (all emphases are mine)

He repeats the phrase "a day wherein" twice near the beginning of this excerpt, as though to emphasize the tremendous import of this day, this day when his listeners have the opportunity to join with Christ, and to imply that there may not be another such day for them to make this choice.

The words "daily" and "day" are repeated several more times throughout the paragraph, presumably in order to draw attention to the passage of time and the wasting of one's chances with each day that passes: he says, in other words, days keep passing and other people keep taking Jesus up on this deal, and yet YOU still have not. How many more days will YOU let go by, while others flock to him, and you remain distant and apart? How many more chances do you think you will get?

Edwards then repeats certain phrases and even uses parallel sentence structures to emphasize the fact that these others will be feasting and rejoicing while YOU are yearning and wishing and howling because you will have missed your chance—unlike these other happy believers.

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In the discipline of rhetoric, repetition and restatement are staples, and Jonathan Edwards makes great use of both in this iconic sermon from 1741. Accomplished orators and students of rhetoric understand that the first and last things a speaker says are usually what stay with an audience; this phenomenon is known to educators as "primacy" and "recency."

Edwards's thesis was, of course, that sinners who did not act quickly to reform themselves faced an agonizing afterlife in the fires of hell, where God's wrath would hurl them for their impiousness. 

In the last paragraph of the sermon, Edwards use the word "fly" twice to describe what sinners must do: escape God's wrath and (metaphorically) leave Sodom.  He uses the words "every one" twice to emphasize that no one in the congregation should feel complacent about their salvation.  And lastly, Edwards uses the word "wrath" twice to hammer his point home: God is angry with all sinners.

 

 

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