How might you have reacted to this sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" if you had been a Puritan?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the student considers a possible reaction to the sermon of Jonathan Edwards as a Puritan, he/she may wish to consider more precisely what it is to be a Puritan. First of all, Puritans believed that there were either the elect or the damned. But, because they had no way of knowing which they were, they had to live exemplary lives in the hope of being allowed into Heaven. So, when the Reverend Edwards rants about how except for God's goodness they would fall into the fiery pits of hell, they would be inclined to believe him. Also, in the Bible there are passages which sustain Edward's contentions, passages such as Luke 3:1-9 and Revelations 6.9--17.

Always, then, there is a fear factor of being condemned to hell; therefore, Edwards's words about the fires of hell jumping out at people who are held over it with only "a gossamer thread" preventing their falling in, would certainly terrify them.  

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked:  His wrath toward you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast inton the fire....

Thinking that "The devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them" would, indeed, create a sense of horror as one feels he/she is just on the brink of hell and nothing, absolutely nothing keeps people from falling in but the hand of God, one's acceptance of grace.

It is no wonder that many of the Puritans who heard Edwards's sermon ran out of the church in fear as he employed repetition to intensify his meaning; for example, he repeats the phrase "nothing you have ever done, nothing you can ever do...." There were also those who screamed and fainted, much as people do when evangelists preach and evoke intense emotions. Besides, the Puritans of Colonial America were certainly not sophisticated people and, thus, more prone to fear and superstitious beliefs, as well.