How would you describe Jonathan Edwards' views of God, Christ and humanity, as expressed in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?  

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hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jonathan Edwards, in his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," presents God as loving but wrathful, omnipotent and infinite. 

Edwards spends quite a bit of time developing the idea that man is so far beneath God that he is almost insignificant in comparison. He compares man to a loathsome spider that God is holding by one leg, dangling over the fires of hell. This image shows man as a being that is easily destroyed by God and far beneath Him in terms of ability, significance, and worth. 

The idea that God is omnipotent is developed through His control of the entire universe, how small and insignificant man is in comparison to Him, and by comparing His wrath and might to earthly kings. Earthly kings seem majestic to us, but they are nothing in comparison to God's power. In the quote below, Edwards speaks of God exacting his wrath on the sinner: 

When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it. Isa. xxxiii. 12-14. “And the people shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut up shall they be burnt in the fire. Hear ye that are far off, what I have done; and ye that are near, acknowledge my might. The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites.

The idea that God is wrathful is very well developed throughout the sermon. The quote below shows not only God's wrath, but also the infinite nature of it: 

It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.

God is also portrayed as loving because he has sent the antidote to His wrath in the person of Jesus Christ. The work of Christ is implied rather than stated explicitly; other than stating that Jesus has thrown the doors of mercy wide open, Edwards focuses more on what will happen to those who do not receive Jesus Christ's atonement. At one point, he passionately appeals to sinners to consider the danger they are in—they are in danger of being the object of the wrath of God by not accepting Jesus. 

Humanity is portrayed as depraved. It is man's wickedness that makes the wrath of God burn. Humanity is also portrayed as frail and wholly at the mercy of God. God can destroy everyone quickly and easily if he so chooses. 

What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down? They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” Luke xiii. 7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

God is presented as being all-powerful and all-knowing, aware of all the shortcomings and misdeeds of humanity as a whole and of every individual person. God set out expectations for the ways in which people were to act, and God is "an angry God" because those ways have not been followed. "Restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty," God is under no limiting factor or force when undertaking to punish those who have sinned.

Edwards describes humanity as already being lost. The sinful nature of man has sealed the condemnation to hell of the souls of all those who have lived, who live now, or who will live in the future.

They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell...the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell...'tis the place that justice, and God's Word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assigns to him.

In Jesus Christ, Edwards discloses the "extraordinary opportunity" presented to escape from the condemnation to the terrors of Hell. According to Edwards, Jesus "stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners," pleading with those who are doomed to convert, to accept the saving grace of "him that has loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood." By coming to Christ, by renouncing sin and taking a firm hold of the promises offered by Christ, one may achieve salvation from eternal damnation.

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

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