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Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," which he gave on July 8, 1741, in (then) Enfield, CT (now part of Massachusetts), takes as its text from the Bible "Their foot shall slide in due time." According to contemporary accounts of this sermon, Edwards' audience was so affected by the sermon, especially the imagery that Edwards used , that "men trembled and women fainted."
Paragraph 4 contains two of the most powerful images of the congregation's helplessness in God's hands:
. . . the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.
Because Hell was not a mere concept for Edwards' congregation--a real, physical place into which the damned were tossed--they were horrified by the image that they were suspended over Hell's mouth by a wrathful God. The paragraph's conclusion--"the glittering sword is whet [sharpened], and held over them"--also served as a horrific image of God's control over their fate. More important, image of a sharpened sword ready to cut them down and send them into the "opened" pit reinforced their sense that God was ready to send them to Hell.
In paragraph 6, Edwards compares the souls of his wicked congregation to the sea:
The souls of the wicked are in scripture compared to the troubled sea. . . . God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea. . . .
Again, the image reinforces Edwards argument that only by the grace of a wrathful God are the wicked kept from being carried "all before" an unrestrained sea. At this point in the sermon, Edwards' congregation have become thoroughly shaken by the images of their very dangerous situation: they are suspended over a the pit of Hell; a sword is poised to strike them down into Hell; and they are in jeopardy of being swept away by a "troubled sea."
The last paragraph, 7, contains additional images of the congregation's potential destruction. For example, Edwards tells them that the "arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day"--in other words, their destruction could come completely unexpected. Even more horrific is the image of walking over the pit of Hell:
Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.
Again, the imagery creates a mind-set in the congregation that their damnation can come from invisible arrows in the light of day or they can fall into the pit because they're walking over the pit every day and everywhere they go on a covering that may give way at any time.
Edwards has filled this sermon with metaphorical language that convinces his congregation that they are suspended over the pit of Hell by a wrathful God who may at any moment withdraw his support and send them to eternal damnation by several means--withdrawing his hand; sending arrows to kill them; allowing the sea to drown them; and letting them fall into Hell by falling through a weak covering over a pit.
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