What does Edwards hope to accomplish with his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?
Jonathan Edwards delivered this sermon to his congregation in Northampton on July 8, 1741 and establishes his purpose with the two Biblical readings with which he chooses to open this sermon:
Though they dig down to the depths below,
from there my hand will take them.
Though they climb up to the heavens above,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent to bite them (Amos 9:2–3, NIV).
It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
and their doom rushes upon them(Deuteronomy 32:35, NIV).
These verses paint a particular image of God: He is a mighty force who will condemn sinners.
Edwards seeks to do nothing less than terrify his congregational members through this sermon and convince them of the need to repent of their sinful ways to escape the wrath of God—and Hell itself. In one particularly vivid section of the sermon, Edward compares his congregation to spiders dangling over a fiery Hell, only saved because God continues to hold on to them. And while He does, they have the opportunity to escape Hell by choosing to follow a more devout, pure, and Christlike life.
It is historically noted that the sermon, through its descriptive language and vivid metaphors, convicted the congregation so thoroughly that members fell into the aisles, screamed, and begged for salvation while Edwards was still preaching. In this way, his goal of making his congregation see the error of their sinful ways was quite effective. For, as Edwards himself notes, "There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the mere Pleasure of GOD." His congregation rushed to the merciful image of God, trying to escape the God of wrath who would surely condemn them if they continued on sinful paths.