Edwards attempted to rekindle religious fervor in his congregations, largely motivated by fear that the commitment to Puritan religious faith in New England had suffered a serious lapse in the early eighteenth century. Edwards and other ministers of the Great Awakening believed that the balance between the worldly and the godly, always fundamental to Puritanism, has shifted toward the former. Edwards argued, against the rationalist spirit of the times, that God was completely in control of the lives of men, and that they received salvation solely by virtue of his will. In his most famous sermon, entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Edwards warned that all people were depraved, and that none were worthy of salvation:
...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...
Using imagery like this, Edwards exhorted his followers to strive toward earning salvation and avoid God's wrath. Yet Edwards was also suspicious of the kinds of ecstatic experiences provoked by other ministers of the Great Awakening, especially George Whitfield. He argued instead for a deeper, more profound experience through which people opened themselves to receive divine grace. Emotion, rather than intellect, played a major role in this transcendant moment. While Edwards's writings were fundamental to the Great Awakening, then, he diverged from its more extreme egalitarian and overly expressive tendencies, which he generally regarded as inauthentic and earthly, rather than spiritual. He sought to remind church members that they needed divine grace in order to avoid damnation.