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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is Johanthan Edwards's most famous sermon delivered in a Puritan effort to awaken and persuade those in the congregation who had not been "born again"; that is, they had not accepted Christ as their savior. Edwards's sermon had such a powerful effect upon the congregation that there was much shrieking and swooning. In fact, several times he was forced to ask his audience for quiet.
This sermon stands as a powerful example of rhetorical language, employing metaphor, simile, and repetition with very strong emotional appeal. He begins by telling the congregation that the devil is waiting for them with hell gaping so that flames can engulf them. Here are other examples:
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, ....
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, adhors you, and is dreaduflly provoked; His wrath toward ou burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; ...you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: It is a great furnace of wrath...that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell....
There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air....
There is frequent use of the phrase "the mere pleasure of God ...."
...and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment....
The most obvious instance of emotional appeal is his repetition of the idea that only God's grace prevents sinners from ultimate destruction. In his opening remarks, he says:
By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God's mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.
Later in the Sermon he states:
God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen. But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.
Also this comment:
The devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.
All the above passages are intended to instill in Edward's hearers that they have sinned grievously against an angry God who has the ability and inclination to cast them into the torments of hell; but he forbears only because he chooses to forbear; it is nothing that they have earned or deserve. It is no small wonder that after Edwards completed the Sermon, which he read calmly and dispassionately from the pulpit, several minutes were required to calm the congregation before the final hymn could be commenced. If you read the text of the sermon, which is in the link posted below, you will find abundant colorful language intended to provoke emotion--and which successfully did so.
It seems to me that one of the strongest examples of repetition in the sermon is the presence of an angry vision of God. Edwards repackages this idea in different forms. The title, itself, is representative of this in the idea that human beings have sinned to the point where God is angry. Eventually, Edwards argues that "their foot shall slide in due time" from Deuteronomy 32:35. It is in this basic idea that Edwards is able to repeat the ideas of human sin and God's anger. The turning away from God and embrace of commerce and a secular life is what Edwards features prominently, almost to the point of restating it repeatedly to make his point. When Edwards seeks to repeat the idea of human beings turning from God, he links this to death and the lack of spiritual salvation, something that he uses many times in the sermon to instill a sense of fear in the listener. In terms of God's anger, Edwards has to repeat this in different forms. His vivid descriptions of both Hell and the life of the spiritually wicked, according to Edwards, represents why God is angry, something that he re-describes in multiple ways and images to bring forth his point of scaring his listeners into a type of intensely forced contrition.
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