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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards
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In the second paragraph, Edwards begins three clauses with "there is," a technique known as anaphora. Why does he use this repetitive structure in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Edwards's use of anaphora in his sermon is a rhetorical device used to underscore the importance of his message and to emphasize his points. It also lends a Biblical tone to his speech.

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The Reverend Jonathan Edwards makes use of anaphora, the repetition of the first part of his sentences or phrases, in order to place emphasis on the ideas that he wishes to convey. Anaphora is also a rhetorical tool used in many Bible verses; thus, this device seems appropriate to Edwards's sermon and lends his words a commanding Biblical tone, in addition to the stress given his ideas.

Just as the Reverend Edwards uses "there is" repetitively to frighten his listeners with the "dreadful pit" and the "wrath of God" where "there is nothing between [them] and hell," in the paragraph that begins with "O sinner!" Edwards asks his audience to think about the spiritual danger in which they exist. He heightens the effect of his sermon when he again uses anaphora as he repeats the word nothing several times in order to explain to his listeners that they hang over the fires of hell by a "slender thread":

...and you have no interest in any Mediator, 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....

Clearly, Edwards uses this literary device of anaphora in order to instill fear in his listeners so that they will be persuaded to repent. Although these listeners are respectable people who attend church regularly, Edwards uses such powerful images to motivate his congregation, to humble them, and to get them to examine their consciences and plead for the mercy of God.

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Edwards begins three clauses with the words “there is” in the first paragraph of the section of his sermon commonly called the application (“The use may be of Awakening…”).  In this paragraph, this phrase is used as way of listing the consequences of being “out of Christ.”  Similarly, Edwards repeats the phrase “there is” in the paragraph which begins “The God that holds you over the pit” as a way of emphasizing that there is no reason why God has not dropped the sinner into the pit except God’s pleasure (or will).  The triple use in both instances serves to hammer home the speaker’s point – three examples or reasons was considered sufficient proof since rhetoric was first examined and taught in ancient times.

Speeches often rely on anaphora for this very reason, and many of the most well-known speeches are remembered by their anaphora (e.g. King’s “I Have a Dream”).  Consider looking for other examples of anaphora or examples of three-fold examples/reasons in “Sinners.”

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