Jonathan Edwards's address to his congregation stands as a quintessential example of a "fire and brimstone" sermon that sought to correct a growing secularism in the Puritan community, as well as a increasing spiritual indolence. Edwards's sermon generated so much fear in his listeners that some fled the church, while others screamed and nearly fainted.
The thrust of this sermon relies upon the idea that it is only the mercy of God that holds them above the fires of hell. Finding the words he needed in Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time," Edwards uses the motif of the foot sliding on the slippery slope for those sinners who have ignored the anger of God, who holds them over the fiery pit of hell as they hang by mere gossamer threads because of their sins. He tells the sinners in his congregation that they are leaden in their wickedness and are falling toward hell, but for God's holding them. Were He to release them, they would "descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf" and all that they would do to save themselves would have no more effect than a spider's web trying to hold back a rock.
Repeatedly, Edwards employs such images as a floodgate that only the goodness of God withholds, an arrow that His "bow of wrath" has ready to be released. Other images include God's hold of them over the pit of hell like "some loathsome insect over the fire," and the people's being "ten times more abominable" in God's eyes than "the most hateful venomous snake." Edwards stresses time and time again that it is only God's hand that has held them from falling into the pit of hell. Through many figurative images and comparisons (metaphors and similes), Edwards relates his message to things with which his congregation is familiar.
Edwards ends his sermon with an exhortation that the sinners consider the danger in which their souls exist, that a fiery pit awaits them unless they alter the sinful state in which they are living and acquire a saving faith. For, his dire warnings lead to his announcement of the opportunity for God’s grace. After having argued strongly for the imminence of God's anger, Edwards's sermon makes a dramatic shift: “Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy.”