What is a summary of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.” 

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jonathan Edwards was one of the most famous ministers of his time; his work has lasted to the present day because of his great use of visualization and simile.  In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Edwards points out that everyone has sinned and that no one is worthy of God's mercy.  Edward points out that Hell is only a breath away and that only God's whim keeps one out of eternal fire and brimstone.  Edwards even gives the image of one being held above a bottomless Hell by a spiderweb.  Edwards points out that God is angry with sinners and that he cannot look directly upon sin without feeling anger. Edwards's examples of visualization worked—reports from that period tell of congregants weeping and fainting.  Edwards ended the message by asking his congregants to accept God's mercy and to avoid Hell, which many of them no doubt did.  Edwards was a circuit preacher, and he would preach this same sermon to many churches.  A powerful delivery combined with powerful imagery has allowed the sermon to outlive the time period in which it was delivered.  

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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