What is the obstacle or problem that Calvinists face to which Edwards makes references in the sermon? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edwards revival sermon is a call to the unrepentant, those who have not been saved. For them, perdition waits unles they are saved; that is, "born again."

In order to awaken these complacent sinners, Edwards believed that only an awakening would save them.  So, he stirs the emotions of his listeners by speaking of the "yawning abyss" into which they can easily fall:

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....

If God should only withdraw His hand, the "fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury."  Nothing but faith in God will save them.

Another Calvinistic trait to this sermon is that salvation is only granted by God's grace.  Because of this tenet, Edwards continuously stresses the "gossamer thread" that holds the sinners over the fiery pit"

and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf,...and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a fallen rock...

Good deeds do not count; it is faith and God's grace that saves the sinners.  They must "consider the fearful danger" that they are in because they "hang by a slender thread."  Edwards urges his listeners to feel the peril of their sinful condition and be "reborn."

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The emergence of colonial culture that was becoming more secular in nature became the central challenge for ministers of the Second Great Awakening like Edwards.  The limitations of Puritanism had been exposed with the Salem Witchcraft Trials, where a theocratic form of government had been exposed as lacking a sense of progressivism and overall modernity.  At the same time, colonial culture had begun to grow and with it was increasing economic prosperity.  As the culture had developed, greater literacy and embodiment of Enlightenment principles.  All of these factors had begun to whittle away at the importance and role that religion had occupied, and Edwards, along with other ministers from the Great Awakening movement, had become driving forces behind the desire to reignite the fire of spirituality in the Colonies.

Read the study guide:
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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