What Does Edwards Hope To Accomplish With This Sermon

What does Edwards hope his sermon will accomplish?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a Puritan minister, Jonathan Edwards employs his Calvinistic zeal with the idea of frightening his congregation into righteousness and having them experience the Puritan emotional public conversion. In fact, his powerful fire-and-brimstone sermon caused many to shriek and even swoon, and he had to pause to ask for quiet after pulling from Biblical passages with the theme of the wrath of God, such as Luke 3:1-9.

Edwards's sermon has not only a powerful theme, but is also written with effective rhetorical devices. For, sources of the power of this sermon derive from the use of parallelism, repetition, and brutal visual images. This barrage of ideas and images crescendoes into an emotional effect upon his congregation.

  • Imagery

 Edwards employs such phrases as "burning brimstone," "hell's wide gaping mouth," "the pit of hell" "a venomous serpent," "a furnace of wrath," and a spider (who often symbolizes the Devil) that is held over the fire that is only connected to life by a gossamer thread.

  • Parallelism

Edwards makes use of phrases in parallel construction. For instance, 

...you may have reformed your life in many things, and you may have had religious affections, and you may keep up a form or religion in your families...

  • Repetition

Throughout the sermon, Edwards humbles and frightens his congregation by the repeated use of the word nothing:

You hang 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....

All of these devices effected strong emotional responses from Edwards's audience as they were swayed to repent their sins.

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

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