What does Edwards hope to accomplish with his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

What does Edwards hope to accomplish with his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?


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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Reverend Edwards hopes his fire-and-brimstone sermon will frighten and inspire his congregation to become more obedient to the teachings of their Christian faith.

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards, a Calvinist, strives to throw fear into the hearts of the Puritans in his congregation who have become wayward. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and the herald of all resolutions," and it is apparent that Edwards enthusiastically embraces this concept, too. His frightening metaphors and imagery cause members of the congregation to flee from the church because they are so terrified.

Edwards's frightening sermon is composed around a passage in Deuteronomy, a book of the Old Testament in the King James Version of the Bible: "The foot shall slide in due time." Employing this metaphor of the slippery slide, Reverend Edwards cautions against spiritual sliding, telling his congregation that a yawning abyss waits for them, and only a gossamer thread holds them from the "fiery floods" and "fire of wrath" that are in Hell. In fact, he declares, it is only the "mere pleasure" of God that holds them from "fiery floods" and the "fire of wrath." Reverend Edwards frightens his listeners with these images in order to motivate them to be better Christians by returning to the precepts of their religious faith.

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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