What images and figures of speech might have helped Edwards' listeners to feel the peril of their sinful condition?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards is a sermon that exemplifies a movement known as the Great Awakening. It represents an effort to revive the zeal and enthusiasm of Edwards' forebears for a strain of Calvinism called Puritanism. 

The imagery of the speech not only attempts to awaken sinners to their sinfulness but also to make them aware of a path to salvation, and thus combines both a negative emphasis on humanities' great and universal sinfulness with an equally important image of the saving power of God and humanities' utter dependence on God.

The first image the sermon uses is based on a quotation from the Old Testament, “Their foot shall slide in due time” (Deuteronomy 32:35), which uses the metaphor of people standing on a slippery slope where even the slightest misstep can lead to an unstoppable slide down into a yawning abyss.

Perhaps most dramatic image in the sermon compares the sinner to a loathsome spider dangling above a fiery pit, suspended only by a single gossamer-thin thread of spider silk held in the hand of God.

Both of these images emphasize the frailty of the sinner and the sinner's total dependence on God and attempt to awaken his audience from the perils of complacency.

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