What are five uses of imagery in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God ?

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edwards employed imagery to describe sinners, condemnation, hell, the devil, and God's wrath for sinners.  Here are five examples:

1.  Edwards describes sinners as "Heaps of light Chaff before the Whirlwind; or large Quantities of dry Stubble before devouring Flames."  He likely chose this imagery knowing that many of his listeners were farmers. This analogy would be very accessible to them.

2.  The minister continues his farm metaphor to help listeners visualize their condemnation: "your Destruction would come like a Whirlwind, and you would be like the Chaff of the Summer threshing Floor."

3. Edwards describes hell in very conventional terms: "the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them."  A pit, fire, and a sword are all suggestive of the torments Christians have long feared.

4.  Edwards describes Satan as a serpent:  "The old Serpent is gaping for them; Hell opens his Mouth wide to receive them."  The serpent is symbolic of man's downfall begun by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and this symbol would be well-understood by Edwards's audience.

5.  Edwards describes God's wrath for the unconverted in terms of a hunter and his quarry: "The Bow of God’s Wrath is bent, and the Arrow made ready on the String, and Justice bends the Arrow at your Heart, and strains the Bow, and it is nothing but the meer [sic] Pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any Promise or Obligation at all, that keeps the Arrow one Moment from being made drunk with your Blood."

Edwards knows that the members of the congregation listening to his sermon are not theologians like himself, so he keeps the message simple and the imagery relevant to their everyday lives.


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Calvinist minister Jonathan Edwards was a "fire and brimstone" preacher who believed firmly that people's only chance for salvation was for them to have a transforming religious experience. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is a fire-and-brimstone sermon intended by Reverend Edwards to convey to his listeners that those who have not accepted Christ as their savior are on the brink of damnation. 

In his sermon, the Reverend Edwards employs visual imagery meant to frighten his congregation so they would throw themselves on God's mercy and seek to be saved by being "born again."

1. The key images of this sermon are those of "the fiery pit of hell," over which men are held by "the hand of God."

2. Reverend Edwards speaks of the wrath of God as a "bow" that is bent with the "arrow made ready on the string" to draw the blood of the sinner. Only the "pleasure of God" prevents this arrow from striking the members of the congregation and "being made drunk" with their "blood." 

3. Rev. Edwards depicts the wrath of God as being like "great waters" that are damned. Once someone is damned for his or her sins, the "floods" of God's vengeance" pour forth with great force.

4. Rev. Edwards contends that God holds the sinner over the "fiery pit of hell" as a person might hold a "spider," or some other hated insect over a fire. It is only "the hand of God" that keeps the sinner from falling into the "fires" of hell.

5. Rev. Edwards tells the sinners that in the sight of God, they are more abominable than "the most hateful venomous serpent" is in their minds.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edwards describes the sinner with the image of a foot sliding. Sinners are never on solid ground; instead, they are always in slippery places where they could fall and be destroyed.

Edwards also shows that sinners do not fall, at least, not yet. He does this by evoking the image of God holding them up. He then uses the image of God letting them go at the appointed time, so that they, as if standing on the edge of a pit on ground sloping downward, have no choice but to fall in and be destroyed.

At the end of the sermon, Edwards uses the image of a tree that does not bear good fruit to describe the sinner. God is depicted as the axe that will chop down this tree. Edwards continues by evoking the image of the tree being thrown into an everlasting fire. 

With images like this, one might be motivated into good behavior—or so Edwards hoped. 

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

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