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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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What is Jonathan Edwards’s purpose in delivering his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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Jonathan Edwards’s purpose in delivering his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is to terrify his congregation into immediate repentance.

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Jonathan Edwards 's purpose in this sermon is to make his listeners take seriously the prospect of their own damnation and arrive at a more genuine and powerful expression of Christian faith. The sermon focuses very much on the subject of God's power, while also expressing a very harsh vision...

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of divine justice, by which (Edwards states) people ultimately deserve the damnation that they are allotted, on account of their sinful nature. One of the fundamental goals here is to break his listeners out of apathy and convince them of the very real existential danger that (in Edwards's Calvinist mind) they are continually facing in every moment of their lives.

Edwards achieves this through the manipulation of language, utilizing frightening imagery to create in his listeners visions of divine anger and damnation (thus appealing to their emotions), while repeating those same themes and images for rhetorical effect. At the same time, this sermon is also profoundly personal: remember, Edwards was originally speaking before a congregation. In this sense, his purpose was to convince them (both collectively but also on an individual person-by-person basis) to take more seriously the state of their souls, in order that they might arrive at a more genuine relationship with Christ and thus hopefully receive salvation.

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In his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards uses scriptural exposition and frightening, emotive imagery to terrify his congregation into repenting of their sins and accepting Christ into their hearts. As he says simply at the end of the sermon,

Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.

Only the final few paragraphs of this long text deal with this great opportunity which Edwards says is open to his hearers. Citing Deuteronomy 32:35—"Their foot shall slide in due time"—he begins by placing these words in context, speaking of God's vengeance against "the wicked, unbelieving Israelites." Edwards then says that his congregation is just as deserving of God's wrath as the Israelites were. God can cast them into the flames of hell at any moment and has every reason to do so, since he is dreadfully provoked by their sinfulness. They may have the illusion of security, but it is only the mercy of God that keeps them out of hell from moment to moment.

In illustrating his points, Edwards uses such images as a bow with the arrow aimed at the heart of the sinner and a spider held over a kitchen fire. These vivid similes show the immediacy of the danger and prepare the congregation for the final message of how they can escape from it. Therefore, although the opportunity for repentance occupies only a small part of Edwards's text, the entire argument is directed towards this purpose.

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Jonathan Edwards’s purpose in delivering the sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is to warn his congregation in particular, and presumably, by extension, his nation as a whole, that they must repent of their sinful ways and turn to God for forgiveness before it is too late - so that they can escape death by hell fire.

In essence, Jonathan Edward's is saying that the opportunity is now to embrace and accept Jesus Christ,  his message, his teachings, and his sacrifice as atonement for sins. The choice must be made by those God is calling, through Jesus Christ, to either accept the call to repentance and a new life, or reject it.

Rejection will result in death by hell fire. Edwards indicates that God is extending mercy by calling out to sinners - He is giving them an opportunity to accept Jesus' sacrifice and start a new life of obedience to Christ -  to become slaves of Christ - subject to his mastery over them. Edwards' purpose with this sermon is to awaken people to the seriousness of their situation because of sin - and that Christ is their only way to true redemption and a real eternal life. Edwards is encouraging his congregation to flee,run, from the wrath that is to come upon the unrepentant and unbelieving. He trumpets the necessity of accepting Christ and his atoning death. This is indicated in the Scriptures as well in this verse:

"that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,"

(Philippians 2:10 - New International Version (NIV) )

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The fire and brimstone sermon by Jonathan Edwards is meant to throw fear into the hearts of those wayward Puritans- of his congregation, for as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and the herald of all resolutions." Paradoxically, Edwards was a Calvinist who believed in predestination, yet he also believed people are responsible for their actions. And, so, he preaches a sermon that is replete with fear-inspiring imagery.

The prevailing image of this sermon is the image of the bottomless pit of hell whose fiery floods wax high enough to burn the gossamer thread that holds the unworthy souls who are weighted down with wickedness in the first place. Edwards speaks in hyperbole: "the floods of God's vengeance"; "the fiery floods of fierceness"; the bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string and justice bends the arrow at your heart."

This frightening sermon of Edwards is constructed around a passage from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament of the King James Version of the Bible: "The foot shall slide in due time."  Using the metaphor of a slippery slide, Edwards, at a revival where his famous sermon was given, points to the dangers of spiritual sliding.  The yawning abyss waits for the sinners, whose wickedness makes them "heavy as lead," and only the "mere pleasure" of God keeps them from burning in the images of "fiery floods" and "fire of wrath."  Especially, the image of the sinner held over the fires of hell by only a gossamer thread is effectively fear-inspiring as many Puritans fled in fear from Edwards's revival.

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What is the direct statement in which Edwards sets forth the purpose of his sermon in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?"

Well, in this fire and brimstone sermon, Edwards uses extended metaphors to argue that those who have not accepted Christ as their Saviour live on the brink of damnation and the torments of hell. Fear is used as he warns those who are not "born again" that at any moment God could drop them into the gaping pit of Hell. By focussing on the transitory nature of our lives, Edwards hopes to urge his audience to listen and accept his words, and repent and come to Christ to avoid such a terrible and flame-ridden fate.

One quote that to me suggests these elements is one drawn from near the beginning of the selection in my anthology:

So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked...

This quote makes the human condition from Edwards' perspective perfectly clear, stressing the fires of hell and indicating that it is our fate unless we do something about it quickly.

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Find the direct statement in which Edwards sets forth the purpose of his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Edwards laid the foundation for his sermon by establishing the background circumstances, the historic sinfulness of the ancient Israelites and the "punishment and destruction" that they brought down upon themselves. He went on to vividly and graphically describe the wrath of God and the complete justification that God had for bringing down that wrath upon humanity.

In the "Application" section of his sermon, Edwards addresses his purpose in the sermon by relating all this background information to the congregation he was addressing.

The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. -- That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you.

The remainder of the sermon emphasizes and reemphasizes the urgency of the situation, the dire straits in which the congregants were currently existing and the enormity of the consequences that would inescapably fall upon them if they did not repent and change their ways. The purpose of the sermon was to bring those listening to the sermon to their knees in repentence so as to save themselves from their "Angry God."

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As a preacher, for what purpose does Edwards use his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Puritan preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards used his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" as a "jeremiad," meaning he was calling his congregation to repentance from their sins. Edwards pulled no punches in his descriptions of Hell and God's wrath toward sinners. He told them God would not show mercy to them if they did not repent. He compared the sinners in his congregation to spiders dangling over a fire by a thread, a thread which God could drop at any moment. This made his congregation realize Judgement Day could come at any time; it was not necessarily an event far in the future. Edwards' sermon was incredibly effective; reports indicate members of his congregation were so scared they broke out in tears and even shouted in terror.

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