What is the thesis of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

The message of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" consists of three central propositions, each of which is important enough to be considered part of the thesis. First, Edwards argues that humans are sinners and belong in hell. Second, he states that it is only by God's mercy that his listeners are not in hell already, and finally, the only way to escape hell is to accept the mercy and the sacrifice of Christ immediately.

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In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards's central thesis is threefold: all sinners deserve hell, which is their natural environment; it is only through the grace of God that they are not already in hell; and it is only by accepting the sacrifice of Christ as quickly as possible that they will be able to escape.

Most of the sermon is devoted to presenting the first two parts of this thesis as graphically as possible. The theology is quite orthodox and would have been familiar to everyone in the congregation. The sermon, therefore, draws its power from Edwards's emphasis on the immediacy of the threat. The listener who was quite willing to admit that he ran the risk of dying and going to hell in a few years is made to feel the fragility of his position. The bow of divine justice is bent, and God has only to release the string for the arrow to fly at the sinner's heart. God holds the sinner above hell as the sinner himself might have held a spider over a fire. All God has to do is let go.

Although it is only at the end of the sermon that Edwards turns to the question of penitence, by this time the vivid imagery has done its work. It is quite clear that the danger of hell is immanent and that the sinner must not merely make a mental note to repent at some time in the future, but must do so immediately.

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Jonathan Edwards was born in the colony of Connecticut in the early 1700s. He was one of the preachers who had a large influence on the Great Awakening, a time of spiritual revival in the 1700s. Edward's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was characteristic of his style of preaching. This sermon centers on the sinful nature of man and the wrath of God. In the sermon, Edwards writes, "All you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God." This is his basic thesis. Simply put, all of mankind has only two choices: a person can be spiritually reborn into a new creation by the mercy of God, or they can remain dead in their sin and experience the eternal wrath of God. A man's wickedness makes him poised on the very brink of hell, and only because of the sovereign pleasure of God are men not cast immediately into hell for their sins. Edwards's sermon is meant to invoke terror into the hearts of those who hear it and to cause them to repent and be "born again" immediately.

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Jonathan Edwards's thesis in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is that without God's mercy man's souls are destined for Hell due to their sinful natures. Edwards's view of God is that He cannot stand sin, and, in the eyes of God, all sin is equal. Because man is tainted with sin as he is not perfect, his soul cannot be in the presence of God in Heaven. Using graphic imagery, Edwards tells his parishioners that their lives are hanging by a spider's web over Hell and that they are only one instant away from eternal torment and damnation. Edwards does offer hope though; through acceptance of God's mercies and repentance of sin through Jesus the soul can be saved. Edwards's sermon was like many others from the Great Awakening period—the hearer was meant to be shocked into action and accept Jesus immediately.     

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The thesis, or central argument, of this fire-and-brimstone sermon of Jonathan Edwards is that those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour dwell on the brink of damnation and the eternal horrors of Hell. Edwards paints a picture of the insecure nature of man's existence, arguing that those who have not had a transforming religious experience (so that they are "born again") could be "dropped" by God into Hell at any moment. Thus, in response to the precarious position occupied by man, Edwards argues, we should throw ourselves upon the grace and mercy of God to be spared this fate.

It is clear that fear is one of the main tactics that Edwards uses in this sermon. He is trying to make his listeners so afraid of the thought of eternity in hell that they will act now to be "born again." Note how this fear is introduced:

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, His anger is as great toward them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of His wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger... the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash before them...

Thus Edwards establishes his central argument. Without trusting in God and being "born again," we have only one fate to look forward to, and this fate he spends much time and uses many figures of speech to paint in all its horror.

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