In his fire and brimstone sermon, Calvinist Jonathan Edwards tells his audience that there is nothing preventing them from falling into the fiery pit of hell except the hand of God.
At one point in Edwards's sermon, he informs the sinners that God suspends them over the pit of hell in the manner that someone might hold a spider, or some other horrible insect, over a fire because their sins are loathsome and in God's sight they are "abominable." These sinners have so offended God that their actions are worse than the act of a rebel against his sovereign, Edwards tells the congregation. Further, the minister informs his listeners,
...and yet it is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night.
Most effectively, the Reverend Edwards reiterates to his audience that there is no other reason why they have not gone to hell "but that God's hand has held you up" by only a single thread over the fiery pit.
With his frightful images, Reverend Edwards wants his audience to be filled with the fear of God, and, therefore, stop committing sin so that they will be receptive to a moment when they can be saved. In these times, individuals had to experience an emotional public conversion in order to be spiritually saved. It is, then, this emotional public conversion that Edwards wishes to effect.
Edwards, in an attempt to shock and scare his audience into returning to the church, tells his listening congregation that they could die at any moment. He illustrates their imminent death by comparing them to spiders hanging on to a thin web being dangled over the fiery pit of hell. At any moment, he warns, the web could break and the spider (sinner) would fall into hell with no help of salvation. However, the reason the audience has not met this tragic fate is because of God. He decided when people will die and he knows when people live, so his audience should take this opportunity to repent and ask for forgiveness, so that if they do die tonight, they will be right with God.