The primary image that Jonathan Edwards utilizes is that of walking along a steep path and slipping or sliding off the slope. This image is mentioned in the Bible, as he notes: "Their foot shall slide in due time" (Deuteronomy 32:35). Edwards develops it along four different lines: emphasizing the...
The primary image that Jonathan Edwards utilizes is that of walking along a steep path and slipping or sliding off the slope. This image is mentioned in the Bible, as he notes: "Their foot shall slide in due time" (Deuteronomy 32:35). Edwards develops it along four different lines: emphasizing the exposure to falling, the suddenness of destruction, the individual capability of falling, and God's role in keeping people from falling. In all those explanations, he brings up some aspect of the image of the physical act of falling, not just the metaphorical aspect of damnation.
He also uses military imagery, speaking of a prince as the defender of a realm who has many followers and fortifications. In contrast to such a fortress, he brings up images of the vulnerability of humans, comparing them to chaff, stubble, or worms. The soul hangs as if by a thread, he says, that God can easily sever. These images also relate to the physical location of hell, as a pit into which God can throw people (as earthquakes tumble rocks).
Edwards returns to the central conceit, or extended metaphor, of the title. He evokes literal images of God's hands: holding human souls over the "fiery pit" where the devil awaits them—"thus it is, that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell." He reiterates images of flames that will consume men but also states that this fire matches the fire already inside their hearts:
the flames gather and flash about them; . . . the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out.
Ultimately, he reinforces this image with a warning about the danger people are in: "'tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God."