What kind of imagery does Jonathan Edwards use in his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an angry God"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A fire and brimstone preacher, Jonathan Edwards was a stalwart Puritan and much of his Calvinist background is apparent in the frightening imagery of his sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."  In fact, the image of the bottomless pit of hell whose fiery floods wax high enough to burn the gossamer thread that holds the unworthy souls over it evoked so much terror in the congregation of Edwards that women fainted and men became terrorized and trembled.

This sermon of Edwards is constructed around a passage from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament of the King James Version of the Bible: "Their 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."  The image of a "bow" for God's wrath that can easily bend and send forth its arrow is an unnerving one, indeed, as the "slender thread" dangling near the "flames of divine wrath" which can singe it at any moment.

edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jonathan Edwards uses traditional biblical imagery found in Matthew and Revelation when describing Hell, the destination of all but the elect.  Edwards describes it as a fiery pit, a "lake of burning brimstone," and a furnace.  He sermonizes on the "glowing flames" of God's wrath and personifies Hell with a "wide gaping mouth" ready to receive sinners.

Edwards likens the fall of sinners to a rock falling through a spiderweb.  He also invokes imagery of "black clouds of God's wrath" hanging over the heads of the damned. 

Edwards also used images accessible to the rural Connecticut congregation who heard the sermon.  He compares God's power to a "rough wind" that could, if He unleashed it, leave the unrepentant behind like "the chaff of the summer threshing floor."  Edwards also invokes the image of God's wrath as great waters held back by a dam. If let loose, it would be impossible for any man to withstand. One last example of an image that Edwards uses to communicate his conception of God's wrath is a bow and arrow, strung, taut, and ready to be let go and "made drunk with [your] blood."

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In general, Jonathan Edwards uses very angry imagery in his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

The most famous image used is that of a "loathsome insect."  He says that God looks at people as if they were loathsome insects and in fact hates us more than we would hate such an insect.

A related image that Edwards uses is the idea that God is holding us by a thread over the pit of hell, liable at any moment to cut the thread and let us drop because we are evil and deserve to be punished.

These are the most famous images from the sermon and both are rather angry and scary images.

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

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