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

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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...

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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."

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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."

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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.

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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.

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