What main point does Edwards want his listeners to understand?

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kimfuji eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all Edwards says in his sermon the reasons why he chose the text " their foot shall slide in due time"

  1. That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm 73:18. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction."

  2. It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18,19. "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!"

  3. Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

  4. That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God's appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

Therefore as the text outrightly says, their time will come to fall. According to Edwards,it is God's will for them to fail but not yet. He presupposes God to be angry and vengeful.

He wants his listeners to realize that they will fail without God's help and will to prevail. He wants them to understand that they are totally dependent upon God. He envisions God as jealous, in the biblical sense, that he wants to be seen as all powerful and all controlling. When humans act powerful or prideful, God will "take them down a peg" as a way of speaking, to show his power. This is the old fashioned, biblical way of thinking of God, as a jealous God.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Confronted in a Colonial setting where materialism and commerce began to supplant zealous religious worship, thinkers like Edwards were confronted with a disturbing reality.  The mishap of justice through the Salem Witch Trials also helped to decrease the passion of religious worship throughout the colonies.  In response to this waning was the Great Awakening.  The premise of this movement was that the Colonial lack of intensity regarding religion had made God angry, and this anger could only be abated with consistent and driven spiritual worship.  Thinkers like Edwards used large outdoor revivals as setting to raise the awareness of the audience as to how they have sinned in the eyes of God and how these transgressions have made God angry and this form of anger will result in a display of Biblical and cataclysmic proportions.  The main point of these sermons, most famous being "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," was for individuals to recant and change their ways and move from a commercial based frame of reference into a religious one to provide meaning into their lives.  It also served to make men like Edwards assume power as the moral center or leader throughout these individuals' lives.

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

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