person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards
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What message is Edwards conveying in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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Jonathan Edwards was a theologian in mid- to late-18th century in New England. In 1741, he preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God " (the published pamphlet of the sermon described this as his sermon on "The Danger of the Unconverted"). This period in colonial American history...

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Jonathan Edwards was a theologian in mid- to late-18th century in New England. In 1741, he preached "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (the published pamphlet of the sermon described this as his sermon on "The Danger of the Unconverted"). This period in colonial American history would come to be known as the Great Awakening—a spirit of religious revivalism in the face of both the Church of England and Puritanism.

Edwards' message can be read in several ways. First, one can read quite clearly the theology in which he was steeped, and which he emphasized in his sermon. He asserts that Hell is quite real, a place of eternal torment for the wicked (people who do not wholeheartedly seek God through the mediation of Christ). The theology describes how the wicked taste Hell even in this life, and could be taken at any time to Hell. "'Tis only the Power and meer [sic] Pleasure of God that holds you up." Nothing can be done by man to avert the fiery fate—no amount of care for health or belief in man's wisdom and intention can alter their wickedness. The only way to be saved from Hell is through Christ, who is the mediator of God's covenant of grace.

From a broader perspective, this sermon is one of the best examples of a period known as the Great Awakening. Characterized by refuting the dry, staid religion of the Church of England and Puritanism, the Great Awakening introduced an experience of religion, evoking a greater intimacy with God through sometimes-intense fervor and emotion in prayer.

These experiences led to religious and political shifts. A new boldness in the face of religious authority led to a greater sense of ownership of and participation in the worship of God. This brought about the rise of various denominations instead of uniformity. This new understanding that religious authority was not a sole source for salvation would translate over the next decades into the political arena. Political authority would no longer be attributed to a single monarch. The revolution would begin.

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