A fire and brimstone preacher, Jonathan Edwards embodies the sanctimonious Puritan preacher who counts himself among the "elect." In his sermon, he essays to awaken and persuade those people in the congregation who have not been "born again"; that is, they have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Influenced by the English philosopher John Locke, who held that everything that people know comes from experience with understanding and feeling as two distinct kinds of knowledge, Edwards's sermon incorporates both elements into his sermon as he uses fear as the motivator to bring his congregation to understand the precariousness of their situation by actually feeling the horror of their sinful states.
As a Puritan, Edwards did not believe that good deeds were necessarily rewarded. Instead, Puritans such as Edwards believed that it was difficult to know if one were among the elect or the damned, so it was necessary to behave in as exemplary a manner as possible. Edwards's sermon directs people to behave for fear of the fires of hell. It is only divine mercy that does not release its hold; "it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up."
If God should withdraw His hold, Edwards tells his listeners, there would be nothing to keep a person from falling into the fiery pit of hell. People's
righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a sider's web would have to stop a fallen rock...."
There is nothing to prevent the "floods of God's vengeance" against sinners but the "mere pleasure of God that holds the waters back" that would drown sinners.
With other metaphors, such as "the bow of God's wrath is bent," and the sinners as spiders held over fire, Edwards further contends that it is only the mercy of God that prevents people's damnation to the fires of hell. They "hang by a slender thread," and they must live an exemplary life so that they will not be condemned, but will be spared by "the mere pleasure" of God's divine mercy.