What references in the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" reveal Edwards' philosophical beliefs about divine mercy?
Edwards believed that people were inherently sinful, and that it would be entirely just for God to cast all of their souls into hell. The only reason why he chooses to save some people is out of his mercy, through which he gives them grace. Rightfully condemned, he says, "all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God." Edwards emphasizes this point throughout his sermon using terrifying imagery, comparing people, or "sinners" to insects held over a fire by a hand ready to release them at any moment. True to the epigram from Deuteronomy that serves as the inspiration for his sermon, "Their feet shall slide in due time," Edwards portrays impending damnation as immediate, sudden, and unavoidable to those who do not seek God's mercy by turning to Jesus Christ:
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit...that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you... You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder...
God's mercy was completely unwarranted by anything people did, but by throwing themselves at his feet, so to speak, people could make themselves more worthy of grace. Indeed, those who did not accept Jesus would be destroyed. This message was intended to awaken the spirituality of people who Edwards viewed as lapsed and complacent. By emphasizing their precariousness, and humans' total dependence on divine mercy for salvation, he hoped to encourage a new spirit of religious zeal.