What role does the appeal to fear or terror (PATHOS) play in Edward's sermon? How do biblical allusions support the writer's appeal to fear?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The appeal to fear from Jonathan Edwards is an address meant to engage the emotions of the listeners enough to shake them into being convinced of the repercussions of their sins. With the use of Biblical allusions, Edwards gives impact to his words and furthers his credibility. 

Revivalist preachers, such as Edwards, a fire-and-brimstone preacher, sought not only to address the minds of the congregation, but also to engage their emotions so as to convince them of the seriousness of their sins and the omnipotence of God, and, by means of frightening images, activate them to seek salvation from punishment as well as understand that their lives are pre-determined. In order to convince his audience that they were in a very precarious state, Edwards compared humanity to a spider and a serpent. In his comparison of man to the spider Edwards told his listeners that they may think that they are alive and well because of measures which they themselves have taken; however, the truth is that they are only alive because of the will of God.

...if God should withdraw His hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.

Further, Edwards tells all that are not born again and made new through their faith are in "the hands of an angry God" and if He withdraws His hand, the floodgates would open to the fierceness of God. Further, Edwards employs other images that strike fear into the congregation such as the person's being held over the fiery furnace of God..

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fear plays a very strong role in Edward's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Even the title is emotional, as anger--especially in a powerful figure such as a deity--tends to evoke fear.

Edwards used biblical imagery to support his argument that people need to repent immediately and change their sinful ways or the wrath of God will fall on them. The Bible would have had a strong ethos--or positive, trustworthy character-- among his congregants. Since it would have been understood by his listeners as the most highly authoritative work in existence, they would have been emotionally swayed by its imagery, which Edwards used liberally. He chose images that were not of lying down in peaceful fields by clear waters nor of ambling in a land flowing with milk and honey. Instead, he alluded to frightening events, such God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, writing:

haste and escape for your lives 
look not behind you escape to the mountains lest you be consumed 

Edwards also alluded to Luke 16:24, in which Jesus tells of the rich man Lazurus tormented by hellfire, writing:

The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. 

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

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