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 type of emotional appeals does Edwards use to breakthrough to his congregation in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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The entire sermon is structured to appeal to the emotions of the listeners through vivid descriptions of the horrendous fate awaiting sinful human beings, which Edwards explains includes everyone in the congregation.

The "Application" section is most directly pointed at those listening to the sermon. In this part of his presentation, Edwards addresses the immediate and dire consequences awaiting those who do not repent. He pictures the revulsion that creation experiences because each member of the congregation lives in the midst of what God has made.

the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts;...the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies.

As well as explaining how disgusting humanity is in the eyes of nature, Edwards also portrays the sensations awaiting sinful persons when they are called to suffer the wrath of "an Angry God." With emphasis through repetition and graphic description, he attempts to convey the torment that is in store.

There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.

Edwards concludes his sermon, after all the terror and anguish and punishment in the bulk of it, by appealing to members of the congregation to "fly from the wrath to come" - a closing invitation urging listeners to flee from the hellfire and brimstone of the preceeding remarks.

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

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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In the "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God," what actions does Edwards appeal in order to sway his audience?

The main action that Edwards is warning against, possibly even threatening with, the that the unbelievers can be cast into Hell for their unbelief. He points out that man is not able to save himself and that man's sin has already condemned him. He also develops the idea that God is an angry God. He paints the picture of man standing on a precipice overlooking Hell and the only thing hold man back from the edge is God's hand. If God were to move His hand, the unbelievers would fall into the pit of Hell. The action of the story is mostly offset with similes and metaphors, creating more of a visual than a plot.

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In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is Edwards's view of God?

A Calvinist pastor who believed in the innate depravity of man, Edwards held with the concept that Christians had to be "born again" embracing Christ as their Savior in order to be saved from the fires of hell. Therefore, in his sermon, Edwards hoped to elicit from his congregation the fear of God so that they would repent and strive to live better lives as Christians.

However, he generated such frightening images and used such extreme metaphors of a wrathful and retributive God that many in his church screamed out and fainted, while others ran from the building. For example, Edwards sermonizes,

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of angry God without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being drunk with your blood.

Since the Calvinists had rejected the concept of God's grace as attainable through good works and acts, there was nothing that people could do to gain favor in the eyes of God other than avoiding wrongful acts. Thus, there was a severe stress put upon the Christian and little graciousness given to God. Edward's theology was one directed solely by "Fear of the Lord" rather than one based upon God's love and mercy. For Edwards, God holds "abominable" humanity over the pit of hell and if man sins, he can easily be punished by the breakage of the gossamer thread that holds him above the fiery pits of Hell.

(This overriding concept of a punitive theology is criticized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as it is symbolized in the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter as it is contrasted with the nearby blooming red rose bush, symbolic of love; shortly thereafter, Hester Prynne, who wears the scarlet A in punishment and is publicly humiliated before the Calvinistic Puritans, who condemn her is derogatory terms, while Hawthorne compares Hester and her baby to a "Papist" image of the Madonna and child.)

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