person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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Which of Aristotle‘s appeals (ethos/pathos/logos) did Edwards predominantly use in his sermon?

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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was Jonathan Edwards ’s sermon meant to drive fear into the hearts of his congregation and, later, a congregation he had been invited to speak at. It is perhaps the best example of what religion was like during the Great...

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Awakening. To convince the congregation of the seriousness of his words, Edwards used Aristotle’s modes of persuasion: logos, ethos, and most of all, pathos.

Edwards was logical in his sermon: Sinners are going to Hell (which Edwards declared was, in fact, a real place), and the only reason we haven’t all been cast into Hell already is because God hasn’t decided to do it yet:

There is no Want of Power in God to cast wicked Men into Hell at any Moment. Mens Hands can’t be strong when God rises up: The strongest have no Power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his Hands.

Our word "ethics" comes from ethos, and this is a vehicle for convincing the listener that what the deliverer is saying must be true, because the deliverer is an authority on the subject. Edwards, as preacher, was considered the expert on what God meant, but he also referred to the authority of the Bible. Because the Bible said sinners were going to hell, it must be so:

Divine Justice says of the Tree that brings forth such Grapes of Sodom, Cut it down, why cumbreth it the Ground, Luk. 13. 7. The Sword of divine Justice is every Moment brandished over their Heads, and ‘tis nothing but the Hand of arbitrary Mercy, and God’s meer Will, that holds it back.

Pathos relies on feelings, and this was Edwards’s primary tool for getting his message across. Everything about "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" caused great fear in Edwards’s listeners—intentional fear meant to persuade people that they must live exactly according to the Bible and repent, or they would go to Hell (and in fact, they were experiencing a bit of Hell here on earth if they were sinners, anyway):

The Devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own, at what Moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their Souls in his Possession, and under his Dominion.”

“It is no Security to wicked Men for one Moment, that there are no visible Means of Death at Hand. ‘Tis no Security to a natural Man, that he is now in Health, and that he don’t see which Way he should now immediately go out of the World by any Accident, and that there is no visible Danger in any Respect in his Circumstances.

Consider this, you that are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate State. That God will execute the fierceness of his Anger, implies that he will inflict Wrath without any Pity: when God beholds the ineffable Extremity of your Case, and sees your Torment to be so vastly disproportion’d to your Strength, and sees how your poor Soul is crushed and sinks down, as it were into an infinite Gloom, he will have no Compassion upon you, he will not forbear the Executions of his Wrath, or in the least lighten his Hand; there shall be no Moderation or Mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough Wind; he will have no Regard to your Welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much, in any other Sense than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict Justice requires: nothing shall be with-held, because it’s so hard for you to bear.

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