Why did the author write the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Edwards' sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," he uses the fear factor to compel people to turn to God. He condemns the people, hoping this will straighten them out. His Puritanism was the driving force behind his message:

The Puritans emphasized the covenant of works, which was in the control of human beings, and the covenant of grace, which was in God's power to bestow.

Edwards believed that the works of mankind could save. In other words, it is in mankind's control to save himself. He believed God's grace could be limited. He insinuated that God can be judgmental and angry. Edwards' belief in God was that He was ready to throw people into hell.

Edwards used his sermon to prove that the people were worthy of hell and only God's restraints kept God from tossing the people into a lake of fire:

There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently ignite and burst into flames of hell-fire, if it were not for God's restraints. There is laid in the very nature of all unsaved men, a foundation for the torments of hell.

Edwards believed man was so corrupt until hell was waiting. He believed that mankind could burst into flames at any moment. He preached that God had restraint; otherwise, mankind would be destroyed by hell's fire.

Edwards was judgmental and self righteous. Had he search out the true loving nature of God, he would have found in John 3:16-17 that God sent his son into the world to save them, not condemn them.

Edwards preached as if he were angry with the people. He was the one who insisted that God was so angry until He was about to throw the people in hell. For some people, the sermon may have been successful. Needless to say, for those who had an image of God dangling people over the fires of hell, no doubt some would run to the altar in repentance:

What distinguishes this most famous example of Puritan revival sermons is its use of imagery so vivid that it left people in the pews trembling and weeping.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jonathan Edwards, author of the sermon, believed that the people of New England were "falling away" from Puritan ideals, primarily because of the rationalist ideas of the Enlightenment. He wrote once

It seemed to be a time of extraordinary dullness in religion; licentiousness for some years greatly prevailed among the youth of the town; they were many of them very much addicted to night walking, and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices wherein some by their example exceedingly corrupted others. It was their manner very frequently to get together in conventions of both sexes, for mirth and jollity, which they called frolicks; and they would often spend the greater part of the night in them, without any regard to order in the families they belonged to; and indeed family government did not much prevail in the town. It was become very customary with many of our young people to be indecent in their carriage at meeting.

Edwards believed that the people of New England had become too material, and said they needed "not so much to have their heads stored as their hearts touched. He also stated that it was a reasonable thing to "fright persons away from hell." Edwards’ sermons dealt with the Justice of God and the damnation of sinners. His sermons were an abandonment of the idea of predestined election; rather he preached that justification came from faith in Christ, and all persons could be saved; but all persons would burn in hell if they were not saved. They were the original "hellfire and brimstone" sermons. The Sermon pleads with those who hear it to turn to God while there is yet time, while God's wrath has been withheld. Despite the terrifying nature of his sermons, Edwards did not rant and rave from the Pulpit, as his contemporary, George Whitefield had done. His sermons were delivered in a calm, deliberate voice, almost devoid of emotion; however when he was through, he had to wait several minutes for the Congregation to calm down before leading in the final hymn.

blueblue41 | Student

He preached it in Enfield, Connecticut  because one church there had been largely unaffected during the Great Awakening of New England. Sothe pastor of the church invited Johnathan to preach. His goa was to teach his listeners about the horror of hell, the danger of sin and the terror of being lost.

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

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