Why did Rev. Edwards feel it was necessary to terrify his Puritan audience?
There were several factors influencing the way in which Jonathan Edwards delivered his sermon. It was a product of his convictions and the attitudes of many in the congregation.
As a fourth generation Puritan minister, Edwards took very seriously his pastoral duty toward those in his care. He wanted listeners to understand the greatness and power of God, and he wished to demonstrate how absolutely unworthy humanity was of any mercy or grace because of its depraved and sinful nature.
Edwards was also preaching in a period of time when the influence of the Puritan Church was declining. As the American colonies became more settled and life became easier, people were finding life more comfortable as a result of their own efforts and less because of God's blessings. The New England colonists of the 1730's "enjoyed a rising level of affluence that induced a sense of both material and spiritual comfort."
Edwards became a leading preacher in the Great Awakening movement intended to restore the religious dedication and humility that was being lost. He addressed both the need for renewed faith and the delusion of attributing success to human effort and achievement, explaining the endangerment of their souls being created by persons who didn't recognize how they were acting against God's will. His sermons
were intended as a wake-up call for those who underplayed the majesty of a holy God and overemphasized their own worthiness as decent, hard-working, successful citizens. Edwards...sought not only to address the intellect but also to engage the emotions so as to convince the listeners of the seriousness of their sin and activate them to seek salvation from the punishment they could expect from a righteous God.