Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Summary
Jonathan Edwards delivered his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" as a warning about what awaits those who succumb to sin and temptation.
- In part one, Edwards quotes and analyzes Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time." He uses this image as a metaphor for people risking their lives by walking on the slippery slope of sin.
- In part two, Edwards argues that men live and die at the mercy of God and that God is the ultimate judge of each soul.
- In part three, Edwards warns of the hellish consequences awaiting those who do not behave righteously.
Last Updated October 16, 2023.
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is a famous sermon delivered by Jonathan Edwards in 1741 during the First Great Awakening, a religious revival in colonial America. This movement was characterized by fervent, emotional preaching and a renewed emphasis on personal salvation. In addition to being a Puritan preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards was also a prolific author and intellectual whose sermons and writings significantly contributed to American religious thought and literature during the colonial period.
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is the quintessential "fire and brimstone" sermon of the Great Awakening as it employs intense, vivid, and frightening imagery to depict the torments of Hell and the precarious position of sinners. Edwards uses this imagery to create a sense of fear and urgency, emphasizing the consequences of sin and the wrath of an angry God. The sermon is a classic example of this preaching style, which aims to instill a deep sense of terror and repentance in the audience.
Edwards begins his sermon with a line from Deuteronomy, "Their foot shall slide in due time." He explains that this passage means that God intends to punish the unbelieving Israelites, who were chosen by God and had access to His teachings and blessings. Despite God's miracles, they still went astray. The chosen biblical quote suggests that their punishment and destruction will come at the right moment due to their wrongdoing.
Edwards goes on to make several points on this theme. The first point is that the Israelites were constantly in danger of facing God's punishment, much like someone who walks on a slippery surface is always at risk of falling. This concept is also found in Psalm 73:18, which says that God placed these wicked individuals in precarious situations and would eventually be cast down into destruction. In other words, the Israelites' sinful behavior put them on a dangerous path, and their downfall was inevitable.
Edwards also suggests that people could bring this punishment upon themselves through their actions without needing anyone else to punish them. Continuing the previous analogy, Edwards says that
he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.
Edwards continues, proclaiming that wicked people have not fallen into Hell and continue to exist because God has not yet decided it is their time to face punishment. Here, he reaches one of his main points.
There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of Hell, but the mere pleasure of God.
He emphasizes that it is not due to external factors, constraints, or moral obligations. It is entirely up to God's discretion when and if they are condemned. This underscores the Puritan idea that human salvation or damnation is ultimately in the hands of God, with nothing else influencing that outcome.
Now that Edwards has described the slippery slope to Hell, he transitions to make ten points about the nature of God's wrath against sinners. His first point describes the absolute nature of God's power and the ease with which He can cast sinners into Hell. Edwards proclaims that God encounters no obstacles, unlike human rulers who may face challenges when dealing with rebellious individuals. Edwards compares this to crushing a crawling worm or breaking a fragile thread — it is just as easy for God to cast His enemies into hell.
Edwards then asserts that wicked individuals fully deserve damnation, and divine justice does not hinder God from using His power to destroy them at any moment. Providence calls for an...
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infinite punishment for sinners, and "the sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads."
However, Edwards also points out that the unconverted are already sentenced to Hell, according to God's law. They are currently the objects of God's wrath, which is just as intense as the torment experienced in Hell. Edwards emphasizes that they are not immediately sent to hell because God is unmindful of their wickedness but rather that God's mercy temporarily withholds His punishment.
Edwards explains that Satan is always ready to claim sinners as soon as God permits it, as they are considered the devil's possessions, and their souls are under his control.
Edwards clarifies that sinners have no safety, even if they enjoy good health and do not see any immediate dangers. He emphasizes that many means of death are unforeseeable, and even the wisest people meet the same fate as the foolish. Any attempts to avoid Hell without accepting Christ are futile.
Now that he has explained the dangers of sin, Edwards explains how to apply what he has taught. He reiterates that only God can keep people out of Hell, saying
your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock.
Edwards concludes his sermon with an impassioned plea to his congregation, asserting that many among them are already headed for damnation. He urges them to awaken and turn to Christ, stressing that this is a day of mercy and salvation. Drawing a parallel to the sinners escaping the condemned city of Sodom, he urges them not to delay seeking refuge from the impending divine wrath and eternal torment.