person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The author's purpose for writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Summary:

The author's purpose for writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is to warn his congregation about the dangers of sin and the reality of hell, urging them to repent and seek salvation. Jonathan Edwards aimed to evoke an emotional response and a sense of urgency to encourage a spiritual revival and deeper commitment to faith.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the author's purpose for writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the author's purpose for writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

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.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What was the author's purpose for writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Jonathan Edwards's "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was written at a time of strict religious adherence. Edwards, a Puritan preacher and Theologian in eighteenth-century New England, felt that society was insufficiently committed to Christian doctrine. Edwards believed that people were turning toward sin and away from God, and he wanted to deliver a sermon that would halt this and encourage people to repent. Edwards used strong language and vivid, frightening imagery to scare his congregation, and others who heard his sermon afterward, into doing what he believed was the right thing. After delivering the sermon to his own congregation, Edwards delivered it to a congregation at Enfield, Connecticut, in 1741, and it has been suggested that the sermon was requested by the minister of that church.

Edwards's sermon makes it clear that he wants everyone to be saved by Jesus Christ, to ask God for forgiveness for their sins, and to live pious lives. Edwards claims that anyone who does not do this will end up in hell, and he describes hell as a devastating eternity, thereby driving fear into the hearts of his congregation and causing many of them to recommit themselves to God.

This sermon marked the beginning of the First Great Awakening and was famous both in its time and today. After word of Edwards’s sermon spread, he traveled around, giving the same sermon at other congregations. The reaction was mostly favorable, even as people were terrified of the possibility of damnation.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Jonathan Edwards strives to effect a profound transformation in his listeners' hearts. He wants them to realize, before it's too late, that they are sinful creatures who must turn their backs on the lives that they have been leading and embrace God.

Though most people at the time undoubtedly led lives that, by modern standards, would be considered deeply devout, Edwards, as a staunch Calvinist, still sees unmistakable signs of sinful living everywhere. Having so identified such signs, he's determined to remind anyone who'll listen that they must turn away from their sinful lives and devote themselves to true Christian living as understood by Calvinists. There must be no complacency; otherwise, the consequences will be very serious indeed.

To this end, Edwards sets out to put the fear of God into his audience by reminding them of the Almighty's awesome, unlimited power. It's all too easy to forget, but God is always watching and judging; he is the sole judge of whether or not a soul is sinful. That being the case, it's essential that all believers leave behind their sinful lives and walk upon the path of righteousness lest they be consigned to the fires of Hell for all eternity.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

Jonathan Edwards's main purpose in this sermon is to provide a dire warning to those living in sin and surrendering to temptation. It is a message not about God's love, but about his wrath.

He reminded his listeners that God's power is terrifying and all-consuming, and that those who are wicked will endure the flames of hell for eternity if they do not turn to Christ. He used an assortment of images to remind sinners of how fragile they were in the face of God's might and anger. These images, such as of people being "dry stubble before devouring flames" left nothing to the imagination and drew a brutal picture of what Edwards believed awaited sinners.

Edwards makes the point that since no man knows when he will breathe his last breath, hell can be only a heartbeat away for the unrepentant. His purpose, therefore, is to strike the fear of God into those listening to his sermon, pushing them to repent through a spirit of fear.

I would argue that three thoughts are being emphasized throughout this sermon. The first is the way that God views sin—as intolerable filth. The second is God's anger towards mankind for their ongoing culture of sinfulness. The third is the sudden nature of death, and the corresponding fact that judgment could be seconds away at any time.

In a nutshell, the writer's main purpose is to create awareness of God's anger and to strike fear into those listening.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

The purpose of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is to persuade those who hear or read it to repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation. This aim is directly addressed in the last few paragraphs. Edwards writes:

Therefore let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the Wrath to come.

However, immediately after this exhortation, the preacher continues:

The Wrath of almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over great Part of this Congregation.

The second statement, which provides the motive for repentance, is far more representative of the main body of the sermon than the exhortation to find salvation in Christ. Even in that brief statement, Edwards manages to include a reference to "the Wrath to come." The most memorable passages in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" concern God's righteous wrath, and how little reason there is for him to have mercy. Edwards describes God holding the sinner over the pit of hell, observing that there is no reason but God's infinite mercy for him to save the sinner for a moment longer. Throughout the sermon, the vileness of the sinner, the anger of God, and the immediacy of the danger are constantly emphasized. However, the ultimate purpose of the terror Edwards excites is not merely to make his listeners afraid, but to use their fear to save them from the dangers he describes.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

Jonathan Edwards’s main goal in writing and delivering his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was to persuade people to love God and give their hearts to him.  If they do this, Edwards believes they can be saved.

Before the Great Awakening (of which Edwards was a part), many religious Americans believed in predestination. They believed God had already decided whether they were going to Heaven or Hell and that there was nothing they could do to change their fate. Preachers of the Great Awakening disagreed. They believed people deserved to be damned but could save themselves by accepting God’s love and loving God in return. 

The main purpose of Edwards’s sermon is to convince the people who are listening that this is true. He warns them about how they are in danger of going to Hell, and claims they would completely deserve that fate. He says, there is an opportunity for them, though; they can accept God and improve their chances for salvation. Edwards tells his listeners that God has given them

an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has flung the door of mercy wide open, and stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners.

He tells them that many other people have already accepted God’s love and that their

hearts [are] filled with love to him that has loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.

He urges them to do the same so they might be saved as well and be able to live with God in Heaven. His main goal in this sermon is to get people to accept God’s love and to love him back so they can be saved from damnation.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Edwards' purpose in writing "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Jonathan Edwards' purpose in delivering "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is to warn his congregation of the dangers that they face if they fail to repent for their sins and follow Jesus. He wants to communicate to them his conviction that they are currently surviving only at the mercy of God and that if they do not repent that God will gladly and easily cast them into hell. He argues that, because of God's power, there is no escape for the wicked no matter how wise or powerful they are. Edwards wants his listeners to understand that their only hope if they wish to avoid eternal torment is to repent for their sinful ways and turn to Jesus. Ultimately, Edwards tries to paint the most vivid and convincing picture of the dangers of hell so that his congregation will fully understand and appreciate the choices that they are making.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

Jonathan Edwards was a part of the Great Awakening, a religious movement which advocated for intense and active religious experiences on the part of parishioners. We can definitely see this reflected within the rhetoric of the sermon in its use of imagery and the ways that these images channel fear of damnation.

In addition, however, I think there is a very strong Calvinist mindset which shapes this sermon (and which shapes the message Edwards intends for his parishioners to hear). Particularly important, from this perspective, is the notion of Original Sin, which is understood as a defining and inescapable feature of the human condition.

From this, however, arises a tension (which, I suspect, lies at this sermon's heart), because if Calvinists hold that sin is the universal plight of all of humanity, this does not mean that individual human beings will necessarily think too deeply on the problem of their own sin, nor about the possibility of their own potential damnation.

Indeed, there is something deeply personal in Edwards's rhetoric, as he makes an appeal to his listeners not to take salvation for granted, but rather to recognize that they themselves are not provided any guarantee of grace (nor are they provided any guarantee against premature death). Through that realization (I think it is Edwards' hope), they can more effectively reach for salvation.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

Jonathan Edwards delivered this sermon to his congregation in Northampton on July 8, 1741 and establishes his purpose with the two Biblical readings with which he chooses to open this sermon:

Though they dig down to the depths below,
from there my hand will take them.
Though they climb up to the heavens above,
from there I will bring them down.
Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
there I will hunt them down and seize them.
Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea,
there I will command the serpent to bite them (Amos 9:2–3, NIV).

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.
In due time their foot will slip;
their day of disaster is near
and their doom rushes upon them(Deuteronomy 32:35, NIV).

These verses paint a particular image of God: He is a mighty force who will condemn sinners.

Edwards seeks to do nothing less than terrify his congregational members through this sermon and convince them of the need to repent of their sinful ways to escape the wrath of God—and Hell itself. In one particularly vivid section of the sermon, Edward compares his congregation to spiders dangling over a fiery Hell, only saved because God continues to hold on to them. And while He does, they have the opportunity to escape Hell by choosing to follow a more devout, pure, and Christlike life.

It is historically noted that the sermon, through its descriptive language and vivid metaphors, convicted the congregation so thoroughly that members fell into the aisles, screamed, and begged for salvation while Edwards was still preaching. In this way, his goal of making his congregation see the error of their sinful ways was quite effective. For, as Edwards himself notes, "There is nothing that keeps wicked Men at any one Moment, out of Hell, but the mere Pleasure of GOD." His congregation rushed to the merciful image of God, trying to escape the God of wrath who would surely condemn them if they continued on sinful paths.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is a sermon written during the first great awakening so, consistent with other Christian theologies of that era, one of its goals is to strongly emphasize the point that hell is real and that it is terrible. Edwards paints the picture of hell that is most familiarly described with the term "fire and brimstone." This image is important because Edwards sees sin as a choice that men make and thus deserves to be punished for. Edwards repeatedly emphasizes that, for wicked men, there is no hope, and the devil could fall upon them at any moment. This is all to make the case that people should choose, instead, to avoid that fate by giving their lives up to Christ.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," what is the writer's main purpose?

The Reverend Edwards hopes his fire-and-brimstone sermon will frighten and inspire his congregation to become more obedient to the teachings of their Christian faith.

In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards, a Calvinist, strives to throw fear into the hearts of the Puritans in his congregation who have become wayward. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and the herald of all resolutions," and it is apparent that Edwards enthusiastically embraces this concept, too. His frightening metaphors and imagery cause members of the congregation to flee from the church because they are so terrified.

Edwards's frightening sermon is composed around a passage in Deuteronomy, a book of the Old Testament in the King James Version of the Bible: "The foot shall slide in due time." Employing this metaphor of the slippery slide, Reverend Edwards cautions against spiritual sliding, telling his congregation that a yawning abyss waits for them, and only a gossamer thread holds them from the "fiery floods" and "fire of wrath" that are in Hell. In fact, he declares, it is only the "mere pleasure" of God that holds them from "fiery floods" and the "fire of wrath." Reverend Edwards frightens his listeners with these images in order to motivate them to be better Christians by returning to the precepts of their religious faith.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on