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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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What are five examples of imagery in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?

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In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Jonathan Edwards uses vivid imagery to convey the impending doom of sinners. Five examples are: 1) Men walking over the pit of hell on rotten covering, symbolizing the fragility of sinful lives. 2) The devil waiting for sinners, illustrating God's anger towards disobedience. 3) A lake of burning brimstone under sinners, emphasizing the imminent danger. 4) Black clouds of God's wrath hanging over sinners, portraying God's disapproval. 5) God's ability to unleash fiery floods of wrath, showing God's omnipotence.

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In this sermon given during the Great Awakening, Edwards employs a stern tone combined with vivid imagery to shock his congregation into repenting of their sinful lives and instead choosing to accept God's grace.

Edwards conveys the fragility of the sinful lives his congregation lives:

Unconverted men walk over the...

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pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.

This image of men teetering over a rotten covering which is just about to collapse over the depths of Hell provides a frightening glimpse of impending doom for congregational members.

Edwards later describes the anger of God toward people who continually disobey His will:

The devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them...

This image shows that at any moment, God can remove His hand of protection from each of the listeners, and there are powerful and evil forces waiting ton consume them all.

Edwards continues this frightening imagery in the next section:

That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you.

Again, the image of a lake of fire just below the surface of life, waiting to consume listeners, strengths Edwards's stern and confrontational tone.

God's disapproval is also portrayed with dark imagery:

There are the black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder...

If a fiery Hell waits below, then the wrath of God is all around those on Earth who fail to confess and repent. This image of a "storm" of God's anger is a powerful one; storms are not within man's control and can inflict damage, particularly those "big with thunder."

The image of powerful water is used in the next section:

If God should only withdraw His hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

Here, Edwards portrays God as powerful enough to hold back the waters that can destroy them but notes that His patience will eventually give way to fury. This image of God's ability to remove His protective hand from their lives again furthers Edwards's purpose to sway his audience to immediate action.

The imagery was effective; it is reported that many people cried out, begging for salvation before the sermon was even over.

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The Calvinist minister Jonathan Edwards was a "fire and brimstone" preacher who believed firmly that people's only chance for salvation was for them to have a transforming religious experience. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is a fire-and-brimstone sermon intended by Reverend Edwards to convey to his listeners that those who have not accepted Christ as their savior are on the brink of damnation. 

In his sermon, the Reverend Edwards employs visual imagery meant to frighten his congregation so they would throw themselves on God's mercy and seek to be saved by being "born again."

1. The key images of this sermon are those of "the fiery pit of hell," over which men are held by "the hand of God."

2. Reverend Edwards speaks of the wrath of God as a "bow" that is bent with the "arrow made ready on the string" to draw the blood of the sinner. Only the "pleasure of God" prevents this arrow from striking the members of the congregation and "being made drunk" with their "blood." 

3. Rev. Edwards depicts the wrath of God as being like "great waters" that are damned. Once someone is damned for his or her sins, the "floods" of God's vengeance" pour forth with great force.

4. Rev. Edwards contends that God holds the sinner over the "fiery pit of hell" as a person might hold a "spider," or some other hated insect over a fire. It is only "the hand of God"that keeps the sinner from falling into the "fires" of hell.

5. Rev. Edwards tells the sinners that in the sight of God, they are more abominable than "the most hateful venomous serpent"is in their minds.

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Edwards describes the sinner with the image of a foot sliding. Sinners are never on solid ground; instead, they are always in slippery places where they could fall and be destroyed.

Edwards also shows that sinners do not fall, at least, not yet. He does this by evoking the image of God holding them up. He then uses the image of God letting them go at the appointed time, so that they, as if standing on the edgeof a pit on ground sloping downward, have no choice but to fall in and be destroyed.

At the end of the sermon, Edwards uses the image of a tree that does not bear good fruit to describe the sinner. God is depicted as the axe that will chop down this tree. Edwards continues by evoking the image of the tree being thrown into an everlasting fire.

With images like this, one might be motivated into good behavior—or so Edwards hoped. 

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Edwards employed imagery to describe sinners, condemnation, hell, the devil, and God's wrath for sinners.  Here are five examples:

1.  Edwards describes sinners as "Heaps of light Chaff before the Whirlwind; or large Quantities of dry Stubble before devouring Flames."  He likely chose this imagery knowing that many of his listeners were farmers. This analogy would be very accessible to them.

2.  The minister continues his farm metaphor to help listeners visualize their condemnation: "your Destruction would come like a Whirlwind, and you would be like the Chaff of the Summer threshing Floor."

3. Edwards describes hell in very conventional terms: "the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them."  A pit, fire, and a sword are all suggestive of the torments Christians have long feared.

4.  Edwards describes Satan as a serpent:  "The old Serpent is gaping for them; Hell opens his Mouth wide to receive them."  The serpent is symbolic of man's downfall begun by Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and this symbol would be well-understood by Edwards's audience.

5.  Edwards describes God's wrath for the unconverted in terms of a hunter and his quarry: "The Bow of God’s Wrath is bent, and the Arrow made ready on the String, and Justice bends the Arrow at your Heart, and strains the Bow, and it is nothing but the meer [sic] Pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any Promise or Obligation at all, that keeps the Arrow one Moment from being made drunk with your Blood."

Edwards knows that the members of the congregation listening to his sermon are not theologians like himself, so he keeps the message simple and the imagery relevant to their everyday lives.

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