person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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What perception would Edwards's audience have of him as their speaker?

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Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was delivered during the Puritan Era (sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries) in Massachusetts (published in 1741). The audience which Edwards delivered this explosive and confrontational sermon to would have been one which practiced religion devoutly. The Bible and God were at the center of the Puritan's life.

Edwards would have, most likely, been respected as a preacher. His persuasive sermon, filled with warnings about fire and brimstone, most likely brought fear into the congregations who were listening. Although the congregation would have relished in a powerful and meaningful sermon, Edwards's sermon frightened so many listeners that he stopped preaching once because of the cries and weeping.

Essentially, the sermon (and Edwards himself) forced congregations to hear about a very different God than they were used to. Edwards's God was wrathful and spiteful, toying with the idea of dropping followers into the pits of hell. Listeners to the sermon would have most likely thought Edwards misunderstood God's love and patience.

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Though he delivered the sermon twice, not much is known about the first time with his own congregation in Northampton, MA. When Edwards delivered it as a visiting minister in 1741 in Enfield, CT, it was a sensation and caused great outcry among the people who heard it that day, July 8. The audience would have known Edwards by reputation as one of the colonies' most prominent theologians--a superstar in those days--as New England was in the throes of the (First) Great Awakening religious revival movement.

Recorded history from that day indicates that despite the terrifying content of the sermon, Edwards never raised his voice. However, there are accounts of people interrupting him by asking what they could do to be saved, with much wailing, moaning and obvious fear.

In the lengthiest part of the sermon, Edwards utilizes compelling imagery of God's wrath and the horrors of hell. In a brief section at the end, Edwards declares that God stands ready to forgive sinners who seek his forgiveness, but that the time to do so will be limited.

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