person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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Where does the tone change in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Quick answer:

The tone changes in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” towards the end of the sermon, when he offers his audience the hope of redemption after having warned them of the threat of damnation.

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There is a notable shift in tone during the last three paragraphs of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” For most of the sermon, Edwards unleashes a veritable hailstorm of hellfire and brimstone upon his audience, scaring them many of them and, according to historical reports, even causing some of them to faint in terror.

But Edwards doesn't just want to scare his audience; he wants them to change their ways, to turn their backs on a life of sin and walk upon the path of righteousness. And he knows that they are unlikely to do this if they have no hope.

Thus in the final few paragraphs of his otherwise fiery sermon, Edwards proceeds to hold out the possibility of redemption for the wicked sinners before him. He wants them to understand that despite everything he has said about their being sinners in the hands of an angry God, prone to being consigned to hell at any moment, they can still turn their lives around and turn their backs on sin.

Readers can see this dramatic change of tone expressed in the very last line of the sermon, when Edwards urges his audience to escape for their lives from Sodom, the biblical city full of sinners, and take to the mountains to avoid being consumed by the wrath of God.

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What is the tone in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"?

Tone can be defined as the author or speaker's attitude toward a subject or an audience, and the choice of words generally indicates the tone of the piece.

Jonathan Edwards's tone is unapologetic in his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." He is honest with his audience about the wrath of God and how awful humanity's sinful nature is to God. Edwards uses fantastic imagery to drive home his point. When he describes humanity as a loathsome spider that should be dropped into a fire, Edwards's tone can be described as a mixture of truthful and harsh.

An important aspect of Edwards's tone is the momentum and rhythm he creates. He is fervent about his topic, and he repeatedly gives his audience image after image of how God might view his human creation. That fervent harshness Edwards employs is effective despite—and perhaps even because of—how discomforting the tone of his sermon is. Edwards is trying to get congregants to realize the extent of their sin and repent. Indeed, reports can be found that audience members fell to the floor and begged for salvation even before he was done speaking.

It is worth noting that Edwards's tone remains forceful and emotional throughout the sermon, but there is a shift in the final passages from dour to hopeful as he offers his audience the possibility of repenting their sins and accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

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