person lying in the fetal position surrounded by hellfire

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by Jonathan Edwards

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Themes

The main themes in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" include the danger of damnation, the justice of God's wrath, and the opportunity for redemption.

  • The danger of damnation: Edwards warns his audience of the ever-present possibility that they will of sin and be sentenced to damnation.
  • The justice of God's wrath: Edwards asserts that God's choice to condemn humans to damnation is always warranted.
  • The opportunity for redemption: Edwards emphasizes that, despite God's anger, there is hope for redemption through the teachings of Christ.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Immediate Danger of Damnation

Edwards begins by saying that the text he has chosen to expound upon in his sermon is Deuteronomy 32.35:

Their Foot shall slide in due Time.

This relates to God’s punishment of the wicked. The wicked are in constant danger of destruction, as “he that walks in slippery Places is every Moment liable to fall”—and when he does fall, he does so without warning. The only reason that Edwards’s hearers have not fallen and are not in hell already is that it is not yet “due Time,” the time appointed by God.

Edwards points out that God has infinite power, so he can clearly cast wicked people into hell whenever he wants. In this, God is not like an earthly prince, who may have difficulty in subduing a rebel. God does not depend on the number of his followers or on any other temporal factor for his power: he has infinite power in and of himself, and there is no way for anyone to guard against it.

There is no Fortress that is any Defence from the Power of God.

Not only that, but the Devil is poised “to fall upon them [the wicked] and seize them as his own, at what Moment God shall permit him,” since they already belong to the Devil by right.

Edwards spends much of the sermon countering the feeling of security that his listeners may have because they do not appear to be in immediate peril. He does this by emphasizing that there are many different sources of danger, any one of which may cast them into hell without notice. It may be that, as far as people can see, no means of imminent death are at hand—but this is because they cannot see very far. “The manifold and continuous Experience of the World in all Ages, shews that this is no Evidence that a Man is not on the very Brink of Eternity”; the next step, therefore, may take any of us into another world. “The Arrows of Death fly unseen at Noon-Day,” Edwards says, and the sharpest sight is unable to discern them.

There are any number of ways in which people may immediately die in their sins and be cast into hell. Edwards describes the sinner as hanging “by a slender Thread, with the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it.” Much of the powerful energy and imagery of the sermon is devoted to this theme; Edwards clearly regards it as his primary mission to pierce the complacency of his listeners and awake them to a sense of their imminent danger. This must be accomplished in order for them to become sufficiently receptive to his other messages, including his final argument concerning the opportunity for salvation.

The Justice of God’s Wrath

Edwards’s sermon continually emphasizes that everyone deserves damnation. If God were not so infinitely merciful, they would be cast instantly into hell in any given case. Divine Justice (which Edwards personifies) makes no objection to all of Edwards’s listeners being cast into hell immediately. In fact, they are already sentenced to such a fate. Edwards quotes John 3.8:

He that believeth not is condemned already.

God is under no obligation to keep anyone out of hell. He has made no promise to do so. Indeed, the promise of Divine Justice is nothing but retribution for people’s sins.

In the most famous passage of the sermon, Edwards compares the sinner held over the pit of hell by the hands of an angry God to a spider or some loathsome insect which one might hold over a domestic fire. Every instinct tells you to drop the insect into the fire. You have no reason not to do so, and you are disgusted by the sight of the insect. God “looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight.” This theme builds on Edwards’s primary message of immediate danger. Divine Justice is no defense and, indeed, actually militates against the salvation of sinners.

The Opportunity for Redemption

The vital possibility of redemption is only emphasized in the final few paragraphs, when the hearts and minds of the congregation should have been opened to receive the message. Edwards talks about the damned in hell and asks rhetorically what those poor hopeless souls would not give for such an opportunity to be saved as his listeners now have. He says,

Christ has flung the Door of Mercy wide open, and stands in the Door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor Sinners.

Edwards says that if anyone in his congregation is so hard-hearted as to reject the opportunity of Christ’s mercy, that person is especially culpable, since many others all over the country are now renouncing their sins and flocking to Christ. He makes special appeals to the young but ends by saying that everyone, of every age, must repent and come to Christ without delay. Edwards refers to the Great Awakening happening throughout America and says that God now seems to be gathering his Elect together throughout the land:

probably the bigger Part of adult Persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little Time.

If they miss this opportunity to come to Christ, they will forever curse the day on which they had the opportunity to be saved and did not take it.

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