Jonathan Edwards delivered his sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" as a warning about what awaits those who succumb to sin and temptation.
- In part one, Edwards quotes and analyzes Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time." He uses this image as a metaphor for people risking their lives by walking on the slippery slope of sin.
- In part two, Edwards argues that men live and die at the mercy of God and that God is the ultimate judge of each soul.
- In part three, Edwards warns of the hellish consequences awaiting those who do not behave righteously.
Jonathan Edwards, a descendant of four generations of Puritan ministers and the most renowned and influential of Puritan leaders, became active when Puritanism was already on the wane. The infamy of the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, which sent twenty persons to their death and another 150 to prison, festered in the community for a generation as a tragic episode that exposed the excesses of misguided Puritan zeal. In the early part of the century, New Englanders enjoyed a rising level of affluence that induced a sense of both material and spiritual comfort and eventually led to the introduction of the Half-Way Covenant. Whereas full church membership was the privilege only of those and the children of those who could testify to a personal experience of conversion, the Half-Way Covenant extended such membership to the third generation of those who confessed an experiential faith. It was such creeping secularism and spiritual lethargy that Edwards sought to correct in the 1730’s through a revival movement called the Great Awakening.
This revival movement stirred many to intensify their religious seriousness, not only in Edwards’s own congregation of Northampton but also throughout New England. His sermons were intended as a wake-up call for those who underplayed the majesty of a holy God and overemphasized their own worthiness as decent, hard-working, successful citizens. Edwards believed strongly that only a genuine conversion experience should qualify a person for church membership. Revivalist preachers, therefore, sought not only to address the intellect but also to engage the emotions so as to convince the listeners of the seriousness of their sin and activate them to seek salvation from the punishment they could expect from a righteous God. The results were encouraging, but one congregation, that in Enfield, Connecticut, seemed to be immune to the call for radical conversion. Edwards was therefore invited to preach there. On July 8, 1741, at the height of the Great Awakening, he delivered a revival sermon in Enfield that became the most famous of its kind. He followed the traditional three-part sermon structure: a scripture text, which is the foundation for the sermon, and an exposition of its implications; discussion of the doctrine that is derived from the text; and the application of the doctrine to the personal situation of the listeners.
Edwards carefully selected the text for this occasion, for it was his single-minded intent to disturb profoundly the comfortable members of his audience. He found the words he wanted in Deuteronomy 32:35: “Their foot shall slide in due time.” This short sentence was taken from a long passage, undoubtedly read in its entirety to the congregation, that enunciates God’s anger toward the perversity and the unfaithfulness of the people of Israel. Edwards obviously wished to establish a close connection between those addressed in the biblical passage and those whom he addressed in his sermon.
He begins his sermon by pointing out four features of walking on a slippery slope: The threat of destruction is constant, the destruction is imminent, it is self-generated, and the delay of that destruction is due to God’s restraining hand. He is clearly establishing here the foolhardiness of those who choose to walk in such slippery places and the fact that a fatal slide into the yawning abyss is an inescapable certainty. He...
(The entire section is 1,739 words.)