Jonathan Edwards' Sinnners in the Hands of An Angry God
Jonathan Edwards delivered his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, in Enfield Connecticut on July 8, 1741, the year following George Whitefield's preaching tour which helped inspire the "Great Awakening." Weeping and emotional conviction among Edwards’ audiences came at a time of great spiritual thirst. While very foreign to mainstream American opinion today, this extraordinary message was fashioned for a people who were very conscious of how their lifestyles affected eternal consequences. By today's popular perspective, the doctrine of predestination probably discourages conversion because of the new-age independent attitude. However, in Puritan culture, through Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, fear might have powerfully affected people to look within them for the evidence of grace and then experience salvation.
First, Edwards' sermon is filled with graphic images of the fury of divine wrath and the horror of the unmerciful punishment of the wicked in hell. If one were to continue in their sin, according to Edwards, not only would a person be tormented in the presence of holy angels, but God’s terribleness would be magnified upon his/her life and forced to suffer through God’s wrath for all eternity (74). “Although it conveys the reek of brimstone, the sermon does not say that God will hurl man into everlasting fires--on the contrary, doom will come from God’s indifference...” (Thompson 71). Edwards had little need to justify his scare tactics and theology. His consuming obligation was to preach it; to preach it fiercely, purposely, persuasively, and firmly.
Next, an example of God’s wrath is seen through Edward’s portrayal of “great waters dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given...” (72). “Here was an old image redesigned to startle Enfield out of its smugness” (Cady 4). Every New Englander was intimate with his community’s use of water power at the mill, if nowhere else. The dramatic peril of floods as well as the daily power of the falling waters were familiar and exciting. “Edwards strikes blow after blow to the conscience-stricken hearts of his congregation. He draws graphic images from the Bible, all designed to warn sinners of their peril.
He tells them that they are walking on slippery places with the danger of falling from their own weight” (Sproul “God In The Hands Of Angry Sinners”). Edwards took the essence of his hearer’s own minds, raised it to the plane of his own intensity, and made his vision live in those memories.
Equally important is the spirituality of Edwards and the Puritans being far more complex than Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God portrays. The fear in the sermon is about having a holy respect for God's power. Because of the18th century popular culture, unconverted audience members probably remained more...