The Great Awakening was a religious movement that spread throughout New England during the mid-eighteenth century, from about 1730 to 1745. The Great Awakening sought to make Christianity a deeply personal experience and pulled away from traditional ceremony, encouraging personal commitment and emotional involvement in faith. Jonathan Edwards was a Puritan and theologian; one of the most famous preachers of the Great Awakening.
Edwards’ most famous sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, despite the fact that he had delivered the sermon to his own congregation, with little effect, he felt led to use it again when invited to preach at the neighboring town of Enfield, Massachusetts on July 8, 1741. During Edwards’ sermon he used vivid imagery of hell, the wrath of God, and the hope of salvation to reveal his perspective on the reality that awaited those that did not follow Christ. During his sermon Jonathan Edwards used vivid imagery and descriptions to make his congregation see that hell was a real place.
To make the congregation see just how close to hell they truly were Edwards stated, “That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone is extended aboard under you (Cox). ” He also wanted them to realize that the longer they went without Christ, the heavier they would become. “Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downward with great weight and pressure toward hell (Westerfield). ” The ground beneath them would give way under the weight of their wickedness and they would plunge into hell where the Devil would be ready for them. The Devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping, for them, the flames gather and flash about them and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up (Smolinski 11). ” If the descriptions of hell and the Devil weren’t enough, Edwards also used the power and wrath of a vengeful God to strike fear into the hearts of the unconverted in the crowd at Enfield. The sheer magnitude of God’s power is shown in the line “There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God (Gallagher). Edwards instilled fear into the congregation by threatening the vengeance of God, “He will crush you under his feet without mercy, he’ll crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments (Trapp). ” As more and more people chose not to follow Christ, God becomes angry and his wrath continues to grow. The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course once it is let loose (Baym et al. 99).
Edwards sought to show the congregation their desperate need for God’s grace, impressing the crowd with what he perceived as the power of truth. Before ending his sermon, Edwards appeals to the unconverted in the congregation with the hope of salvation from a sovereign God. Edwards continues, “And now you have an extraordinary opportunity (Rogers 11). ””You are in a day where Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners (Rogers 11). “Let everyone of you who is still without Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now listen to the loud calls of God’s word and providence (Copeland et al. 228). ” Edwards’ final line was a call for the congregation to look back on the depths of damnation through which they had traveled-leaving the valley of hell and returning to the mountain heights of the Devine perspective, the heights from which the hope of salvation could be properly understood and embraced (Stuart 58).
Stephen Williams, an eyewitness in Enfield, wrote in his diary “before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went through ye whole house, ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ’Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ’Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cries were piercing and amazing (Farley). ” Though his sermon caused many to fear him, Jonathan Edwards’ ultimate goal was to convert the sinners and nonbelievers in the congregation and lead them into salvation.
Edwards hoped the imagery and message of his sermon would awaken his audience. His underlying point was that God had given humanity a chance to rectify their sins. Edwards ended his sermon with one final appeal, “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. ” To modern readers “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” may appear to be the work of a sadistic, wide-eyed radical or a fear-monger, but the sermon is actually a reflection of the cruel and puritanical time in which Edwards lived and preached.
Baym et at. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1, Beginnings to 1865. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2008.
Copeland, Lewis, Lawrence Lamm, and Stephen McKenna. The World’s Greatest Speeches. Fourth Enlarged Edition. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1999.
Cox, Brandon. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. ” 2009.
Retrieved from www. brandonacox. com, February 01, 2013. Farley, William P. “Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. ” Enrichment Journal. Springfield: The General Council of the Assemblies of God. 013.
Retrieved from http://enrichmentjournal. ag. org, February 10,2013. Gallagher, Edward. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: Some Unfinished Business. ” Department of English, Lehigh University.
Retrieved from www. lehigh. edu , January 31, 2013. Rogers, Henry. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A. M. : With an Essay on His Genius and Writings, Volume 2. London: Ball, Arnold, and Co. 1840. Print. Smolinski, Reine. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741. ” (1741).