Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Jonathan Edwards

The Great Awakening urged people to commit themselves to a life of faith, piety, and good works in order to achieve salvation.  The movement took hold like wildfire in New England communities where the once religious zeal of the Puritans had been lost over the generations.  Preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, who's most famous sermon is excerpted below, traveled the region spreading warnings of hellfire and damnation if Christians did not devote themselves to prayer and a new love for God.  Ironically, they used enlightenment rationalism to support traditional church doctrines.  Such sermons eventually divided many established churches into rationalist "Old Lights" and evangelical "New Lights," and the split was most pronounced in New England.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the perspective of Jonathan Edwards?
  2. Why does Edwards frequently refer to God's control over people's lives, especially the sinners?
  3. What impact did such sermons have on the people of New England?

        This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.  That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you.  there is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; 'tis only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up....

        Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and, if God should let you go, you would immediately sink, and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf; and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a falling rock.  Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun don't willingly shine upon you, to give light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don 't willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts, nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don't willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God's enemies.  God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don't willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end.  And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope.  There are the black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder....The sovereign pleasure of God for the present stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor.

        Thus are all you that never passed under change of heart, by the mighty power of the spirit of God upon your souls; all that were never born again and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life.  However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, and may be strict in it, you are thus in the hands of an angry God; 'tis nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.

        However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it.  Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them, when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, peace and safety.  Now they see, that those things that they depended on for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

        The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.  You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet 'tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment....

        O' Sinner!  Consider the fearful danger you are have no interest in any mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment....

        How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in danger of this great wrath, and infinite misery!  But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious they may otherwise be.  Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old!  There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation, now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity.  We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have.  It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they shall escape....And it would be a wonder if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, before this year is out; and it would be no wonder if some person that sits here in some seat of this meeting-house, in health, and quiet and secure, should be there before to-morrow morning...