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"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

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Sam Rice

on 20 October 2013

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Transcript of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
By: Sam Rice
Period: 7
Date: October 15, 2013
Background Info. on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is Jonathan Edwards’ most famous sermon, which he delivered on a visit to the congregation at Enfield, Connecticut, in the year of 1741. The “natural men” he was trying to awaken and persuade were those people in the congregation who hadn’t been “born again”, meaning they hadn’t accepted Christ as their savior. Edwards’ tactics in the Sermon were influenced by the works of the English Philosopher, John Locke. Locke entirely believed that everything we know comes from experience, and he emphasized that understanding and feeling were two distinct and different kinds of knowledge. To Edwards’, the difference between these two were like reading the word fire and actually being burned. Edwards’ sermon had an influential effect on the congregation. To illustrate, several times throughout the sermon, Edwards’ had to ask his squealing and swooning audience for quiet. As a specially crafted awakening sermon, Sinners was aimed at a particularly unsympathetic congregation. However, at the same time, the awakening sermon and all of which it expressed—the dreadful burden of sin, the wrath of an infinitely holy God, and the swiftness of the moment when God will execute justice—were essential to Edwards’ theology. This sermon, therefore, is entitled to be studied and preached for what it is, but also as a larger part of the revelation of the spiritual life.

Background on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God:
Edwards’ Timeline:

1703 Jonathan Edwards was born in Connecticut
1716 Admitted to Yale; it was there where he studied ministry
1720 Graduated from Yale
1722 Serves as a pastor of a New York Presbyterian Church for eight months
1724 Elected a tutor at Yale
1726 Called to Northampton Church as assistant minister to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard
1727 Married Sarah Pierpont
1729 Death of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard
1731 Edwards’ delivered his first public lecture at the First Church, in Boston
1734 The Great Awakening began
1740 Whitefield briefly joins Edwards in revival preaching
1741 ***Preaches sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” at Enfield***
1742 Writes Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion
1746 Writes A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections
1747 Death of David Brainerd at Edwards’ home
1748 Beginning of dissention in Edwards’ church
1750 Farewell Sermon at Northampton
1751 Settles in Stockbridge; serves as a pastor to settlers and a missionary to the Indians
1754 Writes Freedom of the Will
1755 Writes Nature of True Virtue
1757 Chosen president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton)
1758 Inaugurated president at Princeton; later dies of smallpox on March 22

Background Information on the Great Awakening and Edwards' Place in it:
Edwards’ Audience:
In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, Edwards was preaching to the “natural men”, otherwise known as the people of the congregation at Enfield. Edwards was targeting those people because he was trying to awaken and persuade those who had not yet been “born again”. In other words, Edwards wanted the people who hadn’t accepted Christ as their savior to accept Him. Accepting Christ as savior would increase the chances of receiving eternal salvation, and therefore, a ticket into Heaven.
"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
Main Ideas:
The two main ideas in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" are the consequences of sinning as well as the power of God.
The Consequences of Sinning:
The Puritans of early America were constantly reminded of the wickedness of sinning. Edwards intensified that awareness through his descriptive writing and imagery in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. “Your wickedness makes you as heavy as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downward 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…” In this quote, Edwards used imagery as well as figures of speech to portray the terrors of damnation. He tried to convince the congregation that they must accept God or else they would be dropped into Hell. Edwards also compares the bodies of the people of the congregation to lead so that they could understand the magnitude of the message he was trying to get across to them.
The Power of God:
Through his sermon, Edwards mentioned the power of God various times. His objective by mentioning Him was to instill fear into the people, so that they could understand the supremacy of God. “If God should only withdraw His hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and it would come upon you with omnipotent power…” Edwards' clever choice of words exemplified the power of God and the looming Hell awaiting sinners. These words easily sunk into the minds of his congregation and frightened them beyond belief. Altogether, the idea that God had the most power was achieved through Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God”.
Key Terms and Phrases:
1. “natural men”
The term “natural men” was used in the sermon to classify the members of the congregation. In Edwards’ words, the people of the congregation were the “natural men”. This is significant because it established who the audience was and also their place in comparison to God. The phrase “natural men” detonated the audience, and made them seem of lesser importance than God. To Edwards’, the “natural men” were like putty in God’s hands-since God had complete control over their salvation.
2. “your wickedness”
Edwards referred to the “natural men” as wicked several times throughout the sermon. His point in doing this was to show that God was the good and the almighty while the sinners (members of the congregation) were bad and should be God-fearing men. This phrase was a denotation of sorts, since it made the audience feel lesser than God. That, indeed, was Edwards' intent. He hoped to make God seem superior over all else. The term was overall significant because it made the audience understand how important God was, and it most likely persuaded them to see Him through Edwards’ perspective.
3. “the hand of God”
Edwards scattered this phrase numerous times throughout the sermon. When he used it, he was trying to compare God’s power to the ordinary man’s power. Edwards said that the hand of God was the only force separating each and every human being from being damned to Hell. This phrase had a positive connotation in praising God and showing the amount of impact he had over the universe, as well as the sinners who inhabit it. It was significant because it helped deliver Edwards’ message to the minds of the people of the congregation that God was the most mighty and powerful.
4. “the wrath of God”
Edwards said this phrase on multiple occasions during the sermon. By using the expression, he was trying to instill fear into the congregation, so that they would accept Christ and their souls would be saved. The phrase overall alludes to a negative denotation that God is frightening as well as highly intimidating. It is significant because it serves as an example of Edwards’ scare tactics that he utilized during his sermon to change the minds of the congregation, and to make them see God they way he sees God.
5. “it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up…”
This phrase sums up the sermons overall theme of the power of God. It also makes the congregation realize how God determines their salvation; whether they are granted the pleasure of going to Heaven, or the alarming notion of being sent to Hell. This phrase has a connotation of showing the power of God, but also a denotation in the perspectives of the congregation. To the congregation and through Edwards’ words, God was very important and a being that should be feared. All in all, this phrase is significant because it shows the power of God and helps the congregation to understand the enormity of God’s authority.
Figures of Speech:
 Edwards used several similes during his sermon.

A simile is a comparison between two objects, using “like” or “as”.

“The wrath of God is like great waters 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, when once it is let loose.”

This figure of speech was effective in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” because it allowed the audience to ponder upon two great wonders – God and water. It enabled the audience to draw connections between the two, and also made them better understand the power and impact God has.

Edwards also used metaphors in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike objects, without using “like” or “as”.

“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string…”

In this example, Edwards was comparing God’s wrath to a bow. Since bows are commonly known objects, the congregation was able to understand the correlation between God’s wrath as well as His pleasure.

 Furthermore, Edwards used imagery throughout his sermon.

 Imagery is visually descriptive language.

“You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder…”

Edwards tried to make his audience feel the pain and suffering that comes with not accepting Christ as savior. He said that the members of his congregation were hanging by a thread over the pits of Hell, and could be instantly dropped into the flames. This descriptive language that Edwards implemented caused the audience to feel as if they were in Hell. Altogether, Edwards’ imagery made the congregation fearsome of Hell as well as God, which were his hopes.

 Edwards used symbols in his infamous sermon.

 A symbol is something that stands for itself as well as something beyond itself.

 Edwards used symbolism to add depth and meaning to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

 In the sermon, God’s hands were symbols. It is true that God’s hand were supposed to represent His hands in general. However, after some thought, it was recognizable that God’s hands also stood for all who inhabit the world and their salvation. This was effective because it gave the congregation a picture of something that otherwise couldn’t attain a visual.

 Naturally, Edwards used repetition throughout “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

 Repetition is restating something that has already been said or written.

 “…and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself. Nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you have ever done, nothing that you can do…”

 This figure of speech was effective because it allowed the audience to hear the emphasis of the major points of the sermon. Also, by hearing the word “nothing” over and over, the congregation’s attension was most likely captivated.

Persuasive Metaphors and Similes:

Persuasive Metaphors:
 “The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart…”
 “…the flames of wrath…”
Persuasive Similes:
 “Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downward with great weight and pressure toward Hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf…”
 “The wrath of God is like great waters 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, when once it is let loose.”
 “The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked…”
 “His wrath toward you burns like fire…”
Rhetorical Appeals:
Logos, or the appeal to reason, relies heavily on logic or reason. Logos often depend on the use of inductive or deductive reasoning.
Pathos, or the emotional appeal, appeals to an audience's needs, values, as well as emotional sensibilities.
Ethos, or the ethical appeal, is based on the character, credibility, or reliability of the writer.
The Most Emphasized Rhetorical Appeal in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”:
The rhetorical appeal that is most emphasized in the sermon is pathos, or the emotional appeal. Edwards wanted the people he was addressing to feel they were “abominable” in God’s sight because he wanted them to feel shame and fear. Edwards wanted the congregation to feel shameful due to the fact they hadn't accepted Christ as their savior and therefore denied God. Likewise, they should be fearful of God for this reason, and also since God is the most powerful and almighty being in Edwards’ eyes.

Other Examples of Emotional Appeal in the Sermon:

Helpless; Unworthy; Ashamed; Defenseless
•“…natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell…”
Shame for Offending God, but Grateful for the Opportunity to be Reborn
“You have offended him infinitely more than…and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.”
Weak; Afraid
•“…it is nothing more than his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction…”
Guilt; Panic; Terror
“You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it…”
Point of View:
“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was written in second person. Edwards most likely used this point of view in order to separate himself from those who were members of the congregation. This was an effective narration choice because it allowed the sinners to see that if they changed and accepted Christ as their savior, they too could be like Edwards and could have a better chance at salvation.
“There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to Hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending His solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not at this very moment drop down into hell."
 This quote establishes second person through the use of words such as “you” and “your”.
 It also demarcates Edwards from the people of the congregation, by saying at any moment their “sinful wicked manners” could “drop down into Hell” at any moment. Edwards was careful not to say 'our' sinful wicked manners, or even 'our' souls could drop down into Hell.
The Style and Structure of the Text
Edwards conveyed terrifying images during his sermon to persuade his congregation into believing they were defenseless in comparison to God's wrath. He constantly used imagery, such as going into detail about what Hell was like and what kind of tortures await sinners, in hopes to frighten the “natural men” into leaving their old notions of religion and converting. Aside from the imagery, Edwards' word choice described the power of God and the dreadful Hell awaiting the sinners who hadn’t accepted Christ as their savior. These words quickly and effortlessly entered minds of his congregation and frightened them beyond belief. Edwards’ diction and his use of such horrible images were mostly successful in their intent, to serve as scare tactics to his audience. Edwards also used syntax to emphasize the overall meaning of the sermon. For example, Edwards used parallel structure. Parallel structure is a balance of two or more similar words, phrases, or clauses due to having the same grammatical structure.
Example: “…increase more and more, and rise higher and higher…”
Parallel structure helps dramatize a point and also makes people understand that point more clearly. For this reason, Edwards’ parallel structure was quite effective on the congregation.
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