Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the most renowned sermon in American history, had been delivered by Jonathan Edwards before his congregation in Enfield, Connecticut on the morning of July 8th, 1741. By Edwards’ time, the Puritans had lost their authority in the Northern colonies and more liberal denominations of Christianity were being embraced. As other denominations preached of a more merciful God and of the opportunity of salvation for everyone, Edwards, with great determination, believed he should revive Puritan principle.
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In his sermon, Edwards passionately uses similes and metaphors to encourage his message to his congregants. Through his use of figurative language, Edwards puts the abstract concepts of his sermon into realistic scenarios in which all members of the congregation of different intellects may understand. Edwards’ motives for describing the concepts of his lecture through figures of speech were to awaken his worshippers from their stagnancy, motivate the unconverted to convert, and to reassure the doubts of straying members the powerfulness of God. Edwards wanted to create an image in his followers’ minds of how dependent they are on God’s sovereignty and depict how helpless humankind truly is in the wrath of God. Edwards hoped his listeners would experience an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty, and through this experience, Edwards hoped his listeners would take action to escape certain damnation. His listeners are meant to feel “awaken”, and by which, feel the need to contemplate and repent for one’s own personal wickedness.
“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hellâ€¦” (Edwards, 695). In this simile, particularly, Edwards is provoking his congregation to consider the heaviness the burden of sin has on the human soul. Moreover, Edwards attempts to provide an illustration of how one’s sin will be his downfall, the reason with which will drag him down to Hell and widen the reach between himself and the mercy of God. Elaborating even further on page 695, “â€¦if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulfâ€¦” Edwards describes the helplessness of man, unable to life the bondage of sin without the mercy of God, and without his mercy, man is inevitably lost to Hell. Edwards continues on this thought through a comparison of man’s ability to uphold himself out of Hell by his personal means and righteousness to that of “â€¦a spider’s web would have to stop a fallen rock,” (Edwards, 695). The comparison of man’s personal means to sustain himself out of Hell and the spider’s web attempting to stop a falling rock is a metaphor implying both are vain attempts that end in ruin.
Edwards’ use of figurative language in this instance, specifically, makes it easier for the members of Edwards’ congregation to relate to the weight of sin dragging one down and in addition, worshippers could create a mental image of what might be in store if one did not repent. The use of figurative language as Edwards had is an ingenious tactic to persuade his audience. It allowed Edwards paint a powerful picture of Hell and God’s sovereignty to even the simplest ones in the congregation and gave him the utmost control over the audience’s insight.
The most prominent theme Edwards desires to communicate to his congregants is the urgency for the unconverted to repent, and for those who are indifferent or believe his sermon is not relevant to them, to realize God at any moment could cast each of them to Hell for their wickedness as well. Edwards’ sermon is his outlet to convince his followers there is no excuse and no reasoning of the mind that can evade repentance, and moreover, God’s wrath. He combats the doubtful member among his congregation and the unconverted by reproducing their logic and matching it with statements in which provided an “answer” to their “doubt”. One “doubt” Edwards addresses especially is the idea that man’s wisdom is security. Edwards states, “â€¦that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from deathâ€¦” (Edwards, 693) and later quotes Ecclesiastes 2.16.
By directly countering the qualms of the congregation, Jonathan Edwards strengthens his sermon’s influence on his followers. The straightforward manner is Edwards’ method to show leadership and direction. It allows him to restore confidence in his congregants and craft the focus of his congregants’ on fearing God’s sovereignty. Edwards aimed to transform the conduct of his congregants by reminding them they were at the mercy of God’s wrath.
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Edwards’ want for motivating his congregation to strive to be something more in the eyes of God brought forth immense zeal from several members of his audience during and after his sermon. In the first footnote of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God on page 690, the zeal of his members is described as hysterical, “â€¦breathing of distress, and weepingâ€¦” as reported by Benjamin Trumbull in A Complete History of Connecticut, 1797.
The tactics of Edwards throughout his sermon were exceptionally efficient. His tactics greatly persuaded his audience and even brought forth shame and sorrowfulness in several of his members. Along with the directness of his words and tone, the similes and metaphors guide Edwards’ congregants to fear damnation and God’s wrath upon the wicked. The figurative language Edwards uses relate directly to his followers and allow them to create a mental image of Hell and the suffering there would be without God.
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