The Suicide Sermon
This is a review of a famous sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
In the American colonies, the Puritan vision for theocracy had failed, and the First Great Awakening created a sharp division between Arminians and Calvinists. (View Paul Tells Calvin and Arminius the Way It Is for more information.)
Most believers, to this day, hold to one of these two views. Have you examined them both? Which view do you think is the most accurate? Do you know why you believe what you believe?
In Edwards’ time, people who were of Arminian persuasion were called “New Lights.” They were enthusiastic about revival. Those who were of Calvinist persuasion were called “Old Lights.” The Old Lights used their positions in government to suppress the revivals, and some of the New Lights were thrown in jail or fined as a result. New Lights formed their own political parties. The Old and New Lights battled back and forth until the Revolution gave them a common purpose.
(Yet another reminder of why the separation of church and state is a good thing!)
Overview of the Suicide Sermon
I. Edwards chooses the phrase, “their foot shall slide in due time” from Deuteronomy 32:35 to demonstrate:
- Unbelieving Israelites were always exposed to destruction.
- This destruction was sudden and unexpected.
- Unbelieving Israelites were liable to fall of themselves (not because of outside negative influence).
- Their fall would take place at a God-appointed, specific time.
II. It is God’s sovereign pleasure to NOT preserve or protect them from falling at the appointed time.
- God has the power “to cast wicked men into hell at any moment.”
- You deserve to be cast into hell.
- You are presently condemned to hell.
- The wrath of God presently burns against you.
- The devil is ready to seize you, once God gives the okay.
- The “seeds” of hell fire are presently in you.
- You are on the brink of eternity, and your very next step could send you straight to hell.
- You can do nothing to secure yourselves.
- You have fooled yourselves into believing you are not going to go to hell.
- God is under no obligation to keep any person from hell, even for a moment.
III. Application – to awaken unconverted people in the congregation, to remind them that God’s wrath is ever increasing the longer they wait to be born again, to remind them that God abhors them, and to urge them to consider the grave danger they are in.
- The wrath of a men or kings is nothing compared to the wrath of God.
- The wrath of God is fierce and without pity. He will crush you, because He hates you.
- Your misery will be a demonstration of His wrath to men and angels, all this in the presence of the Lamb.
- It is everlasting wrath, and you will suffer under it for all eternity.
IV. Closing remarks – It won’t be long before some of you listening to this sermon will be tormented in hell fire. The door of mercy is open, and Christ is calling out to you. The wrath of God is hanging over “a great part of this congregation.”
Slow Cadence of Damnation
Imagine traveling back in time and taking a seat among the people, shoulder to shoulder on wooden benches in a meetinghouse filled with natural light. Edwards’ delivery of the sermon is not what you expect. No shouting or pulpit pounding. Edwards’ voice is “solemn, with a distinct and careful enunciation, and a slow cadence” (Holly Reed). Edwards’ message of fear transforms the place into a sphere of damnation, a “world of misery… 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; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up” (Edwards).
Over the summer of 1735, religious fervor took a dark turn. A number of New Englanders were shaken by the revivals but not converted, and became convinced of their inexorable damnation. Edwards wrote that “multitudes” felt urged—presumably by Satan—to take their own lives. At least two people committed suicide in the depths of their spiritual distress, one from Edwards’s own congregation—his uncle Joseph Hawley II. It is not known if any others took their own lives, but the “suicide craze” effectively ended the first wave of revival, except in some parts of Connecticut. (Wikipedia)
Perhaps you found reading the sermon overview a bit… disturbing. I certainly hope so. If you believe in eternal torment or hold membership in an institution that embraces the doctrine in its statement of faith, then this sermon ought to cause you to reconsider your views. If it doesn’t, then perhaps the next blog post in this series (to be posted a week from today) will nudge you in that direction.