The Suicide Sermon

The Suicide Sermon

The Suicide Sermon

The Suicide Sermon

Spiritual Distress

This is a review of a famous sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Monument

During a time of religious upheaval, Edwards’ sermon had such an impact that a monument was placed in Enfield, Connecticut, the location where the sermon was delivered.

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?

For the purpose of this review you might want to familiarize yourself with Calvinism and Arminianism, if necessary.

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:

  1. Unbelieving Israelites were always exposed to destruction.
  2. This destruction was sudden and unexpected.
  3. Unbelieving Israelites were liable to fall of themselves (not because of outside negative influence).
  4. 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.

  1. God has the power “to cast wicked men into hell at any moment.”
  2. You deserve to be cast into hell.
  3. You are presently condemned to hell.
  4. The wrath of God presently burns against you.
  5. The devil is ready to seize you, once God gives the okay.
  6. The “seeds” of hell fire are presently in you.
  7. You are on the brink of eternity, and your very next step could send you straight to hell.
  8. You can do nothing to secure yourselves.
  9. You have fooled yourselves into believing you are not going to go to hell.
  10. 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.

  1. The wrath of a men or kings is nothing compared to the wrath of God.
  2. The wrath of God is fierce and without pity. He will crush you, because He hates you.
  3. Your misery will be a demonstration of His wrath to men and angels, all this in the presence of the Lamb.
  4. 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).

Jonathan Edwards Sermon

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.

  • Mary Vanderplas September 28, 2014 at 7:11 am

    What a far cry his portrait of God is from the God of just love and loving justice whom the scriptures and Jesus reveal – the God whose anger is an expression of his caring and love, of his desire to call us back from our self-destructive ways to the life of freedom and joy he offers. That many who heard Edwards’ preaching were driven to a despairing self-loathing and suicide is a tragic irony.

    Disturbing, yes, and more than a little so. I look forward to reading your follow-up to this sermon synopsis – offering, I’m sure, good news of an ever-gracious God.

    • Lanny A. Eichert September 28, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Mary and Alice, God is NOT a god of just love and loving justice as you love to think to avoid your certain future.

      The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. {Psalm 11: 5 & 6}

      He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. {John 3: 18 – 21}

      He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. {John 3: 36}

      The soul of God CONTINUOUSLY hates the unbelieving persons you’ve become and His wrath is REMAINING on you two this very minute as is His sentence of everlasting torment on the Lake of Fire. That’s pure truth as these three texts are the pure Word of God.

      • Stephen Helbig September 28, 2014 at 3:42 pm

        He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. ~ John 3: 36

        p.s. ~ 36:36
        ~ See this ~ 36min. 36 sec. ~ for John 3:36

  • Tethered Tuesday September 30, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    […] video by Steve McVey, posted here just in case you missed it in Stephen Helbig’s comment on The Suicide Sermon. I don’t agree with every single thing McVey says, but much of what he says resonates with me […]

  • Slippery Slope October 5, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    […] sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). You can read The Suicide Sermon for a synopsis of the […]

  • Comparing the Messages of Edwards and Piper October 12, 2014 at 10:45 am

    […] called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Read part one, The Suicide Sermon, a synopsis of the sermon, and part two, Slippery […]

  • You're Not a Spider October 19, 2014 at 1:36 am

    […] sermon called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Part one, Suicide Sermon, is a general overview; part two, Slippery Slope, is an analysis of the sermon intro; part three, […]

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