Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

This is a critical analysis of the sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards.

You’re Not a Spider

This is a review (part four of four) of a famous 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, Comparing the Messages of Edwards and Piper, is about the body of the message, and now we’ll look at the sermon application and conclusion.

The purpose of the sermon, according to Edwards, as described in the first part of this series, is

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.

Edwards tells the congregation that the wrath of men or kings is nothing compared to the wrath of God, which is fierce and without pity. He will crush you, because He hates you.

I’m not making this up. You can read the sermon for yourself, and see that I am not misrepresenting Edwards.

As if this isn’t bad enough, men, angels, and Jesus will be watching as you suffer for all eternity. Edwards uses horrific analogies throughout the sermon application, such as:

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…

Anyone who has an inkling of the character and love of God won’t have a hard time distinguishing between Edwards’ cartoonish caricature of God and God Himself. So I won’t waste any more time looking over his analogies.

Edwards’ Misapplied Scriptures

I will, however, point out his misapplication of scripture to support the views he expresses.

1. Proverbs 20:2

A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.

This scripture is talking about a fallible human being with too much power, a human ruler who will murder someone simply for making him angry. Edwards applies this passage to God, as if God’s character and actions are cruel and arbitrary like those of tyrannical earthly kings.

2. Luke 12:4-5

I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

What a most unfortunate translation of this scripture. It has consistently been misapplied for centuries. Although the translation is technically correct (the letter), the meaning (the spirit) is lost in the NIV and many other translations. Fearing God is a good thing, as this article explains. I think that the Message translation most accurately conveys the meaning of what Jesus was saying to His disciples:

I’m speaking to you as dear friends. Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.

On Facebook, someone asked me, “And what did Jesus mean by telling people to fear God who could destroy both body and soul in hell/Gehenna?” I wrote a blog about it in response. In a nutshell, the blog says that Jesus is giving his disciples words of encouragement as they are setting out on a dangerous mission. He points out that if earthly kings had the power to destroy not just their bodies, but their souls in the fires of Gehenna, then the disciples might actually have reason to fear those kings. Only God has power that extends beyond physical death. For more info, read the blog, An Answer for Ten Bombs.

3. Isaiah 59:18

According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.

Edwards draws listeners’ attention to a specific word in this verse, that is, chemah, meaning “heat, rage.” But it seems that Edwards is too focused on one aspect of the verse, while ignoring another very important idea, that is, God’s heat or rage never overwhelms Him and always operates within the context of His character. He repays them, not with one-size-fits-all eternal torment, but “according to what they have done.”

In fact, every single Old Testament reference concerning the punishment of wickedness is limited to earthly consequences and outcomes, not postmortem eternal punishment. Why should I continue to go through them, one by one? Blog readers are perfectly capable of doing their own homework. Although there are other reasons why the Old Testament references Edwards uses to support his position do not apply, but that’s another blog for another day. So from here on, let’s look at the New Testament references.

4. Revelation 19:15

Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.

Once again, Edwards focuses on only one aspect of a poorly translated verse. Notice the sharp sword coming out of his mouth — the symbolism in Revelation is so thick that it’s sometimes easy to read straight past things. The sword is not a literal one, it represent words. Notice also, “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” The English word rule is the Greek word poimaínō, meaning, “to shepherd, caring for (protecting) the flock.” The word scepter is the Greek word rhabdos, meaning, “a staff, rod.” It is the tool of a shepherd. In David’s famous psalm (Psalm 23), it is a source of comfort:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

We should be comforted by the fact that the winepress of the fury (thymós – passion) of the wrath (orgḗ – settled anger that proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes someone or something based on extended personal exposure, i.e. solidifying what the beholder considers wrong, unjust, or evil) of God is treaded by the Shepherd. The kings and rulers (i.e. politicians) of the earth, who over the centuries have consistently failed to eliminate wrong, unjust, and evil behavior will not rule forever. In treading this winepress, Jesus takes His rightful position and accomplishes what no ordinary, fallible human ruler can do. That’s why the very next verse says, “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.”

5. Romans 9:22

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction?

Of this verse, Edwards says,

There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will be dreadful with a witness. When the great and angry God hath risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it.

As I said in Slippery Slope (and expounded on in Comparing the Messages of Edwards and Piper),

The problem with Edwards’ intro is that he takes the idea of destruction, within the context of unbelieving Israel, and equates it with eternal torment in hell.

Edwards does the same thing in his sermon application. In Romans, Paul is talking about unbelieving Israel (the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction). And while this verse does seem pretty dismal, it is only one portion of what Paul has to say. He goes on (in chapters 10 and 11) to say that, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.” Why? Because God wanted to include more than just Israel in His redemptive plan. Paul says,

Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring! …For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches… And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again… I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved… As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Did you catch that? The “objects of His wrath” are not beyond recovery. Paul talks about their “full inclusion” and “life from the dead.” When they no longer persist in unbelief, they are “grafted in” again. Ultimately, “all Israel will be saved,” because “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” Does this sound to you even remotely close to the hopeless scenario Edwards paints?

Edwards’ Conclusion

Apparently, while Edwards was researching for his sermon, he stopped reading in Romans chapter nine, as do so many other preachers and teachers today.

But kudos to Edwards for being honest about what he believes, and behaving in a way that demonstrates his sincerity.

Today, you’ll find the doctrine of eternal torment, for the most part, quietly tucked away in the church’s statement of faith, and perhaps mentioned in passing as part of a larger discourse on salvation. I say that everyone who honestly believes eternal torment to be a literal reality for the majority of mankind should do as Edwards does, that is, boldly proclaim it. If you are ashamed to do so, this demonstrates either your overwhelming selfishness, valuing your personal comfort over the eternal destinies of others, or it demonstrates that deep down, you seriously doubt your own doctrine. Imagine yourself saying what Edwards says,

How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the 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… 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… And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out. And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning. Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of hell longest will be there in a little time! your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you. You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell…

If you believe it, then stop acting like you don’t believe it. Warn people. Draw attention more attention to the “wrath” of God than you do His love, because ultimately, that’s what will really scare your listeners into trusting this God who “loves” them. Do everything you can to stir up fear of death, so that they believe NOW, while there’s still time.

If you do so, the Spirit of God may have more opportunity to demonstrate to you how horribly erroneous the doctrine of eternal torment really is. Then again, maybe you shouldn’t. It might backfire on you, like it did on Edwards. Your listeners might be so overwhelmed with guilt and fear that they are driven to suicide.

 

Comparing the Messages of Edwards and Piper

This is a review (part three) of a famous sermon 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 Slope.

In part two, Slippery Slope, I examined the introduction to Edward’s sermon and concluded:

The problem with Edwards’ intro is that he takes the idea of destruction, within the context of unbelieving Israel, and equates it with eternal torment in hell. This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. But begin I will…

Today, we’ll examine the main body of the sermon:

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.

First, recognize that when Edwards talks about “destruction” or “falling,” he isn’t talking about the natural consequences that accompany negative or immoral thoughts, decisions, or actions — he’s talking about eternal torment in hell, as is evidenced in the following quotes from his sermon:

We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell. […]

It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains. So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.

Obviously, Edwards moves way beyond his sermon introduction, the Old Testament context of unbelieving Israel, and applies those scriptures to all  “unsaved” humanity. Three major problems with this approach are first, the concept of eternal torment in hell was completely foreign to unbelieving Israel; second, we know the fate of unbelieving Israel, and it is NOT even remotely close to what Edwards suggests; and third, the concept of eternal torment in hell is just plain erroneous.

Hell and Unbelieving Israel

Examine all of Moses’ laws and the consequences of breaking them, and you’ll not find any clear indication of eternal torment in hell. It simply wasn’t part of the Hebrew belief system. While it is true that you might find the word “hell” in modern translations of the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “sheol” simply means “grave” or from the viewpoint of those still living, the “realm of the dead,” as is evidenced in this and other Old Testament scriptures:

And [Jonah] saith: I called, because of my distress, to Jehovah, and He doth answer me, from the belly of sheol I have cried, Thou hast heard my voice.(Jonah 2:2)

It is also noteworthy to compare, for example, in the New International Version, “hell” in the New Testament, translated from the Greek word, Gehenna, to Old Testament translations of the same word in Hebrew, Gai Ben-Hinnom, meaning the valley of the son of Hinnom, where people sacrificed their children in fire to the god Molech:

New Testament

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22)

Old Testament

They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded–nor did it enter my mind–that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin. (Jeremiah 32:35)

Do you see how a concept like the grave or a place like a valley is translated in two completely different ways?

Israel, whether they were believing or unbelieving, had a concept of a place where anyone who dies goes, and a concept of a place where people participated in “detestable practices,” but had no concept of a place of eternal torment called hell.

The Fate of Unbelieving Israel

Concerning not only the fate of unbelieving Israel, but the fate of every person, Paul wrote to the believers in Rome,

For I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, of this secret — that ye may not be wise in your own conceits — that hardness in part to Israel hath happened till the fulness of the nations may come in; and so all Israel shall be saved, according as it hath been written, “There shall come forth out of Sion he who is delivering, and he shall turn away impiety from Jacob, and this to them is the covenant from Me, when I may take away their sins.” As regards, indeed, the good tidings, they are enemies on your account; and as regards the choice — beloved on account of the fathers; for unrepented of [i.e. irrevocable] are the gifts and the calling of God; for as ye also once did not believe in God, and now did find kindness by the unbelief of these: so also these now did not believe, that in your kindness they also may find kindness; for God did shut up together the whole to unbelief, that to the whole He might do kindness. (Romans 11:25-32 YLT)

Eternal Torment in Hell, an Erroneous Concept

1. It negates the idea that everything God does is a reflection of Who God is.

If God is love and the concept of eternal torment were true, this means that God operates in contradiction to His own character. Most believers accept the idea that we never asked to be born, in other words, we have no part in deciding whether we come into existence; we are inherently predisposed to sin (it’s in our nature); and we live in an environment conducive to sin (the world). Yet most believers think that God is operating according to His character (doing what is good, acting in love) by subjecting the majority of His creation to infinite punishment for finite (70 years, give or take) unbelief or sin. This kind of disproportionate punishment cannot possibly be an act of love.

2. It exalts and glorifies the power of sin and death.

Orthodox theologians, preachers, and teachers have to do some major spiritual gymnastics to resolve this problem. And even then, I’ve never truly seen it resolved, only avoided. Consider, for example, a very convoluted blog post by John Piper called, For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death? He basically starts with the idea that Christ died for those He came to save, and then asks, “For Everybody?” He explains,

But to say what the Bible says and to mean what the Bible means are not necessarily the same thing. Which is why I said that there is something unhealthy about answering the question, “For whom did Jesus taste death?” by simply saying “everybody.” What’s unhealthy about it is not, first, that it’s wrong. It might not be wrong. It depends on what you mean by saying that. What’s unhealthy is that it stops short of asking what Jesus really accomplished when he died. It assumes that we all know what he accomplished and that this he accomplished for everybody in the same way. That is not healthy, because it is not true. My guess is that most of those 95% who say Jesus died for everybody would have a hard time explaining just what it is that the death of Jesus really, actually accomplished for everybody—especially what it accomplished for those who refuse to believe and go to hell.

The obvious question, then, is why is everyone not saved? In other words, why did the death of Christ accomplish so little? After some very self-serving gibberish, like a “precious and unfathomable covenant love between Christ” and those who believe (compared to those who don’t believe), Piper ultimately concludes,

And when you believe as you ought to believe, you will discover that your belief—like all other spiritual blessings—was purchased by the death of Christ. The sin of unbelief was covered by the blood in your case, and therefore the power of God’s mercy was released through the cross to subdue your rebellion and bring you to the Son. You did not make the cross effective in your life by faith. The cross became effective in your life by purchasing your faith.

So glory in this, Christian. Glory that your sins really were covered when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that your guilt really was removed when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that the curse of the law really was lifted and that the wrath of God really was removed, and that the precious faith that unites you to all this treasure in Christ was a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.

Christ tasted death for everyone who has faith. Because the faith of everyone who believes was purchased by the death of Christ.

What this amounts to is that for the majority of humanity, the sin of unbelief was not counted among those sins done away with by Christ. Piper directs our attention away from the idea that sin and death is NOT conquered for the majority of humanity and redirects it  — never mind that THEIR sins were not covered, just be happy yours were. Never mind that THEIR guilt was not removed, just be happy that yours was. Never mind that the curse of the law remains for so many others. The blood of Christ secured YOUR gift of salvation, and that’s all that really matters.

3. It stands in contradiction to other scriptures.

Can you imagine opening up your Bible and reading:

But the angel said to them, “Be very afraid; for behold, I only bring some of you good news…”

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of a small minority of people, and only of those who believe…

Even though in Adam all die, in Christ all will not be made alive. And this happens all at once…

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, but just can’t make it happen. That’s why the one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, gave himself as a ransom exclusively for the people He knew would believe…

I could go on, but I won’t. You can do your own homework. Look these up and ask yourself whether sin and death are completely conquered and “swallowed up in victory” in your current interpretation/understanding: Genesis 12:3, 28:14; Psalm 22:27 & 29, 65:2, 145:8-9; Isaiah 40:5, 45:22 & 23; Joel 2:28; Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20 & 23; 1 Corinthians 11:3, 15:23 & 28; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:9-11; Galatians 3:8; Hebrews 1:2, 2:9, 8:11; John 1:9 & 29, 3:16, 4:42, 8:12, 12:32-33 & 47, 16:33, 17:2 & 21; 1 John 2:2; Mark 9:49, 16:15; 2 Peter 3:9; Philippians 2:10-11, 3:21; Revelation 4:11, 5:13, 21:5; Romans 5:17-18, 8:21, 11:26 & 32 & 36; Titus 2:11.

Next week we’ll look at the Edwards’ sermon conclusion.

Slippery Slope

This is a review of a famous 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 sermon.

Let’s look at Edwards’ sermon intro…

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.

Like most sermons, we need to hold on to what is good and discard the rest. Here’s what is good about Edwards’ intro. Everyone is exposed to destruction, which can come quite unexpectedly. Sometimes people bring destruction upon themselves. Whether we find ourselves in the midst of destruction from without or destruction from within, we have a Savior who came to seek and save the lost (Greek – destroyed).

Now, regarding “Their fall would take place at a God-appointed, specific time” I have two reasons to believe this is true. First, God knows the end from the beginning. God sees our mistakes before we make them. Second, I have witnessed firsthand the practical application of this concept.

I knew someone who believed God had given him the verse “no weapon turned against you will succeed” as a personal promise. I witnessed God’s hand of protection on him. Sometimes, I marveled at the grace of God, because this guy was good at making enemies. But then something happened that made me realize his destruction was immanent — not that God was about to break His promise, though. A weapon turned against him would not succeed, but he was becoming his own weapon, like he had his own internal ticking bomb. And at the appointed time, God lifted His protection, and boom!

None of us is above falling falling down the slippery slope of moral failure. Thankfully, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The irony of Jesus’ words often go unnoticed. Who among the human race is not in need of a Savior?

Edwards says, “one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall.” This is so true. The part that we must never forget, though, is that the whole world is a slippery slope and every single one of us slips and falls. Let’s not stand up, covered with mud, and look around in judgment, saying, “Well, at least I didn’t fall as far as that one.”

Nearly everyone can recollect the first falsehood, the first profane word, the first dishonest act, after they have reached depths of depravity of which they never dreamed. (J.O. Peck, D.D.)

The problem with Edwards’ intro is that he takes the idea of destruction, within the context of unbelieving Israel, and equates it with eternal torment in hell. This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin.

But begin I will… next week.

Related: Calvin and Arminius, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never, Donuts for the Duck, Duck, Damned, Amazed Exceedingly, and Picking the Petals Off of Tulips.

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.