The most famous sermon in American history
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It’s the most famous sermon in American history. Just ask your high school student. The sermon is included in most English or History curriculum. In this famous homily, Jonathan Edwards sought to eradicate all false views of hell and leave his listeners with biblical images of God’s righteous wrath that would drive them to repentance and faith in Christ.
Though the sermon itself was an exposition of a passage in Deuteronomy, the sermon’s title came from Hebrews 10:30-31: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The LORD will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Here is an excerpt:
Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope. There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. 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; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.
Chilling exhortation, isn’t it? Yet Edwards strongly believed that he was loving people when he warned them of hell.
“If there be really a hell of such dreadful, and neverending torments, as is generally supposed, that multitudes are in great danger of, and that the bigger part of men in Christian countries do actually from generation to generation fall into, for want of a sense of the terribleness of it, and their danger of it, and so for want of taking due care to avoid it; then why is it not proper for those that have the care of souls, to take great pains to make men sensible of it? Why should they not be told as much of the truth as can be? ”If I am in danger of going to hell, I should be glad to know as much as possibly I can of the dreadfulness of it: if I am very prone to neglect due care to avoid it, he does me the best kindness, that does most to represent to me the truth of the case, that sets forth my misery and danger in the liveliest manner.”
– Jonathan Edwards, Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God
Jonathan Edwards and The Great Awakening
He preached in such a way because he believed that an eternity separated from God is the utmost of all devastation. Jonathan Edwards played a very important role in The Great Awakening of the 18th century. In fact, this sermon had great in shaping our understanding of the revival and the scores of people that were driven, by the God’s grace, to repentance and faith in Christ.
Let us remember the torments of hell that we rightly deserved and be driven to worship the Christ, who willingly suffered this wrath in our stead. O, what grace!
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.