We’ve added a few new resources to Blue Letter Bible and will be highlighting them on the blog over the next several days. The first of these resources is a classic sermon from Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards titled, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
Who is Jonathan Edwards?
Jonathan Edwards (October 5, 1703 – March 22, 1758) was a preacher, theologian, and missionary to Native Americans. Edwards “is widely acknowledged to be America’s most important and original philosophical theologian,” and one of America’s greatest intellectuals. Edwards’s theological work is very broad in scope, but he is often associated with his defense of Reformed theology, the metaphysics of theological determinism, and the Puritan heritage. Recent studies have emphasized how thoroughly Edwards grounded his life’s work on conceptions of beauty, harmony, and ethical fittingness, and how central The Enlightenment was to his mindset.
Edwards played a very critical role in shaping the First Great Awakening, and oversaw some of the first fires of revival in 1733–1735 at his church—First Church—in Northampton, Massachusetts. Edwards delivered the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, a classic of early American literature, during another wave of revival in 1741, following George Whitefield’s tour of the Thirteen Colonies. Edwards is widely known for his many books: The End For Which God Created the World; The Life of David Brainerd, which served to inspire thousands of missionaries throughout the nineteenth century; and Religious Affections, which many Reformed Evangelicals read even today.
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
This sermon is the most famous Christian sermon in American history—just ask your high school student. The sermon is included in most English or History curriculum. The name of this sermon may seem off-putting to some, but its contents are rich with gospel truths. 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:
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. Yet Edwards strongly believed that he was loving people when he warned them of hell. In an essay called The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, Edwards explains:
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.
Edwards and the Great Awakening
Why did Edwards preach in this fire-and-brimstone way? Because he believed that an eternity separated from God was the most unbearably devastating reality, a reality he wanted no one to experience. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was a typical sermon of The Great Awakening, an 18th century revival in which Edwards played a crucial role. The sermon greatly shaped our understanding of this movement of God and the scores of people that were driven, by the God’s grace, to repentance and faith in Christ.
Edwards ends the sermon with a final appeal, “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.”
Stay tuned for info on other new resources.