Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Michael Fong
Journal #17 Jonathan Edwards
November 17, 2009

"The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is 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 430)

"Never was there a happier combination of great power with great piety." (THOMAS CHALMERS, quoted by G. D. Henderson in Jonathan Edwards and Scotland, The Evangelical Quarterly, January 1944)

Upon his detailed elaboration on the workings of God and how He punishes the wicked, Edwards shifts the tone of his sermon. The second part of it starts with the above quote, focusing largely on converting non-believers into Christians, and those who were already Christians into more devout believers. The message of rebirth and redeeming oneself is dominant.

True, Edwards is a stout and devout Christian (to say the least), but he also possesses the power, as Chalmers put it, to impress his audience with his message. "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" invokes the sense of fear. Not only did it invoke fear, but it extends the fear to the realms of the unknown, that is, one would never know when God will strike, and that every sinner is essentially at the hands of a God, a God who will act according to his pleasure. We all have heard sermons on how God is the Almighty and that sinners should repent for their sins, but to put the message in such a powerful way and to instill such emotion within his audience (one could but imagine how the audience reacted to Edwards' sermon) is a work of art.

The feeling that I usually get from Christianity is that to some extent certain messages are sugar coated. We believe in Christ, we are saved from hell and doom. We admit to our sins and pray for forgiveness, we shall be granted that provided that we are sincere. Edwards' approach is unique; he infuses both the anger of God and the terrible consequences should we follow the path of evil, and present us with the one and only way to escape from Hell. His message is direct and not dressed up in fancy rhetoric. The difference in being moved by religion and comprehending religious ideas, according to Edwards, is the difference between reading the word fire and actually being burned. In "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", he has succeeded, in a way, in lighting a fire on all of our backsides.

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