1 English 1302H 2/20/08 Essay 1: Literary Analysis of Jonathan Edwards During the middle 1700s, religion was a hot topic and everyone was continually reminded of the repercussions of sinning. In 1741, Jonathan Edwards delivered one of the most famous sermons ever that caught the attention of the Puritans of early America. In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards used numerous rhetorical methods to make his sermon effective. Every piece of literature has a tone, and this tone is how the author views what he or she is writing about. Authors communicate their tones to the audience by using an array of rhetorical strategies. In “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards uses imagery, metaphors, and repetition to demonstrate his sharp tone. His cautious choice of words among the vivid descriptions allows him to clearly develop his intense tone. The style of writing in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” also helps indicate the author’s tone. Edwards’s purpose seems to be implanting fear and bringing about a response among those facing damnation from God. The abrupt tone of this sermon was formed early and it set the stage for the remainder of the message. Edwards uses imagery to create an intimidating picture of everlasting punishment for those who are unsaved. His vivid description of Hell as a “bottomless pit” (Edwards 328) describes the agony and fear awaiting sinners when they arrive. This has an extraordinary effect on his readers because he scares them into believing what he is preaching. Edwards also uses imagery to give his congregation an imaginative illustration of God holding sinners over the pit of Hell, “much as one holds a spider” (330). At this point, the audience already has a lot of fear, but this mental picture shows that there is actually a light at the end of the tunnel from God’s
An Analysis of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
Jonathan Edwardss sermons were preached during the period of Great Awakening, a time of religious revival. In his sermons, Edwards used a variety of persuasive techniques, including vibrant images and simple metaphors to persuade sinners to repent.
One of the images that Edwards powerfully delivered to make people turn from their sinful ways is the comparison of Gods wrath to great waters, which after being continually contained, rise up and have the potential of destroying the people with a great fury; that is, if God chooses to open the floodgate. Another particularly striking image compares Gods wrath to a bow that is bent, with the arrow ready to pierce the heart of the sinner. Edwards used both of these images to convey the power of God to the people, many of whom were illiterate, and could not understand complex words. The people, whose lives were simple, had a respect for the land and the water, including its potentially violent nature, because they lived off the land. Additionally, the listeners knew firsthand the tautness of a ready-to-fire bow. They knew it would take considerable strength to hold an arrow very long once it was aimed at the target. They knew all too well that a well-aimed arrow hitting its target, the heart, meant instant death.
Through the effective use of metaphors, Edwards made comparisons to peoples everyday lives. He preached that their state of wickedness was as heavy as lead and therefore, pulling them down straight toward Hell. He was quick to say that salvation could not be obtained on their righteousness alone. He compared their chances of getting into Heaven on their own contrivance to the likelihood that a spiders web would have to stop a fallen rock. This analogy, like many others presented throughout his sermon, was meant to show the depth and magnitude of the peoples sin, and their complete dependence on the Almighty God.
Edwards presented an image of Gods wrath hanging over the people as black clouds. If God chose to come with fury, like a whirlwind, they would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. Again, Edwards related to the people an idea to which they could identify on a daily basis. All people knew that with the bountiful harvest, comes the rot and decay of unharvested grain.
In analyzing that God held sinners over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, Edwards was wanting to make Hell real for the listeners. Just as the people who lived off the land, would often torch a vile or poisonous snake, so would
God let them burn because he despised their sin and vile nature.
In modern society, as in the days of the Great Awakening, some people would pay attention to Edwards message, and some would not. Today, as in the days of the Puritans, there are those who would make application of Edwardss figurative descriptions, including vibrant images and simple metaphors, to their everyday lives. They wholeheartedly want to do what is right and reach Heaven as their final goal. Therefore, the fear of the unknown remains a valid technique to persuade people to do some act, or to refrain from that act, based on the laws of God and man. Most people would agree that a certain amount of fear is good for man because it instills in him a certain amount of discipline. We cannot, however, let fear overtake us. Oftentimes, the fear factor is dangled in front of people to persuade them to buy a complex security system for protection from the boogie-man, take a certain vitamin for health and longevity, buy a particular car for its safety, and vote for a particular political party because it will keep you safe from terror, just to name a few. The bottom line: Listen to Jonathan Edwards. Fear sells today, just as it always did. It will sell tomorrow. Make an informed choice and buy some. Avoid Hell.