It was a warm Summer afternoon and the congregation was settling into their wooden pews preparing for another midweek sermon. The pastor, who was concerned that his flock had been virtually unaffected by the revival that was happening in surrounding areas, had invited another speaker to address the church in the hopes that the people would be challenged to live with godly passion.
The guest speaker made his way to the pulpit and in a somber manner took his place. The 37-year-old philosopher, theologian, pastor and father of eleven carefully laid his manuscript before him. He had preached this same sermon in his own church, with no noticeable change in his congregation. He wondered if things would be different today.
Though he was fervent in his beliefs and driven by his knowledge of biblical truth, he was mild-mannered and soft-spoken. With a gentle tone he began to speak. Rarely looking up from his notes, the congregation realized he was reading, verbatim, from the pages in front of him. With each paragraph he read his voice became stronger. One by one the pews began to squeak as the people became more and more uncomfortable.
The preacher wasn’t yelling. It was the words he read that struck a chord in the hearts of the listeners. Several times the sermon was interrupted by the cries of sinners who were anxious to get right with God. “What shall I do to be saved?!” “Oh! I am going to hell!” And there the revival began in the hearts of sinners in Enfield, Connecticut.
The famous sermon has been studied by theologians and historians, “providing a glimpse into the theology of the First Great Awakening of c. 1730–1755″.
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards: An Angry Preacher?
The famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, has often been criticized as too harsh and overbearing and Edwards as a “fire and brimstone” preacher, based on that one sermon. However, his lifestyle, ministry and writings rarely conveyed that characterization.
Edwards was an introverted intellectual with a love for science, philosophy, theology and his family. Yet all of those loves couldn’t compare with the love he had for God. He was gentle in spirit and tone and not known for emotional outbursts.
Once he understood the righteous and justified anger of God towards unrepentant sinners he became committed to the notion that in order for the sinner to grasp his need for salvation through Christ, he needed to have a sense of God’s wrath and condemnation. And it was with solid conviction and urgency that he penned this sermon.
Excerpts from the sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
More than twenty pages long, the sermon’s powerful message conveys the feelings of anger that God has towards sin and the humans that are enamored and consumed by it. As I include here some quotes from the sermon you’ll find that it’s not just any anger, not like human anger. Let us get a taste of how God feels about sin.
“There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces.”
“The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.”
“Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable. The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.”
“There is this clear evidence that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact? Eccles. 2:16. ‘How dieth the wise man? even as the fool.‘”
“If we could speak with [those already in hell], and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, ‘No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself — I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief — Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me.'”
“Whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.”
“Thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment.”
“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.”
“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.”
“It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back.”
“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.”
“But the greatest earthly potentates in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth. It is but little that they can do, when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of their fury. All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised. The wrath of the great King of kings, is as much more terrible than theirs, as his majesty is greater. Luke 12:4,5. ‘And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him.'”
“The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that he might show what that wrath of Jehovah is. God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is.”
“It is everlasting wrath. 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.”
“You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell. It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you, and that heretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you. Their case is past all hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here you are in the land of the living and in the house of God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation. What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give for one day’s opportunity such as you now enjoy!”
“And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit!”
“And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence.”
“It will be as it was on the great out-pouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles’ days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded. If this should be the case with you, you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you was born, to see such a season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it. Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.”
Is God Angry With Sinners?
Were you surprised as you read the words of Jonathan Edwards? Were you taken aback by the very hatred the Creator has towards sin? Did you realize just how angry God is with unrepentant sinners?
There are two groups of people reading here today: Those who rejoice in their salvation from the horrors of hell and those who are still dangling over the flames, held by the hand of God. Which group are you in?
- God hates sin and is angry with unrepentant sinners
- Unrepentant sinners are currently living under condemnation
- Hell is a real place
- Punishment is eternal
- God is just and is justified in his contempt of sinners
- Jesus Christ is the way to salvation
- God’s mercy is offered because of Christ’s death and resurrection
- Christ’s death appeased God’s wrath
- Those who come to Christ with a broken and contrite heart will escape damnation
- God’s wrath will be turned away from the sinner as he comes in faith & surrender
- The repentant sinner will experience God’s forgiveness and eternal love and be adopted as a son/daughter
I am struck by the fact that the way the Gospel is preached in our modern times doesn’t include the reality of hell, and just how much God’s wrath is directed towards the sinner. Why is there no urgency in our hearts? Sinners are living under condemnation. If we could have just a glimpse behind the earthly veil we’d be able to see just how critical it is that we, who know the Truth, must tell others what awaits them if they don’t come to Christ.
Sinners, are you ready to be rescued?
The full sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, can be found here.
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