Jonathan Edwards’ sermon ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ is a window into an age fraught with religious controversy and moral confusion. The sermon was riddled with horrifying imagery and threats to instill fear into the audiences of Puritan Minister, Jonathan Edwards. The movement of religious revivalism that occurred in part because of Edwards caused the Puritan society to think of God as a vengeful, torturous God, of whom to be afraid. The Puritans fear of God and being condemned to hell forced them to live in accordance with God’s will in hopes of spending eternity free from sin, living in salvation with Christ. Sinners is a work grounded in the concerns and struggles of its time, and it offers insights into a significant period of cultural transition in American history (Winslow 193). Simultaneously a conservative and a revolutionary text, the sermon hangs between the new and the old, science and Scripture, individual freedom and sovereign authority.
Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703 in East Windsor Connecticut into a Puritan family. He was the only son of eleven children. His father was the Reverend Timothy Edwards and his mother was Esther Stoddard Edwards, the daughter of Reverend Solomon Stoddard (Winslow 28). He grew up in an atmosphere of puritan piety, affection and learning. After years of rigorous schooling at home, Edwards entered Yale in 1716 at the age of twelve. During his time at Yale, Edwards received a great theological education. He also studied new sciences, psychology, and philosophy of Isaac Newton, John Locke, George Berkeley, and other European thinkers (Personal Awakening). Edwards was profoundly influenced by John Locke’s ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding’ which is about the foundation of human knowledge, growth, and understanding. During his years at Yale he studied the mind, natural sciences, the scriptures, and natural and mental philosophies. Jonathan Edwards was a very smart man who enjoyed learning. At the age of seventeen Edwards wrote an essay on the habits of the "flying spider” (Marsden 66). He graduated Yale in 1722 as valedictorian. It was during these years at college that he had his own conversion experience and developed the intense personal disciplines that he would carry with him throughout the remainder of his life. Edwards said he, "began to have a new kind of apprehensions and ideas of Christ, and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salvation by him" (Storm). After his graduation Edwards continued to study theology in New Haven, and still continued to have an interest in science. Through his study of science and his own experience with nature Edwards saw the natural world as evidence of God's masterful design, and throughout his life, Edwards often went into the woods as a favorite place to pray and worship in the beauty and solace of nature (Marsden).
In 1727, Edwards became the associate minister at his grandfather Solomon Stoddard’s church in Northampton. Two years later Stoddard died and Edwards took over the congregation (Marsden 110). Stoddard was one of the most powerful religious figures in New England in his day and according to Edwards, he led five different religious revivals during his sixty years as pastor in Northampton (Edwards/ Goen 146). The revivalist methodologies that Stoddard developed became the models that Edwards would follow throughout his ministry. Edwards, just like Stoddard, challenged the traditional Puritan role of the sermon, and transformed it into a means to impart a new way of life upon his audiences by exhuming emotion and passion from his congregation.
In the Puritan society, it was believed that to be complete in your faith one must experience a conversion. It was originally taught that the conversion experience will be a gradual process where their faith becomes stronger and you become saved. Stoddard introduced a simpler, more emotionally driven conversion that could come to anyone at any...
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