The Puritans see God as mysteriously involved in the acts of the universe, whereas the transcendentalists think God is connected to mankind through nature and intuition. The outlook on Puritan writing is that their style tends to be plain and introspective. Transcendentalist writing shows how nature and feelings are triumphant over logic and rationality. In contrast to the plain style of Puritan writing, Jonathan Edwards frequently strikes his audience with powerful words in his literature. He exemplifies this style in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” but still shows the lowliness of human beings in relation to God’s power, another Puritan trait. In transcendentalist writing, the spiritual and ideal worlds are revealed through the physical facts of the natural world. A writer who uses transcendental techniques is Ralph Waldo Emerson. The work written by Emerson reflecting Transcendentalism is called “Nature.” The name itself portrays the piece as transcendental, but Emerson uses the forest and its components as symbols of the spiritual world. In comparison, both the Puritans and the Transcendentalists focus on their own perceptions of the world and human existence.
Edwards’ sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” reiterates the fact that God has more power than man. Wickedness and sin, as Edwards describes, leads man closer and closer into the depths of hell. Mankind is weak and helpless if God is provoked. “There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up,” (Jonathan Edwards). Edwards uses the phrase “Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up” to evidently make his point.
His intention is to say that God and his powers should not be taken lightly. No matter how strong the will of man, God has the final say in it all. There is, however, a twist to his intention. Edwards directs the wrath of God mainly upon those who sin and that “He [God] is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it,” (Jonathan Edwards). By using the word “wicked,” Edwards hints at how man acts in order to provoke God. Sin leads towards mankind’s wickedness, therefore angering God. His wrath may come in different ways. Instead of throwing the inhabitants of Earth directly into the fiery depths of hell, He will let mankind destroy itself and withhold His retribution.
“The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher…the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are everyday treasuring up more wrath,” (Jonathan Edwards).
Obviously, Edwards uses the water held behind a dam as a symbol. The dam represents God’s “hand,” and the water is His wrath. Comparing this, Edwards tries to explain that the longer the water is held back, the more force it will have when the dam will no longer support it; the longer God puts off judgment of man’s sin, the more powerful His punishment. The sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is a great example of the Puritan belief of society. A man is ether part of the elect, basically chosen to go to heaven, or of the damned that are sent to hell at God’s force.
On the softer side of God’s presence, Transcendentalism takes place. Their view is that intuition and nature as a whole is more powerful than intellect. In Emerson’s “Nature,” there is a strong sense of God being present through the wilderness and the natural way of life.
“All the parts incessantly work into each other’s hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man,” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
What Emerson is trying to get through to his audience is that God works in a process for the good of mankind. When he tells about how the wind, sun, rain, and plant, and how each work together in a cycle to support nature, he is comparing their jobs to God “nourishing” man. Emerson is also trying to say that without nature and its course, man would not survive. The Transcendentalists believe that the physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual and ideal world; an apparent example is that “nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” (Emerson, Chapter: Nature). Emerson considers God to be present within physical properties of nature, in this case, color. The use of the word “always” suggests that God and the spiritual world are visible through nature to man no matter the condition. Conversely, do these relations of God and nature apply in any way to man? When a man is described as “a particle of God,” (Emerson, Ch: Nature), he is a piece of God and the spiritual world. There is a connection between man and nature because of God’s visibility through the environment. Ideally, the Transcendentalists show that man is not only a part of God, but also in nature.
People living in the Puritan and Transcendental periods of time believed that God was connected to humanity and the life surrounding it; also, God had the power to reveal himself to mankind and even take control, making Puritanism and Transcendentalism equivalent. Texts like “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “Nature” are good examples of Puritan and Transcendental writing because they exemplify the characteristics and beliefs of each era. Elements in transcendentalism are knowledge and spiritual existence in nature, whereas Puritanism consists of discipline and God revealed through the inner self of man. Whether it be for “God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment,” (Edwards), or “divine charity [to] nourish man,” (Emerson), God was presented as a power both to reprimand and nurture civilization.
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