Analysis of Jonathan Edwards' Sermon: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"

Categories: Sinners

Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," has been a source of fascination and contemplation since its delivery. Edwards' powerful rhetoric and vivid imagery create a tone of alarming immediacy, urging his audience to take immediate action for their own salvation. In this essay, we will delve into Edwards' use of diction, imagery, and tone to understand his intent in conveying the urgency of repentance and the consequences of divine wrath. Furthermore, we will explore the evolution of sermon styles from Edwards' time to the present day, highlighting the stark contrast between his approach and that of 21st-century sermons that emphasize God's love for humanity.

The Shocking Opening

Upon first reading Jonathan Edwards' sermon, it is impossible not to be struck by its shocking opening. Edwards dives right into the subject of God's wrath and Hell, leaving no room for a gentle introduction. His choice of words and vivid imagery serves to create an atmosphere of imminent peril, urging his audience to take immediate action for their own good.

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The phrase "The bow of God’s wrath is bent, the arrow ready to pierce the heart of a sinner" is particularly striking. Edwards employs this terrifying image to illustrate the overwhelming power of God in comparison to humanity's feebleness. His underlying message is clear: sinners must repent and turn to God. Edwards believes that a harsh tone is necessary to convey the urgency of this message, to shake the congregation from their spiritual complacency, and to lead them out of the dreadful pit of damnation.

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Edwards' word choices introduce a compelling contradiction. He contends that even those who believe they have a relationship with God can still face damnation, as their fate hangs solely in God's hands. The term "obligation" implies that the arrow of God's wrath could pierce a sinner's heart at any moment, perhaps even during the course of his sermon. Likewise, the phrase "everlasting destruction" carries a profound weight, serving as a stark reminder that individuals have the choice to embrace life through faith in God or be engulfed by the fires of Hell.

The Didactic and Harsh Approach

Jonathan Edwards' approach in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is undeniably didactic and harsh. He does not mince words when delivering his message, opting for a style that some might consider fearmongering. Edwards' intent is clear: he hopes to instill fear and urgency in his congregation, driving them toward the path of salvation. His use of such rhetorical tools aligns with the notion that he imparts this message out of love. Edwards genuinely believes that by presenting the harsh reality of damnation, he is guiding his audience toward making the right choices for their eternal well-being.

Through his forceful rhetoric and vivid imagery, Edwards underscores the importance of knowing God intimately and highlights how a person's life can be transformed through faith. He argues that the impending wrath of God is not a matter to be taken lightly. Instead, it is a pressing concern that should prompt immediate action. Edwards' conviction in the urgency of his message drives him to employ such a direct and unrelenting tone.

A Contrast with 21st-Century Sermons

The striking contrast between Jonathan Edwards' sermon and modern-day sermons in the 21st century is impossible to ignore. Edwards' approach is characterized by its emphasis on the wrath of God and the imminent danger of Hell. His message is delivered with an unapologetically severe tone, intended to evoke fear and urgency among his listeners.

In stark contrast, contemporary sermons often center around themes of God's love, mercy, and grace. One of the most well-known verses in the Bible, John 3:16, encapsulates this shift in emphasis: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Modern sermons frequently emphasize the compassionate and loving nature of God, inviting individuals to embrace faith as a source of comfort and hope rather than fear.

While Edwards' sermon sought to awaken his audience to the harsh realities of divine wrath, many present-day sermons aim to offer solace, encouragement, and a sense of belonging within a loving spiritual community. This shift reflects evolving theological perspectives and changing societal values, where messages of love and inclusion often take precedence over fear-based narratives.


Jonathan Edwards' sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," remains a powerful and controversial piece of religious literature. His use of diction, imagery, and tone creates a sense of imminent peril, urging sinners to repent and turn to God for salvation. Edwards' approach, though harsh by modern standards, was motivated by a genuine desire to guide his congregation toward the path of righteousness.

The stark contrast between Edwards' sermon and contemporary 21st-century sermons serves as a testament to the evolving nature of religious discourse. While Edwards' message relied on fear and urgency, many present-day sermons emphasize God's love and compassion as central themes. This transformation reflects changing theological perspectives and societal values that prioritize messages of hope, inclusion, and divine benevolence.

Updated: Nov 02, 2023
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Analysis of Jonathan Edwards' Sermon: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". (2016, Dec 09). Retrieved from

Analysis of Jonathan Edwards' Sermon: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" essay
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