When first reading Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” shocked readers how it started right in about the wrath of God and Hell. His diction and images create a tone of alarming immediacy – act now for your own good. “The bow of God’s wrath is bent”, the arrow ready to pierce the heart of a sinner. Edwards uses this frightening image to compare the power of God to the people. His point is that he wants to persuade sinners to repent.
Edwards seems to feel a harsh tone is needed in this to get the point across that they need God to lead them out of the dreadful pit. Edwards’ word choices present a contradiction, saying that people who have a relationship with God can still go to Hell because there is only God’s hand holding us up from Hell. The word “obligation” implies that the arrow could pierce a sinner’s heart right now, during his sermon.
Also, “everlasting destruction” has a big impact, telling people that they can have life if they follow God, or be swallowed up by Hell.
Edwards is didactic and harsh with the information he tries to convey to the congregation, scaring them he hopes, into salvation. He uses these tools to help the tone on the importance of knowing God and how people’s lives can be changed. He does this out of love, trying to tell them how it really is and wanting them to choose the right way.
This frightening, bullying tone is a far cry from the 21st century sermons which emphasize God’s love for mankind as in the well known verse John 3:16.