After the fiasco of the witch trials, New England gradually traded its theocratic outlook for a more practical one. Edwards sees a growing pragmatism, a growing concern for material gain. Certainly compared to today, they were buttoned down and strait laced. But at the same time, Edwards saw this as getting away form the values of the great spiritual ancestors. Edwards preaches this sermon, it starts the movement called The First Great Awakening. It is also the foundation of American Revivalism, that curious institution that we should somehow occasionally get charged up in our ferver. It has become something of a planned event in many churches where every year you have a revival. But this came by surprise.
Edwards got up and read his manuscript, you see how this is written, he pretty much just read it out. People were literally clinging to the pillars and pews to try to keep themselves from sliding down to Hell immediately. It had that kind of effect on people. The text that he uses is "Their foot shall slide in due time". Using this text, Edwards goes on using Aristotelian logic. He goes about proving that you are going to die and burn in eternal Hell the way that we prove that a triangle has three sides. "That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall." You can slip at any time when you walk on ice. "Sudden unexpected destruction." You donít need to expect it, it can happen out of the blue. "That they are liable to fall of themselves, with out being thrown down by the hand of another." Nobody has to push youto Hell; you are always ready to fall; it is only Godís grace that holds you up. This gets into a bit of mixed causality.
"Godís appointed time in not come." That is the only reason you are not in Hell yet. "God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go." So it is not the idea so much that God will throw you into Hell and smite you the way that we found with the earlier Puritan, Bradford, but that God is simply holding you up. If He ever releases His grip, you will fall into Hell on your own accord. So there is a mixed causality here. There is God holding you up, but there is also gravity of your spiritual sin that is pulling you down. Reducing God's role in causing pain.Tends to increase Godís righteousness, Godís goodness. To say that God is throwing people into Hellsounds somewhat harsh. But to say that God is holding you up out of Hell and that he might not stop you from falling makes Him not quite so harsh. "By the mere pleasure of God, I mean His sovereign pleasure, His arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty." Notice the focus on Godís sovereignty and power.
Then he goes on with another set of numbers with the following considerations.
You are like a spider, you are like and insect, you are like a snake. The Puritans had the saying that we are all vile worms. This idea that we are all vile, humanity is vile, does this help your self image? No. Even if you thing of yourself as in the elect, when you look at the unelect youíre seeing vile worms.
- "There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment." We are back to casting people into Hell, rather than just letting them slip in there own way. He says that God is certainly powerful enough to cast people into Hell. Omnipotent is the theological term meaning all powerful.
- "They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way." So God does not need to hold you up out of Hell based on his justice, you deserve it, and judgment has already been made and all we are waiting for is the execution.
- "They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God hat is expressed in the torments of hell." God is just as mad at you as He is at the most suffering sinner in the depths of Hell.
- "The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him." Satin has his role to play and he is ready to take you down into Hell. This again diminishes the degree to which God is involved with this punishment, it is Satin that does some of it. You already belong to Satin, you gave yourself to Satin. So naturally he is going to come get what belongs to him.
- Hell is sort of internalized in our own depravity. "There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for Godís restraint. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men a foundation for the torments of hell." Your depravity is to such a degree that the fires of Hell would burst out from within you if it were not for God restraining them from doing so.
- Basically there is always something around to kill you if God wants to do so or wants it to happen. At no point are you safe. You could get in the deepest cave or the most padded room there is and there would still be something about to kill you if God wishes.
- Your prudence, your safety, your concern for taking care of yourself does not actually do so. You are not protecting yourself even when you think you are.
- "All wicked menís pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment." In other words, no matter how good you are, thatís not going to get you out of Hell. You can be trying to live a wonderful life, but this all counts for nothing. Because of total depravity, your good works are themselves barred by the taint of sin and therefor will not keep you out of Hell.
- "God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death but what are contained in the covenant of grace." You donít know if you are in the covenant of grace. That is what makes a sermon like this so frightening. The background theology that they had, that you really deep down inside you donít know. Most of the time youíre telling yourself that you are in the covenant of grace, but that question mark is always there in the back of your mind and this brings it out. Page 205, "Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell." This is where they started grabbing pews and such. "There are black clouds of Godís wrath now hanging directly over your heads." The wrath of God is now like the flood waters. Page 206, "The bow of Godís wrath is bent, and the arrow made read on the string and justice bends the arrow at your heart." Godís arrows are pointing directly at your heart ready to smite you. "However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but His mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction." If you are going to church, you are paying your time, you are reading your Bible, He is saying that is not going to get it. What sign is there to assure you that you are saved? There are none. Edwards has raised you to the point that you can never be sure. You could have all of the Christian virtues and it means nothing.
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; He is of purer eyes that to bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the more hateful venomous serpent is in ours."
- Edwards goes to talk about Godís wrath. "It is the wrath of the infinite God." So God is infinite.
- "It is the fierceness of His wrath that you are exposed to." So not only is He infinite, but so is His wrath. You do not find love in this sermon, but that God mostly hates you. Although Edwards talked about mercy, the thing that came through is anger. Sinners in the hands of not a loving God, not a merciful God, but an angry God. So Godís fundamental stance toward us is of anger, not of love.
- Godís wrath is extreme, itís extreme punishments that would execute on those that would provoke him. He is ready to torture you.
- "It is everlasting wrath." We need flock to Christ. This would not let you know that you are saved, you may just be having emotional crisis. It may be just like the prayer closet, or anything else in your life. But flock just in case it might do some good.
- "Therefore, let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let everyone fly out of Sodom: ĎHaste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.í" God is ready to burn you up in the flames of Hell so you better run fast, not that it will do any good. The revival that started in this church swept through New England and indeed had an effect on other parts of the country. There was no return of Puritanism but a lot of the people in the colonies did come under the influence of this. I have heard dozens, if not hundreds, of sermons not much different from this. The fires of Hell burning bright, car wrecks, teenagers dying in fiery crashes, and things like that. You better repent before it happens to you. This all goes back to Jonathan Edwards.
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Edited by Group 1, English 303-02 Winter Quarter 1998