Jonathan Edwards preached his famous ‘Great Awakening’ sermon- “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, on July 8, 1741 at Enfield, Mass. (later Connecticut). When I studied “Sinners…” in seminary it was presented as a bad example of ‘hell fire’ sermons that no modern minister would or should ever dare to preach. In Church History class, it seemed like no one could figure out why it became so famous.
Obviously, you had to of been there and the Holy Spirit had to of shown up in an amazing way, and from all accounts that certainly was the case. According to reports of the occasion, Edwards quietly read the sermon with very little flare, but when he started talking about natural un-regenerated people being held in the hand of God over the fiery pit of Hell, a great commotion broke out in the congregation with quite a few folks being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Here is an excerpt from the sermon:
“So that thus it is, that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell;
they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked,
his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell,
and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger,
neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold `em up one moment;
the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up;…”
It is said that when Edwards spoke with this imagery of Hell, that some in the church that day actually felt and saw the fiery pits of hell beneath their feet and smelled the burning sulfur. Historians find those accounts to be suspect (I don’t). However, regardless of what really happened, many came to Christ that day following Edward’s invitation at the end:
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 great part of this congregation:
let everyone fly out of Sodom:
“Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed” [Gen. 19:17]
What if Edwards preached his famous sermon today? Probably a better question- could it be preached today?:
1. The board of Elders would meet to vote on whether Pastor Edwards should be retained.
2. The UCC denomination would distance themselves from Pastor Edwards ‘negative’ theology. Pastor Jeremiah Wright would probably be a spokesman at a press conference.
3. The Professors at Yale University where Edwards graduated from would condemn the ‘exclusive’ theology of the sermon and promise to censure any future books or publications.
3. One lady with an unbelieving husband, in the congregation that day, would be on the evening news condemning the Pastor for scaring them and saying that a loving God would send ‘good folks’ like them to an everlasting Hell.
4. On “55 Minutes” TV show over the next weekend, a psychologist from Harvard would explain how it was all a hoax, that Edwards obviously hypnotized the entire congregation with his ‘hellish’ imagery just to increase the size of his church and get larger offerings. After all, Edwards is a maniac with 10 children.
5. On Bible Radio, the Dr. Smiley the chief cult headhunter would explain that the ‘Hell experience’ was similar to what ‘mind control’ cults subject their members too.
6. Jewish rabbi Dr. Conn on the weekend ‘Religion Dialogue’ TV show would be offended that Edward’s implied that ‘righteous people’ who don’t believe in Christ would end up in Hell. The Right Rev. Dr. Bishop Wonderful of the Episcopal Church would agree and sympathize. Dr. Ali of the Islamic U. would find that it is the first time that he actually agreed with a Rabbi.
Dr. Donald, the famous atheist, would point out that it confirms what he said in his latest book about religion being a divisive force that needed to be controlled. Pastor Charlie of the 20,000 member Valley Community Church would explain that most Christians today preach about the ‘love’ of God and how preaching about Hell is not the norm and actually a bad idea if you want to grow a large effective community organization and church reaching out in today’s culture.
The panel would conclude by agreeing that ‘God’s love for all people’ needed to be stressed today in the face of radical fundamentalist religion.
7. Osama Muhammad the al Queda leader would come on Algazerra TV and lay out plans to send Edwards and his entire congregation to hell in the name of Allah. After all, a visiting Muslim student converted to Christ that day.
8. There would be at least 10 blog posts about how the service reminded them of the ‘so-called’ Toronto revival. According to reports, there were all sorts of undefinable noises coming from the congregation. Some sounded like animals and many were flat on their faces just unintelligently moaning and groaning.
God could never be the author of such a confusing uproar. After all, show me in the Bible where anyone ever experienced the fires of Hell beneath their feet!
…If Edwards preached his famous sermon today!