What is the 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' sermon?

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is a sermon written and preached by Jonathan Edwards most famously on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut. This sermon was a "hellfire and brimstone" style teaching, a style popular during the First Great Awakening in the American Colonies from 1730 to 1755. This particular sermon is a fitting representation of Jonathan Edwards' style and he used this exact sermon a few times with different audiences. During the sermon on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut, members of the congregation often interjected with moans and cries of "What shall I do to be saved?" This sermon resulted in many people feeling powerful conviction, repenting of their ways, and coming to faith in Christ.

The main point of the sermon can be summarized as "It is only the mercy of God that keeps people from falling into hell and God is free to withdraw that mercy at any moment." Although the hellfire and brimstone style of preaching is controversial and seen as a way to scare people into faith, Edwards' goal was to show that God was giving people a chance to confess their sins, mend their ways, and return to Christ. Ultimately, his focus was on the mercy of God. Like Paul, Edwards' aim was "godly grief [that] produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10). He used vivid imagery and descriptive language to try to awaken his audience to consider the reality of their eternal destiny. By the end of the sermon, they were desperate for the good news of salvation through Christ and Edwards was faithful to share "the grace of God [that] has appeared, bringing salvation for all people" (Titus 2:11).

Salvation for all people was a priority for Edwards; he worked toward this practically by becoming a missionary to the Native American tribes on Massachusetts' frontier in 1751. He preached some of his previous sermons and many new ones to the local Mohican and Mohawk tribes. Jonathan Edwards' ministry there converted Hendrick Aupaumut, who later became a Revolutionary War hero and then translated the West Minster Shorter Catechism into Mohican. Edwards also mentored Gideon Hawley, Joseph Bellamy, and Samuel Hopkins, who later developed the missionary movement in America. Many missionaries from history through modern times credit Jonathan Edwards' sermons and other writings as influential. Some of those missionaries include: Francis Asbury, David Livingstone, and Jim Elliot. Today, pastor and author John Piper calls Jonathan Edwards "the compass of my theological studies… master of scripture, and a precious friend and teacher."

The Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon is taught in high school and university American Literature and American History courses, so it's having an impact even today more than 250 years since it was first preached. Jonathan Edwards can be an example to Christians of what God can accomplish through someone so devoted to sharing salvation through Christ alone.

For a complete copy of Edwards sermon, visit the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University here.

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