I had long heard of this sermon, and had a little booklet containing the text of it lying around at home, but it was only recently that I finally got around to reading it.
Jonathan Edwards is a name that is becoming more familiar in Christian circles now (especially with the work of John Piper to keep reminding us). Edwards was an American preacher in the 1700s. Under his preaching (and others), America saw its first great revival. One of the most legendary of these revival sermons was this one, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It was renowned because of the effect it had on its audience.
Listeners writhed in anguish. Some fainted.
I didn’t quite faint, but then again, I am a Christian. The sermon is quite to the point for the non-Christian: you are only ever a split second away from Hell. You may think you’re young and healthy, but there are a million ways that young and healthy people can die, and when you do, if you’re not a Christian, you’re going straight to Hell.
Expand that out, with some of the most extravagant language used to describe Hell, and you have a sermon that would have been fairly chilling to an audience of the time.
The most interesting thing that I found about this sermon was how markedly different the style of preaching was back then compared to now. I’ve grown up getting used to expositional preaching, where the preacher explains what the Scriptures mean (and usually keeps pretty closely to the text). In fact, preachers who take one verse and then run off on tangents are usually regarded with a bit of suspicion because they’re not really preaching the Bible.
But in this sermon, Edwards, takes a handful of verses and runs with them for what must have been at least an hour. In fact, the sermon is so strongly designed to scare that I think we’d be horrified at any minister that dared to preach it now.
I’m at a loss to know how to review something like this, because, despite the huge difference in style: 1) Edwards’ point about the reality of judgment is correct (just because we don’t like talking about it, doesn’t make it go away) and 2) many people became Christians because of that sermon and his ministry.
So are we too soft nowadays? I don’t know. What do you think?