Jonathan Edwards opens “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” with two Biblical quotes, including one from Deuteronomy, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” From this quote, which is the foundation of the sermon, Edwards draws a metaphor: a sinner’s precarious spiritual condition is a foot on a slippery surface. The metaphor proves fertile for Edwards, as he elaborates on it to illustrate several of his central points about religion. Just as a person on a slippery surface may fall unexpectedly at any moment, a sinner might be sent at any moment to hell, and a person who slips will fall due to their own weight—not because they were pushed—just as a sinner falls due only to the weight of their sin. Finally, Edwards alters his metaphor slightly, asking the congregation to envision themselves held by the hand of God on a slippery slope that descends into the pit of hell. If God released his hand, the sinner would slip and fall by their own weight into hell and would have no way of stopping the slide. Thus, Edwards uses the slippery surface to represent the precariousness, powerlessness, and risk of living a life of sin. By scaring sinners into recognizing how close they are to falling into hell, Edwards hopes to drive them to obtain salvation by accepting Christ—Christ being the only safeguard against a sinner’s inevitable slip.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Slippery Surface appears in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...to punishment (or, as Edwards writes, “destruction”), just as any person who walks in a slippery place is vulnerable to a fall. Edwards quotes Psalm 73, which links God having “set them... (full context)
...were vulnerable to unexpected and sudden punishment at God’s whim. A person walking in a slippery place cannot foresee the moment in which he or she will fall—the fall is always sudden... (full context)
...weight dictates. Edwards clarifies his metaphor: it is less like a person walking on a slippery surface than like a person being held on a slippery slope that descends towards a pit;... (full context)