Throughout his sermon, Edwards uses evocative imagery of vermin (creatures considered to be despicable) to show sinners the magnitude of God’s hatred for them. In other words, Edwards asks the sinners to consider their own hatred of vermin—and the ease with which they kill vermin—while explaining that they themselves are vermin to God. Edwards uses this metaphor to stress two points: the limitless power of God, and God’s wrath. For example, Edwards uses imagery of stomping on worms, which are notably weak and helpless creatures, to show God’s power. “We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth,” he writes, “…thus easy is it for God when he pleases to cast his enemies down to hell.” In another passage, after explaining that people fear the wrath of kings, Edwards reminds the congregation that “the greatest earthly potentates, in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King of Heaven and Earth.” Furthermore, Edwards uses vermin to illustrate that not only does God have limitless power, but he also has boundless hate: “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.” Soon after, Edwards clarifies his point by writing that, “you are ten thousand times so abominable in [God’s] eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.” Therefore, Edwards’ imagery of vermin is meant to represent sinners, threatening the congregation by drawing their attention to their helplessness to alter the will of God, as well as reminding them that God hates them and can cast them into hell with as much ease as they themselves might kill an insect they despise.
Vermin Quotes in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, that has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God. There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God. Tho’ hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces: They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so ‘tis easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by; thus easy it is for God when he pleases to cast his enemies down to hell.
Were it not that so is the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun don’t willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth don’t willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air don’t willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies. God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and don’t willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end.
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 than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.