Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

by

Jonathan Edwards

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Vermin Symbol Icon

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

The Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God quotes below all refer to the symbol of Vermin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power and Precariousness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God published in 2013.
Part 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jonathan Edwards (speaker), God
Related Symbols: Vermin
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2. Application Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Jonathan Edwards (speaker), God
Related Symbols: Vermin
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Characters: Jonathan Edwards (speaker), God, The Congregation
Related Symbols: Vermin
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:
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Vermin Symbol Timeline in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

The timeline below shows where the symbol Vermin appears in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Power and Precariousness Theme Icon
Wrath, Mercy, and Grace Theme Icon
Language and Metaphor Theme Icon
Theology and the Human Condition  Theme Icon
...“dry stubble before devouring flames,” and he notes how easy it is to crush a worm underfoot—it is just as easy for God to send sinners to hell. In light of... (full context)
Part 2. Application
Power and Precariousness Theme Icon
Wrath, Mercy, and Grace Theme Icon
Language and Metaphor Theme Icon
Theology and the Human Condition  Theme Icon
God holds sinners over the pit of hell just as one would hold a spider over a fire, and God hates sinners just as much as one might loathe an... (full context)
Power and Precariousness Theme Icon
Wrath, Mercy, and Grace Theme Icon
Language and Metaphor Theme Icon
...has angered him, all of the most powerful men on earth are “but feeble despicable worms in the dust” in comparison with God. God’s wrath is thus tremendously more terrible than... (full context)