Throughout the sermon, Edwards emphasizes that God loathes all human beings because they are not worthy of him, he’s angry with them for failing him, and he owes them no mercy. This attitude can be summed up by the notion that God’s primary characteristic is his wrath. Edwards expresses this colorfully in several instances, including this famous one: “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 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.”
Not only is God full of wrath, but he is also vindictive: were a sinner to cry for his pity, Edwards insists that God would merely “laugh and mock.” Edwards also claims that God, in order to demonstrate his wrath and power, would torture sinners in front of “all the inhabitants of heaven,” making their misery at the hands of his unbearable punishments a spectacle for all. Furthermore, though Edwards notes that it is God’s hand that keeps sinners from damnation during every moment they are on earth, this should not be interpreted as an indication that God approves of the behavior of the wicked or that he hates them any less than he hates those already in hell. God’s will is arbitrary and omnipotent, and all sinners will go to hell when the appointed time arrives—to keep them on earth is not a show of mercy or compassion. Edwards emphasizes the unrelenting cruelty and anger of God in order to show the congregation the danger that they are in if they do not give themselves over to Christ. Without Christ, “the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power.”
The extreme and brutal descriptions of God’s wrath, then, can be seen as a device that Edwards uses to underscore the benevolence and necessity of Christ and his covenant of grace. While God has no obligation or inclination towards mercy or grace, Christ died so that humans might be saved, and it is Christ’s promises that remain the only hope for anyone wishing to escape damnation. In fact, Edwards often refers to Christ as “the Mediator,” because it is Christ alone who can alter, or “mediate,” a person’s sour relationship with God.
Despite the terror and brutality of Edwards’ descriptions of God, it is through his evocations of Christ’s love that he provides optimism. Of those who have converted to Christ, Edwards writes: “many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in an happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him that has loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.” Thus, the human relationship with the divine (in Edwards’ harsh worldview) is one in which humans are always loathsome in the eyes of God, but they are only subject to his wrath if they do not, through their faith, enlist Christ to intervene with his grace.
Wrath, Mercy, and Grace ThemeTracker
Wrath, Mercy, and Grace Quotes in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at any one moment, out of hell, but the meer pleasure of 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.
Yea God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, that it may be are at ease and quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of hell.
There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell: There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire. These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments in ‘em as they do in them.
Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they won’t bear their weight, and these places are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noon-day; the sharpest sight can’t discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending ‘em to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear that God had need to be at the expence of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment.
God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen.
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.
That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies that he will inflict wrath without any pity: when God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportion’d to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed and sinks down, as it were into an infinite gloom, he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much, in any other sense than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires: nothing shall be with held, because it’s so hard for you to bear.
Men’s hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls: and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart, and blindness of mind. God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the bigger part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time.