Jonathan Edwards Preaches “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

The crying and weeping became so loud that Edwards was forced to discontinue the sermon.

Edwards had preached “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” before. He had preached it at Northampton, in his own home church. There were no reported astonishing manifestations, or response, or emotion, at that time of preaching. But now he came to preach it at Enfield–this town holding out against the revival–and God blessed the preaching of his Word in an extraordinary manner.

 

Important Background

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards started a sermon that he would not finish.

The fires of Great Awakening revival were burning brilliantly throughout New England. Iain Murray notes,

As spring passed into summer 1741 no one could well keep track of the number of places which were also witnessing the revival. Churches, which in some cases had been cold and dry at the beginning of the year, were transformed before the end. “It is astonishing,” wrote Edwards, “to see the alteration that there is in some towns, where before was but little appearance of religion.”1

As Jonathan Edwards put it in a letter to Thomas Prince, a pastor in Boston, “It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions and such like, both with distress and also with admiration and joy.”2 This background to the famous preaching of the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is important to grasp. Edwards’s sermon did not occur in a vacuum. There was a wide and general revival occurring at the time of his preaching. But what is even more important to understand is that the place where Edwards preached the sermon was, up until the moment when Edwards preached, distinctly resistant to the revival. While in nearby towns, many were being converted—one church received 95 new members into the church on one Sunday alone—Enfield was becoming notorious for resisting the work of God at the time.

Edwards had preached “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” before. He had preached it at Northampton, in his own home church. There were no reported astonishing manifestations, or response, or emotion, at that time of preaching. But now he came to preach it at Enfield–this town holding out against the revival–and God blessed the preaching of his Word in an extraordinary manner.

The Sermon

One tradition has it that Edwards was not even the designated or intended preacher that day. He was a stand-in. Such is the strange providence of God. A group of ministers entered the meeting house at Enfield where the sermon was to be preached. Teams of such ministers were traveling around New England as itinerants preaching revival sermons, capturing to the fullest extent possible the move of the Spirit of God that was sovereignly occurring. As one participant later recalled, when the ministers entered the church at Enfield, the gathered people were “thoughtless and vain.” By comparison with other towns at the time, the people there were not even showing any particular interest—let alone great passion—regarding the things of God. In fact, they “hardly conducted themselves with common decency.”3 This was not an auspicious beginning. There was no ‘atmosphere’ of readiness and seriousness, nor even normal, polite attentiveness.

But then Edwards began to preach. We do not know exactly how Edwards preached—there were no video recordings of his style, his mannerisms, and any idea we have of his technique is only gathered from a few reports of the way he preached and by drawing conclusions from the copious sermon manuscripts that are preserved. Samuel Hopkins, in his Life of President Edwards, gives a famous set of descriptions of his preaching. Everyone at the time acknowledged Edwards as an “Eminent Preacher.” This, Hopkins says, was for three principal reasons.

Read More Content adapted from Jonathan Edwards and Justification edited by Josh Moody. The article originally appeared on Crossway.org; used with permission.