On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached the most famous sermon in American history- “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. The sermon is on the awful predicament of every sinner who is estranged from Christ. The sermon vividly illustrates how the sinner dreadfully dangles just before he plunges to eternal agony…while he has time to repent and be saved.
Jonathan Edwards, perhaps America's all-time greatest mind, was a guest preacher at a church in Enfield, Connecticut when he preached this sermon. The pastor of the church thought his people were particularly stubborn to the message of the gospel and invited Edwards to deliver the message at the last minute. Apparently The Great Awakening of 1734-45 had not affected this area of Connecticut even though most of New England was in the middle of a huge revival. By most accounts Edwards was not a dynamic speaker. Legend suggests, because of his poor eyesight, he held his written sermon manuscript up to his face to deliver it. The Holy Spirit moved in an amazing way on that largely unconverted congregation. Note what one eyewitness observed as Edwards preached that day-
“Before the sermon was done, there was a great moaning and crying out through ye whole house- what shall I do to be saved- oh I am going to Hell-….the shrieks and cries where piercing and amazing”
Surprisingly, Edwards preached that sermon once and never mentioned it in any of his writings.
Reading this great sermon always convicts me of my responsibility to preach the whole gospel. Sometimes I take the spiritual health of my congregation for granted. Furthermore, we have visitors every week- what have I done to alert them of their condition? Don’t get me wrong, no person has the power to save anyone from hell. That is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit according to the will of God through Christ the Savior. I am speaking of my clear obligation to preach and teach the truth. An important part of the truth includes the wrath of God against sin and sinners. Edwards preached, "The wrath of God is like great waters that are damned for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. The bow of God’s wrath is bent, the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at the heart of the unconverted sinner. It is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that of an angry God, without and promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with the sinners blood."
I must preach the whole counsel of God. Scripture paints a terrifying description of Hell. What makes Hell so terrifying is not merely what it is like but it’s duration. It will go on forever and ever. Jesus makes clear the punishment and torment of Hell is never-ending:
“And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” -Matthew 25:46
Paul uses similar terminology when speaking of the fate of the unconverted in 2 Thes. 1:9 as he speaks of “everlasting punishment. Jude concurs as he writes concerning the destiny of the godless, he says they will “suffer the punishment of eternal fire…reserved forever”. In our unconverted state we he have offended an eternal God. For that reason He is offended eternally. The punishment has to be eternal. Edwards preached, "The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors the unconverted sinner, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards him burns like fire; he looks upon him as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have the sinner in his sight; the sinner is ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours."
Salvation is not only from eternal punishment, it is also unto abundant life. Still, an honest consideration of hell, from time to time, would serve Christians well as motivation to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins He provides. An honest consideration of hell also drives me to greater praise of God as I contemplate what I deserved and how I have been saved from it.
It is only through Christ that I may awake and flee from the wrath to come.