Jonathan Edwards and That Sermon

This is the day that … a very famous Sermon was preached !!

The austere Calvinist leaned over the pulpit – held his sermon manuscript close to his near-sighted eyes – and began to read.

The “levity of the congregation” subsided as he announced the text – “Their foot shall slide in due time”, Deuteronomy 32:35.

And as he read on … “strong men held on to their seats feeling they were sliding into hell… Men and women stood up, then rolled on the floor, their cries drowning out the voice of the preacher. Some are said to have laid hold on the pillars and braces of the church apparently feeling that they were sliding into hell…” (Hall of Fame, by Ed. Reese, page 8).

And Rev. Jonathan Edwards read on: “His wrath towards you burns like fire. He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. You are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful serpent is in ours. It is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment…”

The sermon, called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, has been designated “the most famous sermon ever preached in America” (Profiles in Evangelism, by F. Barlow, page 69). Certainly it had a marked effect upon the congregation that heard it … and upon the town of Northampton, Massachusetts, where the church was situated.

Edwards had commenced his 23-year pastorate in 1727 … and a “thrilling revival of religion” followed. But by 1750 he had alienated himself from the congregation by his stern denunciation of sin. (Or was it the congregation alienated themselves from their pastor??)

So on 22 June, 1750, he was fired! And found that he was “too formidable a figure for other churches to invite.”

At the age of 47, with a wife and nine children, he gave himself to six years of missionary labours among the Red Indians. During this time he wrote The Freedom of the Will, a classic Calvinistic statement of foreordination, original sin and eternal punishment.

Then in 1757 he was called to accept presidency of Princeton College.

However, a smallpox epidemic broke out, and he died after only five weeks in office.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

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