Monday, July 9
The Hellfire of Edwards
Jonathan Edwards traveled a few miles from his home into western Connecticut and read to a small congregation assembled there the most famous sermon ever delivered in the history of America on this day in 1741. Entitled Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, its subject was the immanence of judgment and the horrors of perdition. It was about what we today derisively call "hell-fire and damnation."
Later described by literary and historical critics as a rhetorical masterpiece, the sermon was astonishingly gripping and terrifyingly vivid, it caused an immediate sensation in the town of Enfield where it was preached. Even before the sermon was finished, people were moaning, groaning and crying out such things as "What shall I do to be saved?" In fact, there was such a breathing of distress and weeping that Edwards had to quiet and calm the people several times so he could conclude. The fervor of the Great Awakening that had thus far by-passed Enfield, now swept through the little town with a white-hot intensity.
In short order, the sermon was printed and widely distributed throughout the Americas. It not only won for Edwards great renown, but it provoked a further awakening among its distant readers. Since then it has been reprinted hundreds of times—perhaps thousands. To this day it is not only a standard text for the study of great preaching, it has passed into the realm of classic literature—and thus is the most anthologized sermon in the English language.