SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD
Written by: Edwards, Jonathan Posted on: 04/01/2003
For more than 250 years, Jonathan Edwards' sermons have been consistently
recognized, and their usefulness and impact have continued to the present
day, even in the outdated English of the author's own day.
Why then should expositions already so successful and of such stature and
proven usefulness require adaptation, revision, rewrite or even editing?
The answer is obvious. To increase its usefulness to today's reader, the
language in which it was originally written needs updating.
Though his sermons have served other generations well, just as they came from
the pen of the author in the eighteenth century, they still could be lost to
present and future generations, simply because, to them, the language is
neither readily nor fully understandable.
My goal, however, has not been to reduce the original writing to the
vernacular of our day. It is designed primarily for you who desire to read
and study comfortably and at ease in the language of our time. Only
obviously archaic terminology and passages obscured by expressions not
totally familiar in our day have been revised. However, neither Jonathan
Edwards' meaning nor intent have been tampered with.
All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of
Zondervan Bible Publishers.
SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF AN ANGRY GOD
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Preached July 8th, 1741
"In due time their foot will slip;"
In this verse the vengeance of God is threatened upon the wicked unbelieving
Israelites, who were God's chosen people, and who lived under the means of
grace; but who, despite all of God's wonderful works towards them, remained
without sense, having no discernment in them (Deut. 32:28). After all the
cultivations of Heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as
shown in verses 32 and 33. The verse that I have chosen for my text, "In due
time their foot will slide," seems to imply the following things, relating to
the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.
1. That they were always exposed to "ruin;" as one that stands or walks in
slippery places is always exposed to falling. This is implied in the manner
of the destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding.
The same is expressed in Psalm 73:18, "Surely you place them on slippery
ground; you cast them down to ruin."
2. It implies, they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As
he that walks in slippery places is liable to fall at every moment, he cannot
foresee from moment to moment whether he shall stand or fall; and when he
does fall, he falls suddenly without warning: which is also expressed in
Psalm 73:18-19, "Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down
to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!"
3. Another thing that is implied is, that they are liable to fall by
"themselves," without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that
stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw
4. That the reason why they have not already fallen, and don't fall now, is
only that God's appointed time has not yet come. For it is said that when
that appointed time comes, "their foot will slip." Then they shall be left
to fall, as they are inclined to do because of their own weight. God will
not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go;
and then, at that very instant, they will fall into ruin; as he that stands
in such slippery descending ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand
alone, when he is let go of then he immediately falls and is lost.
The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this. "There
is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell but the mere
pleasure of God." By the "mere" pleasure of God, I mean His "sovereign"
pleasure, His arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation on His part,
not hindered by any difficulty. God's will not hindered in the least
degree in respect to the preservation of wicked men. The truth of this
observation may appear by the following considerations.
1. There is no lack of "power" in God to throw wicked men into hell at any
moment. Men's hands cannot be strong when God rises up: the strongest have
no power to resist Him, nor can anyone save them from His hands. He is not
only able to throw wicked men into hell, but He can do it most easily.
Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty trying to
subdue a rebel, who has found ways to fortify himself, and has made himself
strong by the mere numbers of his followers. But it is not so with God.
There is no fortress that is any defense from the power of God. Though hand
join in hand, and vast multitudes of God's enemies combine and associate
themselves, they are easily broken into pieces. They are like great heaps of
light chaff [worthless matter;rubbish] before the whirlwind; or large
quantities of dry hay before devouring flames. We find it easy to step on
and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; likewise it is easy for
us to cut a slender thread that anything hangs by: therefore it easy for God,
when He pleases, to throw His enemies down into hell. What are we, that we
should think that we can stand before Him, at whose rebuke the earth
trembles, and before whom the mountains collapse?
2. They "deserve" to be thrown into hell; and divine justice never stands in
the way, it makes no objection against God using His power at any moment to
destroy them. Yes, on the contrary, justice calls out loud for an infinite
punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth
such grapes of Sodom, "Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?" (Luke
13:7). Every moment the sword of divine justice is waved over their heads,
and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will, that
holds it back.
3. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They not only
justly deserve to be thrown down there, but the sentence of the law of God,
that eternal and unchangeable rule of righteousness that God has fixed
between Him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them;
so that they are already bound over to hell. John 3:18, "Whoever does not
believe stands condemned already." So that every unconverted man rightly
belongs to hell: that is his place; from there he has his origin, John 8:23,
"You are from below," and he is headed for there; it is the place that
justice, and God's word, and the sentence of His unchangeable law, assigns to
4. They are now the objects of that very same "anger" and wrath of God, that
is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they don't go down
to hell at each moment is not because God, in whose power they are under, is
not exceedingly angry with them, as He is with the many miserable human
beings now tormented in hell, and who there feel and bear the fierceness of
His wrath. Yes, God is a great deal more angry with the great numbers that
are now on earth; yes, doubtless with the many that are now sitting in this
congregation, who feel completely at ease, than He is with many of those who
are now in the flames of hell. It is not because God is unmindful of their
wickedness, and does not resent it, that He does not let loose His hand and
cut them off. God is not like them, though they imagine that He is. The
wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is
prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive
them; the flames now rage and glow. The glittering sword is sharpened and
held over them, and the pit has opened its mouth under them.
5. The "devil" stands ready to overthrow them, and seize them as his own, at
whatever moment God shall allow him. They belong to him; he has their souls
in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as
his goods, Luke 11:21. The devils watch them; they are next to them, at
their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that
see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back. If
God should withdraw His hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one
moment rush upon their poor souls. The old serpent is gaping for them; hell
opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would
be rapidly swallowed up and lost.
6. There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning,
that would presently ignite and burst into flames of hell-fire, if it were
not for God's restraints. There is laid in the very nature of all unsaved
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,
exceedingly violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining
hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would burst into flame
after the same manner as the same depravity, the same hatred, does in the
hearts of damned souls, and would generate the same torments as they do in
them. The souls of the wicked in Scripture are compared to the tossing sea,
For the present, God restrains their wickedness by His mighty power, as He
does the raging waves of the tossing sea, saying, "This far you may come and
no farther;" but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon
sweep away everything in its path. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul;
it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without
restraint, the soul would become perfectly miserable. The corruption of the
heart of man is unrestrained and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men
live here, it is like fire pent up by God's restraints, whereas if it were
let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now
a basin of sin, so, if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the
soul into a fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.
7. Wicked men cannot find even a moment's security in the fact that death
does not appear to be at hand. The unbelieving man has no security in the
fact that he is healthy, and that he cannot perceive of any accident taking
him out of the world, and that there is no visible danger in any of his
circumstances. The diverse and continual experience of the world in all ages
shows this is no evidence that a man is not on the very brink of eternity,
and that the next step will not be into another world.
The unseen, unthought of ways and means of persons suddenly being taken out
of the world are innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men walk over
the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in
this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places
are not seen. The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday; the sharpest
eyesight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of
taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is
nothing that indicates that God needs to use a miracle, or go out of the
ordinary course of His providence, to destroy any wicked man at any moment.
All the options of taking sinners out of the world, are in God's hands, and
so universally and absolutely subject to His power and determination, that it
depends merely upon the will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go
8. Unbeliever's prudence and care taken to preserve their own lives, or the
caring concern of others to preserve them, does not give them a moment's
security. To this, divine providence and universal experience also bears
testimony. There is clear evidence that men's own wisdom is no security to
them from death; otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and
prudent men of the world, and others, with regard to their vulnerability to
an early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact? Eccl. 2:16, "Like the
fool, the wise man too must die!"
9. All wicked men's pains and instruments which they use to escape hell,
while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, does not
secure them from hell for one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of
hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for
his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now
doing, or what he intends to do. Every one determines in his own mind how he
shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that his strategies will not
fail. They surely hear that only a few are saved, and that the greater part
of men that have died have gone into hell; but each one imagines that he has
a better plan for his own escape than others have come up with. He does not
intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he
intends to take sufficient care, and to arrange the concerns of his life so
that he will not fail.
But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own
schemes, and in the confidence of their own strength and wisdom; they trust
in nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who have lived under the
same patient grace of God, and are now dead, and have undoubtedly gone into
hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now
alive; it was not because they did not determine for themselves how to secure
their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by
one, whether they expected, when alive, when they used to hear about hell,
ever to be the subjects of that misery, we, doubtless, should hear one and
another reply, "No, I never intended to come here: I had determined
otherwise in my mind; I thought I had a good plan for myself: I thought my
strategy was good. I intended to take sufficient care; but it came upon me
unexpectedly: I didn't expect it at that time, and in that way; it came as a
thief: Death outwitted me: God's wrath was too quick for me. O my cursed
foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams
of what I would do after the life on earth; and when I was saying, Peace and
safety, then sudden destruction came upon me."
10. God has put Himself under no obligation, has made no promise, to keep any
unbelieving man out of hell for one second. God certainly has made no
promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from
eternal death, but only what are contained in the covenant of grace, the
promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yes and amen.
But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who
are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the
promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.
So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to
natural men's earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that
whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes,
till he believes in Christ, God is under no obligation to keep him a moment
from eternal destruction.
Therefore natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell; they
have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is
dreadfully provoked, His anger is as great towards them as to those that are
actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of His wrath in hell, and
they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither
is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment: the
devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and
flash about them, and are eager to grab hold of them, and swallow them up;
the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out; and they
have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be
any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold
of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and
uncovenanted, unobliged patience, of an incensed God.
The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in
this congregation. This you have heard is the case of every one of you
that are without Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning fire,
is stretched out wide under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing
flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you
have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing
between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of
God that holds you up.
You probably are not cognizant of this; you find that you are kept out of
hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, like
your good health, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your
own preservation. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should
withdraw His hand, they would no more keep you from falling, than thin air
would hold a person up that is suspended in it.
Your wickedness makes you as heavy as lead, and adds a downwards tendency
with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go,
you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless
gulf; and your good health, and your own care and prudence, and best plans
for salvation, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to
uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider's web would have to stop a
falling rock. Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would
not bear you for one moment; for you are a burden to it: the creation groans
with you; the animal is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not
willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to
serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her fruits to satisfy
your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon;
the air does not 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 animals are good, and were made for men to serve God with and do not
willingly serve any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes
so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spit you
out, were it not for the sovereign hand of Him who has subjected it in hope.
There are the black clouds of God's wrath now hanging directly over your
heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for
the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. The
sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, halts His destroying wind;
otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a
whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer.
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed 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 it is once let loose. It is true, that judgment against your
evil works has not been executed before; the floods of God's vengeance have
been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and
you are every day storing up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising,
and growing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure
of God that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and
press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw His hand from the
floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the
fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and
would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten
thousand times greater than it is, yes, ten thousand times greater than the
strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would never be able to
withstand or endure it.
The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and
justice points the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is
nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any
promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one second from being made
drunk with your blood. Thus all of you that never had the great change of
heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all of you
that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being
dead in sin, to a new state, and never experienced light and life, are in the
hands of an angry God.
However, you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had
religious feelings, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and
secret prayer closets, and in your churches, it is nothing but His mere
pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting
destruction. However, you may now be unconvinced of the truth that you now
hear, in time you will be fully convinced of it. Those that were in similar
circumstances as you are, are now gone and destruction came suddenly upon
most of them; when they expected nothing to happen, and while they were
saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they
depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or
some detestable insect, over the fire, detests you, and is dreadfully
provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy
of nothing else, but to be thrown into the fire; He eyes are too pure than to
bear to have you in His sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in
His eyes, than the most hateful venomous snake is in ours. You have offended
Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince: and yet, it is
nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.
It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell last night;
that you were allowed to awake up again in this world, after you closed your
eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not
dropped into hell since you arose this morning, but that God's hand has held
you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell,
since you have sat here in this church, provoking His pure eyes by your
sinful wicked manner of attending His solemn worship. Yes, there is nothing
else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop
down into hell.
O sinner! consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of
wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are
held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as
much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a
slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready
every moment to singe it, and burn it apart; and you have no interest in any
Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off
the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done,
nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment. And consider
here more particularly,
1. "Whose" wrath it is: it is the wrath of the infinite God. If it were only
the wrath of man, though it were of the most powerful prince, it would be
comparatively little to be regarded. The wrath of kings is very much
dreaded, especially of absolute dictators, who have the possessions and lives
of their subjects wholly in their power, to be disposed of at their mere
will. Prov. 20:2 "A king's wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers
him forfeits his life." The person that greatly enrages a volatile prince,
is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human art can invent, or
human power can inflict. But the greatest earthly kings, in their greatest
majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but
feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty
Creator and King of heaven and earth. They can do little, when most enraged,
and when they have exerted the utmost of their fury. All the kings of the
earth, before God, are like grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than
nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised. The wrath of
the great King of kings, is much more terrible than theirs, as His majesty is
greater. Luke 12:4-5, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who
kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you
should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw
you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him."
2. It is the "fury" of His wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of
the fury of God; as in Isa. 59:18, "According to what they have done, so will
He repay wrath to His enemies and retribution to His foes." So Isa. 66:15,
"See, the LORD is coming with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind; He
will bring down His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire."
And in many other places. So, Rev. 19:15, we read of "the winepress of the
fury of the wrath of God Almighty." The words are exceedingly terrible. If
it had only been said, "the wrath of God," the words would have implied that
which is infinitely dreadful: but it is the "fury of the wrath of God." The
fury of God! the fierceness of Jehovah! O how dreadful that must be! Who
can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them?
But it is also "the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." As though there
would be a very great manifestation of His almighty power in what the fury of
His wrath should inflict; as though omnipotence should be as it were enraged,
and exerted, as men exert their strength in the fury of their wrath. Oh!
then, what will be the consequence! What will become of the poor man or
woman that shall suffer it! Whose hands can be strong? and whose heart can
endure? To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivable depth of misery
must the poor creature be sunk who shall be the subject of this!
Consider this, you that are here, that yet remain in an unregenerate state.
That God will execute the fury of His anger, implies, that He will inflict
wrath without any pity. When God looks upon the inexpressible circumstances
of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned 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
withhold the executions of His wrath, or in the least lighten His hand; there
shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God stop His destroying wind; be
will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful for fear that you
should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall "not
suffer beyond what strict justice requires."
Nothing shall be withheld, because it is too intense for you to bear. Ezek.
8:18, "Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with
pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to
them." Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry
now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy. But when the day of mercy is
past, your most pitiful and sorrowful cries and shrieks will be in vain; you
will be totally lost and thrown away by God, and He will have no regard for
your welfare. God will have no other use for you, but for you to suffer
misery; you shall for no other purpose; for your body will be a body of wrath
designed for destruction; and there will be no other use of your body, but to
be filled full of wrath. God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to
Him, that it is said He will only "laugh and mock," Prov. 1:25-31,
Since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke,
I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity
overtakes you--when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when
disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and
trouble overwhelm you. Then they will call to me but I will not
answer; they will look for me but will not find me. Since they
hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, since they
would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat
the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their
How awful are those words, Isa. 63:3, which are the words of the great God,
"I have trodden the winepress alone; I trampled them in my anger and trod
them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all
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