Kreider if we could post it on the Biblical Studies Foundation website. I was delighted when he agreed. Critics of Edwards and the Puritans find this sermon an appalling example of all that is wrong with Calvinism and Puritan theology. Most anthologies of American literature perpetuate this stereotype by quoting the most graphic and striking imagery of the sermon, often without much context. The spider becomes our guide not only to the intentions of Calvinism but to its problems as well. Even those who are sympathetic towards Edwards and his theology sometimes appear to be embarrassed by this sermon.
Who can resist trembling before the frightening image of sinners dangled by a vengeful God like loathsome spiders over flames, or of treading on a paper-thin, rotting canvas, not knowing at what moment you might plunge into the abyss and face a just and judging God? The words echo through time in their haunting description of the plight of the damned. To be sure, some eighteenth-century people did doubt traditional views of hell, even in New England.
Yet Edwards spoke to his audience as though such a denial were not an intellectual option. That he would do so is itself revealing. It suggests how immense the gulf of assumptions is that separates most modern readers from the world of the original auditors. Few today, including many who affirm traditional Christian doctrines, have the sympathies to take seriously some of these deepest sensibilities of ordinary eighteenth-century colonials. Although the sermon does describe God as angry and his anger is particularly directed toward sinners, we must not ignore the other major category of divine attributes Edwards emphasizes.
God in his amazing long-suffering is still giving you a chance; his hand is keeping you from falling. Second, that Edwards believed in a place of eternal punishment for the wicked is plain, from this sermon and other writings. He is often used, positively and negatively, as an historical example of one who believed in hell as a place of fire. In the second section of the sermon, Edwards articulates a statement of doctrine developed from the biblical text, followed by rationale and reasons to support it.
Third, the preacher then applies the sermon to his audience.
He does not explain the context of this verse. In fact, he does not even indicate that he has selected only one phrase from the verse, which is part of a song of Moses cf. Deut He perhaps knows his audience well enough to know that they are so familiar with the biblical text that he can select this one phrase about impending judgment and develop a theological sermon around that concept.
Thus, the current role of God in the punishment of the wicked, according to Edwards, is to protect them, to keep them safe, to prevent their destruction, until some later, as yet undefined, point. At that time, God will release the wicked so that they will experience that which is justly deserved, eternal destruction. If he wanted to cast the wicked into hell he has sufficient power to accomplish his will.
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The wicked are already condemned, the righteous judge has already pronounced them guilty. He will not become angrier with them in hell than he is already now angry with them. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea, doubtless with many that are now in this congregation, that it may be are at ease and quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of hell.
The fires of hell are already burning in the souls of the wicked. All the contriving and scheming of the wicked to escape hell, apart from Christ, are doomed to failure. God is under no obligation to prolong the life of any wicked person for one instant. 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 forbearance of an incensed God.
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Edwards quickly moves to the application or use of this sermon. It is almost startling to see how brief his exposition of Scripture and defense of the doctrine is. It is apparent that he wants to devote sufficient time and space to making application for his congregation. If it is merely the grace of a sovereign God which keeps the wicked from their just punishment in hell, how ought they to respond?
This sermon contains no explicit application for the righteous. Edwards lists an extended series of exhortations directed to the unregenerate. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. Lest there be any chance of missing his point, Edwards begins the application with a graphic description of the state of all those who are not in Christ. But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.
Throughout the application section of the sermon, Edwards describes the terrible wrath of God in powerful pictures. He portrays the horrors of hell and the impending doom of the wicked in graphic terms, using several different metaphors. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who had subjected it in hope.
The sovereign pleasure of God for the present stays his rough 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 threshing floor. One might, perhaps, argue that the picture of a violent storm as the destruction of the wicked is not inconsistent with a lake of fire as their eternal destiny.
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Perhaps what precedes the fire is a terrible storm, or perhaps there is both a raging thunderstorm and burning lake of fire, or perhaps the fire is a result of a lightening strike, but it seems more likely that Edwards is using two different metaphors for destruction. Further, he describes hell as a bottomless pit, which seems to be a different analogy than either fire or storm.
The interpreter need not find some way to make the metaphors fit together. Rather, it seems better to recognize that the preacher is stressing the horror of the destruction which is, apart from the sovereign pleasure of God, imminently threatening the wicked. Edwards continues with another metaphor for divine destruction, one which is even more difficult to reconcile with the description of hell as a bottomless pit of fire. 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 once it is let loose.
To the imagery of a lake of fire, a bottomless pit, a violent wind storm, and a tidal wave of destruction, Edwards adds another graphic picture of the impending destruction of the wicked. Again, it seems unnecessary, and perhaps not even possible, to treat these images of destruction as synonyms or as overlapping pictures of the reality of divine judgment. Rather, this master communicator clearly appears to be using a variety of metaphors to stress the horrors of the destiny of the wicked, not intending to describe the actual nature of that destruction.
One might even surmise from the multiple metaphors that Edwards finds the language itself limiting, that hell is much worse than any of the analogies he can find in the natural world. That it is horrible and perhaps even too horrible for words seems to be his penultimate point. Ultimately, however, the sermon stresses the grace of God who, for reasons known only to him, has to this point kept the wicked from experiencing this horrible destruction which they deserve.
This passage is often read by critics of Edwards as if God is pictured as a cruel and sadistic child taking perverse pleasure in the torture of a helpless insect. That is certainly to push the analogy too far, to fail to understand the literary use of the figure, to launch the interpretation past the edge of propriety. But, more significantly, it is to miss the clear declaration of divine grace even here. That the sinner has not yet fallen into the fire of hell, which he justly deserves, is due only to the mere pleasure of a sovereign and gracious God.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.
In this description of the fate of the wicked, Edwards again mixes two metaphors, a bottomless pit and a fiery furnace, when he continues,. O sinner! The critics of Edwards are correct in noting that he stresses the fierceness and fury of the wrath of God. Without hesitation or apology, he argues from the lesser to the greater. The time is coming when it will be withheld and only his wrath will be poured out on the unregenerate. The punishment awaiting the wicked is not simply the terrible wrath of an infinite God, but it is also an everlasting wrath.
Edwards explains,. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity: there will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery: when you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which shall swallow up your thoughts and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all; you will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.
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Heaven and Hell in Christian Thought (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Purchasable with gift card. The physical copy comes with hand printed artwork and a booklet containing the actual book of Jonah from ye olde King James Version. DBB's book published about the awful journey of terror, meltdown, and whale ingestion that began as he worked on songs for his record The Book of Jonah.
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Not only are his insights incisive and needed, his writing is a delight to read. His latest is about as unsettling as it gets. I know how he operates, but he still catches me off guard. This is a work of imagination and erudition as well as an elegy that speaks of a way of being that for so long has eluded concerned Christians.
At last God has given us a prophet who dares to tell us like it is. Listen up—let Jonah help us to see our task as Christians in troubled times. Read and listen to David Benjamin Blower if you dare—but with assurance that grace is so much in abundance our fretfulness will be transformed into passion. Sold Out. Tags folk alt-folk apocalyptic folk indie folk singer-songwriter spiritual Birmingham. Why Not Coffee. Queens Foundation. Ashburnham Place.
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