Why Are You Not in Hell?
The subject matter of a critical discourse should be a familiar subject. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards is such. The concepts of sin and the wrath of God are of interest to all. Such as, how does God feel toward sinners and what will be their punishment? This is not a new sermon topic, but its message is still relevant. Edwards was the speaker. When he stood in the pulpit, the words spoken and the sentiments felt were from his heart to every listener in the Church. The words of his sermon ended centuries ago but today’s re-reading of them resurrects his fire, brimstone and righteous indignation against sin. His singular purpose was to impress upon his listeners that God is real, Hell is hot and Eternity is forever. The purpose of his message was to cause sinners to repent, remind the believers against the danger of backsliding and increase faithfulness in God. The danger of backsliding was a concern for Edwards because there was a constant battle to defend Puritan beliefs from backsliding into liberalism.
The Keynote of the sermon is taken from Deuteronomy 32:35, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” This is a point well taken. For Edwards to speak on the premise that their foot shall slide is a warning / prophesy of what is yet to come. It is within the realm of human nature for man to make mistakes. The sins of man are what alienate him from Almighty God and these unrepented sins are what will damn a sinner in Hell. He uses the sinful and rebellious history of the Children of Israel to warn against their OWN sins and transgressions. By recalling that God severely punished the wrong doings of the Children of Israel, he shows an equal covenant to punish today’s wrong doers.
His sermon comes from a man who is deeply faithful and deeply grounded in Holy Scripture. He uses imagery many times and for different purposes. He compares a person’s ability for self-salvation as, “a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.” There are possible allusions to the writings of Newton and Locke when Edwards speaks, “The earth would not bear you up for one moment; for you are a burden to it...” He draws a very interesting illustration by saying, “...avail you no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.” Edwards is speaking of a man on a gallows rope. The image of a man suspended with only thin air to support him, is the hopelessness that Edwards wants his audience to feel.
His desires are not to humiliate but to convict the erring sinner to make his life “right with God” before it is eternally too late. He tells his listeners a fact, which they may not have even considered. “Your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you.
Edwards asks the compelling question of “why you are not already in hell.” This question, “Why Have You Not Gone to Hell?” is not to hurry-up the slowpokes but to convince listeners that were it NOT for the patient Grace of Almighty God You would already “BE in HELL.” Edwards quotes a question that is centuries old and still relevant, “Who knoweth the power of God’s anger?” (Psalms 90:11)