<h3>Excerpt</h3> <div><div> <h2>CHAPTER 1</h2> <p>WILSON H. KIMNACH</p> <p>The Story of <i>Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God</i></p> <br> <p>Went over to Enfield, where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton, who preached a most awakening sermon from those words, Deut. 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying out through the whole house—"What shall I do to be saved?" "Oh, I am going to hell!" "Oh what shall I do for a Christ?" and so forth—so that the minister was obliged to desist. [The] shrieks and cries were piercing and amazing. After some time of waiting, the congregation were still, so that a prayer was made by Mr. Wheelock, and after that we descended from the pulpit and discoursed with the people, some in one place and some in another. And amazing and astonishing: the power [of] God was seen and several souls were hopefully wrought upon that night, and oh the cheerfulness and pleasantness of their countenances that received comfort. Oh that God would strengthen and confirm [their new faith]! We sang a hymn and prayed, and dispersed the assembly.</p> <br> <p>The birth of <i>Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God</i>, often called the "Enfield sermon," is here vividly, if impressionistically, described in the diary of the Reverend Stephen Williams, a ministerial colleague of Jonathan Edwards's from the nearby town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. The scene is hardly what one might expect of a New England meetinghouse at the conclusion of the Puritan epoch. Moreover, one might wonder why "dear" Jonathan Edwards was raising hell in someone else's pulpit, or why he had a band of ministers with him. This problematic context of <i>Sinners</i> must be kept in mind if we are to appreciate what some critics have identified as the greatest example of homiletical artistry in our literature and others have characterized as a depraved attack on human dignity or a laughable example of outmoded religious superstition.</p> <p>The scene at Enfield, a small village along the Connecticut River near the border separating the Connecticut and Massachusetts colonies, was replicated in many towns in the English colonies during the summer of 1741. That summer marked the climax of a colonial phenomenon that has been labeled the Great Awakening, and the excitement in the congregation was expected and typical of religious meetings during that period. The Great Awakening was initiated by one man, George Whitefield, an evangelical Anglican priest who came over from England in 1738 and by 1740 had toured the American colonies from end to end, preaching to any congregation that would have him—and when he was rejected by the churches, he would preach in town squares or neighboring fields. At the time he was a unique phenomenon, although in the perspective of American history he was clearly the first of what has become an American institution, the "revivalist." Revivalists historically differ from regular ministers in that they are specialists in religious excitement and they are peripatetic: they move from place to place stirring up interest in salvation through Jesus Christ, and it is at least implied that the many details and extended program of the salvation process will then be overseen by regular ministers in their respective congregations.</p> <p>Although Whitefield's mass marketing of salvation was unprecedented, the phenomenon of "revival" was not new, especially in New England. The first European settlers in the region, the Puritans, had left comfortable homes in England during the seventeenth century and come to what they characterized as a "howling wilderness" in order to effect a reformation in the Anglican church by their practical example. These radical reformers sacrificed estates and risked their own lives and those of their families traversing the stormy Atlantic in small wooden ships to settle where they at first had no houses to live in and were at the mercy of native inhabitants whom they viewed as satanic savages. The essential fact is that the Puritans were undoubtedly serious about realizing their vision of the Christian church. The insincere and the indifferent were left waving at the dock in England. Thus Puritan church congregations were "pure" and the people were highly motivated by what they trusted was the authentic spirit of God in their pilgrim community. As time passed, however, and generations followed in New England, the religious establishment inevitably became routine, since children take what their parents have achieved as the norm, the ordinary. The New England churches could no longer expect the heroic commitment of the original Puritans in order to maintain their membership. Consequently, leaders of the churches introduced various devices—for example, the Half-Way Covenant, which expanded the right to the sacrament of baptism—to make church membership less demanding and thus sustain the membership numerically; but at the same time they realized that merely maintaining institutional continuity was not likely to preserve the extraordinary religion of the first Puritans. Preachers inevitably began putting greater stress upon the importance of individual commitment, and by the later seventeenth century most ministers had become conscious of a certain ebb and flow of religious fervor in churches that were no longer pilgrim voyagers.</p> <p>The periodic elevation of religious intensity, whether as a result of months of effort in the pulpit or a sudden material threat to the community, such as drought, disease, or Indian attack, generally resulted in a wave of persons joining the church, frequently youth who had previously not seen their spiritual state as worthy of especial note. These episodes were generally referred to as "awakenings," and they occurred in individual churches or localities. Ministers such as Timothy Edwards, Jonathan Edwards's father, had good reputations largely because they were known to have had more awakenings in their congregations than most other ministers of the colony. An eminent and long-serving minister, Solomon Stoddard, Edwards's maternal grandfather, kept account of these events—which he called "harvests," using a rural metaphor—in various years of his ministry, comparing them quantitatively. It was in the western part of New England, in the Connecticut River valley, that the stress upon such awakenings was greatest, probably because it was there that civilization's institutions seemed most likely to be undermined by frontier conditions. From the first major settlement on the Connecticut River at Hartford in 1636, the leading valley ministers, such as Thomas Hooker in the first generation and subsequently Solomon Stoddard, were noted for their evangelizing of persons who were on the margin of church society. They awakened congregants to their plight if they had not been "converted," or changed from "natural" persons into "visible [apparent] saints," or true church members. By the time Jonathan Edwards joined his grandfather in Northampton as assistant minister in 1727, Stoddard had refined the process of awakening through five distinct episodes, in 1679, 1683, 1696, 1712, and 1718, and he had even published two books, <i>A Guide to Christ</i> (1714) and <i>A Treatise Concerning Conversion</i> (1719), to instruct ministers and converts on the subtleties of evaluating the experience of awakening and conversion.</p> <p>Soon Edwards was on his own, when Stoddard died in 1729 and left his twenty-five-year-old grandson in control of the most prominent church of the Connecticut Valley. An ambitious young man, Edwards inevitably felt the need to establish himself as a church leader, and consideration of the examples of his father and grandfather would have led him to the conclusion that the surest evidence of success would be a period of awakening. Thus Edwards not only preached sermons that would instruct and comfort established church members, he placed increasing stress upon the idea of God's power and the vulnerability of humans, particularly in spiritual matters. The title of his first published sermon, <i>God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man's Dependence upon Him in the Whole of It</i> (1731), captures the theme well, especially when we remember the broad cultural context of the eighteenth century, with its increasing stress on "natural ability" and its adequacy, through the power of reason, to satisfy the basic needs of humankind, whether in church or state. Those not yet members of the Northampton church, or those who may have felt careless or indifferent in it, were strongly reminded that ordinary, or "natural," people had to be converted into a new kind of person in order to be optimistic about their ultimate destiny. Moreover, lest they minimize the importance of the new life with Christ, Edwards reminded them of the alternative destination of natural beings in sermons detailing the torments of hell, the place Puritans had always agreed would be the destination of those who remained spiritually detached and alone.</p> <p>For several years Edwards preached cycles of sermons detailing all the dimensions of the Christian life required of his people, while he invoked the power of God in pastoral prayers to awaken them. Finally, in the fall and winter of 1734–35, the young people of the church began to show concern for their spiritual lives, and many older persons also seemed to be moved. The congregation became increasingly excited about their religious experiences, and soon Edwards was admitting new members in numbers that had not been seen before. What is more, the religious excitement seemed to spread to neighboring towns up and down the Connecticut Valley, to no fewer than thirty-two localities according to Edwards's observation. He soon published a report in London describing the awakening, entitled <i>A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton, and the Neighboring Towns and Villages of Hampshire in New England</i>, although by the time the book was brought out in Boston, in 1738, he ruefully observed that the heavenly gales had already blown over. Had the revival really been authentic? Edwards certainly hoped so, although he would not again be so unreservedly impressed with an awakening movement.</p> <p>The immediate result of <i>A Faithful Narrative</i> was that Edwards inherited Stoddard's mantle as an authority on awakenings, for his report not only describes events but attempts to establish criteria for evaluating them. While Stoddard insisted that no account of spiritual awakening is beyond question, Edwards's <i>Narrative</i> clearly provides encouragement for the authentication of conversion. Unobtrusively occupying the center of Edwards's report is his own image, that of the pastor calmly leading and advising his flock, since the spiritual upheaval only served to strengthen the place of the pastor among the people as Christ's representative. In the perspective of his life, the <i>Narrative</i> memorializes the apogee of Edwards's pastoral career, for in only two or three years a different kind of revival began to challenge the role of Edwards and other regular ministers within the colonies.</p> <p>And thus we return to the time of <i>Sinners</i> and to the episode of awakening described in the passage at the head of this essay. It was just after George Whitefield's preaching campaign through the New England colonies and consequently a time of great religious agitation, even within the outlying Connecticut Valley churches where Edwards and his cousin Stephen Williams were employed. Because of his reputation as an interpreter of awakening, recently established through <i>A Faithful Narrative</i>, Edwards was an obvious candidate to assume a leadership role in the new Great Awakening. However, although Edwards clearly worked effectively in his own church in the traditional way and visited other local parishes such as Sueld where the new spirit had been notably manifested, he was less visible on the national scene than several itinerating revival specialists in the new mold such as Gilbert Tennent, James Davenport, Eleazar Wheelock, and Benjamin Pomeroy, not to mention Whitefield himself. Therefore, when the minister of Enfield, Peter Reynolds, appointed a lecture specifically to prepare his congregation to participate in the awakening that was flourishing in such neighboring towns as Sueld, Edwards accepted the challenge.</p> <p>As always when asked to preach abroad, Edwards selected a sermon that he had preached recently at home. Whether to save time in composition or to have the advantage of preaching something he had already tested, Edwards customarily recycled old sermons, even for the most important occasions. In this case he selected the sermon on Deuteronomy 32:35 that he had composed and preached at Northampton a couple of weeks previously, a sermon that he doubtless felt was powerfully awakening, although his own congregation had not apparently responded to it in any extraordinary way. Like all eighteenth-century sermons, it had no title and was identified only by its initial biblical text when preached at Enfield, as is evident from Williams's memorandum; titles were given only for publication in print, and they tended to be more descriptive of the occasion than evocative of the subject.</p> <p>The form of the sermon used by Edwards might be described as "classical" in an analogy with eighteenth-century music written by Mozart, particularly in that both homiletics and music followed upon seventeenth century baroque forms and responded to them largely by simplifying structure. Concern with literary form and style in the sermon has a long history in English literature, where the sermon itself occupies a distinguished place. A number of the greatest literary artists, such as John Donne and Edward Taylor, were also remarkable preachers and employed their artistry in their sermons as much as in their poetry; moreover, a number of English writers, including Lancelot Andrewes and John Tillotson, have become literary figures exclusively through their sermons. Besides revealing individual artistry, the formal characteristics of the English sermon also constituted important indicators of sectarian allegiance from the time of Henry VIII's break with Rome onward. Thus conventional Anglican preachers could be distinguished from Puritans more readily on the basis of homiletical form and style than essential theological principles. The early Puritans not only embraced the theology of the French theologian John Calvin but based the form of their sermons on the methodology of the French logician Peter Ramus, who emphasized the clarification of thought through dichotomous structures in which ideas are defined by juxtaposition to their opposites. This Ramistic structuring of argument often led in the seventeenth century to extreme formal complication in the exposition of the sermons—and to the formal streamlining that came in reaction in the eighteenth, even while preachers retained the basic Ramistic form.</p> <p>Edwards and contemporary New England preachers recognized three primary units of exposition: the Text, which opens the sermon with a quotation from the Bible and usually includes a brief interpretation or commentary; the Doctrine, which begins with a formal statement of the sermon's thesis (doctrine), based on the biblical text opening the sermon, and which includes numbered paragraphs of discussion known collectively as "reasons"; and the Application, the concluding division which presents the practical implications of the sermon in numbered paragraphs known collectively as "uses." As a whole, the sermon's argument evolves through its three divisions emphasizing, respectively, a critical understanding of the Scripture text, the derivation of ethical principles from the interpreted Scripture, and appropriate practical thought and action. Proportionately, the Text is very brief, usually only a page or so in length, while the Doctrine and Application are roughly equal in length, the Doctrine being longer in theoretical sermons or "lectures" and the Application being longer in pastoral sermons. Awakening sermons are emphatically pastoral. Having some sense of this form is as important to an understanding of the sermon as recognizing the structure of three quatrains and a couplet is to appreciating a Shakespearean sonnet. The numbers preceding paragraphs are actually less important in a printed sermon than in the sermon heard orally, for the numbers were given out to help note takers keep the structure of the sermon's argument clear in their notes.</p> <p>Looking at the printed text of <i>Sinners</i>, the reader might first observe that the Scripture text is minimal: a seven-word clause taken from a paragraph defining God's role as an avenger of sin. This theological minimalism sets the pattern for the entire sermon, for <i>Sinners</i> is an awakening sermon directed to an informed congregation familiar with the theological arguments proving the entire dependence of human beings on God for salvation and their utter defenselessness, as sinners, before his anger. As Edwards stated in an earlier sermon, the problem for his typical listeners was not that they doubted the truth of their traditional theology but that often "it don't seem real to them." At a time of unprecedented awakening fervor in the colonies, one Edwards believed might be a significant millennial overture, he selected a sermon that efficiently targets the resistance of unconverted persons: the matter of <i>realization</i>.</p> <p>This task would seem to have more to do with psychology than with theology, and in important ways it does; for the preaching of the Great Awakening was not about new theological concepts so much as it was about a new way of experiencing the old ones. Whitefield and his followers exhorted their listeners with a new and seemingly reckless urgency, and they were as contemptuous of the niceties of ecclesiastical decorum as early Puritan radicals had been. That skeptical observer of preachers Benjamin Franklin recollected in his <i>Autobiography</i> that Whitefield characterized natural persons in his sermons as "half Beasts and half Devils," although "they admir'd and respected him, notwithstanding his common Abuse of them." If anything, Whitefield's disciples became more extreme in the sensationalism of their exhortations, as if they were attempting to exorcise people from beastly and devilish possession. Of course, theological orthodoxy maintained that only God could bring about the transformation known as the "new birth," but preachers had always understood that God used means such as instruction and exhortation to prepare the way. Now, as the Great Awakening evolved, the emphasis was more than ever on the necessity of severing people from their habitual attitudes and rationalizations so that not only might they see themselves as God did and really feel as humbled as they had always professed to be, but that they might acquire new identities as creatures of faith and actually experience life anew. </div></div><br/> <i>(Continues...)</i> <!-- Copyright Notice --> <div><blockquote><hr noshade size="1"><font size="-2">Excerpted from <b>Jonathan Edwards's Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God</b> by <b>Wilson H. Kimnach</b>. Copyright © 2010 by Yale University. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.<br/>All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br/>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.</font><hr noshade size="1"></blockquote></div>