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What Happened on July 8, Two Hundred and Seventy Years Back?

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

On Wednesday, July 8, 1741, exactly two hundred and seventy years back, at Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon which later came to be known as one of the most powerful sermons in the history of Christianity. He selected his text from Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” And he titled his message “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”


Before going further, I am afraid our age of sensation may despise Jonathan Edwards and his sermon. Our generation is brimming with such superficial preachers, sugar-coated sermons and make-me-feel-comfortable listeners that many feel nauseated by hard and strong teachings. Our current Christianity is crowded with those who get enamored by messages on love, heaven, blessings, peace and success, but not righteousness, wrath, hell, warnings and curses. Nonetheless, the Holy Bible is a book of truth—not a book of sensation, teaching with balance both love and holiness, heaven and hell, blessings and curses, kindness and wrath, peace and suffering, grace and truth.

Although many emotionally suppose Edwards to be just a “fire and brimstone” preacher, he was in fact a broken and tenderhearted man, pleading with people to know God for whom they were created. Out of his more than 1000 sermons, only few messages were as fiery as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” He spoke much on the sweetness, the pleasures and the glory of God which makes us to fall flat on our face before the Maker of the heavens and the earth. Just like the Holy Bible he diligently studied, he was a man of balance.

So, back to the grand day in history—July 8, 1741. It was said that when Edwards was about to preach the atmosphere was lousy. People came to the meeting as if they expected more of a fashion show than revival. One minister later wrote of the scene, “When they went into the meeting house, the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain. The people hardly conducted themselves with common decency.”

Then came Jonathan Edwards, an unimpressive, tall, fragile and thin man, with a high forehead and a long narrow face. He wore thick glasses to read his sermons. His voice was not up to the standard of homiletics, for it was monotonous, not strong and not loud but yet distinct, precise and solemn. He stood like a pillar, motionless, making no gestures with his head or hands.

Now Edwards poured his heart in prayer for revival for a long period of time and prepared his sermons with great intensity and hope to see the mighty move of the Holy Spirit. The time came for the Spirit of God to honor His servant’s passion and labor. How many of us persistently pour out our hearts before God for revival and prepare messages with great anticipation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit?

When Jonathan preached his message, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, before he could even finish his message, people fell down under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and began crying out. One minister reported, “There was a great moaning and crying out throughout the whole house. What shall I do to be saved? Oh I am going to Hell. Oh what shall I do for Christ.”

The atmosphere at the time was filled with such solemnity that they imagined the floor had opened and they were about to be swallowed up. There was such weeping, outcry and distress in the congregation that Edwards could not be heard. Although he asked them to be quiet, they could not and Edwards never finished the sermon. The revival continued for a long duration—converting souls, reviving the lukewarm, enlivening charity, increasing godliness and bringing untold glory to God.

If you ask me, “What do you think is the greatest need of our time?” I reply, “Not evangelism, not charity, not church planting…etc but REVIVAL.” Yes, we need revival. When revival comes, the former activities would be the outcome done with great zeal and love. Without revival, whatever we do may become shallow and dreary acts.

O, what the Lord had wrought through His servant, Jonathan Edwards, may He do that again in our time! May He raise servants—as bold and tender, as full of the Spirit and the word, as laborious and dependent on God, as bright and humble, as studious and prayerful, as God-soaked and passionate for the lost—as Edwards.

Lord, send your wind of revival upon us and sweep away lukewarmness and worldliness from our lives. Set our hearts on fire to love you passionately and to live for your glory and to accomplish your divine purpose on earth. Amen.

Here is a brief excerpt of the words Edwards spoke on July 8, 1741.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure toward hell…There are the black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder…

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 a 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. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his price; and yet ‘tis nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment: ‘tis to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night…but that God’s hand has held you up: there is no other reason to be given why you haven’t gone to hell since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you don’t this very moment drop down into hell.

Oh sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in…

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has flung the door of mercy wide open, and stands in the door calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners;…many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him that has loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day!

Click here to read the entire sermon: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html

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Source referred: Roberts Liardon, God's Generals: The Revivalists (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2008), pg. 157-159

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Comments

  1. Good one, similar thoughts are running in my mind these days. We need people like J.E to wake up christians to the reality of sin and righteous living. There seems to laxity in the popular christian arena on this front. I have realized it is more profound in the Meteros. Where the only goal in life of an average christian is get in to a "good job" and trip abroad. Somebody called it the typical "middle class" mentality and it is so rampant among Indian Christians.

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