Sinners in the hands of an angry God is probably the most famous sermon ever preached on the north American continent. The preacher was Jonathan Edwards. The sermon was preached at Enfield, Connecticut on the evening of Sunday July 8, 1741. Pastor Edwards read the sermon in its entirety to a large congregation. It has been reported that the effect of the sermon was so powerful that strong men and women cried out during the service for mercy and some even grabbed hold of the seats for fear they would slide into hell at that very moment. A fellow minister who was seated on the platform that night cried out “Mr Edwards! Mr Edwards! Is not God merciful too? His text for the message is from Deuteronomy 32.35 “……. their foot shall slide in due time.”
I have decided to share this powerful sermon on the judgement of God with you as a four-part blog across the next month. As you read this sermon which God so mightily used in initiating a revival in the American north-east, I pray that you will gain a new and deeper understanding of the grace, mercy and kindness of God in offering mankind so great a salvation and may God richly bless you.
Here is Part I:
In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as verse 28.) void of counsel, having no understanding in them. Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text.—The expression I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.
- That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm 72:18. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castest them down into destruction.”
- It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18,19. “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castest them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”
- Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of 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 him down.
- That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by 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 shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go 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, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.—The truth of this observation may appear by the following considerations. 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, hindered by no manner of difficulty any more than if nothing else but Gods mere will had, in the last degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment. The truth of this observation may appear by the following consideration:
- There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong, when God raises up. The strongest have no power to resist Him, nor can any deliver out of His hands. He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it. Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty in subduing a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the number 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 a vast multitude themselves, they are easily broken in pieces. They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames. We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is for us to cut or singe a slender thread that anything hangs by: thus easy is it for God when He pleases, to cast His enemies down to hell. What are we, that we should think to stand before Him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?
- They deserve the be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way; it makes no objection against Gods using His power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “. . .cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?”— Luke 13:7. The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over the hand of arbitrary mercy, and Gods mere will that holds it back.
- They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between Him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18—”. . .he that believeth not is condemned already,” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is. John 8:23—”. . .Ye are from beneath;” and thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s Word, and sentence of His unchangeable law, assign to him.
- 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 do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not at present very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of His wrath. Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea doubtless with some who may be hearing me speak now, who, it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of hell. So 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 altogether such a one as themselves, though they may imagine Him to be so. 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 do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whetted, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.
- The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. The Scripture represents them as his goals—Luke 11:21. The devils watch them; they are ever by 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 fly 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 hastily swallowed up and lost.