Jonathan Edwards was the American theologian who wrote the “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon. He preached it on July 8, 1741, to his own congregation in Northampton. This particular sermon was not any different from any other Edward’s works, but also vividly combined the imagery of hell with an observation of the world based on the citations of the scripture. Being a representation of his preaching style, this sermon is Edward’s most popular sermon. It is also used by historians and Christians in the study of theology.
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This was a Great Awaken sermon that emphasized the belief that a hell is actually a real place. Edward’s hope was that through the use of imagery in this particular sermon, his audience would be awakened to the horrific reality of the kind of afterlife that awaited them should they keep on living without accepting Christ (Kimnach, Maskell, and Minkema 122). The sermon emphasized that God has given everyone a chance to turn from sin and follow Christ. It also advocated that it is God’s will that keeps the wicked men from dying and going to hell. It is through this act of restraint that humanity benefits from a golden chance of mending their torn ways and becoming followers of Christ.
The purpose of this sermon was to “awaken” the people of Connecticut, who had been largely unaffected during New England’s period of the Great Awakening (Kimnach, Maskell, and Minkema 90). The aim of Edward was, therefore, to teach his audience about the dangers of sin, the affliction of being lost, and the how horrible hell actually is. In his conclusion, he called upon those who had a shaky position in Christianity to turn back to Christ wholeheartedly in order to receive forgiveness.
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The Dignity of Man
Nathaniel Emmons’ sermon on “The Dignity of Man” was delivered in 1787 in honor of Franklin’s book donation to a parish library. In his delivery of the sermon, Emmons represented the combination of both a Christian and a philosopher. Emmons was actually a Calvinist who had been influenced to a great extent by Jonathan Edwards. In “The Dignity of Man” sermon, he acknowledged that there had to be an influence of the grace of God upon the will of man, but nevertheless admitting free will at the same time.
Emmons was actually attempting to combine the Christian revelation with a secular morality. This was different from Jonathan Edward’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon that emphasized on avoiding free will by all means and strictly following the will of God. However, Emmons also explained his ideas based on the teachings of the Bible. He began by describing the man as being both a lowly “worm” and a dignified being (Emmons 15). He went on to define the dignity of man. According to him, the very fact that it was God who created man and endowed him with an immortal soul and reason makes him dignified. By giving man a rational and an immortal response, God unstamped dignity upon mankind. It is this immortal soul’s emphasis that gives man the authority to act in free will. He also placed so much emphasis upon man’s ability to reason. Man’s dignity of nature is influenced by the human mind’s noble and large capacities.
Whereas Edward’s sermon was so specific about what people ought to believe and the way they should act, Emmons’ sermon declared that the reasoning of a man has the capacity to continue building on the learning acquired previously, leading to subsequent discoveries over the ages and generations.
Edward’s sermon divided people into two categories based on their faith and whether or not they had accepted Christ. He said that those who followed Christ led better and more fulfilling lives because they had an assurance they would eventually go to heaven. On the other hand, Emmons’ sermon considered all men at par as far as matters of faith are concerned. He said that all men are capable of attaining same knowledge degrees, it is only that this happens within differing timelines because some take longer than the others. This reasoning capacity is meant to liberate mankind from the past’s authority, with regard to sciences in particular.
Emmons’ sermon seemed to get involved in the debate of the eighteenth century, as to whether the “moderns” can do better than the “ancients”. It is quite clear that Emmons is on the side of the “moderns” as he says, “The way to outstrip those who have gone before us is not to tread in their steps, but to make a nearer course” (Emmons 22). He further insists that given man’s divine dignity, he actually has a duty to keep increasing his knowledge. On the other hand, Edward’s sermon depicts mankind as running away from the truth of God as generations go by. According to him, “being a friend of the world” and pursuing earthly possession do not go together with becoming a possible candidate for the kingdom of heaven. In other words, Edward’s message was that one ought to choose between the kingdom of God and the world. On the other hand, as far as Emmons is concerned, dignity is not only man’s reason, but also his “holiness”.
Emmons employs some religious vocabulary to simply say that man is made up of perceptions, reason, conscience, and other faculties, which he uses to distinguish between right and wrong, something that the lower animals lack. Edward’s sermon, however, implies that the rightness or wrongness of an action is based on whether it is a sin or not. An act is a sin if it is considered to go against the teachings of Christ. Sin is wrong.
Both sermons illustrate man as a God’s creation, created in God’s image. They emphasize humanity, justice and benevolence. As the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon encourage people to follow Christ and please God at all times because He created them, Emmons’ “The Dignity of Man” implies that the faculty of determining the difference between right and wrong makes a man to be just, loving, merciful, and humble in the walk with God. This relationship between God and morality, God and man, indicates a similarity in both sermons.
The sermon by Emmons preached that the dignity of man is able to understand the creator, who is God. In this case, man has a duty to worship God. Both sermons recognize that true religion is actually recognizing the justice and goodness of God as well as the obligation of man, being a creation of God, to worship him and do good. This is an inborn faculty and therefore it should be natural to worship.
Both sermons were delivered in the 18th century. This was a time when there was The Age of Enlighment. During that time, religious and philosophical views were experiencing a sort of a revolution. Most of the views and opinions generated during that century continue to influence the present-day thinking to a great deal. Most of the notable works of the century are masterpieces to date.
All men are God’s own creation. It is therefore only in order that all men live for that which they were created to live for. Every person should worship God, honor him and respect everyone else. This is man’s greatest faculty.
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