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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Transcript)


Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (Audio Transcript)

## Transcript

00:00 Speaker: Hello, this is Max MacLean. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, delivered by Jonathan Edwards on July 8, 1741, is remembered as the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil. Today, it appears in almost every anthology of American literature and stands alone as the only sermon included. It is an amazing text to the modern ear, even those who absorb graphic imagery and language on a regular basis to the point of being numb to it, or stricken with terror when they hear Edwards’ stunning metaphor on the wrath of God.
00:35 Speaker: However, our reaction pales compared to how it was received when Edwards first delivered it. It is known as the sermon for which New England never forgave him, as the wife of Herod never forgave John the Baptist. It sparked much controversy. It also sparked a fire that became known as the Great Awakening, a spiritual revival that left a permanent imprint on American life, pulling the colonies away from the ceremonial detached ritual and discourse that marked European Christianity and breathing into it a new life of fervency and an acute understanding of the need for salvation. Edwards’ reputation is one of a stern, loveless man, but that picture belies the truth.
01:22 Speaker: Those closest to Edwards described him as thoughtful, warm, sensitive, loving father, faithful husband, and a generous friend to the poor and distressed. Hell was a real place in Edwards’ mind, and therefore worthy of perpetual warning to avoid it at all costs. He prayed earnestly for his people to be awakened to the reality of sin and not to take for granted the sweetness of the gospel through Jesus Christ. What you will hear is a recording of this sermon as I delivered it before a large congregation. It has been edited for length. A complete version of the sermon is available on our website along with a copy of the text.
02:04 Speaker: The scripture on which this sermon is based is from Deuteronomy 32, 35, Their foot shall slip in due time. Their foot shall slip in due time. Ladies and gentlemen, this sermon is not for the faint of heart, but I believe that any Christian who feels the weight of this sermon will be drawn to the gospel, the sweet truth that the punishment that was meant for us was taken instead by Jesus. Sometimes that truth becomes obscured by familiarity.
02:41 Speaker: This sermon gives us a vivid glimpse of the wrath that Jesus experienced on our behalf when he screamed on the cross, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? A wrath that he took on willingly for us. Sinners in the hands of an angry God. The text for Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is taken from the book of Deuteronomy. Verse 32, verse 35, And it reads, Their foot shall slip in due time. Their foot shall slip in due time.
03:35 Speaker: In this verse, the violent anger of God is threatened upon the wicked and unbelieving Israelites who were God’s chosen people, living under the benefits of His grace. But who, despite all God’s wonderful works toward them, were without sense, and had no understanding in them, though cultivated by the blessings of heaven, they brought forth only bitter and poisonous fruit. The verse I have chosen for my text, Their foot shall slip in due time, relate to the punishment and destruction of these wicked Israelites. It implies the following things.
04:24 Speaker: They were always exposed to destruction, just as someone who stands or walks in slippery places is always in danger of falling. It also implies that they were always exposed to sudden, unexpected destruction, just as he who walks in slippery places is always liable to fall. He cannot foresee from one moment to the next whether he will stand or fall. When he does fall, it is sudden and without warning.
04:55 Speaker: The only reason they have not fallen already is that God’s appointed time has not yet come. The text says that when their appointed time does come, their foot shall slip. Then by their own weight they will be left to fall. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go and at the very instant he does, they will fall into destruction. From these words, I insist on this.
05:39 Speaker: Nothing keeps wicked people out of hell for a single moment except the mere pleasure of God. By the mere pleasure of God I mean his sovereign pleasure, which is not hindered or restrained by anything. Only the sovereign will of God preserves the life of a wicked person. Nothing else preserves the wicked for one moment except God’s mere will. The truth of this observation may be seen in the following thoughts. God does not lack the power to throw wicked people into hell at any moment. The hands of men are weak when God rises up against him. The strongest men are defenseless against God, and no one can be rescued from his hand. God is not only able to throw people into hell, but he is also able to do it easily.
06:27 Speaker: Nothing can defend you from his power. Even the wicked people when joined together in great numbers against him, they are easily broken into pieces. They are like great piles of weightless chaff in a tornado, or large heaps of dry stubble in the path of devouring flames. We find it easy to step on and crush a worm crawling on the ground. It is just as easy for God to cast his wicked enemies into hell whenever he pleases. The wicked deserve to be thrown into hell. God is not unjust in using his power to destroy them. No, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that bears grapes like Sodom, cut it down.
07:20 Speaker: Why does it use up the ground? The sword of divine justice waves over their heads at every moment, and nothing but God’s sovereign mercy and mere will holds it from falling on them. Wicked people are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. Not only do they justly deserve to be thrown into hell, but the sentence of God’s eternal and unchangeable standard of righteousness. His law, which he has placed between himself and mankind, stands against them so that they are already hanging over hell. John 3.18 says, He who does not believe is condemned already.
08:04 Speaker: The reason they are not thrown down into hell now is not that the sovereign God is not angry with them as he is with the many miserable people who are already tormented in hell and bearing his fierce wrath. God is much angrier with unbelievers who are still here on earth, and very likely many now in this congregation than he is with many of those now in the flames of hell.
08:29 Speaker: So the reason why God has not loosened his hand and cut them off is not that he is unaware of their wickedness or tolerates it. God is not like them, though they imagine him to be. The wrath of God is burning against them. Their damnation is not sleeping. The pit is prepared. The fire is already made. The furnace is hot and ready to receive them. The flames even now rage and glow. The shiny sword is sharpened and held over them. The pit has opened its mouth under them. Within the souls of wicked people, hellish desires reign. Were it not for God’s restraint, those desires would kindle and flare up into hellfire. In the very nature of carnal men lies the basis of the torments of hell.
09:18 Speaker: These corrupt desires controlling and possessing them are the very seeds of hellfire. They are active and extremely violent. If it were not for God’s restraining hand, they would soon fan out as widely as the corruption and hostility that fills the hearts of the condemned and produce the same kind of torments in them. Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul. It is destructive by nature, and if God were to leave it unrestrained, nothing else would be needed to make the soul perfectly miserable. The heart is extremely corrupt and its fury knows no boundaries. Sin is like fire confined by God’s restraint. But if let loose, it would set ablaze the whole course of nature.
10:05 Speaker: It is no security to wicked people for one moment that they are not in any apparent danger of dying soon. It is no security for the natural man that he is now healthy or that he does not foresee how he might suddenly be taken by some accident. The unseen and unexpected ways that people suddenly leave this world are too numerous to imagine. The unconverted walk over the pit of hell on a rotten bridge, and there are countless places on that bridge that are too weak to bear their weight. These places go unseen.
10:45 Speaker: All the schemes and efforts, the wicked, to escape hell while they continue to reject Christ and remain wicked do not secure from them hell for any moment. But every natural man that hears about hell deceives himself that he will escape it. He rests on his own false security, flattering himself with the good things he has done, is now doing, or what he tends to do. Every man plots how he will escape damnation and flutters himself thinking that his plans are ingenious, that his schemes will not fail.
11:14 Speaker: He clearly hears that only a few will be saved and that the greater part of humanity who have died before him have gone to hell. But each one imagines that his plans to escape are better than theirs. He has no intention of going to that place of torment. He tells himself that he will carry out his plans with such care that they cannot fail. These foolish people miserably trick only themselves with their own schemes. By putting confidence in their own wisdom and strength, they are only trusting a shadow.
11:48 Speaker: Most of those who until now have lived under the same means of grace are now dead and in hell. This is not because they were not as wise or did not plan for their escape as well as those who are alive today. If we could ask them one by one whether when they were alive and heard of hell they ever expected to suffer its misery. They would doubtless say, no, I never intended to come here. I had other plans. I thought I could manage well and my scheme was sound. I intended to carry out all my plans but death took me by surprise. I wasn’t looking for it at the time or in that way. It came like a thief in the night. Death outsmarted me. God’s wrath was too quick for me.
12:26 Speaker: My curse and foolishness all this time I was flattering myself with my empty dreams or what I would do later and just when I was saying to myself peace and safety destruction overcame me. God is not bound by any promises to keep natural man out of hell for one moment. He has certainly made no promises of eternal life or of any deliverance from eternal death except those given in the covenant of grace, the promises to us in Christ in whom all the promises are yes and amen.
13:03 Speaker: But surely those who are not children of the covenant who disbelieve all the promises and disregard the mediator of the covenant, they have no share in the promises of this covenant of grace. Therefore regardless of what people have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is clear that whatever pains one takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, unless he believes in Christ, God is under no obligation to keep him from eternal destruction for one moment. The devil is waiting for them. Hell’s mouth is open for them. The flames gather and flash around them longing to take them and swallow them up.
13:49 Speaker: The fire trapped inside their own hearts is struggling to break out and they have no hope of a mediator. Nothing within their reach can give them any security. In short, they have no refuge and nothing to grab hold of. The only thing that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will and the uncovenanted, unabledged patience of an incensed God. The purpose of this terrifying subject is to wake up the unconverted in this congregation. What you have heard is true of everyone who do not believe and trust in Christ.
14:42 Speaker: The world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone is spread right beneath you and you have nothing to stand on or grab on to, nothing between you and hell but the air. Only the power and mere pleasure of God holds you up. You are probably unaware of this. You notice that you are being kept out of hell, but you do not see that it is God’s hand keeping you out.
15:05 Speaker: Instead, you look at other things such as your good health, the way you take care of yourself, the things you do to preserve your life. But in fact, these things are nothing. If God withdrew his hand, these things would no more keep you from falling than thin air, and it would hold up a person suspended on it. The bow of God’s wrath is bent and straining. The arrow is already set on the string and justice aims it directly at your heart.
15:34 Speaker: It is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, an angry God who is not restrained by any promise or obligation that keeps that arrow from being drunk with your blood. This means that all of you whose hearts have never been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and who have never been born again and made new creatures raised from being dead in sin to a new light and life, all of you are in the hands of an angry God.
16:04 Speaker: However unconvinced you are now about the truth of what you are hearing, when you die, you will be fully convinced of it. Others who are in your position now see that these things are true, for most of them destruction came suddenly when they least expected it. They were saying peace and safety, but now they see that the things they trusted to give them peace and safety were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
16:35 Speaker: God is holding you over the pit of hell as someone holds a spider or some repulsive insect over a fire and he abhors you and is dreadfully provoked. O sinner, think seriously about the fearful danger you are in. Yet you have no interest in a mediator and nothing to grab hold of to save yourself, nothing to fend off the flames of wrath, nothing in yourself, nothing you have ever done, nothing you can do to persuade God to spare you for one moment. For now God stands ready to have pity on you. This is a day of mercy.
17:30 Speaker: Now you may cry with the hope of obtaining mercy, but once the day of mercy is past, your most serious and desperate cries for mercy will be in vain. You will be forever lost and God will throw you away. No longer giving thought to your welfare, God will have no other use for you except to make you suffer misery. You shall exist for no other purpose. You will be objects of his wrath prepared for destruction and there will be no other use for those objects but to be filled full of God’s wrath.
18:29 Speaker: He would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God even for one moment, but you will suffer it for eternity. There will be no end to this intense and horrible misery. When you look ahead you will see a long forever, an unlimited length of time before you. This will swallow up all your thoughts. It will amaze your soul and you will be an absolute despair of ever being delivered, of its ever coming to an end, or of receiving any reduction of torment or any rest at all.
19:09 Speaker: You will know for sure that you must wear out many long ages, millions and millions of ages in struggling and fighting against this merciless vengeance. And when you have struggled and fought through all these many ages you will realize that hardly a second has gone by and eternity still remains. Your punishment will be infinite. Oh, who can express the horrible state of a soul in that condition? How dreadful is the state of those who are in danger of this great wrath and infinite misery every hour of every day? Yet this is the dark and gloomy condition of every soul in this congregation who has not been born again.
19:56 Speaker: However moral and strict, serious and religious he or she may be, oh, that you would consider this whether you are young or old. There is reason to think that many in this congregation now listening to this message will actually suffer this very misery for all eternity. We do not know who they are or where they are seated or what they may now be thinking. It could be that they are now at ease and remain undisturbed by hearing all these things assuring themselves that they are not the ones spoken of and promising themselves that they will escape.
20:33 Speaker: If we knew that there was even one person in this whole congregation who would suffer such misery, what an awful thing it would be to think of? And more if we knew who that person was. How horrifying it would be to see that person in such a state. But I tell you, it is likely that not just one, but many will remember this sermon while they are in hell.
21:00 Speaker: It would be surprising if some who are now present here were not in hell in a very short while, even before this year is over. I would not be amazed if some people now sitting here in this service in good health, content, secure were there before tomorrow morning. Your damnation is not sleeping. It will come swiftly and most likely very suddenly upon many of you. But here you are, in the land of the living, in the house of God, and you have an opportunity to obtain salvation.
21:33 Speaker: What would those poor, damned, hopeless souls not give for the opportunity you now have? Now you have an extraordinary opportunity. This day, Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open and stands calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners. Many are flocking to him and pressing into his kingdom. They are coming daily from the east and the west and the north and the south.
21:54 Speaker: Many who until very recently were in the same miserable condition that you are in are now happy. They are heart filled with love for him who has loved them and washed them from their sins in his own blood. They are rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God. How terrible it would be to be left behind in such a day to see others feasting while you are grieving and perishing.
22:20 Speaker: How awful it would be to see so many people rejoicing and singing with joy from their hearts while you can do nothing but mourn and feel the sorrow in your heart and cry because your spirit is so afflicted. How could you rest for one moment if you are now in that condition? Or let everyone who is without Christ now wake up and flee from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now without a doubt hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let everyone flee from Sodom. Escape for your life. Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains lest ye be destroyed.
23:09 Speaker: The power of this sermon lies in the terrifying vividness of its descriptions and the truth that God’s holiness does not tolerate sin. But let me also suggest that it is a reminder of the Gospel of Grace. Philippians 2 tells us that Jesus humbled himself and was obedient to death on the cross. Why do you do that? Because our sin demanded it. Jesus took on himself the wrath of God that Edwards so vividly described so that we would never have to take it. This is the Gospel.
23:42 Speaker: Whenever we lose sight of the significance of the Gospel, I would encourage you to listen again to Edwards’ sermon. It will remind you of how much we need Jesus and give you a new desire to follow the one who loved us so much that he himself would satisfy God’s demand for justice. As Romans 3 tells us, All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.
24:21 Speaker: He did this to demonstrate his justice so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.