Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Book summary

Johnathan Edwards



Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God was a sermon given by Jonathan Edwards to a congregation in Connecticut in 1741. It is considered to be one of the most famous sermons of all time. It aimed to communicate the idea that it isn’t enough to just attend mass, and that Christians need to have true faith in Christ to attain salvation. It was reported that the congregation was so moved by the sermon that the reverend had to stop several times to restore order before continuing.

The sermon is a perfect example of understanding the Great Awakening, a period during which Christian priests came to believe that life had become too comfortable and that they needed to purify their people.


Plot Summary


Their foot shall slide in due time (Deut. xxxii. 35).

The sermon begins with two quotations from the old testament, and the quote from Deuteronomy is the foundational quote for this sermon. The other quote from the book of Amos highlights the omnipotence of god over human actions, and his ability to foil all human plans. The first quote represents a promise of vengeance from God on the sinfulness of the Israelites who continued to be unfaithful to God despite his benevolence. Edwards then launches into a discussion about the punishment of the Israelites.

Firstly, the reverend explains that God had set them in a place where their foot could slip, where they were always in danger of erring or being sinful. This slip of the foot would be sudden, implying that the punishment of God comes without warning and at unexpected times. Just as walking in a slippery place leads to a sudden and unexpected fall. He supports both assumptions from the bible and quotes from Psalm 73. The reverend invokes rationality as he reminds his congregation that a man in a slippery place falls due to his weight. He isn’t pushed by an external force, and the fall is due to his actions. The only reason why people who sin do not slip and fall into God’s pit is that they are being held up by God. Reverend reminds his congregation that God can take away his support at any time, and thereby doom sinners at a slight whim.

Edwards believes that the key fact that the quote from Deuteronomy communicates is that nothing but the will of God keeps sinners out of hell. That God can at any time choose to end the lives of sinful men and damn them to suffer in the fires of hell.

Edwards then discusses the reasons why he believes this implication of the quote is logical and true. He tells his congregation that even the strongest man cannot stand against the will of God. He uses the metaphor of a prince fighting against a powerful rebel and reminds the people that there is no such powerful rebel that can stand against the power of God. He compares God to the elements of wind and fire that tear through chaff and stubble with ease and ferocity. He also believes that humans are deserving of being damned since they are sinners. God practices an injustice by shielding sinners from their punishment in hell, and that the sword of justice always hangs over them. However, this punishment is stayed by the mercy of God. He discusses the reason for this sinner’s fate and explains that it is not their bad deeds that cause them to go to hell but rather the lack of their faith. He invokes a quote from the book of John as he explains that all those who do not have faith in Christ are bound to hell which is their proper place as unbelievers of God.

Edwards talks about those who have already been sentenced to hell and those that yet continue to live on in this world. He explains that it would be wrong to think that God is angrier with those damned souls more than the sinners that are alive in this world. It very well could be that God is angrier with members sitting in the congregation than he is against those already in hell. He reminds them all that they could be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone at the slightest whim of the omniscient God. Edwards goes further to explain that the devil is always watching sinners and awaiting their descent into hell. The only thing that restrains the devil from bringing the sinners down to Hell immediately is the power of God. Just as God keeps the souls of sinners from smoldering in the fire of hell even as they live in this world. He believes that the souls of sinners are essentially tied to hell, which is why carnal men feel the heat of hell course through their veins. God’s mercy keeps these souls from becoming the flames of hell.

He tells his congregation that wicked men cannot ever be truly safe since death is always at hand. God has innumerable ways of ending the life of sinners as these men are walking over a rotted floor above hell. Death is present in the world that God wouldn’t need to conjure even a miracle to cause death but have it occur in completely normal circumstances. Edwards explains that this damnation comes for all sinners even if they happen to be wise men. He tells them that all ways of avoiding Hell fail except that of accepting Christ as their savior. Some people become overconfident and think that they have led good lives with some semblance of religion, yet they end up in damnation. If you were to talk to these people each one of them would tell you that they had made plans to avoid Hell but had ended up there anyway.

Edwards explains that God has no reason to not send a man to heaven, but that Christ has made promises to man in the covenant of grace. This covenant means nothing to those who do not believe in Christ and see him as their savior. The very souls of sinners are ready to set aflame, and the devil eagerly waits to receive them in hell. Yet, Christ, the mediator to God promises them all a way to salvation as long as they accept him as their one and true savior.


The reverend explains that the pit of hell extends below the feet of all sinners, and they are held aloft by the most tenuous bond that keeps them out of damnation. The wickedness of these men is heavy on the earth, which does not accept their burden willingly, nor do any of the other creations of God. This is so because God had made all of his creations to serve him, and sinners do not serve him. He believes that God’s wrath is like a damn that fills up over time, and so it increases with the guilt of the sinners over their wickedness. This state of a sinner is the true state of all those people who haven’t been born again in the love of Christ. These unbelievers of christ may make other changes, and do good deeds, but they will always remain in the hands of an angry God unless they accept Jesus Christ as the only true savior. They may choose to disbelieve in this now, but they will certainly see the truth one day, just as all those who have been damned have already seen.

He tells them that God hates sinners more than they hate the most loathsome creatures. Yet, it is only the will of God that has preserved them from the fires of hell, and his mercy is the only reason why they all woke up in their beds rather than in hell. He urges these unconverted people to understand the precariousness of their position as the objects of God’s wrath.

Edwards explains God’s wrath by first establishing that it is vastly different from the wrath of man. Powerful men like kings can incite fears in the hearts of brave men, but the wrath of kings is small in comparison to the infinite wrath of God. He quotes passages from the bible that express the ferocity and fury of God’s frightening wrath. God’s wrath is ferocious because it will fall upon sinners without compassion, and nothing will hold his wrath but the precepts of justice. Even then, this wrath will be unbearable for the sinners that deny Christ as the true savior of mankind. He tells them that this day is a day of mercy and a day upon which they can embrace God and no longer be seen as vessels that must be filled with the wrath of God. He quotes a passage from the book of Isaiah that talks about God walking over the bodies of sinners until their blood stains his clothes. Edwards explains the contempt and hatred that exists in the statement. It communicates the violence that awaits sinners and reminds them that their place is under God’s feet.

Edwards talks to them about examples that Kings like to make of their power, which is an emulation of God’s ways. Just as God shows an example of his benevolence, he also shows us examples of his wrath. In this way, Sinners may end up being used as an example for God. They would suffer the humiliation of punishment with all the universe as the audience. Furthermore, God’s punishment is everlasting. The sinner would face insurmountable pain in a single moment of hell, but they would always be aware that their punishment extends into the infinite future. He tells them that their earthly language has no means to communicate the true horror of their punishment.

Edwards begins to conclude his sermon as he reminds the parishioners that all of those who haven’t been born again are in a terrible state of danger even though they may think that they aren’t. He goes further to insinuate that many in the congregation are in this very danger, although they may fool themselves into believing that they aren’t. All sinners will eventually end up in hell, some of them might do so at the end of the year, and others may take a little while to get there, but all of them were bound for Hell.

He tells his congregation that they are luckier than those who have already been sentenced to hell, and who cannot change their fate. He urges members of the congregation to consider the lucky opportunity they have at hand and asks them to accept Christ. He begs them all to consider the implications of their decision and singles out youth as he tells them to abandon their youthful vanity which will damn them to hell. Edwards tells them that their day is one of peril and opportunity, because if they choose not to walk to christ today, then their hearts will harden to christ and make it difficult to find their way to Christ. He ends his sermon by telling them to wake and fly from the wrath of God, lest they be consumed.

  • Author(s)

    Johnathan Edwards
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Great Awakening, Puritan Beliefs


S. Kneeland & T. Green

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