Jonathan Edwards: A student of Aristotle In order to spread religious revitalization in Enfield, Connecticut a colonial American preacher, Jonathan Edwards, gives a sermon entitled Sinners in the hands of an angry God. This would become Edward’s most recognizable sermon and draw its reverence from the reaction it produces in the congregation at Enfield. Edwards provokes cries for salvation and repentance with his words using Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion ethos, land pathos.
Jonathan Edwards believes in fear as otivation for conformance and uses these three modes of persuasion effectively in his most famous sermon, Sinners in the hands of an Angry God. Edwards uses ethos throughout his sermon. Ethos is the credibility of the persuader as the audience perceives them. In order to persuade the congregation, Edwards must present a credible argument. Todo this Edwards uses a reliable source to back up his statements.
In his entire sermon, Edwards uses passages from the Bible and elaborates on them to give his argument credibility. Right from the very beginning of he sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Edwards takes the passage from “Deuteronomy 32:35, their foot shall slide in due time,” and draws from it his first point “That they [wicked men] are always exposed to destruction… ” (282). Apart from drawing points from the Bible, Edwards also uses it for affirming his statements such as “The Scripture represents them as his goods, Luke 1 1 :21” (284).
This continuous reaffirmation of his words further compels the audience to believe Edwards. Ultimately by establishing points drawn and supported by the Bible Edwards forms en credible considerations for his audience. In addition, the deliverance of Edwards’ sermon is also an integral part in establishing his credibility. Edwards’ voice and the serious presentation of his sermon help influence the congregation to believe what they hear.
Stephen Richard Turley, author of Awakened to the Holy: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in Ritualized Text, and Willis Buckingham, author of Stylistic Artistry in the Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, maintain that “what greeted the Enfield Congregation was a sermon of unparallel logic and vivacious magery delivered by an orator not known for theatrics but for a pulpit voice characterized by ‘a powerful sense of restraint, authority, and discipline” (507). The authoritative qualities of Edwards’ voice along with his well-known and respected source, the Bible, give Edwards credibility, thus establishing ethos.
Edwards’ sermon is latent with appeals to the emotional mode of persuasion or Pathos. Edwards utilizes fear as the key emotion to persuade his audience. He does this by describing the horridness and inevitableness of God’s wrath and fury through imagery. Edwin Cady, author of The Artistry of Jonathan Edwards, commented on the imagery Jonathan Edwards uses in his sermon saying, “the freshest imagery, and the most essential to the peculiar success of the sermon, communicated Ed wards’ sense of the eerie suspension of the sinner upon almost nothing and intensifies it by adding a nightmarish feeling of his fatal weight” (qtd. n Steele and Delay, 243). This imagery is accomplished by Edwards through multiple metaphors that depict the tortures that will be suffered by wicked men who will be cast into hell. An example of lender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it and ready every moment to singe it and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames or wrath, nothing of your own, nothing you ever have done, nothing that you can do to induce God to spare you one moment. 288) Edwards uses the length of suffering of man to instill fear as affirmed by Richard Forerrer’s, the author of The Puritan Religious Dilemma: The Ethical Dimensions of God’s Sovereignty, statement, “Edwards isualizes an eternity of irremediable suffering for those who die unregenerate” (621). Once Edwards establishes fear in his audience he decisively extinguishes any thought of escape by proving the unchallengeable power of God using several metaphors.
He conveys to the congregation that the strength one possesses on earth is nothing compared to the power of God by stating, “greatest earthly potentates, in their greatest majesty and strength… are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator… ” (288-289). Lastly, Edwards petitions o the desperation of his audience by pointing out the opportunity they possess now to repent. These actions by Edwards display how he uses ethos as a mode of persuasion.
The final mode of persuasion that Jonathan Edwards implements is logos. Logos is using logical examples as a means of persuasion. The logical aspects of Edwards’ sermon are found in the form of metaphors. Edwards describes God holding wicked men over the pit of hell. This metaphor is based off of the logical function of gravity that if God let go wicked men would fall into hell. In doing this, Edwards is applying ogical understandings of earth to help the audience understand the supernatural world.
In his sermon, Edwards explains the always present destruction that wicked men are exposed to logically by comparing it to a passage from Psalm 73:18 “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction” (282). He uses the metaphor of someone walking on a slippery place and thus is unaware at which point they will fall, but logically the danger of falling is ever present. The structure of the sermon consists of logical aspects. For instance hen examining the four implications of the passage from Deuteronomy Edwards uses logic in the content size, and content order as confirmed by Edward J.
Gallagher, author of “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God”: Some Unfinished Business: Edwards explicitly numbers the four implications of the passage from Deuteronomy to convey a sense of mathematical precision. All are delivered in easily digestible units of reasonably similar size, and they are ordered by subject (points one and two deal with the place and time of the fall, points three and four with reasons for and against he fall). (204) Edwards’ logical applications in his sermon simplify and help the audience with understanding the points and message of the sermon.
Therefore, Edwards using logos further sways the congregation to repenting for salvation through Christ. Jonathan Edwards established credibility with his audience, appealed to their emotions, and used logical functions in his sermon to persuade the congregation. This use of Aristotle’s modes of persuasion in the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God drove fear into the hearts of the congregation. This brought forth the reaction ddition to being an important theologian Edwards was a master of rhetoric.
Works Cited Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. ” Anthology of American Literature. Ed. McMichael et al. 9th ed. Vol 1. Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2007. 281- 298. Forrer, Richard. “The Puritan Religious Dilemma: The Ethical Dimensions of God’s Sovereignty. ” Journal of the America Academy of Religion. 44. 4 (Dec 1976): 613-628. Oxford University Press. 5 Mar. 2009.. Gallagher, Edward J. “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God’: Some Unfinished Business. ” The New England Quarterly. 3. 2 (Jun, 2000): 202-221.
The New England Quarterly Inc. 5 Mar. 2009.. Steele, Thomas J. and Delay, Eugene R. Vertigo in History: The Threatening Tactility of ‘Sinners in the Hands. ” Early American Literature. 18. 3 (Winter 1983/1984): 242-256. University of North Carolina Press. 5 Mar. 2009.. Turley, Stephen Richard. “Awakened to the Holy: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in Ritualized Context. ” Christianity & Literature 57. 4 (Summer2008 2008): 507-530. Humanities International Complete. EBSCO. J. w. Joyner Library. Greenville, NC. 5 Mar. 2009 .