Edwards “employed no less than twenty metaphors or descriptive adjectives to express God’s wrath and hell’s torments”. Virtually everyone already firmly believed in hell as a place just as sure as was London. But many had grown cold to the reality, especially those who did not personally come to Christ for salvation. Edwards used the images of a pit, an oven, a mouth, a sword, a furnace, flames, a serpent, a troubled sea, black clouds approaching, waters dammed by a floodgate, a bow bent with an arrow ready “to be drunk with your blood”, an axe, and a heavy load that cannot be held. He reminded the congregation that they only lived through each night by God’s sovereign pleasure, and that He could justly send them screaming to hell at any moment. The most famous image of the sermon pictured God holding you over the pit of hell as one does a spider over the fire. He could let go at any moment, and you who are unrepentant would fall into the fire, lost forever. “O, sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in . . .”
Monument commemorating Edwards’ famous sermon
Pastor Edwards was unable to finish the sermon, given the outcry and torment of many souls confronted with their sin and its consequences. He closed the sermon and he and other ministers joined with the penitents to instruct them further. Edwards preached the sermon on several occasions in other churches with the same results, but with more sharing of God’s mercy and grace in the end. Though not all the images were specific quotes of Scripture, everything he said was true. The use of vivid metaphor and adjectives brought home to people’s hearts their precarious position before God.
This sermon has been studied and written about by scholars for all sorts of reasons, literary and philosophical. What the historian needs to remember is that it was accompanied by the movement of the Holy Spirit on hearts to bring salvation to lost souls.