Sinners in the Hands II
Bill Long 9/21/05
The Eency Weency Spider...
Now that Edwards is at the "Application" part of his sermon (middle of page 4), he can really let loose. Let's listen in.
"Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts.."
I think you get the point. Well, what is the reality of the human condition, if this is the way Edwards describes it? I really love the following passage, which is rarely quoted:
"The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the bow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood."
As if this isn't enough, Edwards then turns to his famous "spider" story. What most scholars don't mention, however, is the first piece Edwards wrote as a stripling that survives (he was in his early teens) is his fascination at watching a spider weave a net and dangle from its narrow strand.
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire [Note: but the spider was not loathsome to Edwards in 1715--it was fascinating] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire: he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire."
I could go on and on describing the misery that certainly awaits the hearers, and I know you believe me, but I, like God, will restrain myself. I think I will confine my enthusiasm to only one passage on the nature of the eternal punishment awaiting those whose thin spider's cord breaks.
Edwards' language on the wrath to come is truly amazing, riveting, absorbing. I think it was language like this that informed some of James Joyce's language about the terror of eternal punishment. Listen to Edwards.
"It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment: but you must suffer it to all eternity. There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery. When you look forward, you shall see a long for ever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul: and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all. You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance: and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains..."
Come to Jesus
He can't resist one more explicit reference to his hearers before he gives them a way out of this awful misery that they face.
"If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of! If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person! How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him!..And would it be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting-house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there (i.e., in hell) before tomorrow morning."
Now, as they taught us in seminary, that you have fully applied your message to the hearers, you need to give them a way out, a way to forestall the bad things you talked about. And, Edwards does that, too, though it is not as brilliantly vivid as his depictions of hell and spurting blood and terrible torment. I wonder why.
Actually, his last few paragraphs are anemic compared to the earlier 30.
"And let every one that is yet out of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence."
But he seems not to be able to maintain his "good thought" in this sermon. He continues:
This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favor to some, will doubtless be a day of remarkable vengeance to others. Men's hearts harden, and their guilt increases at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls..."
He finally ends on an "up" note, because God is currently gathering in his elect in all parts of the land. This is the time for salvation. This is the day of God's ingathering.
Whenever you study such a prolific and creative thinker as Edwards, you run the risk of "pigeonholing" him in one way or another. If you only studied Sinners, you would get the impression that Edwards was a grim, uncompromising, unforgiving, and churlish fellow. Yet, we have to recall that this sermon was preached in the same period of his life that he came out with his multi-part sermon series on Charity and its Fruits, which can be read very profitably today. I think, however, if we see Edwards' Enfield sermon in the light that I portrayed him, as one seeking with all his power to provoke people into revival, we understand more of the complex genius of this man. I, for one, loved reading his sermon again in 2005.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long