America’s greatest theologian is often identified as Jonathan Edwards, a New England pastor of the 1700s. Edwards was brilliant. At 6 he studied Latin. He entered Yale when not quite 13 and graduated when barely 15. He was ordained at age 19, taught at Yale by age 20, and later became president of Princeton. Harvard granted him both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree on the same day. But he is best known for his Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God—the most famous sermon in American history.
He preached it on Sunday, July 8, 1741, while ministering in tiny Enfield, Connecticut. A group of women had spent the previous night praying for revival. When Edwards rose to speak, he quietly announced that his text was Deuteronomy 32:35,“ … their foot shall slip in due time” (nkjv). This “hellfire and brimstone” approach was somewhat a departure for Edwards. Of his 1,000 written sermons, less than a dozen are of this type.
Edwards spoke softly and simply, warning the unconverted that they were dangling over hell like a spider over the fire. O sinner! consider the fearful danger. The unconverted are now walking over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that it will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.
Edwards’s voice was suddenly lost amid cries and commotion from the crowd. He paused, appealing for calm. Then he concluded: Let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation. Let every one fly out of Sodom.
Strong men held to pews and posts, feeling they were sliding into hell. Others shook uncontrollably and rolled on the floor. Cries of men and women were heard throughout the village, begging God to save them. Five hundred were converted that evening, sparking a revival that swept thousands into the kingdom.
The Great Awakening had come.
Soon our enemies will get what they deserve—suddenly they will slip, and total disaster will quickly follow. When only a few of the Lord’s people remain, when their strength is gone, and some of them are slaves, the Lord will feel sorry for them and give them justice. (Deuteronomy 32:35,36)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 8.