Jonathan Edwards:

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow 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 obligations at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

Tony Payne comments:

Heard anything like that from the pulpit recently? It’s a sentence from one of the most famous sermons in history: ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’ by the 18th-century American preacher-scholar, Jonathan Edwards. It’s by no means the most frightening sentence in the sermon; Edwards holds absolutely nothing back in painting a vivid picture of the dreadful predicament of sinners, who are suspended by a thread above the fiery pit of hell—a thread being held by a fiercely angry God who is incensed at their wickedness and rebellion against him.

I read Edwards’s sermon again recently, and it unnerved me. It wasn’t just the florid language and the out-sized metaphors (which sound over-the-top to our ears). And it wasn’t the relentlessness of the logic, which marches on and on, leaving you gasping for a drop of cool gospel water.

What bothered me was the realization that this was a sermon I would never be game to preach—even allowing for some cultural transposition and differences in communication style. And it occurred to me that the reason for this was not high-minded and theological, but very carnal. I am more frightened of being thought of as a redneck ‘fire and brimstone’ preacher than I am of God’s awful wrath. I care more about the high opinion of others than their eternal damnation in the fires of hell.

If all this ‘hell’ talk also makes you feel uncomfortable, Jonny Gibson’s feature article might be just what you need. It certainly challenged me.

You can also download an expanded version of Gibson’s article, available as a PDF booklet:

‘Where the Fires Are Not Quenched’: Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives.”