A jeremiad is a literary device whereby the writer or orator condemns the actions of a reprobate society. The jeremiad contains a prophecy announcing impending doom if the society does not repent and change its evil actions. The word “jeremiad” is from the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament (Baym). Jeremiah was a prophet in the seventh century B.C.E. who predicted calamities that would befall Israel for breaking God’s covenant. Jonathan Edwards fashioned himself as a modern- day prophet in the Puritan tradition preaching the termination of his nation for breaking the national covenant. This paper will attempt to show how Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, mirrored the tactics of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. (Reverend Morris)
In the Old Testament, the Prophet Jeremiah admonished Israel for breaking God’s covenant by participating in paganism. Jeremiah called Israel to repent and change its ways in order to restore God’s favor and His promise. Following in Jeremiah’s footsteps, the Puritans also recited fiery orations filled with doom and gloom in order to intimidate sinners into remorse for their sinful actions. These orations mirrored the words of Jeremiah by invoking the veneration of the Puritan founders. The orators, like Jonathan Edwards, cried out for a return to moral excellence and bemoaned present moral evils.
The purpose of the Puritan jeremiad was to spur action and respond with a passion for righteous living. It induced fear by the story of perceived sin and at times comforted the listeners by bringing about the remembrance of a glorious past. The practical application of the jeremiad was to encourage moral retribution, establish a programme of reformation, and to warn about horrible, grotesque judgments that would befall the listeners if they did not listen to the preacher. The jeremiad was only successful if it threatened severe distress. It was not effective when they were victorious over sin.
The jeremiad took its subject from biblical texts and teaching, in particular the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The Puritan jeremiad recited historical afflictions and emphasized the total depravity of humanity. The explanation of the jeremiad espoused terms, conditions, and duties related to a national covenant. Jonathan Edwards’s sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, fulfilled the aspects of a jeremiad in the Puritan tradition.
In his sermon, Edwards confronts his listeners with “fire and brimstone.” He threatened them with the wrath of God. He declared that God would kill them if they did not repent and change their nefarious activities. He threatened his listeners with the fires of hell if they did not obey biblical principles and righteousness. He did not appease or speak pleasantries. He employed tactics to scare his listeners into Godly compliance. As far as Edwards was concerned, the whole crowd was destined to hell if they did not do as he said. Edwards said that God would torture and destroy sinners if they did not heed his words. In Edwards’ words, “…easy to walk on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth” (Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God 499), illustrated how God saw people as worms and could do with them as He willed. “There is not lack of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment” (Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God 499).
According to the Puritan jeremiad, sinners were kept on earth at God’s will. Edwards said in his sermon, “The only reason that they [sinners] are not fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time has not yet come. For it is said when that due time, or appointed time comes…then they shall be left to die, as they are inclined by their own weight” (Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God).
The Puritan jeremiad quotes biblical texts and teaching mainly from the books of Jeremiah and Isaiah. It recited the ancient afflictions of a past society that suffered terrible consequences for its sins. It stressed that people were filled with wickedness. Additionally, it laid out the terms, conditions and duties related to the national covenant and compared them to the biblical covenant that God made with Israel. The worst aspect of the Puritan jeremiad was the kind of terrible judgments that would befall sinners unless they repented of their wicked ways and reoriented their lives towards a life of holiness.
On July 8, 1741 when Edwards preached his powerful sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the Puritans were experiencing a sweeping revival. Physical effects were manifesting within the congregants. There was a divine power and a sense of awakening in the air. Edwards’ fiery sermon terrified his listeners. As Edwards commented later about the event, “It was extraordinarily to see a house full of outcries, fainting, convulsions and such like, both with distress, also with admiration and joy” (Edwards). For his famous sermon, Edwards chose the biblical passage from Deuteronomy (32:35), “Their foot shall slide in due time.” This verse set the precarious tone of the sermon. Why Edwards chose not to use a verse out of Jeremiah or Isaiah, is unclear.
Regardless of his choice of the biblical text, Edwards’ sermon had a profound effect upon his congregation. In the true revivalist spirit, Edwards’ discourse of doom and gloom terrified his audience. Like the prophet Jeremiah, Edwards admonished sinners to repent of their wicked ways or suffer the wrath of God. By bringing about the memorial of national covenants, both Edwards and Jeremiah invoked fear in the hearts of their listeners. The Puritan jeremiad, which was derived from the sermons of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, put into context the revivalist movements in the Old Testament era and then later in the Puritan era.
116 (personal narrative)
/ (on sarah pierpont)
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works2.iii.i.html (a divine and supernatural light)
sinners in the hands of an angry god"
Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God. Perf. Reverend Lisa Morris. Unitarian Universalist Church, Melbourne. 14 April 2009.