The Enlightenment Period

The Philosophes

Was Jonathan Edwards merciful toward sinners?

Not in the least. Jonathan Edwards thought that many humans were depraved and that a real Hell awaited them. There is a tone of delight in these facts in his 1741 sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards not only believed that sinners would be punished, but that God himself had no pity for their agony. He wrote:

If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.

And, insofar as the virtuous strive to emulate God, Edwards felt it is fitting that they enjoy the suffering of such sinners in Hell. In 1758, in his “Why Saints in Glory Will Rejoice to See the Torments of the Damned,” Edwards wrote:

When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!


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