Jonathan Edwards' Sermons

Edwards and the Indescribable Religious Experience

During the main thrust of the First Great Awakening, when swarms of Americans were being cajoled, terrified, shocked back into church pews, influential preacher John Edwards was busy converting his fair share. Set apart by his subdued style from the over-enthusiastically charismatic oratories of his contemporaries Whitefield and Davenport, Edwards relied instead on his eloquently effective prose to make his impact on the populace. In his trek away from exaggerated fervor, however, he encountered another difficulty: the physical language of humans could not appropriately demonstrate the glorious nature of God's holiness to Edwards' satisfaction. Undaunted, he forged ahead with the steady proliferation of his beliefs, now addressing the continuing difficulty of complete expression through his style. In the specific pieces "Personal Narrative", "A Divine and Supernatural Light" and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", Edwards establishes that his willingness to record the failure of language actually exposes his devotion to his faith, despite the fact that his technique simultaneously limits his purpose and expands comprehension.

Edwards' predicament is a powerfully ironic one, since his...

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