Jonathan Edwards

’ Contribution To Literature Essay, Research Paper

Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703 in Connecticut. At the age of thirteen after being educated in his home, Edwards attended Yale. During his education Edwards re-discovered his religion. He continued his religious pursuit after graduation in New York City as a minister in a Presbyterian church. In 1727 Edwards served under his grandfather Solomon Stoddard who was the chief minister of the church of Northampton, Massachusetts. Two years later Stoddard died and Edwards replaced his grandfather. He remained the church s chief minister for over twenty years. Edwards was known for his intense, emotion-stirring sermons throughout the colonies. He did not mean to cause such frenzy among the congregation; he meant to show them the path to glory. Being considered the country s first genius, Edwards had a command of the English language seldom seen at or since his time. His sermons reached into the listener s mind and touched the actual senses. His choice of words caused much imagery, thought, contemplation, and especially fear among those who read or heard his works. This ability to use simile, metaphor, as well as other descriptive narrative to cause such emotional and sensory feeling was Jonathan Edwards most significant contribution to literature.

Jonathan Edwards sermons were written in a manner that caused the listener to imagine what it was he was trying to convey. In almost all of his descriptions of the soul and what was taking place to it, the listener can see what it was he was describing: hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost. (Edwards 286). This brings a sight of the ground opening up at any time below the listener and being taken away with no regard. The listeners have a view of themselves, which is very frightening, indeed. Some imagery is easy to see and needs no further explanation: There are the black clouds of God s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm and big with thunder; and if it were not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you. (289). Although the last quote depicts God as somewhat caring, some of Edwards descriptions were less pleasant: The God that hold you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked (290) you are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes than the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours. (290). Another description that paints a rather dismal picture of God for the listener is: God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only laugh and mock (292). Even in Edwards unpublished notes he used simile easily imagined: As the sun, by rising out of darkness and from under the earth, raises the whole world with him so Christ raises all His church with him (297). In describing the wrath of God and the listener s eternal misery, when you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you which will swallow up your thoughts and amaze your soul (293). The lack of sight was the message in, The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday; the sharpest sight cannot discern them. (286).

Edwards also used his sermons to affect the listener s sense of hearing or sound. His narratives were full of rich descriptions of sounds. When explaining what a person who has died and gone to hell would say,

we doubtless should hear one and another reply, No, I never intended to come here; I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself; I thought my scheme good death outwitted me; God s wrath was too quick for me; O my cursed foolishness! (287).

He also explains of man s knocking (288) to gain admittance to salvation. In speaking of God s creatures (animals), he states they groan when they are abused (289). When speaking of the black clouds previously mentioned, one aspect can be heard: full of the dreadful storm and big with thunder (289). One can easily imagine these sounds. Edwards explains the wrath of God as great waters dammed by the His hand. If He decided to lift His hand, the wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury and would come upon you with omnipotent power (289). Everyone who heard this can imagine the sound of a flood, but a flood of God s wrath was that much more terrifying. Edwards depicted Christ as forgiving when he depicts him, calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners (294). If the listener missed out on His calling, they would have to watch from afar: To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart (294). As in death even birth was not safe from Edwards view of original sin. Sound is easily recognized in a passage stating: as children s being born crying is a signification of their being born to sorrow. (296). In speaking of God having mercy on his people, and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them. (291). He is saying God will have no mercy. He also states that sentiment in saying, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain (291).

Another sense Edwards draws upon from his listener is the sense of touch. Touch plays an active role in everyone s life. Whereas some my not consider it as important as the other senses, it is very important to everyone and Edwards knows this. He uses the sense of touch to convey a message of importance and urgency of a particular situation: The wrath of God burns against them the furnace is now hot the flames do now rage and glow. (285). Edwards uses the idea of fire throughout his sermons. This usage is always paralleled with hell and sin: if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven or a furnace of fire and brimstone. (286). Another view of hell in man is explained as, the flames gather and flash about them, and the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out (288). Yet again he pleads with the heathen to think about his situation in life and to remember, it is a great furnace of wrath you hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it (290). Even if a healthy person died and was let go by God, Your wickedness makes you, as it were, heavy as lead and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell (288). God was also described as a very heavy chap: He will only tread you under foot; and though He will know that you cannot bear the weight of the omnipotence treading upon you, He will not regard that, but He will crush you under His feet without mercy (292). Constantly Edwards writes of fire. We associate heat with fire. Edwards associates heat with fire as well but also thought the, extraordinary power of the heat of lightning is an intimation of the exceeding power and terribleness of the wrath of God. (296).

The last senses to be touched by Edwards profound selection of words were taste and smell. He used these senses the least frequently in his sermons and since they are closely related they are combined into one sense for our purposes. He described people in general as being a cultivation of heaven but being, bitter and poisonous fruit (284). One can taste the bitterness of which he speaks. When Edwards spoke of the calling of Christ and those who missed it watching from afar, the people who did receive the calling were, feasting (294). Perhaps an image of people eating and singing entered the heads of his listener. He wrote of flowers, which smell sweet to the nose: Roses grow upon briars (296). Some images were again not as pleasant as others: A dead, filthy, rotten carcass is a lively image of the soul of a wicked man, that is spiritually and exceedingly filthy and abominable. (298). This surely reminded the listener of the stench of death, a smell possibly more familiar to those who (given their time of living) experienced death more frequently than we do now. Another putrid smell is conjured up by the following passage: Man s inward are full of dung and filthiness (299). Some smells were better than others in his writings. An agreeable smell is given to the reader or listener when the read or hear of, pleasant, delightful groves and a garden of pleasure (300). The person listening at the time would easily recognize the smell of flowers and tree blossoms since their surroundings were comprised of these things more than we see today.

It is clearly evident that Edwards use of wording to affect the listener or reader s five senses was not only intentional, but successful as well. Through his usage of descriptive terms he was able to make his listeners see, feel, hear, taste and smell all of that which he decided necessary to make them understand and comprehend what it was he was trying to convey. Edwards mastery of word selection made him one of the most effective writers and speakers of his time. His sermons occasionally made his church members run out of his church in hysterics. This is a testimony of the power of his stunning power to instill influential thoughts into the heads of his followers through their senses. His vivid imagery will certainly live on for many years to come.


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