American Literature Week 9 Edwards and Whitefield’s Sermons

Prompt:  “If you had heard these two sermons, would you have assumed that you were the target? Why or why not?”

Johnathon Edwards and George Whitefield were Christian preachers during the 18th century, they played major contributing roles as priests during the first great awakening. The two toured around the American colonies preaching their beliefs, at times performing in front of thousands. Whitefield’s usual sermon was named “Marks of a True Conversion,” while Edwards was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Both men (Edwards especially) used terror as their conversion method.

Whitefield’s sermon starts out quoting Matthew 18:3 “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He spoke to Christians who believed their childhood baptism, good deeds, religious affirmations, tithings, and overall devotion to Christ would be enough to get them into heaven. His main point to these people was no, they were not doing enough. They were all still lined up for hell. The issue with Whitefield’s sermon is he didn’t give a clear enough reason as to why the Christians efforts were insufficient, and he didn’t give a clear explanation of what they needed to do to reform.

Edwards sermon is the one that sticks with most people, purely because of how much existential terror he used to get his point across. Edwards point to the people was that God hates most everyone. Not just hates, but despises most everyone. According to Edwards God looks at us the way we would look at a viper, and apparently that’s with universal hatred. God will trample you in the afterlife, crushing your blood from your veins and taking great pleasure in causing your horrific demise. He will also stain his tunic with your gore, as a pleasant memory of the day he destroyed you. Your sins make you heavy as lead, and in the afterlife you’ll drop into hell the way a stone drops through a spiderweb. For according to Edwards you’re nothing more than a loathsome spider in the eyes of God, and God is dangling your spidery self over a bonfire. You need to do way better in your religious practices unless you want to burn for all eternity.

I would say I’m about as far from Edwards and Whitefield’s intended demographic as you can get, because I find this kind of fear mongering as disgraceful as it is manipulative. Its a tactic to gain control over the masses by limiting their potential and making them dedicate themselves completely to your cause. It is not, I repeat it is not in the slightest what Jesus taught. In fact it is spot on opposite. Jesus taught love, not fear. Jesus taught that God didn’t just create us, but that he is us. He is within us, and he loves us with all the love that there is. He created us to express ourselves, to explore ourselves, and to love each other just as much as we love God. We are not loathsome insects that God looks down on, for God does not look down even on the smallest of insects. Every human, animal, plant, and spirit that resides in this plane is adored by God. We are all God’s creations, and we are loved simply because we are God’s creations.

Our journey in this mortal life is to improve ourselves, give love and support to the people around us, revel in empathy and forgiveness, and act to others the same way we’d act in the presence of God. Because we are constantly in the presence of God, just by existing in these physical forms we are in God’s presence. We are created by, and made up of God. We are his children, and we have the ability to act as his angels. But we cannot find divine love if we are consumed by fear, the way these preachers of yesterday demand us to be. We can only find God’s holy love if we allow ourselves to feel and express nothing but his love. Everything other than love is a mortal illusion, and I believe these preachers were threatening people into living in illusion. Only by living with gratitude, forgiveness, patience, bravery, joy, justice, and pure unfiltered divine love can we truly behold the full grace of God.

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