39 pages • 1 hour readJonathan Edwards
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Sinners is the most famous document of the Great Awakening and widely regarded as the greatest sermon in American literature. Its historical and literary significance derives from several sources: the circumstances of its reception in Enfield, Connecticut, in the midst of the spiritual revivals galvanizing the region at the time; the logical precision and rhetorical power of its argument coupled with the novelty and variety of its vivid imagery; and its exemplification of a style of Puritan thought and preaching that was already being threatened, and would eventually be displaced, by the competing cultural forces of secularism and individualism in the nascent American experience.
Sinners is an “awakening” sermon, intended to move the listener to reject sin and accept Christ. During the preceding years of Edwards’s ministry, and partly as a result of the impression made on him by George Whitefield, the itinerant evangelist who had recently toured Massachusetts and Connecticut in the summer and fall of 1740, Edwards had come to realize the motivating power of fear in persuading the diffident to seek, or return, to Christ. Edwards chose to deliver this sermon at Enfield at the invitation of the town’s minister, who hoped to awaken his congregants to the religious inspiration affecting the surrounding townships but that had not yet penetrated Enfield’s residents.