It wasn’t about something that his listeners had done wrong, but about the idea that their very existence was evil and an offense to God.
After the sermon, people left the church weeping hysterically, tormented by feelings of guilt that could never be absolved — because it wasn’t based on anything they’d done — and terror of punishment that could not be avoided — because it wasn’t for anything.
Jonathan Edwards wasn’t standing in front of the crowd of penitents in Maryland last week, but he might as well have been. They believe everything he said, except for all the old-timey stuff about God:
“They deserve to be cast into Hell, so that Divine justice never stands in the way … The Sword of Divine Justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and ‘tis nothing but the Hand of arbitrary Mercy that holds it back …
They are already under a sentence of Condemnation to Hell … The wrath of God burns against them, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is held over them, and the Pit hath opened its mouth under them …
The Devil stands ready to fall upon them and seize them as his own …”
How little things change. We’ve got more technology now, but the spirit of Jonathan Edwards and his pathologically guilt-obsessed flock are still with us.