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Where there is talk about preaching and hell, Jonathan Edwards’s name is never far behind. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is the most famous sermon in American history. And undoubtedly Edwards is the most caricatured preacher because of it.

You can read the whole sermon online, or listen to someone like Mark Dever or Max McLean read it. For a book-length treatment of Edwards on hell, with particular attention on the inadequacy of arguments for annihilationism, see Christopher Morgan’s Jonathan Edwards and Hell.

But few people know that Edwards often preached on heaven, too. And his sermons on heaven are as beautiful as his sermons on hell are sobering.

For a wonderful introduction to Edwards on heaven, I’d encourage you to listen to Sam Storms’s talk on “Joy’s Eternal Increase: Edwards on the Beauty of Heaven.” But first you might want to read the text of Edwards’s sermon, “Heaven, A World of Love.”

We’ve all heard the line about the danger of “being so heavenly-minded that we’re no earthly good.” But surely C. S. Lewis was right: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this” (Mere Christianity, chapter 10). For an excellent book on precisely this theme in the sermons of Edwards, I recommend Stephen Nichols’s book, Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Living in Between.

Finally, for a short book that seeks to bring it all together with copious quotes from Edwards, see Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell, by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney.

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7 thoughts on “Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell”

  1. Thanks for sharing the heaven side of Edward’s preaching. After all the Rob Bell ruckus, I think its important that we emphasize heaven, perhaps even more so than hell.

  2. AStev says:

    Oh wow! I clicked on the “comments” link, and it went straight to the comment form, without any steps in-between!

    I’m so excited, I can’t remember what I was going to comment on!

  3. Nate Archer says:

    Most people do not get the point of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. I recently heard a pastor give a long rant against “New Calvinists.” As proof of their heartlessness he pointed out that these young guys wear t-shirts that say: “Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy.” He then read a passage from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and said, “There goes that whole ‘friend of God thing’ right? Because I don’t think someone is your friend who is holding you over the pit.”

    What most don’t grasp is that Edwards’ point in the full context of the sermon is that it is out of God’s grace that He is holding people over the fire. God is holding people over the fire rather than dropping them into the fire, giving them time to flee to Christ.

  4. Mike Gregg says:

    I have to say, I read Edward’s sermon and was disappointed. There is no doubt that he employs beautiful prose, and paints a sublime picture, but it seems ultimately a misleading, or at least incomplete picture of our ultimate eschatological hope as Chrsitians. The word “resurrection” is nowhere to be found. Nor the words “New Heavens and New Earth.” I am very uncomfortable with characterizations of Christianity that make it sound like our final goal is to finally be rid of this “icky bodily existence” and to go be with Jesus in a disembodied state in heaven. This seems more based on Platonic Idealism than the Bible, which speaks of the renewal and redemption of all of creation, including our physical bodies (Romans 8:18-25). I wouldn’t recommend this sermon as an accurate representation of the Biblical, historic Christian hope of what happens to us after we die. Maybe if you are only talking about the “intermediate state,” but even then it seems almost gnostic in its repudiation of all corporeal things. The earth is not evil, only the curse that is over it, which will one day be completely eradicated in Christ. Praise Him who is making all things new!

  5. Stan Ermshar says:

    Here is a short quote from that sermon:

    ‘Tis everlasting Wrath. It would be dreadful to
    suffer this Fierceness and Wrath of Almighty God
    one Moment; but you must suffer it to all Eternity:
    there will be no End to this exquisite horrible Mis-
    ery: 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; and you will absolutely despair of ever hav-
    ing any Deliverance, any End, any Mitigation, any
    Rest at all; you will know certainly that you must
    wear out long Ages, Millions of Millions of Ages,
    in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty mer-
    ciless Vengeance; and then when you have so done,
    when so many Ages have actually been spent by
    you in this Manner, you will know that all is but a
    Point to what remains. So that our Punishment will
    indeed be infinite. Oh who can express what the
    State of a Soul in such Circumstances is! All that
    we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble
    faint Representation of it; ’tis inexpressible and in-
    conceivable: for who knows the Power of God’s Anger?

    I wonder how many people really in their hearts believe that the wicked, who were not elect, and never had a chance to be brought to salvation would be subjected to such torture for millions and billions of years.

    This kind of preaching will produce more atheists than anything else.

    I thank God for John Stott, Phillip Hughes, and John Wenham, who had the courage to challenge this awful doctrine.


  6. Dan says:

    I’m surprised you’re quoting C.S. Lewis. If you think Rob Bell is a heretic, you have to agree Lewis is a heretic as well.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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