The First Great Awakening

Puritan Literature


Religious Revival Sweeps Colonial America

Known as the First Great Awakening, the movements were characterized by emotional religious conversions from a state of sin to a "new birth" and by dramatic and powerful preaching, sometimes outdoors, by itinerant preachers in front of crowds of thousands. The First Great Awakening also marked a new effort by European colonialists to reach out to Native Americans and African-Americans. Between 1700 and 1740, an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the population attended churches, which were being built at a headlong pace.

A Man of God

In 1734-1735, Edwards oversaw some of the initial stirrings of the First Great Awakening. He gained international fame as a revivalist and "theologian of the heart" after publishing descriptions of the awakenings in his parish. The belief of the time was that the essence of religious experience was the "new birth." This "new birth" was inspired by the preaching. It invigorated churches. Jonathan Edwards' sermons became famous for inspiring and invigorating congregations. His sermons emphasized the supreme power of God, the wickedness of humankind, and the reality of hell.


Saturday, July 8th 1741 at 9pm

New England, USA

Jonathan Edwards’ infamous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was first preached on July 8th, 1741 at the height of New England’s first First Great Awakening.

The Famous Sermon

  • “Sinners” has become the very stuff of American legend; it is one of the most anthologized pieces of writing in America, and it has long been a part of American history and literature. The sermon was brief, but powerful. Although frightening, it was very popular with New England audiences. Edwards was often invited to re-preach the sermon, which he did so frequently that he eventually could recite the sermon almost entirely from memory, with only a small outline to guide him.

  • According to Puritan belief, a conversion could occur to cause a person to be truly awakened to God an Christianity. It involved the influence of divine grace. Once converted, a person had a chance of salvation.

  • The message of “Sinners” was a familiar and important one for the Puritans. They couldn’t know whether they were truly converted, and they couldn’t make their conversion happen; the most they could do, as Edwards implied, was to make their conversion more likely by living a truly Christian life.

  • In order to awaken his audience to the power of God, Edwards evoked vivid images of God’s wrath. Edwards saw preaching as doing God’s will and helping humanity by conveying God’s message to the world in an effective manner.

Power of Sermons

Preachers like Jonathan Edwards evoked vivid, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human nature and the terrors awaiting the unrepentant in hell. The Puritans believed that the real power of a sermon was to be found in its words, rather than its delivery. Since the words were thought to be divinely inspired, it was believed that the words alone carried enough power to affect the congregation. As the preacher was simply a flawed agent of God’s work, his presentation of the sermon was expected to be as unadorned as possible, so that the delivery of the sermon would not distract listeners from the words. Preachers usually spoke their sermons in a deliberate monotone. Consider this effect as you read “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”