From Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England. Having assumed the pastorate of a Congregational church in 1729, Edwards over the next two decades became a leader of the Great Awakening, the intense and divisive religious revival he referred to in the title of this work. A year before its publication, he delivered his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which he likened man’s state to that of a spider over the pit of hell, ready to fall from his own weight, suspended only by God’s merciful web.
What has given offense to many and raised a loud cry against some preachers, as though their conduct were intolerable, is their frighting of poor, innocent children with talk of hellfire and eternal damnation.
But if those who complain so loudly of this really believe what is the general profession of the country, viz., that all are by nature the children of wrath and heirs of hell—and that everyone that has not been born again, whether he be young or old, is exposed every moment to eternal destruction, under the wrath of Almighty God—I say, if they really believe this, then such a complaint and cry as this betrays a great deal of weakness and inconsideration. As innocent as children seem to be to us, yet, if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God’s sight but are young vipers—and are infinitely more hateful than vipers—and are in a most miserable condition, as well as grown persons. And they are naturally very senseless and stupid, being born as the wild ass’s colt, and need much to awaken them. Why should we conceal the truth from them? Will those children that have been dealt tenderly with in this respect, and lived and died insensible of their misery till they come to feel it in hell, ever thank parents and others for their tenderness in not letting them know what they were in danger of? If parents’ love toward their children was not blind, it would affect them much more to see their children every day exposed to eternal burnings and yet senseless than to see them suffer the distress of that awakening that is necessary in order to their escape from them—and that tends to their being eternally happy as the children of God. A child that has a dangerous wound may need the painful lance as well as grown persons. And that would be a foolish pity in such a case that should hold back the lance and throw away the life. I have seen the happy effects of dealing plainly and thoroughly with children in the concerns of their souls without sparing them at all in many instances; and never knew any ill consequence of it, in any one instance.