Paths to Salvation
Jonathan Edwards and Billy Sunday were not born of the same time, place, or circumstance, but both men were deeply concerned with the concept of salvation. They each seemed to feel as though they walked through a world of unsaved souls, with false assurances of spiritual safety leading men astray. They each seemed to believe that salvation was of great concern, yet advocated different paths to their selfsame goal.
In Billy Sunday’s sermon, Food for a Hungry World, he preached that modern Christians were overly concerned with going to church, with feeding the poor, with the outward trappings of Christianity. Instead, Sunday said, a Christian’s chief concern should be spiritual salvation and that not only of themselves, but of the church itself. Modern Christians, and their spiritual leaders, needed to buck up and get back to Jesus, in order to save themselves and future generations. Jesus, Sunday opined, needed modern Christians to serve His banquet, to spread salvation.
In Jonathan Edward's sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he preached that many individuals whom believed themselves safe from Damnation were not, and that they should rectify this error by bowing down to an omnipotently wrathful and particularly vengeful God. All are exposed to Destruction, he said, and all exist in the precarious palm of God's mercy, which He could release at any moment, dropping congregants into the fires of Hell. Edwards was not concerned with the strength of the church, or even with Jesus Christ, but with the individual souls of men who tricked themselves into a false sense of security from the same fate that all sinners surely deserve.
Sunday presented his views in a friendly tone, almost as though speaking earnestly with a friend. He offered his argument in a way that would likely have made his audience feel their own importance in doing the work of Jesus Christ and His church. In this, Sunday's sermon was a call to action, but one that conveyed a thoughtful urgency, rather than a mindless panic. His manner of speaking was sure to resonate with his audience, who were the little educated residents of the Kerosene Circuit.
Edwards presented his views in a deeply manipulative manner, including the use of fear and rivalry to stir the congregation. He seemed to intend to bowl over his audience with terrifyingly vivid imagery of the ease of the Fall, in order to lift them up with the ease of accessing Mercy. Now; they should do it now! Lest they Fall in the next instant! His tone seems intended to cause a moral panic within the souls of his audience. These rhetorical devices were probably quite effective, even amongst what was likely to be a well-educated audience, based on Edwards' use of vocabulary and the organization of his argument.
Both men likely believed themselves to be doing the Lord's work, yet only one seemed to come in the spirit of honesty or love, and only one invoked the name of Jesus Christ, for whom the entire religion of both men is named. Between the two, Edwards' sermon had a more immediate and obvious effect, or 'remarkable Impression', but Sunday's sermon seems more likely to have left a lasting impression and indeed, a desire to act in the listener.