“Jonathan Edwards talks about the Israelites…”

I can’t seem to leave the Puritans. My students really enjoyed reading and discussing their narratives, poems, and sermons, for various reasons; but a lot of them had trouble actually writing about these things. Here’s the rest of the Edwards comment:

“Jonathan Edwards talks about the Israelites and he uses them as an example of what happened to the Israelites.”

Actually Edwards’ famous sermon to the slow-to-Awaken congregation at Enfield, Connecticut, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” warns Puritans of what will happen to them if they fail to give themselves wholly to God: if God would punish the Israelites, his chosen people, with devastation and eternal punishment when they strayed from his commandments, IMAGINE WHAT HE WILL DO TO YOU! Don’t get Him angry!

My student will be impervious to the warning, of course: for her, what happened to the Israelites is an example of what happened to the Israelites.

I imagine she began the sentence with a clear idea of what she wanted to say, but had forgotten it when she reached the end. Such a long sentence? Maybe her original intention was to write “Jonathan Edwards talks about the Israelites and he uses them as an example. What happened to them will also happen to Puritans who forget God.” That would work well enough. More simply, “Jonathan Edwards talks about the Israelites and he uses them as an example of what would happen to the Puritans.” This second alternative is probably exactly what she started out to say. Typing “what happened” instead of “what would happen,” though, made it impossible for her to reach her original destination: indeed, it forced her to stay historical, and back came the Israelites.

Taking another minute or two to decide what she actually meant might have provided her with a cleaner grammar and clearer statement: “For Edwards, God’s punishment of the Israelites who strayed from his commandments is a warning of what will happen to Puritans who stray.” She should have taken those minutes.

After all, eternal damnation is no laughing matter.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““Jonathan Edwards talks about the Israelites…”

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