I have compared Wigglesworth’s Day of Doom to a sermon, for it has a “preacherly” function. Using paraphrased Scripture set to ballad meter, the poem is meant to expound doctrine, prompt self-examination, and draw readers to repentance. So, why didn’t Wigglesworth just use the sermon form? Why switch to verse?
In Wigglesworth’s case, the catalyst seems to be a combination of life circumstances and concern for readers. For significant periods of time, Wigglesworth was unable to man his pulpit due to physical infirmity. In the prefatory poem to Day of Doom, excerpted to the left, he explains his poetry by the fact that he was physically unable to preach. Poetry provided a way to share the message he was so passionate about—a way that would reach a wide audience.
The reading experience was what counted in the Puritan writing aesthetic. The truth had to be accurate, clear, and accessible. Even for the Puritans, who were accustomed to hearing and reading sermons, I think poetry was more accessible as home reading. Poems would also be more readily received by non-church-members.
Rhythm and meter can be catching, but the key to Wigglesworth’s accessibility is dramatic portrayal of theological truths. Unlike the sermon form, his poems are stories, with characters and dialogue. Jeffrey Hammond points out that the readers could see themselves in the sinners who plead before the Judgment seat—the hypocrites, the reliers on works, the misguided, etc. Further, the character of Christ the Judge would prompt a reader to seek Christ the Merciful while there is yet time.
I can see Wigglesworth, languishing in his sickbed, yet so full of urgency for the unregenerate that he could not rest with a stopped tongue. He unleashed the truth, instead, through his pen, in a form that he thought would speak directly to readers’ souls.