Religious Affections – Jonathan Edwards

Making resolutions is something which has fallen into disfavor. Because resolutions are usually broken, most people do not even bother to make them anymore. Jonathan Edwards stands out as someone who made resolutions and kept them. His resolutions were not for a year but for the course of his whole life. He made his resolutions not as part of a moralistic program of self-improvement dependent on his own will power but as a consecrated Christian seeking to give God glory in every part of his life and looking to God’s grace for the ability to perform them. He introduces his list of resolutions with a prayer: “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far are they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” The spirit with which he made these resolutions is most likely the reason that he was more successful in keeping them than people usually are.

Edwards made his resolutions as a young man of nineteen. He did not record when he began writing them, but it was most likely in the fall of 1722 when he had completed his studies at Yale and was serving as a student pastor in New York City. He added resolutions periodically over the coming months and  recorded the last on August 17, 1723. Eventually there were seventy in all. The resolutions reveal his intense spiritual focus and desire to give God glory in all things.

Here is a sampling:

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and to my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of time, whether now or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, however so many and however so great.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything that I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of things of the gospel and another world.

30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.

34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live if they were to live their lives over again. Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

As he made these resolutions Edwards did not have a prideful confidence in his ability to keep them. In resolution #56 Edwards gives a sobering acknowledgement of a Christian’s lifelong struggle against remaining sin. “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

Edwards pledged to read over these resolutions once a week. We know that he continued to consult them because his diaries reveal several occasions when he reflects on how well he has been doing with keeping a particular one. In light of these resolutions made by a young minister at the start of his career, it is not surprising that he went on to have a great impact for the cause of Christ. Of course Jonathan Edwards would remind us that all the glory belongs to God alone.

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