This year, like every other year, men and women around the world will be making New Year’s resolutions. You know, the somewhat generic determinations of “willpower” (yawn…) to do better or be a better person in some category of life. Most resolutions are pretty mundane. Walk more. Quit smoking. Budget better. Gyms and fitness centers across the nation make a killing on monthly trials every January.
A bunch of people will resolve to finally start that diet. Good on you if you try. Others will resolve to read through the Bible in a year or perhaps just the New Testament. A noble task to be sure. Others make their resolutions so general as to defy any specificity at all: “I resolve to be a better human being!” Whatever that even means.
But in the history of evangelical Christianity, probably no one mastered the genre of the “personal resolution” better than Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the Puritan theologian from Colonial Northampton. Of course, those of you who have followed my pastoral career and writing interests already know that Edwards is somewhat of an obsession for me, as the subject matter of my doctoral dissertation. But I digress.
Jonathan Edwards wrote the resolutions when he was completing his formal education and transitioning into his vocational life as a pastor. It is stunning to consider that he began this list at the age of just 19. He completed them in his early twenties and returned to them on a weekly basis as part of his regular prayer and devotional life. The 70 Resolutions display a very profound view of one’s life lived intentionally and purposefully for the glory of God, and all seventy consider life from the perspective of eternity. Some are sweet. Others are jarring.
Listen to some of these beautiful and pious resolutions (each of which is numbered).
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
31. Resolved, never to say anything at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the Golden Rule; often, when I have said anything against anyone, to bring it to, and try it strictly by the test of this Resolution.
53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.
55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments.
65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything…
All of the Resolutions can be found here, alongside a massive digital compendium of Edwards’s works at the Yale website. If you would prefer to own them in small booklet form for your own devotional consideration, grab this one for just about 3 bucks.
Perhaps this year, rather than the trite and shallow vows to eat less carbs or do more squats, we might emulate Jonathan Edwards in bringing the entire scope of our lives before the perspective of eternity on a weekly basis. Consider adopting one – or several – of Edwards’s resolutions as your own.