The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards
The second volume in A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series from Reformation Trust, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards uncovers practical ways Edwards sought to fulfill his resolutions. The author, Dr. Steven J. Lawson, exhorts contemporary Christians to do likewise, living for God’s glory with unrestrained passion.
Often remembered for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Edwards is revealed here as a man with a heart for God’s glory above all things. To help himself pursue that goal, he composed a set of resolutions to guide his conduct in all areas, from his battle against sin to his use of time. In Edwards’ singleminded pursuit of God, Dr. Lawson sees an unparalleled example for modern Christians.
“The ultimate goal of this book is to challenge a new generation of believers to pursue holiness in their daily lives.” —Dr. Steven J. Lawson
From the Preface: Living the Christian life, by all biblical accounts, necessitates the passionate pursuit of personal holiness. Sanctification is never an elective course that a believer may or may not take. Neither is it an upper-level graduate study, required for only a few disciples. Instead, it is a core class, mandated for all Christians. Godliness is a lifelong study, for no one graduates from the school of Christ this side of heaven.
Page 2 - Edwards also excelled as a writer. Marsden believes that three of Edwards’ many works — Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, and The Nature of True Virtue — stand as “masterpieces in the larger history of Christian literature.” Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul estimates that Freedom of the Will “is the most important theological work ever published in America.”
Page 26 - When Edwards was eighteen years old, having been recently converted, he determined to pursue and promote the glory of God with his entire being. Over the course of approximately one year, from around late summer 1722 to Aug. 17, 1723, he crafted his “Resolutions,” as a personal mission statement that would guide and discipline him in this pursuit of godliness. The “Resolutions” reveal the steely determination with which he sought to direct his steps. For Edwards, George Claghorn writes, the “Resolutions” were “neither pious hopes, romantic dreams, nor legalistic rules.” Instead, they were intensely positive and practical, comprising “instructions for life, maxims to be followed in all respects.”
Page 29 - Edwards’ attempt to write a collection of resolutions was not without cultural precedence. Iain Murray notes, “New though this was to Edwards, it was not new in the least to the Christian tradition of New England.” Others in the Puritan Colonies had adopted this practice, especially the learned. Kenneth Minkema writes, “The discipline of making lists of resolutions was fairly common in Edwards’ time” because the Puritan age was a time of pursuing self-mastery in one’s life. Claghorn observes, “Drawing up resolutions was a standard practice for educated people in the eighteenth century.”
Page 33 - All Christian writing is influenced, to one extent or another, by the theological foundations upon which the author stands. Edwards’ writings, including his “Resolutions,” rested squarely upon “Reformed theology in its English Puritan form.” This theological system, which emphasized God’s glory and absolute sovereignty,” provided a structural framework for Edwards’ thought.” In short, Edwards was a “convinced Calvinist”; he had drunk deeply from the wells of Scripture and had tasted the supreme authority of God to his soul’s satisfaction.
Page 51 - Edwards composed his “Resolutions” with a proper self-assessment. He understood that no matter how resolved or determined he might be, he could not glorify God in his own strength. It was one thing to make a resolution, but something else entirely to keep it. He saw that living the Christian life involved far more than merely selecting a path to pursue. He needed more.
Page 54 - Edwards knew he could not expect God to respond to his entreaties for help to keep his “Resolutions” unless they were, as he put it in the preamble, “agreeable to his will.” In short, Edwards knew that God would not help him if he set out to do something that was contrary to God’s desires. Thus, in drafting his vows, he purposed not to set forth his own agenda and expect God to bless it. Rather, the “Resolutions” must be a humble attempt to submit himself to the will of God in all things, for God’s will rules. God had charted a course for his life, one that was “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2), and he must submit to that divine plan in and through his “Resolutions.”
Page 60 - Every believer today stands exactly where Edwards stood so long ago. Human inability to please God has not changed in the least over the past three centuries. All Christians remain in constant need of divine grace to enable them to pursue holiness. This requires, as it did for Edwards, humble submission and dedication to God, all for the honor of Christ. Only in such self-denial is divine grace multiplied in one’s life.
Pages 63-64 - Every great Christian leader has a master passion, an overruling ambition that dominates his life and drives his soul. It is that in which he most believes, that which most captures his mind and enflames his heart. Such a chief aim controls him and defines his very reason for being. This supreme sense of purpose becomes a motivation so strong that it empowers him to overcome all obstacles and override all adversity. For Jonathan Edwards, this passion was the summum bonum set forth in Scripture, the highest good in the universe—the glory of God. Edwards believed that God’s ultimate end in all things is the manifestation of His glory. In his theological masterpiece, Dissertation on the End for Which God Created the World, penned near the end of his life (1755), he argued that God made the world for His own glory. “For it appears that all that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works,” Edwards stated, “is included in that one phrase, the glory of God.” That being the case, Edwards concluded that bringing glory to God must be his preeminent purpose. This pursuit was firmly established in him from the very beginning of his Christian walk.
Page 75 - Living for God’s honor must be the chief aim in every person’s life. But what brings the most glory to God? This is the interpretive key for every life decision. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Do you want to know who to marry? Do you want to know what job to take? Do you want to know what ministry you should pursue? Do you want to know how to invest your resources? Do you want to know how to spend your time or how to use your tongue? Every decision and direction must come under this overarching goal of bringing glory to God.
A life of resolve comes with a price tag. You will be tested by the lure of the world. But you must turn a deaf ear to the crowd and live instead for the approbation of Christ. There will always be a cross before a crown, sacrifice before success, and reproach before a reward. The call of discipleship will cost you popularity, possessions, and position. But God will use your commitment. The grace of God will be multiplied in you if you cultivate a fixed resolution to live for the glory of God.
Page 84 - Edwards had no illusions of sinlessness in this life. He knew regeneration had not removed his sin. Though he had embarked upon a new direction in life with new desires, the actual practice of righteousness was not always present. Consequently, this resolution begins, “Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action”—not “if.”
Page 93 - The pursuit of God’s glory is never a mystical experience disconnected from the nitty-gritty of everyday life. Neither is it an ivory-tower existence divorced from the practical responsibilities of this world. If anyone purposes to bring honor to God, this highest of all pursuits will influence even the most seemingly insignificant areas of his existence.
Page 106 - Edwards’ desire for personal discipline began with a fundamental commitment to live life to the fullest. He refused to be content with mere existence, simply going through the motions of meaningless activities. For Edwards, true living necessitated personal discipline in every area of the Christian life. For this reason, Edwards wrote in his sixth resolution that he never would live the Christian life in halfhearted complacency, but always would be pressing forward to greater degrees of godliness.
Pages 108-109 - Physical discipline was a major aspect of Edwards’ wholehearted commitment to God. Edwards believed restraint and balance should mark every area of his physical life, including his diet, his sleep, and his physical exercise. He believed that his body was the temple in which he worshiped and served God. Therefore, his physical life must be disciplined if his spiritual life was to be developed.
Pages 124-125 - Edwards is often stereotyped today as an unhappy individual, cold, clinical, unsmiling, and unloving. This impression has proliferated because, almost twenty years after he wrote his “Resolutions,” Edwards delivered a thunderbolt sermon on the final judgment and hell, titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This now-famous “fire-and-brimstone” message left his listeners clinging to the edges of their pews in terror. Since then, many have assumed that such an intense preacher could not possibly have been a loving person. What is more, Edwards was “naturally shy and antisocial,” one who preferred serious study over small talk. J. I. Packer writes that he was “grave, taciturn with strangers, and always somewhat withdrawn,” and Elizabeth Dodds describes him as “socially bumbling, barricaded behind the stateliness of the very shy.”
This reclusive streak in Edwards has enhanced his misperception as austere, uncaring, and unkind.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Edwards actually possessed a heart full of compassion and mercy toward others. Granted, he was singularly focused on study and remained socially awkward, but as we have seen, he had a passionate love for God that overflowed in a warm affection for people. His love for his wife, Sarah, for example, is unquestioned, as is his devotion to his children. His compassion for others was equally authentic.
Page 137 - Here is where Christianity must become real for all believers. It is one thing to love God, who is perfectly holy and absolutely righteous. But it is something else entirely to love others, who are far less than perfect. It is even more challenging to love one’s enemies. This is the great test of the Christian life—loving the unlovable. But such is the love of God, which we are called to emulate. The love that God requires of all believers must be purposeful, as Edwards demonstrated. But even if such loving resolve is not written onto paper in the form of a personal resolution, every Christian must choose, deep within, to abound in love toward others. If one is to glorify God, such holy love is absolutely necessary.
Page 154 - It was God, majestic and holy in His infinite being, whose sovereignty knows no limits, whose grace knows no bounds, whom Edwards kept constantly before his adoring eyes. It was God, sufficient in Himself and all-sufficient for His people, whom Edwards sought with all his might to please. It was God who became Edwards’ goal in daily Christian living and whom he pursued with radical resolve and holy ambition. Amid all his labors as a pastor, Edwards remained riveted upon God, who is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things, the first cause and last end, and everything in between. God Himself has made the promotion of His glory to be His highest end, and Edwards, likewise, lived for this above all else.
“The pursuit of a regimented godliness is not unique to Christianity, but it is rare. Unlike popular versions of the Christian faith, Jonathan Edwards did not seek the disciplines of godliness for utilitarian ends, the self-help preoccupation of Western Christianity. He saw conformity to Christ as a means, the only means, to glorify God. Steve Lawson has done a wonderful service, producing in a tactful and pastoral manner Edwards’ pious resolutions, thereby helping us understand the inner life, the spiritual struggles and goals, of perhaps America’s greatest intellect.”
—Dr. John D. Hannah, Research professor of theological studies and distinguished professor of historical theology, Dallas Theological Seminary
“Tired of going at the Christian life in piecemeal fashion? Tired of half-hearted pursuits? Then you’ve come to the right book. Here Steven Lawson artfully points you to Jonathan Edwards, a model for pursuing holiness, humility, and love, and for the forsaking of sin—all driven by a relentless passion ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ When Edwards wrote his ‘Resolutions,’ he likely had no idea how much they would impact his life. Beware, they’ll do the same for you.”
—Stephen J. Nichols, Research professor of Christianity and culture, Lancaster Bible College
The growing embrace of Reformed thought in the past quarter of a century has been very encouraging to those of us who delight in this most biblical expression of Christianity. And the remarkable writings of Jonathan Edwards have, by the grace of God, played no little part in this expansion of Reformed theology. This new volume by Steve Lawson helps to locate the root of Edwards’ thinking in his close walk with God. It serves as a powerful reminder that Reformed orthodoxy and Reformed piety belong together, and that to focus on the former at the expense of the latter is not only un-Edwardsean, but also un-biblical.”
—Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin, Professor of church history and biblical spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Steven J. Lawson is the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, having served as a pastor in Arkansas and Alabama for twenty-five years. He is a graduate of Texas Tech University (B.B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.)
Dr. Lawson is the author of numerous books, including The Expository Genius of John Calvin; Foundations of Grace; Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 1-75, Holman Old Testament Commentary: Psalms 76-150, and Holman Old Testament Commentary: Job ; Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call to Expository Preaching; Absolutely Sure ; Made in Our Image: The Fallacy of the User-Friendly God ; and Faith Under Fire. His books have been translated into various languages around the world, including Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, and the Indonesian language.