Monday, January 05, 2009

Edwards's Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards's resolutions--at least in the circles I run in--are frequently cited and praised this time of year. With others, I find this example of Edwards's pursuit of holiness challenging (and amazing, especially considering that he wrote them as a teenager!). But mingled with my appreciation is also a bit of unease.

In the latest issue of Tabletalk, Sinclair Ferguson and Gene Veith each independently comment upon Edwards's resolutions. I think they combine the right sense of admiration with a touch of warning.

Ferguson writes:
Doubtless the resolutions display the marks of relative youth — references to God are frequent, while references to Christ and to grace are noticeably infrequent. Edwards’ sense of the need for radical consecration was then greater than his ability to show how such devotion would need to be resourced in Christ over the long haul. While this is not wholly lacking, there is no doubt that introspection dominates over divine provision. That notwithstanding, the “Resolutions” provide a very powerful illustration of an often-repeated divine pattern: those the Lord means to use significantly he often deals with profoundly in early years.
Here are the three lessons from the Resolutions that Ferguson goes on to highlight: (1) life is for the glory of God; (2) life should be lived in the light of eternity; (3) life is lived best by those who guard the heart. You can read the whole thing.

Veith contrasts Edwards's God-seeking resolutions with Benjamin Franklin's attempts at moralistic resolutions. But here's his warning:
But even conservative Christians can sometimes fall into the trap of paying too much attention to themselves. “Am I really saved?” we can sometimes wonder, looking at our inner lives and hidden sins and finding all too little evidence of our holiness.

We have to admit that our own resolutions to improve our lives, however well-intentioned and sincerely meant, often have little effect. We cannot even keep our resolutions to lose weight or work out at the gym, much less eliminate our sins of lust and cruelty.

Surely Edwards would agree with Martin Luther, who, in his spiritual counseling, would urge tormented souls to stop looking at themselves. Instead, they should look outside themselves to Christ on the cross.

Salvation, both would insist, is extra nos (outside ourselves), founded on the unshakable grace of God and on the objective work of Christ. When we look inside ourselves we see our sin and our weakness, leading us only to despair. But when we look outside ourselves to the promises in God’s Word, we can find joy, confidence, and assurance.
You can read the whole thing.

Again, I think that both articles, read in conjunction, offer a good way to approach this with critical appreciation.