On Resolutions

Failing to Resolve

The New Year's resolution is dying. At least my few friends have already given up.  With the probable exception of sermon introductions and the evening news, it looks like most people are resolving not to resolve. The reason for this trend seems to be overly ambitious goals, and almost certain by mid-February. With certain failure in sight, it looks more sensible and much more enjoyable to ditch the whole endeavor and go back to counting my twitter followers or laughing at dancing cats on youtube.

The Value of Resolutions

And yet, I always end up asking myself, what would a life be like if I resolved to resolve and paid enough attention and effort to those goals in a way that lead to the real change I wish I could wish for. Not just a better diet, more reading or a better schedule, but Christ-centered, Gospel-driven, Spirit-powered, John Piper-esque change.

If I were that kind of person I imagine I would end up like Jonathan Edwards.

The Effect of Resolving Well

Jonathan Edwards is one of the most unique American Christians in history and was uniquely used by God to preach the word, write theology and guide the new country through one of the greatest revivals of all time. His resolutions were a tool that he used to continually focus himself on Christ and his work in ministering the gospel.

Learning How to Resolve

1.    Resolve with God's help 

Edwards begins with his famous resolutions with an acknowledgment of his need for God’s help in all of it:

 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 as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

 I think this is this first and easiest place we fail when we make resolutions. We assume we make changes, at least little ones, on our own. We imagine that if we just try harder, we can and will be better people. Edwards reminds us that any real changes happens through the Spirit.

2.    Set Realistic But Hopeful Goals

Some of Edwards' resolutions seem rather grandiose. For example:

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s 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, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

And yet, he seems to write these with the understanding that with God's help and personal effort this kind of life can be lived. 

3.    Think about motivation as well as action

One of the things I was most impressed by was the wide variety of thoughts, motivations and actions Edwards was convicted to pursue:

Thinking about heaven

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

Emotion and motivation

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

Working Hard

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

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

4.    Review Regularly

Edwards starts off with the realization that lofty goals are easily forgotten if not reviewed:

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

He then resolves to regularly examine his life in light of his resolutions

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec. 22 and 26, 1722.

40. Resolved, to inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking. Jan. 7, 1723.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

The amazing thing is that it seems as if he kept at this goal. Many of his resolutions have additional dates as he added new insights and goals for the person he wanted to become. Several were written years after he wrote the original resolutions.

5.    Repent Often

It only takes until his third resolution until Edwards considers what will happen when he fails to remember them. 

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

It is easy to give up on our resolutions and even resolving itself when we see that we have failed to change as we have hoped. In part, this is because we have a much higher view of our ability to change. In part, this is because we underestimate the power of sin and just how hairy the business of real life change will be.

Resolving Resolutions

Whether you are a resolved resolutionist like Edwards or a novice New Years rememberer, reminding yourself and others about what God has done and plans to do for you is a common biblical theme (2 Peter 2:10-15; Eccl. 12:1-2; Psa. 22:22-24). As you begin your new year, or read this far from now in the middle of July, take time to thank God for what he has already done in your life and remind yourself to rely on the Holy Spirit for the work he will continue to do in you.

Reading More On Resolutions

  • If you have not yet read through Edward's resolutions, there is a great copy of them on the Desiring God site.

  • If you want more historical background on the resolutions there is a great article on table talk

  • For more biography see Piper's Biography message or listen to the conference messages for the Desiring God National Conference in honor of Edwards. Sam Storms' message on Heaven, Noël Piper's Message on Mrs. Edwards and John Piper's message on Edwards' view of regeneration are worthwhile listening.

  • If you are into paper books and have resolved to read more biographies, try Steve Lawson's biography [amazon], which is Fransico-Martinez-approved

  • And if you simply want to read more than Edwards' Resolutions you can start with:

    • The Religious Affections - One of the most widely read Edwardsian books, where Edwards considers what it means to be truly saved and the effects that conversion has on the Christian's will and emotions.

    • The End For Which God Created The World - A shorter, but very theological essay where Edwards considers why God would create humans, allow sin and work all things for his glory

By Chris Eich