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.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
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 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, how many and how great soever.
2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the forementioned things.
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.
4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it 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, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don’t hinder.
12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.
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.
23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.
24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.
27. Resolved, never willfully to omit anything, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
29. Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.
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.
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.
32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec. 26, 1722.
34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.
36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.
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.
38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.
39. Resolved, never to do anything that I so much question the lawfulness of, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or no: except I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
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.
42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1722–23.
43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were anyway my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, Jan. 12. Jan. 12th, 1723.
44. Resolved, that no other end but religion, shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it. Jan. 12, 1723.
45. Resolved, never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance relating to it, but what helps religion. Jan. 12 and 13, 1723.
46. Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye: and to be especially careful of it, with respect to any of our family.
47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning, May 5, 1723.
48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.
49. Resolved, that this never shall be, if I can help it.
50. Resolved, I will act so as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world. July 5, 1723.
51. Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.
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. July 8, 1723.
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. July 8, 1723.
54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in commendation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, resolved to endeavor to imitate it. July 8, 1723.
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. July 8, 1723.
56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin. June 9 and July 13, 1723.
58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity. May 27 and July 13, 1723.
59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill-nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times. May 12, July 11, and July 13.
60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4 and 13, 1723.
61. Resolved, that I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it—that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done, etc. May 21 and July 13, 1723.
62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6–8, do it willingly and cheerfully “as unto the Lord, and not to man; knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.
63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time. Jan. 14 and July 13, 1723.
64. Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” of which the Apostle speaks [Romans 8:26], and those “breakings of soul for the longing it hath,” of which the Psalmist speaks, Ps. 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power, and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness. July 23 and Aug. 10, 1723.
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, and every circumstance; according to Dr. Manton’s 27th sermon on the 119th Psalm. July 26 and Aug. 10, 1723.
66. Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23 and Aug. 10, 1723.
69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it. Aug. 11, 1723.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak. Aug. 17, 1723.
The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
By Stephen J. Nichols
He was a young man unsure of his future. He had many gifts and not a few options before him. His father and grandfather were ministers, as were uncles and others in the family tree. He had a first-rate education, one of the finest of the day, so he was well-prepared for a future in the halls of the academy, should he so choose. He even had a penchant for science and perhaps could have headed off in that direction. But for the time being he was a pastor, a young pastor at that. Eighteen going on nineteen, he found himself far from his native soil of the Connecticut River Valley in the throes of a church split in a Presbyterian church in New York City. He had been invited to pastor the minority faction somewhere along the docks of the city’s harbor. New York City wasn’t nearly as busy in 1722, the year in question, as it is now. The population hovered around just under ten thousand. For a young man from the idyllic setting of small town New England, however, it was a place unlike any he had ever seen.
Amidst all of this uncertainty and flux, this young man, Jonathan Edwards, needed both a place to stand and a compass for some direction. So he took to writing. He kept a diary and he penned some guidelines, which he came to call his “Resolutions.” These resolutions would supply both that place for him to stand and a compass to guide him as he made his way.
There was a time, church historian Sean Lucas once pointed out, when Jonathan Edwards wasn’t Jonathan Edwards. That is to say, there was a time before Edwards was the great theologian and pastor that he is now known to be. In 1722 and 1723, during his nineteenth year, he was just Jonathan Edwards. The Great Awakening and his involvement in it, the publication of Religious Affections, Life of Brainerd, and Freedom of the Will—not to mention many other books, sermons, and writings enough to fill many shelves—the missionary work at Stockbridge, and the presidency of Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey), were all off in the distance. That Jonathan Edwards, the subject of many books, dissertations, conferences, and even websites, was not yet. At age nineteen, Jonathan Edwards was the potential Jonathan Edwards.
Aristotle spoke of the difference between actuality and potentiality, the difference between what is and what can be. Aristotle further spoke of actual being as real being, while potential being as something less. At this point the self-help gurus step in, offering you seven secrets to becoming the best you can be, if you attend the seminar and buy the workbook and sign up seven others. But Edwards is about as far from being a self-help guru as he could possibly be. His resolutions are equally distant from the workbooks taken home after the seminar. Edwards’s resolutions do what all the self-help and how-to books can’t. They accomplish what these others can’t accomplish because, from start to finish, they are entirely different from the books crowding out the self-help and how-to shelves of bookstores.
First, consider the starting point of the “Resolutions.” Edwards started writing his resolutions as fall gave way to winter in 1722. Edwards dated resolution number thirty-five as December 18, 1722, dating the last one, number seventy, on August 17, 1723. It’s likely he began his resolutions shortly before the date on number thirty-five, having just arrived in New York City in August of 1722 as an eighteen-year-old. These resolutions helped him face this tense moment in his life, this moment of uncertainty and change brought about by a new environment. Before Edwards got to number one, however, he offered a prefatory word:
“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.”
This preface undergirds the seventy resolutions to follow, which is crucial to keep in mind. Cutting the resolutions off from the foundation of the preface leads to seeing them as the stuff of personal grit and determination to better oneself. That’s not only a mistaken reading, it’s a tragic one. The self-made person is a modern ideal, not a biblical one. With the preface in mind, though, one does see that Edwards calls himself to a life of high standards and great expectations. He’s resolved to a life that counts, not just a life of putting in time. In resolution number six, Edwards exclaims, “Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.”
Certain categories and themes begin to emerge from this list of seventy resolutions of Edwards’ intention to live to the fullest. Some concern interpersonal relationships and interaction. Some concern the ubiquitous topic on lists of resolutions: eating and drinking. Some concern his spiritual and devotional life. Some concern his desire to use his time on earth wisely. These types of resolutions make it onto just about any list of resolutions. Indeed, despite all the differences between the twenty-first century and the eighteenth, human beings are much the same. Edwards’ list contains, however, some unique themes.
One of these unique themes concerns suffering and affliction. Towards the end of the list, Edwards writes, “Resolved, after afflictions to inquire what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.” Edwards’ rather large vision of God saw both the good and the bad in his life as stemming from the hand of God, something difficult for even the most mature of Christians let alone for a nineteen-year-old. Convinced that even the frowning side of providence, as the puritans sometimes referred to suffering and affliction, was meant for his good, Edwards resolved himself to the will and ways of God.
Another unique theme concerns his deep sense of mortality and human frailty. Some see the puritans as death-obsessed. The “Y” in the New England Primer has the accompanying line: “While Youth do cheer, death may be near.” One needs to look a little beneath the surface, though, to interpret the puritans and Edwards properly. Life was frail and fragile in the eighteenth century. The reality is that life continues to be frail and fragile today; we just camouflage it with our medical and technological advancements. We can be too easily numbed to our frailty. Edwards knew it all too well. Consequently, in a number of these resolutions Edwards looks beyond this life to the life to come. He takes seriously the issue of estimating his life when it comes to an end, because he is not naïve enough to think that it never will. The various resolutions that speak of his death and the afterlife remind us in the twenty-first century of the brevity of life, something we would just as soon forget or ignore.
This sense of mortality gave Edwards a unique perspective on life. He took the long view, not the short view. Resolution number fifty-two records sage advice to himself: “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.”
The urgency, or, as some have said, the tyranny of the present tends to keep us from taking such a long view. Consequently, we find our lives somewhat akin to that of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day. We’re stuck in a rut of a seemingly pointless cycle. If we can only get through this day, we tell ourselves, tomorrow will be different. Then tomorrow comes and nothing has changed. There is a way out of this pointless cycle, a way of freedom. The long view, actually the very long view, of the eternal perspective of our lives provides such a way. “Resolved,” Edwards writes in number fifty-five, “to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.”
Edwards not only starts his resolutions differently from the self-help gurus, he ends them differently as well. His goal in making and keeping resolutions isn’t self-fulfillment but the glory of God. The irony is that in seeking self-fulfillment, one actually, in the words of Christ, loses his life (Matthew 10:39). Yet by seeking the glory of God, one finds life in abundance. Edwards expresses this in his very first resolution, on the heels of the preface: “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.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism had it right all along. There is a necessary corollary between glorifying God and enjoying Him. Edwards just extends it. There is a necessary corollary between glorifying God and enjoying life. The life lived for God’s glory is the life of pleasure, the good life. George Marsden, in his magisterial biography of Edwards, observes, “Jonathan directed his ‘Resolutions’ toward plugging every gap that would allow distraction from what he saw as his only worthy activity, to glorify God” (Jonathan Edwards: A Life, New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 50, 2003). Everything in Edwards’ life, all his activities and endeavors, would have to make their way back to this chief goal.
This point alone makes Edwards’ resolutions stand out. Fellow colonial Benjamin Franklin also took to writing resolutions. On his long voyage home to Philadelphia after his first visit to France in 1726, he decided to “make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action.” Franklin kept making and remaking them throughout his life. In that first set, his third resolution concerns his goal: “To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.” His single-mindedness and patience are commendable, but at the end of the day Franklin’s goal was to arrive at “plenty,” to be prosperous. Edwards set his sights far higher.
The way Edwards starts and ends his resolutions marks them off from the flood of self-help and how-to advice. Edwards has a distinct and different foundation and goal. In the points in between he also has something unique to say. One of these concerns reading Scripture, which many in the modern and now postmodern world have jettisoned as an ancient book no longer credible or meaningful. Against such a notion, Edwards committed himself to Scripture, as seen in resolution number twenty-eight: “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of them.”
Edwards also has something to say about prayer in resolution number twenty-nine: “Resolved, never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer or as a petition of prayer, which is so made that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession, which I cannot hope God will accept.” Perhaps because Edwards used words so well, he had a high and healthy respect for them. Not interested in merely rattling off words, Edwards wanted his words during his time of prayer to count, words not spoken glibly, but words uttered in earnest faith. Further, we shouldn’t miss Edwards’ reference to prayers of confession.
The “Resolutions” express Edwards’ earnest desire to be faithful in the spiritual disciplines of reading Scripture and prayer. Many years after he left New York, while writing Religious Affections, Edwards recalled his Jewish neighbor. Edwards vividly remembers this man, “who appeared to me the devoutest person that I ever saw in my life; a great part of his time being spent in acts of devotion.” Edwards used this man’s act of devotion to challenge Christians to a deeper devotion in Religious Affections (1746). Back in 1722, while writing the “Resolutions,” this man had challenged Edwards’ own devotion.
In addition to reading Scripture and prayer, Edwards also has quite a bit to say to himself about community, though he doesn’t use the word. Many, if not the lion’s share, of the resolutions concern interpersonal relationships. And most of these have something to do with his speech. “Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity,” he so commits himself in resolution number thirty-four. He wasn’t just after speaking the truth, he also wanted to speak kindly. In resolution number thirty-one, he writes, “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”; then he adds, “agreeable to the lowest humility and a sense of my own faults and failings.” Edwards realized how much he could be critical of others for the same glaring faults he had in his own life. This awareness goes a long way in interacting with our spouses, children, and other family members, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, with our fellow employees and employers, and with our neighbors.
Edwards also avoided a naïve view of interpersonal relationships. Resolution number thirty-three makes this clear. Here he writes, “Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be without overbalancing detriment in other respects.” Remember, Edwards was pastoring a splinter group of a church split when he wrote this. He recognized the difficulties in navigating interpersonal interaction.
The last of these numbered resolutions, number seventy, states, “Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.” That resolution alone would be enough for any person to work on during his or her lifetime. Edwards had sixty-nine more just as challenging.
Reading some of these resolutions gives the impression of Edwards as a superman, but resolution number thirty-six allows for his humanity to come through. In the first part of this one Edwards notes, “Resolved never to speak evil of any,” before adding, “except I have some particular good call for it.” It’s refreshing to see Edwards being so human. We also see this in resolution number fifty-six, in which he deals honestly with his sin, his “corruptions.” Here he writes, “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”
It’s encouraging to see our heroes as human. In fact, that is how we must see them. A strong dose of humility and an abiding sense of our own humanity, frailty, and shortcomings, help us put the reading of Edwards’ Resolutions, as well as the making and keeping of our own resolutions, in a healthy perspective. We must remember that there was a time when Jonathan Edwards wasn’t Jonathan Edwards. More importantly, we must remember that Jonathan Edwards didn’t make Jonathan Edwards—no matter how good he was at making and keeping resolutions. God made Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards through the work of the God-man Jesus Christ. Christ made the ultimate resolution, and He kept it perfectly and completely. Christ resolved to redeem His fallen and sinful people so that this new community could be reconciled to the Father and pursue a life of holiness.
Many years later, during the flurry of the Great Awakening, a young teenager named Deborah Hatheway wrote Edwards for advice on how to live the Christian life. She lived in Suffield, Connecticut, at the time a town without a pastor. Since Suffield was just a short distance away from Northampton, Edwards preached there from time to time. Edwards replied with a nineteen-point letter, and this at perhaps the busiest time in his life. This letter was in effect a set of resolutions for her and for her friends, with whom Edwards encouraged her to share the letter. He speaks of spiritual disciplines, of having a sense of sin, and of having an even greater sense of grace. But perhaps his best advice comes near the end, when he writes, “In all your course, walk with God and follow Christ as a little, poor, helpless child, taking hold of Christ’s hand, keeping your eye on the mark of the wounds on his hand and side.”
Resolved, thanks to this reminder from Jonathan Edwards, to keep our eyes on Christ. X
Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is professor of theology and church history at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He is author of Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought.
Tabletalk Magazine, January 2009: Resolved to Press on toward the Goal.