New Year’s resolutions anyone?! New Year, new you?!
No doubt you have made resolutions over the years. Did they help? Some I’m sure did, but you probably messed up with others pretty early in January! What about this year? Have you made resolutions for 2021? It’s only the 2nd, but how are they going?!
Just under 300 years ago, in 1722, a young man became the minister of a small church in New York. He was 19 years old. Around this time, over a period of about 12 months, he wrote a series of 70 resolutions in his diary. His aim was to summarise how he would approach his daily life, practically and spiritually. His name was Jonathan Edwards. He later became a great preacher, theologian and one of the most well-known of the Puritans.
It is worth reading through all 70 resolutions – you can find a link to them below – some of them do need a bit of thinking about as they are written in quite old fashioned language. They cover an amazing range of subjects, from his spiritual life – Bible reading, prayer etc – to interpersonal relationships, dealing with suffering, and time management. Most of them start with the word ‘resolved’ and are exactly the kind of resolutions we might make.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
And in terms of our spiritual life:
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.
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.
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.
However, the key to Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions, and the helpful point for you and me at the start of 2021 is in the short preface he wrote to cover them all.
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.
He realised that the only way he would have any success with his resolutions is if God helps him – he then expresses this as a prayer. The preface is followed by Resolution #1 which sets the theme for the other 69 and starts, ‘Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory…‘
Spending some time in self-reflection and self-examination is an important Christian discipline. However, if we focus too much on ourselves and on self-improvement it will often end in failure or get us down. As we start 2021, seeking to live for God’s glory, both practically and spiritually, and only trying to do so with God’s help will be a good foundation on which we can build any other resolutions we make.
A couple of years ago (New Year 2019) I wrote a post called Knowing Christ Better. Jonathan Edwards’ resolution #53 reminded me of this:
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.
If you want to read more about the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards take a look at this article by Stephen Nichols on the Ligonier website. He also wrote a short book looking at the resolutions in more detail.
The full set of resolutions can be found in a number of places online. However, this article on Desiring God divides them up into different categories which makes reading them a bit easier.[A00148 – 02/01/2021]