Jonathan Edwards and the Effort of Sanctification
by Jonathan Hamilton
At some point recently a switch got flipped inside my head and I began consuming large amounts of church history – both through books and audio lectures. This has been tremendously enjoyable, and a worthy exercise for anyone who knows little about the Christian past. While I’ve done reading and listening on various people and periods, one of my favorites so far has been Jonathan Edwards.
I’m currently preparing a Sunday School lesson for this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church of Wakefield, MI on the subject of Edwards’ 70 Resolutions (no, I’m not covering them all). Even being slightly familiar with Edwards prior to my recent study, I’d never heard of the resolutions. They’re worth a read, and a helpful primer on the topic is Steven J. Lawson’s The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards. I am using this work extensively in my Sunday School lesson prep, and want to share a bit of it here.
As an introduction, it’s helpful to note that I am coming at this from the perspective that our sanctification requires effort on our part. If you’re familiar with the recent dust-up over this subject in evangelicalism, you’ll note that not everyone agrees with this. But I believe the Bible clearly favors a fervent pursuit of personal holiness by those who are Christians, and Edwards certainly did as well. (See 2 Cor. 5:17; Matt. 7:21-23; John 14:15; 1 John 2:3-6; Heb. 12:14; Rom. 6:1, 12:1; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 3:10-15)
Edwards’ Pursuit of Holiness
- Edwards wrote 70 purpose statements for his life during the years 1722-23.
- At the time he started them, he was not yet 20 years old and had been saved for only about one year.
- If Edwards were alive today, he would not be Mr. Popular with many professing Christians. He’d be called a “Pharisee” or a “legalist” by some. He’d be a punchline on facebook. He’d be skewered on blogs. He’d hear “You’re such a Puritan!” Of course, that one was actually true.
- Contemporary of George Whitefield, though they only met once; evidently, Whitefield preached in Edwards’ pulpit, and Edwards sat on the front row and wept throughout the sermon
- Leader of the Great Awakening in America
- Likely would have become David Brainerd’s father-in-law had Brainerd lived past 29
- Grandfather of Aaron Burr (who later killed Alexander Hamilton….I forgive him for this)
- Originally horrified by the Doctrine of Election, though later called it “exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet”
- Eventually fired by his church of more than 20 years for tightening up communion requirements to a more biblical level
- His humility is apparent in that he stayed on for nearly a year helping them fill the pulpit until his replacement could be found
- His humility was further displayed in his next step in life: taking over a mission work to Indians in a remote frontier settlement and preaching the Gospel at a 5th grade level
- An early 20th century study of Edwards’ descendants found that just 150 years after his death, Edwards had the following distinguished branches shooting forth from his family tree: 300 clergymen, missionaries, and theological professors; 120 college professors; 110 lawyers; over 60 physicians; over 60 authors; 30 judges; 14 university presidents; multiple giants of American industry; 80 holders of major public office; 3 mayors of large cities; 3 state governors; 3 U.S. senators; a U.S. Senate chaplain; a comptroller of the U.S. Treasury; a Vice-President of the United States (Aaron Burr); and that study was done over 100 years ago! That list has surely multiplied repeatedly since.
- Centered around six categories that Lawson has helpfully defined: Pursuing the Glory of God; Forsaking Sin; Making Proper Use of God-Allotted Time; Living with All His Being for the Lord; Pursuing Humility and Love; Making Frequent Self Examination
- 70 total resolutions, written over an approximately 15-month period, and regularly reviewed throughout his life as a matter of spiritual discipline
- Excerpt from Resolution #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….”
- #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.”
- #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.”
- #10: “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”
- #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.”
- #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.”
- #56: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”
Edwards’ spiritual disciplines, and the aim of his life, were all pointed at the glory of God. Every thought. Every word. Every choice. Every undertaking. All must be for God’s glory. Let us beg God to give His Church a host of men and women who desire to be holy as He is holy; whose great love for God and passion for His glory results in a life consistent with the character and commands of God.