Fun With Word Studies

21 Feb

A couple of weeks ago in an evening Bible study, I said I thought word studies were a bit overrated as a study method. My concern was that in doing word studies, we often miss the forest for the trees. We get a good grip on the range of meaning of this word or that word but we can be prone to fix our attention on the word and miss the flow of thought in the passage. This article from George Guthrie hits at the core of what I was addressing in my comments with humor and grace.

Sermon Manuscript — Isaiah 53:1

20 Feb

         This morning we are starting one of the golden prophecies of the Old Testament, our year verses for 2017, Isaiah 53. Over the next twelve weeks we are going to, Lord willing, look at this chapter word for word, verse for verse. We are going to turn it over like a diamond to the light, appreciating every facet, letting our hearts be lifted by the wisdom and goodness of God.

Many people have called this chapter the gospel according to Isaiah, and that is right. This chapter is a part of the second half of the book of Isaiah which is all about the coming Suffering Servant who would save a people through sacrifice. Isaiah 53 is the high point of the book of Isaiah, like Romans 8 is to the epistle or Luke 15 to the gospel of Luke. We are scaling to one of those biblical Mt. Everest peaks in these weeks. So let’s start the climb this morning with verse 1.

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

          Questions draw us in. Questions bring us to a point of participation in a way that statements do not. So Isaiah draws us in with questions. They are questions of longing. Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? The answer is linked to the last chapter, where Isaiah said that the Messiah, the promised Savior, would “sprinkle many nations,” draw many people to Himself. Now the question comes, who has believed, to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? These are questions of complaint. There is good news, but few have believed it. There is great power, but few have received it. And in this unveiling of the good news of the Savior there is both the necessity of human hearing and divine revealing.

This message of a coming Savior is not limited to Isaiah 53. It is all over the Old Testament. This is why Isaiah says here, “who has believed what he has heard from US.” As Hebrews 1:1 says, “Long ago at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” And the message of the prophets was to point to this coming Savior, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. So the Jews had received all these messages from the prophets, along with the law of God which showed them through its rules and through the sacrifices the holiness of God, the need for a substitute and the shedding of blood for forgiveness, and the need for purity. God’s old covenant law was to the Jews, as Paul says in Galatians 3:24, “a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.” Yet, we see here these words, “who has believed what he has heard from us?” Who indeed? You see, you can hear the greatest preaching in the world and not believe. You can have a beautiful leather Bible on your bookshelf at home and even read it regularly and not believe. You can have the best Christian friends and go to the most loving church and not believe. You can sing songs of praise and not believe. You can give money to Christian causes and not believe. The Jews had all the trappings of devotion to God but many of them did not believe what the prophets said. So it is in our day. There is much religious activity but little authentic faith. There are booming churches everywhere but the culture continues to turn away from God and His truth. A large majority in our nation still professes belief in God, but not many are really hearing His message. All you have to do is look at our lives to know this. How easily we trade God’s standards for our own notions of what is good. And how often we seek the good life in all the wrong places, through pleasure or success or power or chasing after dollar signs. Most of us present this morning have heard the message for years. Yet have we been listening? And has this listening led us to believe? As I look over the landscape of this great land I believe there has been much hearing but not much listening with the ears of faith. There have been multitudes of curious onlookers, like the multitudes that followed after Jesus in His days of earthly ministry, but there have not been many disciples. So the words of Isaiah still ring true for us . . . who has believed what he has heard from us?

The good news is there are still some in our land who are like Simeon in the gospel of Luke, a man who was waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior. There are a few who believe what God has said about the Savior rather than constructing their own personal Jesus, who has nothing to do with the Jesus revealed in Scripture.

As the people in Jesus’ day expected a political deliverer to triumph mightily over Rome rather than a Suffering Servant who would triumph over sin and death through self-sacrifice, so we look to Jesus to make America what we want it to be. Or we look to Jesus to satisfy our longings, to give us a comfortable life. Or we look to Jesus to do miracles for us. We are fine using Him to be healthy wealthy and wise but we are not willing to bow the knee to Him. Who has believed what he has heard from us?

We don’t believe because we are proud. We think the cross is a foolish thing. A Savior is supposed to dominate and decimate His enemies, not be mocked and spat upon and nailed to a tree to die naked between two thieves. We don’t believe because in our pride we can’t accept the words of lowly fishermen who lived 2000 years ago. We accept the word of modern novelists and their conspiracies or the word of New Testament scholars whose spin on the truth of God we trust more than those who were eyewitnesses of His glory. But more than anything, in our pride we are unwilling to come to terms with this one thing: there is but one God and one Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and He alone is to be worshiped. In the end our problem is as old as the garden . . . we want to be a god ourselves. We are far too casual about the most momentous thing that has ever happened in space and time. We get worked up over a football game or the latest celebrity sighting but have no eyes to behold our God, our suffering Savior. We have a yearning for the things of God but we have not the will to seek them, even though Jesus urges us to this . . . seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The Puritan Thomas Manton says, “It is a sign people do not prize a thing when they do not labor after it.” Who has believed our message?

Hard hearts lead to closed ears. So who has believed what he has heard from us? The answer is “not many.” And it has always been so. The way is narrow that leads to life and few find it. Now in the end, many through time will find it, for Revelation tells us that a great multitude from all the world will worship Jesus forever, but in each individual time period it seems that true believers are the exception rather than the rule. But this does not mean the story of Jesus is false. On the contrary, the truth or falsehood of something does not depend on how many people believe it. Copernicus was right about the sun being at the center of the solar system even though most of his contemporaries disagreed. So we are a part of this Copernican revolution called Christianity, a revolution that digs against conventional wisdom, standard operating procedure and the very fabric of our approach to life. This revolution that says saving comes by losing, living comes by dying and redemption comes through suffering.

So have you listened to the message? Have you heard the sermons and Sunday School lessons all these years and believed, or have you heard without a heart of faith? How can you know? You can know if you are moved by the truth of Jesus. You can know if you are changed by the truth of Jesus, if your life is different because you know Him. You can know if your love for Him and others is real and growing. The bottom line is simple: has Jesus made a difference in your life. If you could take all you have known of Jesus out of your life and be substantially the same person either way, you are almost certainly lost. But if the love of Christ compels you, if you can’t imagine life without Him (not your version of Him but who He is in Scripture) then you have real reasons to believe, yes, I have heard this gospel message, and I have believed. Oh, that this kind of self-examination would happen here and in every corner of every church in this nation, and in every bedroom of every house this morning where there is someone who today has been burned by the church or is done with so-called “organized religion” but still claims some kind of relationship with Jesus. Let us examine ourselves, in a world where so much filth is accepted, so much excess is applauded, so little sacrifice is demanded, could it be that there are far fewer Christians in America than we might think? Have we even fooled ourselves?

Who has believed what he has heard from us? We’ve looked at that question. Now let’s turn to the second question of this verse, a question similar do and different from the first question . . . “And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

The “arm of the Lord” here is parallel to “the message” in the first part of the verse. The arm of the Lord in Scripture refers to God’s display of power. Sometimes it’s the hand of God, sometimes the finger of God, sometimes the arm of God but whenever you have this kind of humanizing language for God about His arm, you are talking about the display of His strength. The greatest display of God’s strength and the focus of Isaiah 53, is the Suffering Servant Jesus and the message of the grace He brings through self-giving love. So the arm of the Lord in Isaiah 53:1 is the Lord Jesus and the gospel truth of salvation in Him. Jesus is the message and the might of God. And this of course is the way Paul describes it when he says in Romans, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

The gospel is the power of God. It works, as Hebrews 4:12 says, to the dividing of the heart. The gospel troubles sinners, even though the sinner on hearing the gospel, though troubled, is also angered. This is actually a good way to observe the faith of another person. Does gospel preaching make them angry or does it cause them to make excuses or raise objections, or do they just receive it as the truth of God and bow the knee to that truth? For the believer, the gospel is the glory of God in the face of Christ, our way of eternal and abundant life, the sign of God’s victory in the world. This is what the devil does not want you to know. This is where he will fight you tooth and nail. The gospel is the power of God. Doubts will rise up in your minds, lusts and appetites will compete for your hearts, but this gospel is the arm of the Lord, the only strength we have for life and eternity.

So pastors, Sunday School teachers, is the gospel the arm of the Lord, is it the power of God? Then be not ashamed of this truth, preach boldly, teach powerfully. Know that since it is the arm of God, it has power and will have success. Though many will reject the gospel, not all will. Believe that God has a people He will save through the faithful preaching of the Word. Be faithful to present the gospel not as a means to hear yourself talk or as a way to enrich yourself or make yourself feel good. Preach not out of selfish ambition or envy but make it your goal to just faithfully carry out the call of God on your life. And ask the Spirit to reveal the arm of the Lord to all those to whom you preach.

To all of you listening today, when you listen to preaching or teaching of the gospel, do you listen with reverence? Do you tremble at the Word of God? Do you receive the truth into your hearts? Do you trust in what God is saying through His Word? Do you listen to all preachers and teachers who are preaching the gospel with a view toward learning what you can from them, or do you make your judgment on the value of a thing based on the appearance or the speaking ability of the preacher. Woe to us if we let a pastor’s clothing or accent or grammar or style be a roadblock to hearing the gospel. No matter how poor the speaker may be, there is always something to learn because we are dealing with the Word of God.

To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? We see here this morning the necessity of revelation beyond revelation. You see the message is out there, it can be heard. And it must be heard and believed. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” But this message which must be heard and believed must also be revealed. So we have in Isaiah 53:1 another indicator of God’s sovereignty. In order to hear and believe this message of salvation in Christ, God by His Spirit must reveal the truth to the inner man. This is why Jesus says in John 6:44 that no one can come to Jesus unless God draws him. This is why the great golden chain of Romans 8 is there, “For those whom God foreknew He also predestined for adoption as sons . . . and those he predestined he also called and those he called he justified and those he justified he also glorified.” This is why Ephesians speaks of our having been predestined from the foundation of the world. Yes, God has a plan and He is carrying it out in this world. His plan is to claim a people from every corner of the globe to serve and glorify Him for all eternity through Jesus Christ. God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and He will harden whom He will harden. So in this first verse of Isaiah 53 we have this great question. In light of all Isaiah had said about the coming of a great Savior, there are not many who hear and believe, not many to whom the arm of the Lord is revealed. Here we have the great scriptural intersect between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. God rules over all but we are not robots. We have real choices and these choices have consequence but it is all under the ultimate dominion of God. So we do not live as though everything depends on us but we also do not live as if nothing depends on us, because God’s sovereignty plays out in the world as it is, a world of real moral choices. It is absolutely true that it is essential to believe if we are to be saved. And it is also absolutely true that no one will believe unless God reveals the power of the gospel to us. And don’t you see this reality in life all the time? You see it in the kid who is just ignorant and empty to the things of God until one day, one seemingly random Sunday, God opens her eyes and she sees the beauty of Jesus and follows Him. On the flip side, you see in the person who has been in these pews for years but is cold to the gospel and totally unchanged in life. I do not believe in God’s sovereignty because of an exhaustive theological search, though I have studied what the Bible says about these things. I believe in God’s sovereignty not only through the revelation of Scripture but because I have lived it. I was totally ignorant of God, unconcerned with Him. But one day He opened my eyes and I have never been the same. But I also believe in human responsibility for the same reason. Most of you have heard my testimony but you have not heard Cindy’s. Her testimony is a perfect illustration of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Her parents were divorced and she lived with her mom in middle school but in high school she moved to Columbia to live with her dad (God’s sovereignty). She went to high school and met a girl named Laurie whose parents were students at Columbia Bible College (God’s sovereignty). Laurie was a devoted young follower of Jesus who invited Cindy to church (man’s responsibility). Cindy decided to go with Laurie (man’s responsibility) and saw in that church a kind of Christian life she’d never seen before. She gave her life to the Lord and began to walk with Him. Through the influence of a couple of other friends (responsibility) she ended up going to Columbia Bible College where she grew deeper in the Lord and met me (sovereignty!) and off we went daily making choices but always under the hand and under the reign of God, who has even taken our sins and our failures and turned them for His purposes.

          Have you heard the gospel message today? Have you believed it? Has the arm of the Lord been revealed to you? At the end of the day you may say, “Well, the arm of the Lord has to be revealed to me, so I’ll just wait for that to happen in God’s time.” The first part of that statement is absolutely right, the second part of that statement couldn’t be more false. We are urged continually in the Bible to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call on Him while He is near, to forsake wickedness and walk in righteousness. The call to seek God is not inconsistent with His sovereignty it is something that He in His sovereignty uses to call you to faith. So this morning, if you are uncertain of your standing with God, seek Him. Call on Him. If you know this morning that you know the Lord I just want to ask you whether the faith you have professed is something you still are holding onto?

Are You an “If” Pray-er or a “When” Pray-er?

12 Jan

I heard recently a good insight from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, in speaking about prayer in the Sermon, continually uses the word “when” in reference to prayer. He warns against self-exaltation in prayer but He assumes we will pray. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites . . .” Jesus assumes His people will pray. And most Christians assume Christians will pray. But it seems to me that often we substitute the word “if” for the word “when.” “If I have time, I will pray.” “If I feel like it, I will pray.” “If times are tough, I will pray.” Instead, the pattern of our lives ought to be “when you pray.” Prayer should be as ordinary a part of the pattern of our lives as all the other habits of life. This is convicting to me, because God promises great blessing through prayer but I am far to often an “if” Christian instead of a “when” Christian. Would our consistency and joy in prayer increase if we substituted the word “when” for the word “if”?

Book Review: Befriend (Scott Sauls)

11 Jan

Scott Sauls is the Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville. He seems to be a pastor in touch with today’s world but still grounded in a commitment to Scripture. He would fall for me somewhere between Andy Stanley and Tim Keller, more committed to core evangelical values than Stanley but a little more progressive than Keller. This sense also comes through in the endorsements at the front of the book and in the foreword by Ann Voskamp. Sauls comes from a centrist evangelical position, with Matt Chandler on his right and Richard Stearns on his left (both endorsed the book). Sauls’ centrist position serves him well in this book. I came to his book Befriend having never read any of his other work and having only heard him speak on a couple of occasions. I appreciate the heart that comes through in this book. Befriend is a collection of twenty one brief chapters, the bulk of which are directed at encouraging readers to befriend various kinds of people. We all know we are to befriend all sorts of people but Sauls, having laid a gospel basis for friendship in chapter one, is very effective at applying the need for friendship toward all for his evangelical audience. Sauls covers all sorts of groups, including often contrasting pairs (poor and rich, unborn babies and their mothers, conservatives and liberals). The book has an edge because most readers will come to a chapter that makes them uncomfortable, challenging their prejudices and lack of love. Because he is covering such a wide range of topics, the chapters are a bit uneven in terms of content, with some of them just pretty conventional in a way that will just be review for most believers. The best chapters are the ones covering issues Sauls has wrestled with deeply in his own life. Throughout the book, Sauls probes for the sweet spot of fidelity to the Bible combined with an open and loving heart. He most often succeeds in bringing this sense of grace and truth across in his writing. The book is well-suited for a small group, as it contains further Scripture readings and questions at the close of each chapter, but it may run just a bit long to be ideal for a small group. It may be best used by two or three friends who read it and discuss over coffee or a meal. Individuals of course, can also profit from a careful reading of the book.

The last chapter, on the God who befriends you, is the best chapter in the book in my opinion and is a fitting conclusion to a well-written and insightful book. For a people thoroughly connected but lacking community, Befriend gives us solid guidance.

My Favorite Hymns

6 Jan

Hymns are kind of outdated in the minds of many, but I still like them. I could take or leave the musical style in which they are presented, but the pattern of verses which build a story (often the story of the gospel) is a real encouragement to me. Here are a few of my favorites . . .

Be Thou My Vision —

And Can it Be? —

My Song is Love Unknown —

I Asked the Lord That I May Grow —

Crown Him with Many Crowns —

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross —

He Will Hold Me Fast —

If you ask me next year, I’ll probably have a new set of favorites.

I am thankful for the musical and lyrical treasures we have in the Church. I am thankful for these songs that can lift our hearts or help us re-focus on Jesus.

What are your favorite hymns?




Two Observations About American Culture

5 Jan

I know it is a generalization to talk about “American culture.” Yet I do think, in spite of our diversity, that we have something which could be called culture. And in this culture I observe two trends.

  1. We are more connected than ever but have less community than ever.

2. We have more information than ever but are less inclined to careful thought than          ever.

Now these are observations, assertions. I may be wrong. But if I am right, what can be done? To be sure, if we just ride the waves of culture we will continue to be disconnected and unthinking. We must be intentional in this day and age if we are to have community and depth of thought. The first step is a real assessment of time and how we are spending it. Most people think money is their most precious resource. But I believe time may be even more valuable. There is a limited amount for each of us and each day holds only 24 hours. What will we do with that time? I believe all too often we are trying to do things rather than trying to know people. Tasks take priority over relationships. The Mary-Martha situation hits. We want to accomplish things. We can measure it. Makes us feel like we’ve done something. But people? Too messy. Too inconvenient. Too difficult. Yet, most of us can’t deny that deep within us there is a longing for personal connection. Unless we are willing to adjust our thinking about productivity, we may miss the most productive thing of all; cultivating relationships.

The same necessity is there for us with thinking. While all of us could probably benefit from a course in logic, far beyond the academic discipline of thinking there is simply the discipline of carving out time to think. Again, there must be an intentional pushing aside of much information in order to thoughtfully digest ideas.

We are not reflective as a people, and even when we are, we tend to turn our reflection inward, to gaze at our inward emotional state or our place in life. So even when we do think, we normally think about ourselves, and this self-focus undercuts both quality of relationships and substantive reflection. Somehow we must not become casualties of a culture that values both achievement and leisure. Both are potential soul-crushers. We must find a way to live in the world that values relationships and reflection, for these are the things that will lead us to strength of life and the ability to do things of real value to others.

I am intrigued that when we come to the Bible we see from the beginning the key truths that God is personal and that God is a communicator. It seems to me that relationships and careful thinking reflect the image of God very well. I believe we tend to understand in our depths, even in spite of our fallen nature, that things which mark us as image-bearers are actually the best things in life.

I am still thinking through all of this, but that is where my thoughts are now. I want to be more deliberate in 2017 when it comes to people and when it comes to truth.



Two Ways to Read the Bible

4 Jan

I recommend that every Christian who can should be a consistent Bible reader. But there are two ways to read which I believe are both essential to the greatest degree of spiritual growth and health.

First, every believer should read the Bible in large chunks. Three or so chapters a day takes you through the Bible in a year, so that is a good place to start. This kind of reading gives you the lay of the land and helps you see the big picture of God’s working. But along with this, I recommend secondly that every believer take time to read the Bible on a micro level, with pen in hand, ready to note and meditate over biblical truth. Here individual books of the Bible might be your aim. Maybe you could make it a goal to carefully read through the Psalms this year (you could go through the Psalms twice during the year if you did one a day). Or maybe 2017 will be the year you study the gospel of John. Or perhaps you will take a year to mull over Romans, or explore Ephesians. Maybe you want to spend the year reading everything in the Bible about the life of Peter or David. Or maybe you will focus on the women of the Bible. Perhaps you might fix your attention on all the prophecies made about Jesus in the Old Testament or maybe everything you can find in the Bible about prayer. You could trace the attributes of God through the Scriptures. The possibilities are almost endless.

The bottom line is that I encourage you to take time each day for macro-level reading and micro-level reading. You will find it very rewarding to give your attention to the Scriptures in this way in 2017.

Book Review: Tim Keller’s “Making Sense of God”

3 Jan

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is a prolific writer and influential leader in the evangelical world. There is none of the bluster with him which is commonly associated with evangelical preachers, in his speaking or his writing. Keller is a calm, measured voice committed to what he sees as biblical truth.

Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, is something of a follow-up to his book The Reason for God. Keller went with a more conventional apologetic approach in The Reason for God but in this latest book he acknowledges that while this approach has its place, for many people today it is necessary to establish why considering the truth of Christianity is something that is even worthwhile to do. Many people in today’s world consider Christianity irrelevant, outmoded, unnecessary in an age of science, reason and technology. Keller’s aim in Making Sense of God is to gently undermine this view of Christianity and to show the superior value of a Christian worldview.

Keller begins by challenging the notion that the world is becoming more secular. He also challenges the idea that non-religious people live by reason while religious people live by faith. Keller contends that a variety of factors lead us to embrace our worldview. In these first two chapters Keller leans on the work of Charles Taylor to understand contemporary Western culture. The goal of these first two chapters seems to be to cause the disinterested or the skeptical to question their assumptions and crack open the door to the Christian worldview.

In the heart of the book, Keller takes eight chapters to show how Christianity presents us with an integrated worldview, which gives meaning that suffering can’t take away, satisfaction not based on circumstances, a life of self-giving love, an identity that doesn’t crush the individual or cause her to exclude others, a hope that can face anything, true morality and a justice that does not create oppressors. This section of the book presents a compelling case for the value of Christianity. Throughout this section Keller also consistently contrasts the Christian worldview with the secular/humanist worldview and shows the secular view lacking in providing us with a holistic path forward in the world.

Keller concludes the book with two chapters and an epilogue on the issue of believing. Keller says at the outset of this section that he can not demonstrably prove that religion is true. Nor, he says, can the secularist demonstrably prove his view. Keller’s view is that we need to weigh the evidence of the worldviews. Which makes the most sense emotionally, culturally and rationally? Keller made the argument in the second section of the book that Christianity is the most compelling worldview and therefore is worthy of our allegiance. Keller concludes the book with a more traditional apologetic for the existence of God and the reality of Jesus as a way to address the nagging doubts of those who may have cracked open the door in the first section and opened it in the second section of the book but are still hesitant to cross the threshold to faith in Christ. In chapter 11, Keller marshals the most common arguments for God’s existence, being careful to note that while none of these arguments is conclusive in itself, taken together they form a rational basis for belief in God. But Keller goes on in chapter 12 to the person of Jesus Christ, the heart of Christian faith. He says we could come away from chapter 11 convinced of the existence of God but this would not make us distinctively Christian. So Keller takes time for a defense of the reasonableness of faith in Jesus, using the common arguments for the authenticity of His life and ministry. The Epilogue fittingly concludes the book with the story of Langdon Gilkey, a humanist who was imprisoned in China during the Japanese invasion. Gilkey’s worldview crumbled under the increasingly difficult circumstances he found in the prison camp. At the same time, Gilkey saw a living example of the Christian worldview in the person of Eric Liddell, the former Olympic champion who was working in China as a missionary when he was captured and imprisoned. The process of change in worldview that happened in Gilkey’s life is the same change Keller hopes to see in others who take up and read his book.



An Observation from History

2 Jan

I am not a history expert. I am interested in lots of things but don’t have an expansive knowledge of many things. I am what you might call a casualty of living in the information age.

Anyway, this morning I was reading a letter written at the start of the American Revolution from Eliphalet Dyer to Joseph Trumbull. Dyer, a Connecticut native and lawyer, had been witness to the appointment of George Washington as head of the Continental Army. His purpose in writing was to inform his friend Trumbull of this appointment and to give him a general sketch of Washington’s character. The character sketch is all that we would expect, hailing Washington for his humility and honor and integrity. But within that description I found a very interesting tidbit which reaffirms something I’ve noticed in other Colonial era writings: the seeds of the Civil War are apparent during the Revolutionary War.

Washington was a Virginian, considered a southerner. Dyer writes that Washington’s appointment “removes all jealousies, more firmly cements the Southern to the Northern, and takes away the fear of the former lest an enterprising eastern New England General proving successful, might with his Victorious Army give law to the Southern and Western gentry.” As I read this, it seems to me that Dyer thought it a prudent step to name a southerner as leader of the Continental Army. There was a concern in his mind it seems, even way back in 1775, that a leader out of New England might be seen as a threat by those in the South and West. The lines of division, mistrust and fear seem to have already been apparent before the Revolution began. Another war was simmering on the back burner of the War for Independence.

New Year’s Resolutions from Jonathan Edwards

1 Jan

Jonathan Edwards wrote the following resolutions 300 years ago, when he was just a teenager. Their value has endured through the years. Here are 70 thoughts from Edwards which are good on New Year’s or any other day . . .


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. Vid. July 30, [1723].]]9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

— 754 —[[10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.]]11. Resolved, when I think of any1 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 Proverbs 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 establishing2 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,3 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 commendation4 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 Ephesians 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, Psalms 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.5 [[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.]]

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