Living with Intention: Learning from the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Few men have impacted me through their writings as much as Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth-century New England pastor-theologian God so greatly used in America's first Great Awakening. Edwards' writings and ministry uniquely combined keen, penetrating theological analysis with a profound depth of heartfelt devotion.

While Edwards' iron-clad logic was unsurpassed, the clarity of his God-centered thinking was always joined with the intensity of God-centered affections. This unique combination of head and heart sweetened his letters, treatises, and sermons with the beauty of holiness.

Perhaps one secret to Edwards' balance was his intentional living. Long before writing personal mission statements was in vogue, and when he was not yet 21 years old, Edwards crafted 70 Resolutions to guide his life, and all evidence suggests that he actually and consistently lived accordingly. There is much for us to learn and imitate in them. As his early biographer Sereno Dwight wrote,

The Resolutions . . . are probably "to persons of every age, but especially to the young, the best uninspired summary of christian [sic] duty, the best directory to high attainment in evangelical virtue, which the mind of man has hitherto been able to form."[1]

These 70 resolutions not only reflect his vigilance toward holiness but also show how he pursued it. We should remember, of course, that these were written for his personal benefit, not for publication. Although I wouldn't suggest that anyone adopt all of these resolutions, I would encourage your reflection on several [2] which reflect his intentionality to the seven following disciplines:

1. Disciplining both mind and body

Edwards is a model in self-discipline. He sometimes studied 13 hours a day, a pace set early in life as seen by the following:

Resolved, When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.

Resolved, To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the same.

He also sought to discipline his body, as resolution 20 reads: "Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking."

2. Using time effectively

Edwards' self-discipline affected the way he used his time. One of his earliest resolves was, "Resolved: Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can."

Edwards also gauged his use of time with periodic self-examination-"at the end of every day, week, month, and year."

3. Pursuing Christlike holiness

But Edwards' resolutions reach their apex in his pursuit of holiness, or his desire to be a "complete Christian." This worked itself out in very practical ways, including:

  • His relationships with others

Resolved, Never to do any thing out of revenge.

Resolved, To do always what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without an overbalancing detriment in other respects.

  • His attitudes

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.

  • His words

Resolved, In narrations, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.

  • His response to suffering

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.

4. Living for God's glory

If Christlike holiness was Edwards' goal, a desire to glorify God was his motive. For example:

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 possibly avoid it.

5. Maintaining an eternal perspective

Leonard Ravenhill once said that Edwards prayed, "Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs." Whether he actually used those words or not, it is true that another key to Edwards' motivation was his constancy in maintaining an eternal perspective.

Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.

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.

6. Exercising repentance and faith

Perhaps you wonder if this kind of obsession with eternity is healthy. Couldn't this introspection erode a believer's assurance of salvation and fill his or her mind with constant doubts?

Of course, it could if not balanced with a resolute grasp of the gospel, but Edwards models this as well. While aware of his inherent weakness and proneness to sin, he was also conscious of Christ's sufficiency to save. These twin convictions led him to exercise both repentance and faith.

  • Exercising repentance

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.

Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, carefully endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original [motive] of it.

  • Exercising faith

Resolved, Never, henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God's.

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 so direct all my forces against it.

Resolved, To cast away such things as I find do [hinder] my assurance.

7. Persevering to the end

Finally, Edwards' resolutions reflect his intention to persevere to the very last in keeping his resolves. This meant acting on every inclination toward good, and fighting every inclination toward evil.

Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

Making It Personal

1. Are you living intentionally?

2. Do you long to use your time and discipline your mind and body to pursue God-glorifying, Christlike holiness?

3. Do you maintain an eternal perspective?

4. Most importantly, are your intentions grounded firmly in the gospel, leading you to persevere in cultivating holiness through regularly exercising faith and repentance?


[1] The Works of Jonathan Edwards, [Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 1974 reprint of 1834 edition] Vol. 1, p. xxiii.

[2] All 70 resolutions are found in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974 reprint) Vol. 1, pp. xx-xxii.

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