I’ve never been much for New Years resolutions. After all, most of them are about making me better – “I’ll lose 20 lbs. this year”, “I’ll keep my room clean”, “I’ll start working on Christmas cards in November”, or perhaps the more negative side of things, “I’ll stop smoking”, “I’ll stop looking at porn”, “I’ll stop getting angry at people”. Of course, there are always “spiritual” resolutions: “I’ll read my Bible for 15 minutes a day”, “I’ll pray for everyone I know once a week”. Maybe it’s the specificity of these that rankles just a little. What if it actually mattered that I read for 30 minutes tomorrow? Would I stop short?
Why do we write New Years resolutions? It is because we try and fail. We try to lose weight, or read the Bible every day, or complete a project only to find that we put on a couple more pounds, miss our reading on Jan 11th, and don’t finish things. We believe it is our will and determination that makes the difference. Each year we fool ourselves into thinking we have more of those qualities on the first of the calendar year than at other times.
The greatest resolver I know of was Jonathan Edwards, who made his list in 1722-23. They were not for the New Year, but an expanding list of resolutions (eventually numbering around 70) that he added to for a period of months that detailed the principles and actions that would mark his life. There is no mention of how often he might do something (except a reminder to read these weekly), or for how long. There is no mention of fitness goals; in the 18th century it was sufficient to avoid dying.
“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 starts off on the correct footing. Edwards understood the battle between the flesh and the spirit, and did not trust that he could live a life worthy of his Lord apart from His help. His resolutions are anchored in faith. Of course there is work in faith (1 Thess. 1:3, 2 Thess. 1:11, James 2:26), but our faith is the basis for our actions.
His first is as follows:
“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.”
That sounds like a taller order than losing twenty pounds. You should read the rest; some of them are quite interesting, such as the following:
“10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”
“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.
Many of the 70 are like this: focusing his attention away from the temporal world to the world to come. For Edwards, this was to see things as they are, not as they appear to our eyes. His passion was for the final glory of God, and he wanted to live his life in a way to increase his joy at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As I read them I realize that I need to keep seeking that things that are above, to walk by faith and not by sight, and to fix my hope completely on the revelation of our Lord Jesus. I can only do this through God’s power.
As far as specifics go, I resolve to blog more often, only one of many things I have determined to do at which I have failed in the last year.
Happy New Year to you all.