First Reflections on the 2011 Jonathan Edwards Summer Course at Yale

This past week I was at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT attending a one-week course on Jonathan Edwards as pastor. Edwards has long been one of my most significant mentors. I have been reading and teaching Edwards for decades. One of the things I am constantly amazed with is how much stuff he wrote and kept.

Yale has published a 26 volume series of his writings, and that does not come close to being all that is worthy of print. We spent significant time on three sermon series of his that are just being edited for publication on the parables of the Ten Virgins, The Sower, and The Net (all from Matthew). When published, this will be a three-volume series. And that is not all, there are still about 700 sermons that have never been edited for publication.

This morning the class was at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which holds the great majority of Edwards’ writings. We looked at the manuscripts of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, The Pleasantness of Religion, the first sermon in the Parable of the Sower series, and a sermon he gave to the Indians at Stockbridge. We saw one of his notebooks where he recorded ideas for sermons, another where he recorded subjects he wanted to explore at length. We saw collections of questions for young people and one for more advanced students or people training for ministry.

This made me think of Edwards’ Resolutions. The Resolutions contain 70 statements that represent his values, his purpose, and personal vision. Here are the first nine (from vol 16 of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, YUP):

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.

If nothing else, it is clear from what we have of his writings and from accounts of his contemporaries—and histroically speaking we have a significant amount—that he seriously (I would even say vigorously) attempted to incarnate those resolutions as a man, husband, father, pastor, mentor, author, and thinker.

In the light of this, I am challenged to ask myself: How clearly am I living my life to the glory of God? Is this clear to the people around me, especially to my family and church family? I am confident that though the power of the Holy Spirit, I have been and continue to be moving in the right direction; but I have  along way to go, in my opinion, to match Edwards’ example.

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