Leader's Insight: The Resolution Maker
New Year's Day, as we know it on January 1, wasn't adopted until in 1752. At that time, Puritans eschewed New Year's celebrations. Rather, they encouraged their children to meditate on the year past and the one to come. And one Puritan in particular took to making resolutions. Resolutions, and a determined ability to keep them, fashioned the character of the leading pastor and promoter of America's First Great Awakening. And, according to his biographer George Marsden, his revivalism helped to shape America as an independent country.
Jonathan Edwards made resolutions throughout his life, but it's a list he made after graduating from Yale that has earned the awe of admirers for the past three centuries. "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." Nothing was so trivial that Edwards couldn't work to improve it. "Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking." There are 70 resolutions in all, which Edwards regularly reviewed and strictly kept.
His constant sharpening of his character, introspection, and honesty enabled Edwards to become one of America's most influential theologians. "He remains a looming presence in the American heritage," Marsden writes. "For a century after his participation in the great revivals of the 1730s and 1740s, he exerted an immense influence on American theology and church life. He and his works were the fountainhead of a movement that sought to shape the new nation according to the principles of Calvinist revivalism." Nearly 150 years after his death, Mark Twain bothered to call him "a resplendent intellect gone mad." Like him or not, Edwards has been a force to be reckoned with in American religion.
More than simply the preacher who stirred emotions in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Edwards held a vision of a loving, sovereign God.
Edwards did all this, writes Marsden in his biography, without ever writing what he hoped would be his magnum opus, A History of the Work of Redemption. As a full-time pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the frontier missionary church in Stockbridge, his resolutions brought about the habits that led to his amazing productivity as a theologian and pastor. "Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can."
But Edwards's disciplines not only brought him success as a theologian, they brought him conflict and hardship as a pastor. In 1749, Edwards published An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, Concerning the Qualifications Requisite to … Full Communion. In it, Edwards set out his Communion views, which were becoming increasingly opposed to the views the congregation had been accustomed to since Edwards's grandfather pastored the church. "The book took aim at his grandfather's open Communion doctrine and at any notion of church membership that did not ...