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Category Archives: Jonathan Edwards

Quotes and Wisdom on Biblical Fasting

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“Fasting without prayer is starvation.” ~ Anonymous

“Do not limit the benefit of fasting merely to abstinence from food, for a true fast means refraining from evil. Do not let your fasting lead to wrangling and strife. You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother; you abstain from wine, but not from insults. So all the labor of your fast is useless.” ~ Ambrose

“If there is a man among them who is poor and in need, and they have not an abundance of what is needed, they fast for two or three days so that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.” ~ Aristides of Athens

“By eating and drinking we repair the daily decays of our body, until Thou destroyest both belly and meat, when Thou hast slain my emptiness with a wonderful fullness, and clothed this incorruptible with an eternal incorruption. But now the necessity is sweet unto me, against which sweetness I fight, that I be not taken captive; and carry on a daily war by fastings; often bringing my body into subjection and my pains are removed by pleasure. . . . Oft it is uncertain, whether it be the necessary care of the body which is yet asking for sustenance, or whether a voluptuous deceivableness of greediness is proffering its services. In this uncertainty the unhappy soul rejoiceth, and therein prepares an excuse to shield itself, glad that it appeareth not what suffi ceth for the moderation of health, that under the cloak of health, it may disguise the matter of gratification. These temptations I daily endeavor to resist, and I call on Thy right hand, and to Thee do I refer my perplexities; because I have as yet no settled counsel herein.” ~ Augustine (Confessions)

“If I be asked what is my own opinion in this matter, I answer, after carefully pondering the question, that in the Gospels and Epistles, and the entire collection of books for our instruction called the New Testament, I see that fasting is enjoined. But I do not discover any rule definitely laid down by the Lord or by the apostles as to days on which we ought or ought not to fast. And by this I am persuaded that exemption from fasting on the seventh day is more suitable, not indeed to obtain, but to foreshadow, that eternal rest in which the true Sabbath is realized, and which is obtained only by faith, and by that righteousness whereby the daughter of the King is all glorious within.”~ Augustine (Letter XXXVI)

“Christ saith that when the bridegroom was taken from them, his disciples should ‘fast’ (Mark 2:19-20). And even Paul was ‘in fasting often’ (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:27), and, ‘I discipline my body and bring it to subjection’ (1 Cor. 9:27). And I am sure that the ancient Christians (Acts 5:30; 14:23; Lk. 2:37), that lived in solitude, and ate many of them nothing, … did not find this cure [fasting] too dear.”  ~ Richard Baxter

“If the appetite alone hath sinned, let it alone fast, and it sufficeth. But if the other members also have sinned, why should they not fast, too? Let the eye fast from strange sights and from every wantonness, so that which roamed in freedom in fault-doing may, abundantly humbled, be checked by penitence. Let the ear, blameably eager to listen, fast from tales and rumors, and from whatsoever is of idle import, and tendeth least to salvation. Let the tongue fast from slanders and murmurings, and from useless, vain, and scurrilous words, and sometimes also, in the seriousness of silence, even from things which may seem of essential import. Let the hand abstain from all toils which are not imperatively necessary. But also let the soul herself abstain from all evils and from acting out her own will. For without such abstinence the other things find no favor with the Lord.” ~ Bernard of Clairvaux

“God will not let me get the blessing without asking. Today I am setting my face to fast and pray for enlightenment and refreshing. Until I can get up to the measure of at least two hours in pure prayer every day, I shall not be contented. Meditation and reading besides.“ ~ Andrew Bonar

“Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian’s life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 188)

“When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 189)

“We have to practice strictest daily discipline; only so can the flesh learn the painful lesson that it has no rights of its own.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 189)

“In vain will ye fast, and pretend to be humbled for our sins, and make confession of them, if our love of sin be not turned into hatred; our liking of it into loathing; and our cleaving to it, into a longing to be rid of it; with full purpose to resist the motions of it in our heart, and the outbreaking thereof in our life; and if we turn not unto God as our rightful Lord and Master, and return to our duty again.” ~ Thomas Boston

“It will take nothing short of the supernatural to stem the tides of judgment devastating our land. I believe that nothing else can compare with the supernatural power released when we fast and pray. We know for certain from Hebrews 11:6 and from personal experience that God rewards those who diligently seek Him.” ~ Bill Bright (The Coming Revival, p. 108)

“This, then, is the philosophy of fasting. It expresses repentance, and it uncovers the life to God. “Come down, my pride; stand back my passions; for I am wicked, and I wait for God to bless me.” ~ Phillips Brooks (“Fasting” in The Candle of the Lord and Other Sermons, p. 207)

“Fasting is not approved by God, except for its end; it must be connected with something else, otherwise it is a vain thing. Men by private fastings, prepare themselves for the exercise of prayer, or they mortify their own flesh, or seek a remedy for some hidden vices.” ~ John Calvin

“To sum them up: whenever a controversy over religion arises which ought to be settled by either a synod or an ecclesiastical court, whenever there is a question about choosing a minister, whenever, finally, any difficult matter of great importance is to be discussed, or again when there appear the judgments of the Lord’s anger (as pestilence, war, and famine)—’tis a holy ordinance and one salutary for all ages, that pastors urge the people to public fasting and extraordinary prayers.” ~ John Calvin (Institutes)

“Holy and lawful fasting has three objectives. We use it either to weaken and subdue the flesh that it may not act wantonly, or that we may be better prepared for prayers and holy meditations, or that it may be a testimony of our self-abasement before God when we wish to confess our guilt before him.” ~ John Calvin (Institutes)

“[Paul’s word on the sex-fast in 1 Corinthians 7:5 shows that fasting serves prayer and is not an end in itself. After referring to Anna in Luke 2:37 and Nehemiah in Nehemiah 1:4 he says:] For this reason, Paul says that believers act rightly if they abstain for a time from the marriage bed, that they may be left freer for prayer and fasting. There he joins fasting with prayer as an aid to it, and warns that it is of no importance of itself except as it is applied to this end [1 Corinthians 7:5].” ~ John Calvin (Institutes)

“Throughout its course, the life of the godly indeed ought to be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so that as far as possible it bears some resemblance to a fast. But, in addition, there is another sort of fasting, temporary in character, when we withdraw something from the normal regimen of living, either for one day or for a definite time, and pledge ourselves to a tighter more severe restraint in diet than ordinarily.” ~ John Calvin (Institutes)

“Almost anything that is supposed to serve as an outward sign of an inward attitude can be cheapened by hypocritical piety. Jesus told those who wanted to fast, ‘But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you’ (Matthew 6:17-18). Jesus is telling his followers that when they fast [he assumes his disciples will fast] that they are to act normally so that no one but God will know it. They are to take off the ashes, wash their faces, use their deodorant or talc or oil or whatever, and act normally. No voluntary act of spiritual discipline is ever to become an occasion for self-promotion. Otherwise, any value to the act is utterly vitiated…Whom am I trying to please by my religious practices? Honest reflection on that question can produce most disquieting results. If it does, then a large part of the solution is to start practicing piety in the secret intimacy of the Lord’s presence. If our ‘acts of righteousness’ are not primarily done in secret before him, then secretly they may be done to please men.” ~ D.A. Carson (The Sermon on The Mount, p. 73)

“What we gain from fasting does not compensate for what we lose in anger.” ~ John Cassian

“Whoso will pray, he must fast and be clean, And fat his soul and make his body lean.” ~ Geoffrey Chaucer

“Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour brothers? May HE who came to the world to save sinners strengthen us to complete the fast with humility, have mercy on us and save us.” ~ John Chrysostom

“Be not then henceforth a viper, but as thou hast been formerly a viper’s brood, put off, saith he, the slough of thy former sinful life. For every serpent creeps into a hole and casts its old slough, and having rubbed off the old skin, grows young again in body. In like manner enter thou also through the strait and narrow gate, rub o thy former self by fasting, and drive out that which is destroying thee.” ~ Cyril of Jerusalem

“You and I have no more right to omit fasting because we feel no special emotional prompting than we have a right to omit prayer, Bible reading, or assembling with God’s children for lack of some special emotional prompting. Fasting is just as biblical and normal a part of a spiritual walk of obedience with God as are these others.” ~ Wesley Duewel (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, p. 184)

“How do you take up your cross? To take up a cross is not to have someone place the cross upon you. Sickness, persecution, and the antagonism of other people are not your real cross. To take up a cross is a deliberate choice. We must purposely humble ourself [sic], stoop down, and pick up the cross for Jesus. Fasting is one of the most biblical ways to do so.” ~ Wesley Duewel (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, p. 184)

“Fasting can deepen hunger for God to work. Spiritual hunger and fasting have a reciprocal power. Each deepens and strengthens the other. Each makes the other more e ective. When your spiritual hunger becomes very deep, you may even lose the desire for food. All of the most intense forms of prevailing prayer . . . can be deepened, clarified, and greatly empowered by fasting…Fasting is natural when you are burdened su ciently, wrestling with mighty prevailings, and warring in hand-to-hand conflict with Satan and his powers of darkness. Fasting becomes sweet and blessed as your hunger reaches out to God. Your hunger gains tremendous power as you fast and pray—particularly if you set apart time from all else to give yourself to fasting and prayer. It can become a spiritual joy to fast. ~ Wesley Duewel (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, p. 188)

“Fasting feeds your faith. . . . Your confidence begins to deepen. Your hope begins to rise, for you know you are doing what pleases the Lord. Your willingness to deny self and voluntarily to take up this added cross kindles an inner joy. Your faith begins to lay hold of God’s promise more simply and more firmly.” ~ Wesley Duewel (Mighty Prevailing Prayer, p. 189)

“I suppose there is scarcely a minister in this land, but from Sabbath to Sabbath used to pray that God would pour out his Spirit, and work a reformation and revival of religion in the country, and turn us from our intemperance, profaneness, uncleanness, worldliness and other sins; and we have kept from year to year days of public fasting and prayer to God, to acknowledge our backslidings, and humble ourselves for our sins, and to seek of God forgiveness and reformation: and now when so great and extensive a reformation is so suddenly and wonderfully accomplished, in those very things that we have sought to God for, shall we not acknowledge it?” ~ Jonathan Edwards (Some Thoughts Concerning Revival)

“The state of the times extremely requires a fullness of the divine Spirit in ministers, and we ought to give ourselves no rest till we have obtained it. And in order to [do] this, I should think ministers, above all persons, ought to be much in secret prayer and fasting, and also much in praying and fasting one with another. It seems to me it would be becoming the circumstances of the present day, if ministers in a neighborhood would often meet together and spend days in fasting and fervent prayer among themselves, earnestly seeking for those extraordinary supplies of divine grace from heaven, that we need at this day.” ~ Jonathan Edwards (Some Thoughts Concerning Revival)

“One thing more I would mention concerning fasting and prayer, wherein I think there has been a neglect in ministers; and that is that although they recommend and much insist on the duty of secret prayer, in their preaching; so little is said about secret fasting. It is a duty recommended by our Savior to his followers, just in like manner as secret prayer is; as may be seen by comparing the 5th and 6th vss. of the 6th chap. of Matt. with vss. 16–18. Though I don’t suppose that secret fasting is to be practiced in a stated manner and steady course as secret prayer, yet it seems to me ’tis a duty that all professing Christians should practice, and frequently practice. There are many occasions of both a spiritual and temporal nature that do properly require it; and there are many particular mercies that we desire for ourselves or friends that it would be proper, in this manner, to seek of God.” ~ Jonathan Edwards (Some Thoughts Concerning Revival)

“Fasting is a voluntary total or partial abstinence from food for a limited time. It is usually undertaken for spiritual benefit.” ~ Millard Erickson

“Almost everywhere at all times fasting has held a great importance since it is closely linked with the intimate sense of religion. Perhaps this is the explanation for the demise of fasting in our day. When the sense of God diminishes, fasting disappears.” ~ Edward Farrell

“An old saint once said that fasting prevents luxuries from becoming necessities. Fasting is a protection of the spirit against the encroachments of the body. When a person fasts, he has his body well in hand, and is able to do the work of the Master.” ~ Jerry Falwell (What the Bible Teaches, pp. 11)

“Fasting is the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” ~ Richard Foster

“It is well to know the process your body goes through in the course of a longer fast. The first three days are usually the most difficult in terms of physical discomfort and hunger pains. The body is beginning to rid itself of the toxic poisons that have built up over years of poor eating habits, and it is not a comfortable process. This is the reason for the coating of the tongue and bad breath. Do not be disturbed by these symptoms; rather be grateful for the increased health and wellbeing that will result. You may experience headaches during this time, especially if you are an avid coffee or tea drinker. Those are mild withdrawal symptoms which will pass, though they may be very unpleasant for a time. By the fourth day the hunger pains are beginning to subside though you will have feelings of weakness and occasional dizziness. The dizziness is only temporary and caused by sudden changes in position. Move more slowly and you will have no difficulty. The weakness can come to the point where the simplest task takes great effort. Rest is the best remedy. Many find this the most diifficult period of the fast. By the sixth or seventh day you will begin to feel stronger and more alert. Hunger pains will continue to diminish until by the ninth or tenth day they are only a minor irritation. The body will have eliminated the bulk of toxic poisons and you will feel good. Your sense of concentration will be sharpened and you will feel as if you could continue fasting indefinitely. Physically this is the most enjoyable part of the fast. Anywhere from twenty-one to forty days or longer, depending upon the individual, hunger pains will return. This is the first stage of starvation and signals that the body has used up all its excess reserves and is beginning to draw on the living tissue. The fast should be broken at this time.” ~ Richard Foster (The Celebration of Discipline, 51-52)

“Fasting is supposed to be the ordinary practice of the godly. Christ does not make light of it, but merely cautions them against its abuses. . . . It is an appendage to prayer, and designed to aid its importunity. It is humbling, and in a manner, chastising ourselves before God. The spirit of it is expressed in the following passages—“So do God to me and more also, if I taste bread, or aught else, till the sun be down.” “Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to mine eyes, nor slumber to mine eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.” No mention is made of the time, or how often the duty should be attended to. . . . It is only a means, however; if rested in as an end, it will be an abomination in the sight of God.” ~ Andrew Fuller (The Complete Works, p. 583)

“If the solemnities of our fasting, though frequent, long and severe, do not serve to put an edge upon devout affections, to quicken prayer, to increase Godly sorrow, and to alter the temper of our minds, and the course of our lives, for the better, they do not at all answer the intention, and God will not accept them as performed to Him.” ~ Matthew Henry (Commentary)

“Let them all take notice that, whereas they thought they had made God very much their Debtor by these fasts, they were much mistaken, for they were not acceptable to Him, unless they had been observed in a better manner, and to a better purpose…They were not chargeable with omission or neglect of the duty,…but they had not managed it aright…They had not an eye to God in their fasting…When this was wanting, every fast was but a jest. To fast, and not to fast to God, was to mock Him and provoke Him, and could not be pleasing to Him…If solemnities of our fasting, though frequent, long, and severe, do not serve to put an edge upon devout affections, to quicken prayer, to increase Godly sorrow, and to alter the temper of our minds, and the course of our lives, for the better, they do not at all answer the intention, and God will not accept them as performed to Him.” ~ Matthew Henry (Commenting on Zechariah 7:5))

“[He made a medication in his ministry to opium-addicted Chinese.] Whenever it was necessary to make a fresh supply, he began with prayer and fasting. It was his habit to go without food the whole twenty-four hours of the day given to that work. Sometimes he was so exhausted towards the evening that he could hardly stand. Then he would go away for a few minutes alone to wait upon God. “Lord, it is Thy work. Give me Thy strength,” was his plea. And he always came back fresh and reinvigorated, as if with food and rest.” ~ Pastor Hsi (Mrs. Howard M. Taylor, Pastor Hsi, p. 131)

“[At the Sialkot Convention in India for missionaries at the end of the nineteenth century John Hyde spent the whole time of the convention in the prayer room.] What about his meals, and his bed? The Convention lasted for ten days in those early days, and his “boy,” a lad about sixteen that he had taken to his home and his heart, had brought Hyde’s bedding and had carefully made his bed, but it was never used during the Convention. I saw him more than once when the prayer room was full, go aside into one of the corners and throw himself on the floor to sleep, but if the room began to get empty and prayer to flag, he somehow seemed to know it and was up immediately and took his place with the other intercessors. Did he go to his meals? I think it was only once or twice that I saw him with us at table. Sometimes his “boy,” or Gulla, the sweeper, or one of his friends would take a plate of curry and rice or something else to him to the prayer room, and if convenient he would go to a corner and eat it. How his “boy” used to cry because he would not eat properly and would not go to bed to sleep.” ~ Praying John Hyde (E.G. Carre, Praying Hyde: A Challenge to Prayer, p. 92)

“Devote thyself to fasting and prayer, but not beyond measure, lest thou destroy thyself thereby. Do not altogether abstain from wine and flesh, for these things are not to be viewed with abhorrence, since [the Scripture] saith, “Ye shall eat the good things of the earth.” And again, “Ye shall eat flesh even as herbs.” And again, “Wine maketh glad the heart of man, and oil exhilarates, and bread strengthens him.” But all are to be used with moderation, as being the gifts of God. “For who shall eat or who shall drink without Him? For if anything be beautiful, it is His; and if anything be good, it is His.” ~ Ignatius (The Epistle to Hero)

“If religion requires us sometimes to fast and deny our natural appetites, it is to lessen that struggle and war that is in our nature; it is to render our bodies fitter instruments of purity, and more obedient to the good motions of divine grace; it is to dry up the springs of our passions that war against the soul, to cool the flame of our blood, and render the mind more capable of divine meditations. So that although these abstinences give some pain to the body, yet they so lessen the power of bodily appetites and passions, and so increase our taste of spiritual joys, that even these severities of religion, when practiced with discretion, add much to the comfortable enjoyment of our lives.” ~ William Law (A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, p. 112)

“It is impossible to accept Christianity for the sake of finding comfort: but the Christian tries to lay himself open to the will of God, to do what God wants him to do. You don’t know in advance whether God is going to set you to do something difficult or painful, or something that you will quite like; and some people of heroic mould are disappointed when the job doled out to them turns out to be something quite nice. But you must be prepared for the unpleasant things and the discomforts. I don’t mean fasting, and things like that. They are a different matter. When you are training soldiers in maneuvers, you practice in blank ammunition because you would like them to have practices before meeting the real enemy. So we must practice in abstaining from pleasures which are not in themselves wicked. If you don’t abstain from pleasure, you won’t be good when the time comes along. It is purely a matter of practice.” ~ C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock, pp. 53-54)

“Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme authority and Just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation: 

And whereas, it is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord: 

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishment and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the o ended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness. 

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion. 

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the divine teachings that the united cry of the nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and restoration of our now divided and suffering country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace. 

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-seventh.” ~ Abraham Lincoln (Library of Congress, Appendix no. 19, vol. 12 of The United States At Large, quoted in Derek Prince, Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting, pp. 138-47)

“Fasting, if we conceive of it truly, must not . . . be confined to the question of food and drink; fasting should really be made to include abstinence from anything which is legitimate in and of itself for the sake of some special spiritual purpose. There are many bodily functions which are right and normal and perfectly legitimate, but which for special peculiar reasons in certain circumstances should be controlled. That is fasting.” ~ David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount)

“[From a sermon on Matthew 4:1ff. in 1524] Of fasting I say this: it is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances God’s Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work.” ~ Martin Luther

“[On the soberness of mind that Peter exhorts in 1 Peter 1:13, Luther comments on the varied needs of different people.] He fixes no definite time, how long we are to fast, as the pope has done, but leaves it to the individual so to fast as always to remain sober and not burden the body with gluttony, that he may remain in possession of reason and reflections and determine how much he must do to keep his body under control. For it is utterly idle to impose one command about this on a whole group and congregation, since we are so unlike one another: one strong, another weak in body, so that one must mortify the body more, another less, if it is to remain sound and fit for good service. . . . It is good to fast. But only that can be called true fasting when we give the body no more food than it needs to retain its health. Let the body work and be wary, lest the old ass become too wanton and going on the ice to dance, break a bone. The body should be curbed and should follow the spirit; it should not act like those who, when they are about to fast, at one sitting fill themselves so full of fish and the best of wine that their bellies are bloated.” ~ Martin Luther

“Scripture places before us two kinds of fasting that are good. The first kind one accepts willingly for the purpose of checking the flesh by the spirit. Concerning this Saint Paul says: “. . . in labors, in watchings, in fastings . . .” (2 Cor. 6:5). The second is the kind one must endure and yet accept willingly. Concerning this St. Paul says: “Even unto this present hour we both hunger and thirst” (1 Cor. 4:11). And Christ says of it: “When the bridegroom shall be taken from them . . . then they shall fast” (Matt. 9:15).” ~ Martin Luther

“To Judaism, a fast was an outward sign of an inward condition. To Jesus, a fast was an inward sign of an inward condition. The former, if misused, “a peculiarly ugly form of religious dramatic art,” the latter a part of “closet” devotions.” ~ Keith Main (Prayer and Fasting: A Study in the Devotional Life of the Early Church, p. 37)

“Thus far we have suggested that the joy and thanksgiving that marks the prayer life of the New Testament is a sign of the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. Fasting is no longer consistent with the joyous and thankful attitude that marks the fellowship. Yet this is only partially so. . . . It is true that the crisis and the tragedy are there as a stark reality. The Kingdom is not fully realized. Granted that the Bridegroom is present and now is not an appropriate time to mourn. Yet this is not entirely so, for we are still in the flesh and weak in faith. . . . Within this “bitter struggle” the believer, in this devotional life, might conceivably find occasion to fast. It would be only one among many of the ingredients that go to make up the life of the man in Christ. One might read through 2 Corinthians 6:3–10 and 11:23–29 for a glimpse into the wide range of such suffering in the “bitter struggle” for the cause of Christ. Against such a background the “hungers” mentioned in 6:5 and 11:27 gain their true perspective.” ~ Keith Main (Prayer and Fasting: A Study in the Devotional Life of the Early Church, p. 83-84)

“Without a purpose and plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.” ~ David Mathis

“Only as we voluntarily embrace the pain of an empty stomach do we see how much we’ve allowed our belly to be our god (Philippians 3:19).” ~ David Mathis 

“Fasting, like the gospel, isn’t for the self-sufficient and those who feel they have it all together…It is a desperate measure, for desperate times, among those who know themselves desperate for God.

“Fasting is an exceptional measure, designed to channel and express our desire for God and our holy discontent in a fallen world. It is for those not satisfied with the status quo. For those who want more of God’s grace. For those who feel truly desperate for God.” ~ David Mathis (Habits of Grace, pp. 117-118)

“Fasting isn’t merely an act of self-deprivation, but a spiritual discipline for seeking more of God’s fullness. Which means we should have a plan for what positive pursuit to undertake in the time it normally takes to eat. We spend a good portion of our day with food in front of us. One significant part of fasting is the time it creates for prayer and meditation on God’s word or some act of love for others.” ~ David Mathis

“Before diving headlong into a fast, craft a simple plan. Connect it to your purpose for the fast. Each fast should have a specific spiritual purpose. Identify what that is and design a focus to replace the time you would have spent eating. Without a purpose and plan, it’s not Christian fasting; it’s just going hungry.” ~ David Mathis

“Fasting is no license to be unloving. It would be sad to lack concern and care for others around us because of this expression of heightened focus on God. Love for God and for neighbor go together. Good fasting mingles horizontal concern with the vertical. If anything, others should even feel more loved and cared for when we’re fasting…So as you plan your fast, consider how it will affect others. If you have regular lunches with colleagues or dinners with family or roommates, assess how your abstaining will affect them, and let them know ahead of time, instead of just being a no-show, or springing it on them in the moment that you will not be eating.” ~ David Mathis

“If the better part of wisdom for you, in your health condition, is not to go without food, consider fasting from television, computer, social media, or some other regular enjoyment that would bend your heart toward greater enjoyment of Jesus. Paul even talks about married couples fasting from sex “for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). ~ David Mathis

“When your empty stomach starts to growl and begins sending your brain every “feed me” signal it can, don’t be content to let your mind dwell on the fact that you haven’t eaten. If you make it through with an iron will that says no to your stomach, but doesn’t turn your mind’s eye elsewhere, it says more about your love for food than your love for God.” ~ David Mathis

“Christian fasting turns its attention to Jesus or some great cause of his in the world. Christian fasting seeks to take the pains of hunger and transpose them into the key of some eternal anthem, whether it’s fighting against some sin, or pleading for someone’s salvation, or for the cause of the unborn, or longing for a greater taste of Jesus.” ~ David Mathis  (Habits of Grace, p. 126)

“Prayer needs fasting for its full growth. Prayer is the one hand with which we grasp the invisible. Fasting is the other hand, the one with which we let go of the visible. In nothing is man more closely connected with the world of sense than in this need for, and enjoyment of, food. It was the fruit with which man was tempted and fell in Paradise. It was with bread that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. But He triumphed in fasting. . . . The body has been redeemed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. In body as well as spirit, Scripture says, we are to glorify God in eating and drinking. There are many Christians to whom this eating for the glory of God has not yet become a spiritual reality. The first thought suggested by Jesus’ words in regard to fasting and prayer is that only in a life of moderation and self-denial will there be sufficient heart and strength to pray much. . . . Fasting helps to express, to deepen, and to confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain the Kingdom of God. And Jesus, Who Himself fasted and sacrificed, knows to value, accept, and reward with spiritual power the soul that is thus ready to give up everything for Him and His Kingdom.” ~ Andrew Murray (With Christ in the School of Prayer, pp. 100-101)

“The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.” ~ John Piper

“Fasting is not the forfeit of evil but of good.” ~ John Piper

“When God is the supreme hunger of our hearts, He will be supreme in everything.” ~ John Piper

“The issue [in fasting] is not food perse. The issue is anything and everything that is, or can be, a substitute for God.” ~ John Piper

“Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense.” ~ John Piper

“The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.” ~ John Piper 

“Fasting is the hungry handmaiden of prayer, who both reveals and remedies…She reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us—or television or computers or whatever we submit to again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God. And she remedies by intensifying the earnestness of our prayer and saying with our whole body what prayer says with the heart: I long to be satisfied in God alone! ~ John Piper (When I Don’t Desire God, p. 171)

“The weakness of our hunger for God is not because we keep ourselves stuffed with ‘other things.’ Perhaps, then, the denial of our stomach’s appetite for food might express, or even increase, our soul’s appetite for God…What is at stake here is not just the good of our souls, but also the glory of God. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The fight of faith on all that God is for us in Christ. What we hunger for most, we worship.” ~ John Piper

“Self-indulgence is the enemy of gratitude, and self-discipline usually its friend and generator. That is why gluttony is a deadly sin. The early desert fathers believed that a person’s appetites are linked: full stomachs and jaded palates take the edge from our hunger and thirst for righteousness. They spoil the appetite for God.” ~ Cornelius Plantinga Jr. (Quoted in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney, p. 151)

“Let us learn from our Lord’s instruction about fasting, the great importance of cheerfulness in our religion. Those words, “anoint thy head, and wash thy face,” are full of deep meaning. They should teach us to aim at letting men see that we find Christianity makes us happy. Never let us forget that there is not religion in looking melancholy and gloomy. Are we dissatisfied with Christ’s wages, and Christ’s service? Surely not! Then let us not look as if we were.” ~ J.C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, p. 57)

“Fasting is not a legalistic requirement but a spontaneous reaction under special circumstances. . . . There are . . . godly and prayerful people who have found fasting a hindrance rather than a help. Some are so constituted physically that the lack of a minimum amount of food renders them unable to concentrate in prayer. . . . There is no need for such to be in bondage. Let them do what most helps them to pray.” ~ Oswald J. Sanders (Prayer Power Unlimited, p. 67).

“Is fasting ever a bribe to get God to pay more attention to the petitions? No, a thousand times no. It is simply a way to make clear that we sufficiently reverence the amazing opportunity to ask help from the everlasting God, the Creator of the universe, to choose to put everything else aside and concentrate on worshiping, asking for forgiveness, and making our requests known—considering His help more important than anything we could do ourselves in our own strength and with our own ideas.” ~ Edith Schaeffer (The Life of Prayer, pp. 75-76)

“A selfish person is unable to enjoy the gospel; a Christian is someone who has begun to deny himself, and is in the continuous process of denying himself. Jesus said “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Self-denial is not limited to one particular kind of giving; it embraces all personal disciplines. Fasting is only one discipline; nevertheless, it is self-denial. This does not mean that to fast is to embrace legalism; it is gospel liberty which encourages us to deny ourselves.” ~ David R. Smith (Fasting: A Neglected Discipline, p. 17)

“Any blessing which is bestowed by the Father upon His undeserving children must be considered to be an act of grace. We fail to appreciate the mercy of the Lord if we think that by our doing something we have forced (or even coerced) God to grant that blessing which we have asked for…All of our fasting, therefore, must be on this basis; we should use it as a scriptural means whereby we are melted into a more complete realization of the purposes of the Lord in our life, church, community, and nation.” ~ David R. Smith (Fasting: A Neglected Discipline, pp. 44)

“By this we must not conclude that the act of fasting has some virtuous power, and that we have made ourselves more humble; there is no virtue in fallen man by which he can make himself more godly; there is, however, virtue in the divinely appointed means of grace. If we, by the power of the Holy Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body (through fasting), we shall grow in grace, but the glory of such change will be God’s alone.” ~ David R. Smith (Fasting: A Neglected Discipline, pp. 88)

“Nobody can maintain a desired state of mind whilst his bodily condition is not in accordance with it. If a man is anxious to devote himself to spiritual things, for a time, he is obliged to ensure that his body is in similar environment, or else he may not succeed. He cannot be reverent in the midst of his own physical irreverence. Fasting ensures the correct environment for sorrowful and serious considerations. Asterius wrote, in the 4th Century, that one role of fasting is to ensure that the stomach does not make the body boil like a kettle, to the hindering of the soul.” ~ David R. Smith (Fasting: A Neglected Discipline, pp. 38-39)

“Fasting does not create faith, for faith grows in us as we hear, and read, and dwell upon, God’s Word; it is a work of the Holy Spirit to bring faith to God’s people. However, fasting has the capacity to encourage faith in the one who is involved in this discipline. It seems as though the neglect of self feeds the faith which God has implanted in the hearts of born-again believers. This doesn’t mean that those who eat the least have the most faith; such a view is not only untrue, it is extremist. It is simply that regular self-denial has its benefits, and one of these is seen in a personal increase in faith.” ~ David R. Smith (Fasting: A Neglected Discipline, pp. 47-48)

“The beneficial results of the fast are felt first in the sexual sphere. I have easily verified the connection established by the Ancients between the first two “principal vices,” gluttony and lust, and consequently between the corresponding disciplines: fasting and chastity. Fasting is the most effective help for a religious who has vowed chastity. Fantasies no longer appear even during the happy hours of physiological freedom of which I have spoken, and the rest of the time they are easily controlled and eliminated.” ~ Adalbert De Vogue (To Love Fasting:The Monastic Experience, p. 10)

“It will surprise no one if I confess that I am subject to anxiety and irritation, sadness and nervousness, to say nothing of vanity, touchiness or envy. . . . The habit of fasting effects a profound appeasement of all these instinctive movements. I think the cause is that a certain mastery of the primordial appetite, eating, permits a greater mastery of the other manifestations of the libido and aggressiveness. It is as if the man who fasts were more himself, in possession of his true identity, and less dependent on exterior objects and the impulses they arouse in him. . . . Among the lesser advantages, let us note only the time saved in sitting down to table once instead of three times. ~ Adalbert De Vogue (To Love Fasting: The Monastic Experience, p. 10)

“To love fasting is not only possible. In the light of the facts, I will go so far as to say that the contrary appears impossible to me, to whatever degree one has truly experienced fasting. Experience fasting, and you will love it. “ ~ Adalbert De Vogue (To Love Fasting:The Monastic Experience, p. 104)

“Fasting is a divine corrective to the pride of the human heart. It is a discipline of body with a tendency to humble the soul.” ~ Arthur Wallis

“Fasting is calculated to bring a note of urgency and importunity into our praying, and to give force to our pleading in the court of heaven. The man who prays with fasting is giving heaven notice that he is truly in earnest…Not only so, but he is expressing his earnestness in a divinely appointed way. He is using a means that God has chosen to make his voice to be heard on high.” ~ Arthur Wallis (God’s Chosen Fast, p. 42) 

“If humility is the basic ingredient of true holiness, the soil in which graces flourish, is it not needful that from time to time we should, like David, humble our souls with fasting? Beyond many of our besetting sins and personal failures, beyond the many ills that infect our church fellowships and clog the channels of Christian service—the clash of personalities and temperaments, the strife, the division — lies that insidious pride of the human heart.” ~ Arthur Wallis

“Almost all are agreed that a visitation of the spirit upon the Church is desperately needed. Are we to believe the promise to Joel has nothing to say to this situation? . . . Did the events at Pentecost exhaust the Joel prophecy? Obviously not, or there would have been no further outpourings. . . . If however we believe this wonderful promise is for us—is in fact God’s answer to the present need—it is vital that we fulfill the conditions as well as plead the promise. Three times Joel sounds a clarion call, in view of the imminence of the Day of the Lord, to return to God with fasting (Joel 1:14; 2:12, 15). Then he seems to see in vision God’s response: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on this people” (v. 18). ~ Arthur Wallis (God’s Chosen Fast, pp. 131-32) 

“First, let fasting be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven.” ~ John Wesley

“The man who never fasts is no more in the way to heaven than the man who never prays.” ~ John Wesley (“Causes of Inefficacy of Christianity,” Sermons on Several Occasions, p. 440)

“[Fasting] is an help to prayer; particularly when we set apart larger portions of time for private prayer. Then especially it is that God is often pleased to lift up the souls of his servants above all the things of earth, and sometimes to rap them up, as it were, into the third heaven. And it is chiefly, as it is an help to prayer, that it has so frequently been found a means, in the hand of God, of confirming and increasing, not one virtue, not chastity only, (as some have idly imagined, without any ground either from Scripture, reason, or experience,) but also seriousness of spirit, earnestness, sensibility and tenderness of conscience, deadness to the world, and consequently the love of God, and every holy and heavenly affection.” ~ John Wesley (Sermon XXVII, On Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,” Complete Works, p. 441)

“Not that there is any natural or necessary connection between fasting, and the blessings God conveys thereby. But he will have mercy as he will have mercy; he will convey whatsoever seemeth him good by whatsoever means he is pleased to appoint. And he hath, in all ages, appointed this to be a means of averting his wrath, and obtaining whatever blessings we, from time to time, stand in need of.” ~ John Wesley (Sermon XXVII, On Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,” Complete Works, p. 441)

“But, if we desire this reward, let us beware . . . of fancying we merit anything of God by our fasting. We cannot be too often warned of this; inasmuch as a desire to “establish our own righteousness,” to procure salvation of debt and not of grace, is so deeply rooted in all our hearts. Fasting is only a way which God hath ordained, wherein we wait for his unmerited mercy; and wherein, without any desert of ours, he hath promised freely to give us his blessing.” ~ John Wesley (Sermon XXVII, On Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount,” Complete Works, p. 449)

“Fasting is a Christian’s voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes. It is Christian, for fasting by a nonChristian obtains no eternal value because the discipline’s motives and purposes are to be God-centrered. It is voluntary in that fasting is not to be coerced. Fasting is more than just the ultimate crash diet for the body; it is abstinence from food for spiritual purposes.” ~ Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 160)

“Fasting can be an expression of finding your greatest pleasure and enjoyment in life from God.” ~ Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 176)

“Fasting must always have a spiritual purpose—a God-centered one—for the Lord to bless our fast. Thoughts of food must prompt thoughts for God. They must not distract us, but instead remind us of our purpose. Rather than focusing the mind on food, we should use the desire to eat as a reminder to pray and to reconsider our purpose.” ~ Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 176-177)

“God will bless a biblical fast by any of His children. And whether or not you receive the blessing you hope for, one thing is sure: If you knew what God knew, you would give yourself the identical blessing that He does. And none of His rewards is worthless.” ~ Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, p. 178)

“Fasting is a hard discipline to practice without its consuming all our attention. Yet when we use it as a part of prayer or service, we cannot allow it to do so. When a person chooses fasting as a spiritual discipline, he or she must, then, practice it well enough and often enough to become experienced in it, because only the person who is well habituated to systematic fasting as a discipline can use it effectively as a part of direct service to God, as in special times of prayer or other service.” ~ Dallas Willard (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 168)

“[On Mark 2:18–22 and the bridegroom’s presence and absence:] Their non-fasting was intended to make a point, namely that the eschatological age had come in Jesus. . . . The future return to fasting after his being “taken away” was therefore also related to Jesus, as a sad memorial of what happened on that fateful Friday, mixed with inner confidence and humble trust in his second coming and the final consummation of the parousia. This Christian fast was something new, distinct from that of Judaism, not only as regards the day of fasting, but more importantly, in terms of its inner motivation. Even as a sign of humble worship of the Father it was henceforth related to Jesus, through whom our salvation has come, and in whose presence we will one day rejoice without reservation, in the plenitude of his Kingdom.” ~ Joseph F. Wimmer (Fasting in the New Testament: A Biblical Theology, p. 101)

“The weakness of hunger which leads to death brings forth the goodness and power of God who wills life. Here there is no extortion, no magic attempt to force God’s will. We merely look with confidence upon our heavenly Father and through our fasting say gently in our hearts: “Father, without you I will die; come to my assistance, make haste to help me.” ~ Joseph F. Wimmer (Fasting in the New Testament: A Biblical Theology, p. 119)

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Posted by on August 28, 2018 in John Piper, Jonathan Edwards

 

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Jonathan Edwards on the Life of a Christian

5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life

9781433535055


This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/

Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books

  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God

  • that he was part of the Great Awakening

  • that John Piper likes him a lot

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”

  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”

  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

 

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Jonathan Edwards: Why Did God Create The World?

The theological riches of the Puritans’ writings are often hid from modern readers because of the archaic language. As Ben Stevens says in his introduction to Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaption, Edwards’s “tone and grammatical acrobatics make the original text nearly impossible to read.”

In his new book, Stevens reworks the tone and style of Edward’s brilliant work, Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1765). Stevens’s efforts have resulted in making a daunting and difficult text accessible for a general audience.

We’re pleased to provide an excerpt from chapter two of the book that provides “first steps toward an answer” to the question, “Why did God create world?”

Let’s begin by considering the implications of what Christians already agree on about God’s personality. That will greatly reduce the scope of the things we need to consider, and given the size of this topic, that reduction would be a relief. Christians from across the spectrum agree on a surprising number of things on this point, but let me list the two that I think help us zero in on an answer.

First, we agree that God is glorious and happy, independent of any external circumstances. His glory and happiness are eternal, and he doesn’t live in fear that someone will steal or wound his joy. Second, we agree that the universe receives everything from God’s hand and consequently has nothing to give back to him that he didn’t already have before creation.

These are not radical Christian convictions, but they go a long way toward eliminating many popular suggestions about why God created the world. I would summarize their implications like this: If God does not need, and cannot receive, anything new from something he creates, then he must not have created in order to fill a need he had.

With one stroke this point wipes out much of what the world’s pagan religions have thought about their gods for millennia. But at the same time, it raises another question: If God didn’t create because of a need he had, then what prompted him to create at all? I think the most logical conclusion is that if creation does not arise to fulfill some need that God has, then it must arise because of the way it promotes something he values.

This short set of considerations has already carried us most of the way to our answer. Let’s take a final step by thinking about what makes things valuable. I think that piece will complete the puzzle.

Value

As I explained in the last chapter, some things have value because of the way they serve a greater purpose. We might say they have a preliminary value. In this case, however, we are talking about things that are inherently valuable, things that God valued before there was any creation. Broadly speaking, we might say we’re looking for things that are, in and of themselves, good, true, and beautiful.

With this point in mind, ask yourself the question: What existed before the creation of the world that was good, true, and beautiful? I believe you will see that everything that existed before the creation of the world, which was good, true, and beautiful . . . was God. If there is a God who created the universe as we know it, then that means there was also a time when everything we love, which inspires us, and which gives us goose bumps, was all simply an aspect of his personality.

Life as we experience it now doesn’t force us to recognize this point. A man can experience love, for example, whether he believes in or acknowledges God at all. But this is a result of creation. It’s a result of the fact that God has diffused himself throughout human experience. There was a time before the creation of the world when the distinction would have been invalid, a time in which the thing we have come to know as love was literally embodied entirely in one (triune) being.

Creation must have arisen because of the way it accomplishes something God values. God values things like goodness, truth, and beauty. And yet those words are simply labels we have come up with to describe things that were, before creation, all him. So I think we are logical to conclude that if God could have created the universe to expand and increase himself—and, implicitly, all the things that we have come to know in the abstract as goodness, truth, and beauty—then that best explains the logic behind his decision to create a universe in the first place.

Perfect Priorities

At first this may all sound very odd, but I am simply suggesting that God makes the same connection that we make in the course of properly setting our values and priorities. For example, we value things like paintings. But we would never value a single painting more than the artist who painted it. In fact we value the artist more because he is the source of such great beauty. Setting his value higher actually acknowledges the value of any one of his individual paintings. And Christians would want to take the last logical step and affirm that God, who first had the idea to make artists, should have an even higher place in our priorities for the same reason: that he is the source of artists.

The idea I want to propose is that the logic that leads us to value God more than anything else . . . must also lead God himself to value God more than anything else. He must, or at least ought to, come to the same conclusion about the importance and value of his role that we do: that he should have the greatest priority because his existence and work lead to the existence and work of all other good.

Let me take this a step further. We believe that God is good, not just because he’s divine, but because he makes perfect judgments, and because he faithfully evaluates and appraises whatever he sees. In contrast to the often haphazard way humans put one thing before another, God uses accurate weights and measures. So, although it seems strange at first, we put God’s judgment into question if we assume that he doesn’t accurately esteem the most valuable entity imaginable: himself.

Conclusion

I recognize that in some ways, the thesis I have offered here raises as many questions as it answers. But we still have plenty of time to fill in the gaps and think through the implications. For now, I believe it is logical to conclude that:

1. God created not out of a need he had but because of the way creation accomplished something he valued.

2. God ought to value himself and his attributes more than anything.

3. Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.

That is my theory in its most essential form. What it means, whether it is true, and whether we can know it’s true—that’s where we’re headed next.

* * * * *

Excerpt taken from Why God Created the World by Ben Stevens. Copyright © 2014. A NavPress resource published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ben Stevens (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) works for Greater Europe Mission in Berlin, Germany. Keep up with him on Twitter and at www.benstevens.de.

 

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Jonathan Edwards on Why Society is So Fragmented Without God at the Center

The Nature of True Virtue Jonathan Edwards

By *Tim Keller

In The Nature of True Virtue, one of the most powerful treatises on social ethics ever written. Jonathan Edwards lays out how sin destroys the social fabric. He argues that human society is deeply fragmented when anything but God is our highest love. If our highest goal in life is the good of our family, then, says Edwards, we will tend to care less for other families. If our highest goal is the good of our nation, tribe, or race, then we will tend to be racist or nationalistic. If our ultimate goal in life is our own individual happiness, then we will put our own economic and power interests ahead of others. Edwards concludes that only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn out not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general.

*SOURCE: Tim Keller. The Reason For God. New York, Dutton, 2008, p. 166.

 

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Jonathan Edwards on The Universality of Sin and Man’s Free Will

Jonathan Edwards: We Are Inclined to Sin by Dr. R.C. Sproul

Jonathan Edwards image

If the case be such indeed,

that all mankind are by nature

in a state of total ruin, …

then, doubtless,

the great salvation by Christ

stands in direct relation

to this ruin,

as the remedy to the disease.

– Jonathan Edwards

Apart from his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, Jonathan Edwards is most known for his twin works Religious Affections (1746) and Freedom of the Will (1754). One of his lesser known works is on original sin, an important work published posthumously.

In The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758), Edwards was not replying to any specific author, but he was moved to write what he called a “general defence” of this important doctrine. He says of it in his preface: “I look on the doctrine as of great importance; which every body will doubtless own it is, if it be true. For, if the case be such indeed, that all mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin, both with respect to the moral evil of which they are the subjects, and the afflictive evil to which they are exposed, the one as the consequence and punishment of the other; then, doubtless, the great salvation by Christ stands in direct relation to this ruin, as the remedy to the disease; and the whole gospel, or doctrine of salvation, must suppose it; and all real belief, or true notion of that gospel, must be built upon it” (Jonathan Edwards, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended: Evidences of Its Truth Produced, and Arguments to the Contrary Answered, in Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M., 10th ed., 2 vols. (1865; Edinburgh / Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1979), 1:145. The author’s preface is dated 1757).

Much of the controversy over human free will is waged in the context of speculative debate over the relationship of man’s freedom to God’s knowledge, or to election and reprobation. For Edwards the central issue of free will is rooted in the ancient controversy (as between Pelagius and Augustine) over the relationship of free will to man’s fallen nature and ultimately to his redemption through the gospel. In a word, Edwards focuses on the broader issue of biblical redemption or the gospel. This same motive drove Martin Luther in his debate with Erasmus: the concern to see sola fide solidly rooted in sola gratia. For Edwards, the greatness of the gospel is visible only when viewed against the backdrop of the greatness of the ruin into which we have been plunged by the fall. The greatness of the disease requires the greatness of the remedy.

Evidence for Original Sin

One interesting facet of Edwards’s defense of the classical view of the fall and original sin is his attempt to show that, even if the Bible were silent on the matter, this doctrine would be demonstrated by the evidence of natural reason. Since the phenomena of human history demonstrate that sin is a universal reality, we should seek an explanation for this reality. In simple terms the question is, Why do all people sin?

Those who deny the doctrine of original sin usually answer this question by pointing to the corrupting influences of decadent societies. Man is born in a state of innocence, they say, but he is subsequently corrupted by the immoral influence of society. This idea begs the question, How did society become corrupt in the first place? If all people are born innocent or in a state of moral neutrality, with no predisposition to sin, why do not at least a statistical average of 50% of the people remain innocent? Why can we find no societies in which the prevailing influence is to virtue rather than vice? Why does not society influence us to maintain our natural innocence?

 Events in the Life of Jonathan Edwards

1703 Born in East Windsor, Conn.

1716–20 Studied at Yale

1726 Became assistant minister in Northampton, Mass.

1727 Married Sarah Pierrepont

1729 Became minister in Northampton

1734 Great Awakening began in Northampton

1751 Moved to Stockbridge to be a pastor, missionary

1758 Inaugurated president of Princeton; Died in Princeton, N.J.

Even the most sanguine critics of human nature, those who insist that man is basically good, repeat the persistent axiomatic aphorism “Nobody’s perfect.” Why is no one perfect? If man is good at the core of his heart and evil is peripheral, tangential, or accidental, why does not the core win out over the tangent, the substance over the accidents? Even in the society in which we find ourselves today, in which moral absolutes are widely denied, people still readily admit that no one is perfect. The concept of “perfect” has been denuded by the rejection of moral absolutes. Yet with a lower standard or norm of perfection than the one revealed by Scripture, we recognize that even this “norm” is not met. With the lowest common denominator of ethics such as Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, we still face the frustration of failing to live up to it.
We may discount ethical standards, reducing them below the level of actual perfection, and still fail to meet those standards. People claim a commitment to moral relativism, but when somebody steals our purse or our wallet, we still cry, “Foul.” Suddenly the credo that “everyone has the right to do his own thing” is challenged when the other person’s “thing” conflicts with my “thing.”

Edwards saw in the universal reality of sin manifold evidence for a universal tendency toward sin. Edwards states an objection to this and then answers the objection:

If any should say, Though it be evident that there is a tendency in the state of things to this general event—that all mankind should fail of perfect obedience, and should sin, and incur a demerit of eternal ruin; and also that this tendency does not lie in any distinguishing circumstances of any particular people, person, or age—yet it may not lie in man’s nature, but in the general constitution and frame of this world. Though the nature of man may be good, without any evil propensity inherent in it; yet the nature and universal state of this world may be full of so many and strong temptations, and of such powerful influence on such a creature as man, dwelling in so infirm a body, etc. that the result of the whole may be a strong and infallible tendency in such a state of things, to the sin and eternal ruin of every one of mankind (Ibid., 1:151, col. a.).

Edwards answers this supposition with the following reply:

To this I would reply, that such an evasion will not at all avail to the purpose of those whom I oppose in this controversy. It alters not the case as to this question, Whether man, in his present state, is depraved and ruined by propensities to sin. If any creature be of such a nature that it proves evil in its proper place, or in the situation which God has assigned it in the universe, it is of an evil nature. That part of the system is not good, which is not good in its place in the system; and those inherent qualities of that part of the system, which are not good, but corrupt, in that place, are justly looked upon as evil inherent qualities. That propensity is truly esteemed to belong to the nature of any being, or to be inherent in it, that is the necessary consequence of its nature, considered together with its proper situation in the universal system of existence, whether that propensity be good or bad (Ibid).

Edwards draws an analogy from nature to illustrate his point: “It is the nature of a stone to be heavy; but yet, if it were placed, as it might be, at a distance from this world, it would have no such quality. But being a stone, is of such a nature, that it will have this quality or tendency, in its proper place, in this world, where God has made it, it is properly looked upon as a propensity belonging to its nature.… So, if mankind are of such a nature, that they have an universal effectual tendency to sin and ruin in this world, where God has made and placed them, this is to be looked upon as a pernicious tendency belonging to their nature” (Ibid).

Edwards concludes that within the nature of man there is a propensity toward sin. This inclination is part of the inherent or constituent nature of man. It is natural to fallen mankind. When Scripture speaks of “natural man,” it refers to man as he is since the fall, not as he was created originally. The fall was a real fall and not a maintenance of the status quo of creation.

John Calvin acknowledged that men, though fallen, perform works of seeming righteousness, and he called these works acts of civic righteousness. Such “virtues,” which Augustine called “splendid vices,” may conform outwardly to the law of God, but they do not proceed from a heart inclined to please God, or from a heart that loves God. In biblical categories a good or virtuous work must not only conform outwardly to the prescriptions of God’s law but also proceed from an inward disposition or motive rooted in the love of God. In a real sense the Great Commandment to love God with all the heart underlies the moral judgment of all human activity.

Concerning the preponderance of evil deeds over good ones, Edwards says: “Let never so many thousands or millions of acts of honesty, good nature, etc. be supposed; yet, by the supposition, there is an unfailing propensity to such moral evil, as in its dreadful consequences infinitely outweighs all effects or consequences of any supposed good” (Ibid., 1:152, col. a.).

Edwards goes on to point out the degree of wickedness and heinousness that is involved in merely one sin against God. Such an act would be so wicked since it is committed against such a holy being that it would outweigh the sum of any amount of contrasting virtue. “He that in any respect or degree is a transgressor of God’s law,” Edwards says, “is a wicked man, yea, wholly wicked in the eye of the law; all his goodness being esteemed nothing, having no account made of it, when taken together with his wickedness” (Ibid., 1:152, col. a.).

At this point Edwards echoes the sentiment of James, saying that to sin against one point of the law is to sin against the whole law (James 2:10–11) and, of course, the Law-Giver himself. Likewise, Edwards says works of obedience, strictly speaking, cannot outweigh disobedience. When we are obedient, we are merely doing what God requires us to do. Here we can be nothing more than unprofitable servants.

Edwards sees evidence for man’s depraved nature in the propensity of humans to sin immediately, as soon as they are morally capable of committing actual sin. He sees further evidence in the fact that man sins continually and progressively, and that the tendency remains even in the most sanctified of men. Edwards also finds significant what he calls the “extreme degree of folly and stupidity in matters of religion” (Ibid., 1:156, col. b.).

In a cursory look at human history, Edwards provides a catalogue of woes and calamities that have been perpetrated by and on the human race. Even the most jaded observer of history must admit that things are not right with the world. Then Edwards turns to the universality of death as proof for the universality of sin. In the biblical view, death came into the world through and because of sin. It represents the divine judgment on human wickedness, a judgment visited even on babies who die in infancy. “Death is spoken of in Scripture as the chief of calamities,” Edwards notes, “the most extreme and terrible of all natural evils in this world” (Ibid., 1:173, col. a.).
The Bible and Original Sin

Edwards then turns his attention to the scriptural warrant for the doctrine of original sin. He pays particular attention to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2.

Another passage of the apostle, to the like purpose with that which we have been considering in the 5th [chapter] of Romans, is that in Ephesians 2:3—“And were by nature children of wrath, even as others.” This remains a plain testimony to the doctrine of original sin, as held by those who used to be called orthodox Christians, after all the pains and art used to torture and pervert it. This doctrine is here not only plainly and fully taught, but abundantly so, if we take the words with the context; where Christians are once and again represented as being, in their first state, dead in sin, and as quickened and raised up from such a state of death, in a most marvellous display of free rich grace and love, and exceeding greatness of God’s power, etc. (Ibid., 1:197, col. b.).

With respect to the uniform teaching of Scripture, Edwards concludes: “As this place in general is very full and plain, so the doctrine of the corruption of nature, as derived from Adam, and also the imputation of his first sin, are both clearly taught in it. The imputation of Adam’s one transgression, is indeed most directly and frequently asserted. We are here assured, that ‘by one man’s sin, death passed on all.’ … And it is repeated, over and over, that ‘all are condemned,’ ‘many are dead,’ ‘many made sinners,’ etc. ‘by one man’s offence,’ ‘by the disobedience of one,’ and ‘by one offence.’ ”

Related Works by Edwards

The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended: Evidences of Its Truth Produced, and Arguments to the Contrary Answered … In The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M. 10th ed. 2 vols. 1865. Reprint. Edinburgh / Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1979. 1:143–233.Freedom of the Will. Edited by Paul Ramsey. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, edited by Perry Miller, vol. 1. New Haven and London: Yale University, 1957.A Jonathan Edwards Reader. Edited by John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema. New Haven: Yale University, 1995.

Finally Edwards argues for original sin from the biblical teaching regarding the application of redemption. The Spirit’s work in regeneration is a necessary antidote for a previous, corrupt condition: “It is almost needless to observe, how evidently this is spoken of as necessary to salvation, and as the change in which are attained the habits of true virtue and holiness, and the character of a true saint; as has been observed of regeneration, conversion, etc. and how apparent it is, that the change is the same.… So that all these phrases imply, having a new heart, and being renewed in the spirit, according to their plain signification” (Ibid., 1:214, col. a.).

In his introduction to the Yale edition of Edwards’s Freedom of the Will, Paul Ramsey makes this observation:

Into the writing of it he poured all his intellectual acumen, coupled with a passionate conviction that the decay to be observed in religion and morals followed the decline in doctrine since the founding of New England. The jeremiads, he believed, had better go to the bottom of the religious issue! The product of such plain living, high thinking, funded experience and such vital passion was the present Inquiry, a superdreadnaught which Edwards sent forth to combat contingency and self-determination (to reword [David F.] Swenson’s praise of one of [Søren] Kierkegaard’s big books) and in which he delivered the most thoroughgoing and absolutely destructive criticism that liberty of indifference, without necessity, has ever received. This has to be said even if one is persuaded that some form of the viewpoint Edwards opposed still has whereon to stand. This book alone is sufficient to establish its author as the greatest philosopher-theologian yet to grace the American scene (Paul Ramsey, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Perry Miller, vol. 1 (New Haven and London: Yale University, 1957), pp. 1–2. The full title of Edwards’s work was originally A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of That Freedom of Will, Which Is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. Ramsey alludes to David F. Swenson, translator of Søren Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments (1936), Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1941), Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions (1941), volume 1 of Either/Or (1941), and Works of Love (1946); and author of Something about Kierkegaard (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1941).

In his own preface to Freedom of the Will, Edwards speaks of the danger of pinning labels on representatives of various schools of theological thought and the needless rancor often attached to such labels. Yet he pleads that generic terms are necessary for the sake of literary smoothness. A writer must have a shorthand way of distinguishing various characteristics of systems of thought. Although he does not agree with Calvin at every point, Edwards says he is not offended when labeled a Calvinist because he stands so squarely in that tradition.

His chief concern, however, is that the reader understand the consequences of differing theological perspectives. He regards the question of human freedom with the same earnestness Luther displayed in his debate with Erasmus. Far from being an isolated, peripheral, speculative matter, Edwards thinks this question is supremely important. He says:

The subject is of such importance, as to demand attention, and the most thorough consideration. Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves, are the most important. As religion is the great business, for which we are created, and on which our happiness depends; and as religion consists in an intercourse between ourselves and our Maker; and so has its foundation in God’s nature and ours, and in the relation that God and we stand in to each other; therefore a true knowledge of both must be needful in order to true religion. But the knowledge of ourselves consists chiefly in right apprehensions concerning those two chief faculties of our nature, the understanding and will. Both are very important: yet the science of the latter must be confessed to be of greatest moment; inasmuch as all virtue and religion have their seat more immediately in the will, consisting more especially in right acts and habits of this faculty. And the grand question about the freedom of the will, is the main point that belongs to the science of the will. Therefore I say, the importance of this subject greatly demands the attention of Christians, and especially of divines (Edwards, Freedom of the Will, p. 133).

Why We Choose

Edwards begins his inquiry by defining the will as “the mind choosing.” “… the will (without any metaphysical refining) is plainly, that by which the mind chooses anything,” he writes. “The faculty of the will is that faculty or power or principle of mind by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice” (Ibid., p. 137).

Even when a person does not choose a given option, the mind is choosing “the absence of the thing refused.” Edwards called these choices voluntary or “elective” actions.

John Locke asserted that “the will is perfectly distinguished from desire.” Edwards argues that will and desire are not “so entirely distinct, that they can ever be properly said to run counter. A man never, in any instance, wills anything contrary to his desires, or desires anything contrary to his will” (Ibid., p. 139. Quotes from John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 7th ed. [1716], 2.21.30).

This brief assertion is critical to understanding Edwards’s view of the will. He maintains that a man never chooses contrary to his desire. This means that man always acts according to his desire. Edwards indicates that the determining factor in every choice is the “strongest motive” present at that moment. In summary, we always choose according to the strongest motive or desire at the time.

People may debate this point with Edwards, recalling moments when they chose something they really did not want to choose. To understand Edwards, we must consider the complexities involved in making choices. Our desires are often complex and even in conflict with each other. Even the Apostle Paul experienced conflicting desires, claiming that what he wanted to do he failed to do and what he did not want to do he actually did (see Rom. 7:15). Does the apostle here belie Edwards’s point? I think not. Paul expresses the struggle he endures between desires in conflict. When he chooses what he “does not want to choose,” he is experiencing what I call the “all things being equal” dimension.

For example, every Christian has some desire in his heart to be righteous. All things being equal, we want always to be righteous. Yet a war is going on inside of us because we also continue to have wicked desires. When we choose the wicked over the righteous course of action, at that moment we desire the sin more than obedience to God. That was as true for Paul as it is for us. Every time we sin we desire more to do that than we do to obey Christ. Otherwise we simply would not sin.

Not only are desires not monolithic, but also they are not constant in their force or intensity. Our desire levels fluctuate from moment to moment. For example, the dieter desires to lose weight. After a full meal it is easy to say no to sweets. The appetite has been sated and the desire for more food diminished. As time passes, however, and self-denial has led to an increased hunger, the desire for food intensifies. The desire to lose weight remains. But when the desire to gorge oneself becomes stronger than the desire to lose weight, the dieter’s resolve weakens and he succumbs to temptation. All things do not remain in a constant state of equality.

Another example is a person being robbed. The robber points a gun at the person and says, “Your money or your life!” (We remember the skit made famous by Jack Benny. When posed with this option, Benny hesitated for a protracted time. In frustration the robber said, “What are you waiting for?” Benny replied, “I’m thinking it over.”) To be robbed at gunpoint is to experience a form of external coercion. The coercion reduces the person’s options to two. All things being equal, the person has no desire to donate the contents of his wallet to the thief. But with only two options the person will respond according to his strongest motive at the moment. He may conclude that if he refuses to hand over his wallet, the robber will both kill him and take his money. Most people will opt to hand the money over because they desire to live more than they desire to keep their wallets. It is possible, however, that a person has such a strong antipathy to armed robbery that he would prefer to die rather than give over his wallet “willingly.”

Related Works about Edwards

Gerstner, John H. The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. 3 vols. Powhatan, Va.: Berea / Orlando: Ligonier, 1991–93.

Gerstner, John H. Jonathan Edwards: A Mini-Theology. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1987.

Lang, J. Stephen, ed. Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening. Christian History 4, 4 (1985).

Murray, Iain H. Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography. Edinburgh and Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1987.

Because this example contains a coercive dimension, I put the word willingly in quotation marks. We must ask if under these circumstances the action really is voluntary? It is if we view it in the context of only two options. However much external coercion is involved, there still remains a choice. Even here, Edwards would say, the person will choose the alternative for which he or she has the stronger motive.

The strongest-motive concept may be lost on us when we consider the manifold decisions we make every day without thoroughly considering the options available to us. We walk into a classroom where several seats are vacant or we walk to an unoccupied park bench and sit down. Rarely do we list the pros and cons before selecting a seat or a part of the bench. On the surface it seems that these choices are entirely arbitrary. We choose them without thinking. If that is so, it belies Edwards’s thesis that the will is the “mind choosing.”

Such choices seem to be mindless ones, but if we analyze them closely, we discover that some preference or motive is operating, albeit subtly. The motive factors may be so slight that they escape our notice. Experiments have been run in which people choose a seat on an unoccupied park bench. Some people always sit in the middle of the bench. Some are gregarious and long for company, so they choose the middle of the bench in hopes that someone will come along and sit beside them. And some people prefer solitude, so they sit in the middle in hopes that no one else will sit on the bench.

Likewise some people prefer to sit in the front of the classroom or the back for various reasons. The decision to select a certain seat is not an involuntary action like the beating of one’s heart. It is a voluntary action, which proceeds from some motive, however slight or obscure. In a word, there is a reason why we choose the seats we choose.

What Determines Our Choices

In his analysis of choices, Edwards discusses the determination of the will. He writes: “By ‘determining the will,’ if the phrase be used with any meaning, must be intended, causing that the act of the will or choice should be thus, and not otherwise: and the will is said to be determined, when, in consequence of some action, or influence, its choice is directed to, and fixed upon a particular object” (Edwards, Freedom of the Will, p. 141).

Edwards is not speaking of what is commonly called determinism, the idea that human actions are determined by some form of external coercion such as fate or manifest destiny. Rather he is here speaking of self-determination, which is the essence of human volition.

Edwards considers utterly irrational the idea that an “indifferent will” makes choices. “To talk of the determination of the will, supposes an effect, which must have a cause,” he says. “If the will be determined, there is a determiner. This must be supposed to be intended even by them that say, the will determines itself. If it be so, the will is both determiner and determined; it is a cause that acts and produces effects upon itself, and is the object of its own influence and action” (Ibid).

At this point Edwards argues from the vantage point of the law of cause and effect. Causality is presupposed throughout his argument. The law of cause and effect declares that for every effect there is an antecedent cause. Every effect must have a cause and every cause, in order to be a cause, must produce an effect. The law of causality is a formal principle that one cannot deny without embracing irrationality. David Hume’s famous critique of causality did not annihilate the law but our ability to perceive particular causal relationships.

The law of causality with which Edwards operates is “formal” in that it has no material content in itself and is stated in such a way as to be analytically true. That is, it is true by analysis of its terms or “by definition.” In this regard the law of causality is merely an extension of the law of noncontradiction. An effect, by definition, is that which has an antecedent cause. If it has no cause then it is not an effect. Likewise, a cause by definition is that which produces an effect. If no effect is produced then it is not a cause.

I once was criticized in a journal article by a scholar who complained, “The problem with Sproul is that he doesn’t allow for an uncaused effect.” I plead guilty to the charge, but I see this as virtue rather than vice. People who allow for uncaused effects are allowing for irrational nonsense statements to be true. If Sproul is guilty here, Edwards is more so. Edwards is far more cogent in his critical analysis of the intricacies of causality than Sproul will ever be in this life.

When Edwards declares that the will is both determined and determiner, he is not indulging in contradiction. The will is not determined and the determiner at the same time and in the same relationship. The will is the determiner in one sense and is determined in another sense. It is the determiner in the sense that it produces the effects of real choices. It is determined in the sense that those choices are caused by the motive that is the strongest one in the mind at the moment of choosing.

John H. Gerstner, perhaps the twentieth century’s greatest expert on Edwards, writes:

Edwards understands the soul to have two parts: understanding and will. Not only is Freedom of the Will based on this dichotomy; that dichotomy underlies Religious Affections as well.…

Edwards agreed with the English Puritan, John Preston, that the mind came first and the heart or will second. “Such is the nature of man, that no object can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding.…” In the garden, man could have rejected the temptation of the mind to move the will to disobey God. After the fall he could not, although Arminians and Pelagians thought otherwise. Their notion of the “freedom of the will” made it always possible for the will to reject what the mind presented. This perverted notion, Edwards said in Original Sin, “seems to be a grand favorite point with Pelagians and Arminians, and all divines of such characters, in their controversies with the orthodox.” For Edwards, acts of the will are not free in the sense of uncaused (John H. Gerstner, “Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards on the Bondage of the Will,” in Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds., The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, 2 vols. [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995], 2:291. Quotation from John Preston, “Sermon on Hebrews 5:12, ” in John Preston, Works, 2:158).

To Edwards a motive is “something that is extant in the view or apprehension of the understanding, or perceiving faculty” (Edwards, Freedom of the Will, p. 142).

He says:

… Nothing can induce or invite the mind to will or act anything, any further than it is perceived, or is some way or other in the mind’s view; for what is wholly unperceived, and perfectly out of the mind’s view, can’t affect the mind at all.…

… everything that is properly called a motive, excitement or inducement to a perceiving willing agent, has some sort and degree of tendency, or advantage to move or excite the will, previous to the effect, or to the act of the will excited. This previous tendency of the motive is what I call the “strength” of the motive.… that which appears most inviting, and has, by what appears concerning it to the understanding or apprehension, the greatest degree of previous tendency to excite and induce the choice, is what I call the “strongest motive.” And in this sense, I suppose the will is always determined by the strongest motive (Ibid).

Edwards further argues that the strongest motive is that which appears most “good” or “pleasing” to the mind. Here he uses good not in the moral sense, because we may be most pleased by doing what is not good morally. Rather the volition acts according to that which appears most agreeable to the person. That which is most pleasing may be deemed as pleasure. What entices fallen man to sin is the desire for some perceived pleasure.

Edwards then turns his attention to the terms necessity and contingency. He says “that a thing is … said to be necessary, when it must be, and cannot be otherwise” (Ibid., p. 149).

He goes beyond the ordinary use of the word necessary to the philosophical use. He says:

Philosophical necessity is really nothing else than the full and fixed connection between the things signified by the subject and predicate of a proposition, which affirms something to be true. When there is such a connection, then the thing affirmed in the proposition is necessary, in a philosophical sense; whether any opposition, or contrary effort be supposed, or supposable in the case, or no. When the subject and predicate of the proposition, which affirms the existence of anything, either substance, quality, act or circumstance, have a full and certain connection, then the existence or being of that thing is said to be necessary in a metaphysical sense. And in this sense I use the word necessity, in the following discourse, when I endeavor to prove that necessity is not inconsistent with liberty (Ibid., p. 152).

Edwards discusses various types of necessary connection. He observes that one type of connection is consequential: “things which are perfectly connected with other things that are necessary, are necessary themselves, by a necessity of consequence.” This is to say that if A is necessary and B is perfectly connected to A, then B is also necessary. It is only by such necessity of consequence that Edwards speaks of future necessities. Such future necessities are necessary in this way alone.

Similarly Edwards considers the term contingent. There is a difference between how the word is used in ordinary language and how it functions in philosophical discourse. He writes:

… Anything is said to be contingent, or to come to pass by chance or accident, in the original meaning of such words, when its connection with its causes or antecedents, according to the established course of things, is not discerned; and so is what we have no means of the foresight of. And especially is anything said to be contingent or accidental with regard to us, when anything comes to pass that we are concerned in, as occasions or subjects, without our foreknowledge, and beside our design and scope.

But the word contingent is abundantly used in a very different sense; not for that whose connection with the series of things we can’t discern, so as to foresee the event; but for something which has absolutely no previous ground or reason, with which its existence has any fixed and certain connection (Ibid., p. 155).

In ordinary language we attribute to accident or “chance” any unintended consequences. In a technical sense nothing occurs by chance, for chance has no being and can exercise no power. When the term contingent refers to effects with no ground or reason, it retreats to the assertion that there are effects without causes. It is one thing to say that we do not know what causes a given effect; it is quite another thing to say that nothing causes the effect. Nothing cannot do anything because it is not anything (See R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994).

Our Moral Inability

One of the most important distinctions made by Edwards is the one between natural ability and moral ability. He also distinguishes between natural necessity and moral necessity. Natural necessity refers to those things that occur via natural force. Moral necessity refers to those effects that result from moral causes such as the strength of inclination or motive. He applies these distinctions to the issue of moral inability.

We are said to be naturally unable to do a thing, when we can’t do it if we will, because what is most commonly called nature [doesn’t] allow … it, or because of some impeding defect or obstacle that is extrinsic to the will; either in the faculty of understanding, constitution of body, or external objects. Moral inability consists not in any of these things; but either in the want of inclination; or the strength of a contrary inclination; or the want of sufficient motives in view, to induce and excite the act of the will, or the strength of apparent motives to the contrary. Or both these may be resolved into one; and it may be said in one word, that moral inability consists in the opposition or want of inclination (Edwards, Freedom of the Will, p. 159).

Man may have the desire to do things he cannot do because of limits imposed by nature. We may wish to be Superman, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, more powerful than a locomotive, and faster than a speeding bullet. But unless we become fifteen-million-dollar men (up from six million due to inflation), it is highly unlikely that we will ever perform such prodigious feats. Nature enables birds to fly through the air without the aid of mechanical devices, and fish to live underwater without drowning. They are so constituted in their natures to be able to do these things. But we lack wings and feathers, or gills and fins. These are limitations imposed by nature. They reveal a lack or deficiency of necessary faculties or equipment.

Moral inability also deals with a deficiency, the lack of sufficient motive or inclination. Edwards cites various examples of moral inability: an honorable woman who is morally unable to be a prostitute, a loving child who is unwilling to kill his father, a lascivious man who cannot rein in his lust.

Given man’s moral inability, the will cannot not be free. The will is always free to act according to the strongest motive or inclination at the moment. For Edwards, this is the essence of freedom. To be able to choose what one desires is to be free in this sense. When I say the will cannot not be free, I mean the will cannot choose against its strongest inclination. It cannot choose what it does not desire to choose. Edwards refers to the common meaning of liberty: “… that power and opportunity for one to do and conduct as he will, or according to his choice.” The word says nothing of “the cause or original of that choice” (

Man may have the desire to do things he cannot do because of limits imposed by nature. We may wish to be Superman, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, more powerful than a locomotive, and faster than a speeding bullet. But unless we become fifteen-million-dollar men (up from six million due to inflation), it is highly unlikely that we will ever perform such prodigious feats. Nature enables birds to fly through the air without the aid of mechanical devices, and fish to live underwater without drowning. They are so constituted in their natures to be able to do these things. But we lack wings and feathers, or gills and fins. These are limitations imposed by nature. They reveal a lack or deficiency of necessary faculties or equipment.

Moral inability also deals with a deficiency, the lack of sufficient motive or inclination. Edwards cites various examples of moral inability: an honorable woman who is morally unable to be a prostitute, a loving child who is unwilling to kill his father, a lascivious man who cannot rein in his lust.

Given man’s moral inability, the will cannot not be free. The will is always free to act according to the strongest motive or inclination at the moment. For Edwards, this is the essence of freedom. To be able to choose what one desires is to be free in this sense. When I say the will cannot not be free, I mean the will cannot choose against its strongest inclination. It cannot choose what it does not desire to choose. Edwards refers to the common meaning of liberty: “… that power and opportunity for one to do and conduct as he will, or according to his choice.” The word says nothing of “the cause or original of that choice” (Ibid., p. 164).

Edwards notes that Arminians and Pelagians have a different meaning for the term liberty. He lists a few aspects of their definition:

1. It consists in a self-determining power or a certain sovereignty the will has over itself, whereby it determines its own volitions.

2. Indifference belongs to liberty previous to the act of volition, in equilibrio.

3. Contingence belongs to liberty and is essential to it. Unless the will is free in this sense, it is deemed to be not free at all (Ibid., pp. 164–65).

Edwards then shows that the Pelagian notion is irrational and leads to an infinite regress of determination:

… If the will determines the will, then choice orders and determines the choice: and acts of choice are subject to the decision, and follow the conduct of other acts of choice. And therefore if the will determines all its own free acts, then every free act of choice is determined by a preceding act of choice, choosing that act. And if that preceding act of the will or choice be also a free act, then by these principles, in this act too, the will is self-determined; that is, this, in like manner, is an act that the soul voluntarily chooses.… Which brings us directly to a contradiction: for it supposes an act of the will preceding the first act in the whole train, directing and determining the rest; or a free act of the will, before the first free act of the will. Or else we must come at last to an act of the will, determining the consequent acts, wherein the will is not self-determined, and so is not a free act … but if the first act in the train … be not free, none of them all can be free.…

… if the first is not determined by the will, and so not free, then none of them are truly determined by the will.…(Ibid., pp. 172–73).

Edwards says the idea of an indifferent will is absurd. First, if the will functions from a standpoint of indifference, having no motive or inclination, then how can the choice be a moral one? If decisions are utterly arbitrary and done for no reason or motive, how do they differ from involuntary actions, or from the mere responses of plants, animals, or falling bodies?

Second, if the will is indifferent, how can there be a choice at all? If there is no motive or inclination, how can a choice be made? It requires an effect without a cause. For this reason, Edwards labors the question of whether volition can possibly arise without a cause through the activity of the nature of the soul. For Edwards it is axiomatic that “nothing has no choice.” “Choice or preference can’t be before itself, in the same instance, either in the order of time or nature,” he says. “It can’t be the foundation of itself, or the fruit or consequence of itself” (Ibid, p. 197).

Here Edwards applies the law of noncontradiction to the Pelagian and Arminian view of free will, and he shows that it is absurd. Indifference can only suspend choices, not create them. To create them would be to act ex nihilo, not only without a material cause, but also without a sufficient or efficient cause.

Edwards then treats several common objections to the Augustinian view, but we will not deal with them here. We conclude by summarizing Edwards’s view of original sin. Man is morally incapable of choosing the things of God unless or until God changes the disposition of his soul. Man’s moral inability is due to a critical lack and deficiency, namely the motive or desire for the things of God. Left to himself, man will never choose Christ. He has no inclination to do so in his fallen state. Since he cannot act against his strongest inclination, he will never choose Christ unless God first changes the inclination of his soul by the immediate and supernatural work of regeneration. Only God can liberate the sinner from his bondage to his own evil inclinations.

Like Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, Edwards argues that man is free in that he can and does choose what he desires or is inclined to choose. But man lacks the desire for Christ and the things of God until God creates in his soul a positive inclination for these things.

 The Article above was adapted from chapter 7 of R.C. Sproul. Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will. Grand Rapids, Baker, 1997.
About the Author:
RC Sproul in yellow tie image
Dr. R.C. Sproul (Founder of Ligonier Ministries; Bible College and Seminary President and Professor; and Senior Minister at Saint Andrews in Sanford, Florida) is an amazingly gifted communicator. Whether he is teaching, preaching, or writing – he has the ability to make the complex easy to understand and apply. He has been used more than any other person in my life to deepen my walk with Christ and help me to be more God-centered than man-centered. His book the Holiness of God has been the most influential book in my life – outside of the Bible.
 
 

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Jonathan Edwards Resolutions Modernized By Dennis Griffith

Revised Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

January 1, 2012 By *Dennis Griffith

As a young man – a teenager, really – Jonathan Edwards set down on paper a series of thoughts and practices to help cultivate growth in grace.  (See 2 Peter 3.18)  Edwards then re-read this list at least once a week to keep his mind focused and renewed.  The result: A man of humble godliness, who was to become a significant spark used to ignite one of the greatest revivals known to history.  Even many unbelieving scholars admit Edwards may have been the greatest mind to be born on the North American continent.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards are still a practical and beneficial tool for spiritual cultivation.  But one problem for many is that the early 18th Century language makes it sometimes difficult to grasp what Edwards wrote.   I have taken it upon myself to attempt to translate Edwards’ meaning in hopes that some might use these resolutions who might otherwise feel discouraged by the archaic words.  And while I admit that there are a few of these resolutions that I cannot embrace, I will leave it to each individual to pick out anything that might seem worthy for adoption among his/her own personal resolutions.

***

Aware that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do pray that, by his grace, he will enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are in line with his will, and that they will honor Christ.

NOTE: Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved:  I will DO whatever I think will be most to God’s glory; and my own good, profit and pleasure, for as long as I live. I will do all these things without any consideration of the time they take.  Resolved: to do whatever I understand to be my duty and will provide the most good and benefit to mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I encounter, and no matter how many I experience or how severe they may be.

2. Resolved: I will continually endeavor to find new ways to practice and promote the things from Resolution 1.

3. Resolved: If ever – really, whenever – I fail & fall and/or grow weary & dull; whenever I begin to neglect the keeping of any part of these Resolutions; I will repent of everything I can remember that I have violated or neglected, …as soon as I come to my senses again.

4. Resolved: Never to do anything, whether physically or spiritually, except what glorifies God.  In fact, I resolve not only to this commitment, but I resolve not to even grieve and gripe about these things, …if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved: Never lose one moment of time; but seize the time to use it in 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 would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved: To act, in all respects, both in speaking and doing, as if nobody had ever been as sinful as I am; and when I encounter sin in others, I will feel (at least in my own mind& heart) as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same weaknesses or failings as others.  I will use the knowledge of their failings to promote nothing but humility – even shame – in myself. I will use awareness of their sinfulness and weakness only as an occasion to confess my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved: To think much, on all occasions, about my own dying, and of the common things which are involved with and surround death.

10. Resolved: When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom – both of Jesus and of Believers around the world; and remind myself of the reality of hell.

11. Resolved:  When I think of any theological question to be resolved, I will immediately do whatever I can to solve it, … if circumstances don’t hinder.

12. Resolved: If I find myself taking delight in any gratification of pride or vanity, or on any other such empty virtue, I will immediately discard this gratification.

13. Resolved: To be endeavoring to discover worthy objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved: Never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved: Never to suffer the least emotions of anger about irrational beings.

16. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except if it is necessary for some real good.

17. Resolved: I will live in such a way, as I will wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved: To live, at all times, in those ways I think are best in me during my most spiritual moments and seasons – those times when I have clearest understanding of the gospel and awareness of the World that is to come.

19. Resolved: Never to do anything, which I would be afraid to do if I expected it would not be more than an hour before I would hear the last trump sound.  (i.e. when Jesus returns.)

20. Resolved: To maintain the wisest and healthiest practices in my eating and drinking.

21. Resolved: Never to do anything, which if I saw another do, I would consider a just reason to despise him for, or to think in any way lesser of him.

22. Resolved: To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the world to come as I possibly can.  To accomplish this I will use all the strength, power, vigor, and vehemence – even violence – I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved: Frequently take some deliberate action – something out of the ordinary – and do it for the glory of God. Then I will trace my intention back and try to discern my real and deepest motive: What did I really desire out of it? If I find that my truest motive was not for God’s glory, then I consider it as a breach of the 4th Resolution. (See Above)

24. Resolved: Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, I will trace it back till I come to the original cause; and then I will carefully endeavor BOTH 1) to do so no more AND 2) to fight and pray with all my might against the source of the original impulse.

25. Resolved: To examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is that causes me to doubt of the love of God, even the least little bit; and then to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved: To oust away anything I find that diminishes my assurance of God’s love and grace.

27. Resolved: Never intentionally omit or neglect anything, except if such an omission would be for the glory of God. NOTE to Self: frequently examine anything I have omitted.

28. Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, and so constantly, and so frequently, that it becomes evident – even obvious – to myself that my knowledge of them has grown.

29. Resolved: Never consider something a prayer, nor to let pass for a prayer, any petition that when making I cannot actually hope that God will answer; nor offer as a confession anything which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved: To strive to my utmost every week to be brought to a higher spiritual place, and to a greater experience of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved: Never to say anything at all against anybody; except when to do so is perfectly consistent with the highest standards of Christian honor and love to mankind; and except when it is consistent with the sense of greatest humility and awareness of my own faults and failings. Then, whenever I have said anything against anyone, I will examine my words against the strictest test of the Golden Rule.

32. Resolved: To be strictly and firmly faithful to whatever God entrusts to me.  My hope is that the saying in Proverbs 20.6,  “A faithful man who can find?” may not be found to be even partly true of me.

33. Resolved: Always do whatever I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, whenever it can be, but without over-balancing the value peace to such a degree that it becomes a detriment in other respects.

34. Resolved: When telling stories, never to speak anything but the pure and simple truth.

35. Resolved: Whenever I so much as question whether I have done my duty, to a point that my peace and tranquility is disturbed, I will stop and question myself until my concern is resolved.

36. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except I have some particular good purpose for doing so.

37. Resolved: To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, where I may have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and how I have denied myself. I will also do this at the end of every week, month, and year.

38. Resolved: Never to speak anything that is ridiculous, trivial, or otherwise inappropriate on the Lord’s Day or Sabbath evening.

39. Resolved: Never to do anything when the lawfulness is questionable. And then afterward, resolve to consider and examine whether or not whatever I have just done is truly lawful and/or whether whatever I have refrained from doing would have actually been permissible.

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.

41. Resolved: To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, where I could have possibly done better in any respect.

42. Resolved: To frequently renew my dedication to God, which was first made at my baptism and which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have now solemnly re-made this [DATE] day of [MONTH], [YEAR].

43. Resolved: Never, from this day until the day I die, act as if I were in any way my own, but entirely and altogether belong to God, and then live in a way agreeable to this reality.

44- Resolved: That nothing other than the gospel shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, even in the very least circumstance, anything other than gospel declares, demands, and implies.

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, but what advances the gospel.

46. Resolved: Never allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness about my father or mother. Resolved to never allow the effects of disappointment in them, or frustrations with them, to even in the very least alter what I say to them or about them, or any activity in reaction to them.  Let me be careful about this, not only about my parents, but also 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, peace able, 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: With the utmost niceness and diligence, and with the strictest scrutiny, constantly be looking into the state condition of my soul, so that I may know whether or not I have truly an interest in Christ at any given time. I will do this so that, when I come to my end in death, I will not have neglected to repent of anything I have found.

49. Resolved: That Neglect never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved: I will act in such a way as I think I will judge to have been best and most prudent, when I have come into the future world – Heaven.

51. Resolved: That I will act in every respect, as I think I would wish I had done, if in the end for some reason I would have be damned.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again, so… Resolved: That I will live just as I can imagine I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

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 eternal safety, knowing that my confidence is in my Redeemer.

54. Resolved: Whenever I hear anything spoken in a conversation of any person, if I think what is said of that person would be praiseworthy in me, I will endeavor to imitate it.

55. Resolved: To endeavor to my utmost to act as I can imagine I would if I had already seen all the happiness of heaven, as well as the torments of hell.

56. Resolved: Never to give up, nor even slacken up, in my fight with my own corruptions, no matter how successful or unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved: When I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done all I am expected to do, and resolve to do everything I am able to do.  Once I have done all that God requires of me, I will accept whatever comes my way, and accept that it is just as God’s Providence has ordered it.  I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my own duty and my own sin.

58. Resolved: Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversations, but also to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and graciousness.

59. Resolved: Whenever I am most conscious of feelings of ill nature, bad attitude, and/or anger, I will strive then the most to feel and act good naturedly.  At such times I know I may feel that to exhibit good nature might seem in some respects to be to my own immediate disadvantage, but I will nevertheless act in a way that is gracious, realizing that to do otherwise would be imprudent at other times (i.e. times when I am not feeling so irked).

60. Resolved: Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of sorts, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within my own heart and/or soul, or the least irregularity in my behavior, I will immediately subject myself to the strictest examination. (i.e. Psalm 42.11)

61. Resolved:  I will not give way to that apathy and listlessness which I find artificially eases and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on God’s Grace. Whatever excuses I may have for it, whatever my listlessness inclines me to do, or rather whatever it inclines me to neglect doing, I will realize that it would actually be best for me to do these things.

62. Resolved: Never to do anything but what God, by the Law of Love, requires me to do. And then, according to Ephesians 6.6-8, I must do it willingly and cheerfully as to the Lord, and not for man.  I must remember that whatever good thing any man has or does he has first received from God; and that whenever a man is compelled by faith to act with love and charity toward others, especially those in need, that we do it as if to/for the Lord.

63. On the hypothetical supposition that at any one time there was never to be but ONE individual in the world who was a genuine and complete Christian, who in all respects always demonstrated the Faith shining in its truest luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever angle and under whatever circumstance this Faith is viewed… Resolved: To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my strength, to be that ONE; and to live as if that ONE should live in my time and place.

64. Resolved: Whenever I experience those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8.26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “longings” that consume our souls, of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalm 119:20), I will embrace them with everything I have within me. And I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to express my desires, nor of the repetitions so often necessary to express them and benefit from them.

65. Resolved: To exercise myself in all my life long, 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 every thing in every circumstance. (See Dr. Manton‘s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119.)

66. Resolved:  I will endeavor always to keep a gracious demeanor, and air of acting and speaking in all places and in all companies, except if it should so happen that faithfulness requires otherwise.

67. Resolved: After afflictions, to inquire in what ways I am now the better for having experienced them. What good have I received by them? What benefits and insights do I now have because of them?

68. Resolved: To confess honestly to myself all that I find in myself – whether weakness or sin. And if it something that concerns my spiritual health, I will also confess the whole case to God, and implore him for all needed help.

69. Resolved: Always to do that which I will wish I had done whenever I see others do it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

*Article Adapted from the excellent Blog: “Grace and Peace” http://wdennisgriffith.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/revised-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards/. Dennis Griffith lives in Bristol, Tennessee with his wife Carolyn, their three children: Andrew, Matthew and Rebekah; and Ike, their Great Dane.  Dennis also has the privilege of serving as pastor of Walnut Hill Presbyterian Church and chaplain to the Bristol White Sox, the Appalachian League affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. In addition Dennis is a contributing columnist for the Bristol Herald Courier.

 

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Jonathan Edwards “Resolved” by Dr. Steven Lawson

For the last seven years, I have spoken at a conference on the West Coast called “Resolved.” The name is drawn from the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards and is aimed at college students and “twenty-somethings” in the next generation. As an eighteen and nineteen year old, young Edwards wrote seventy resolutions, which became his personal mission statement to guide his life. To launch the first conference, I spoke from Edward’s first resolution, what Edwards determined would be the single most important pursuit in his life — the glory of God.

Edwards began his Resolutions with what he desired to be the driving force of his life — an all-absorbing passion to pursue the glory of God. “Resolved: that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and to 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 ever so many and how ever so great.”

With this before his eyes weekly, this first resolution set the tone for his entire life. In every arena, he resolved to honor God supremely. Everything else in his life would be subsidiary to this one driving pursuit.

What is the glory of God? The Bible speaks of it in two ways. First, there is His intrinsic glory, the revelation of all that God is. It is the sum total of all His divine perfections and holy attributes. There is nothing that man can do to add to His intrinsic glory. Second, there is God’s ascribed glory, which is the praise and honor due His name. This is the glory that man must give to God.

For Edwards, to be resolved to live for God’s glory means to exalt His most glorious name. It means to live consistently with His holy character. It means to proclaim and promote His supreme greatness. This is the highest purpose for which God created us.

Why did Edwards place this resolution first? He understood that Scripture places the glory of God first in all things. Edwards was gripped with a transcendent, high view of God. As a result, in writing his “resolutions,” he knew he must live wholeheartedly for this awesome, sovereign God.

Thus, Edwards intentionally chose to “do whatsoever I think is most to God’s glory.” Here is the interpretive principle for everything in life. You want to know what God’s will is? You want to know whom to marry? You want to know what job to take? You want to know what ministry to pursue? You want to know how to invest your resources? You want to know how to spend your time?

There it is! Everything in life fits under this master theme. Anything out of alignment with this principle pursuit is in dangerous territory. Sometimes our decisions are not between right and wrong. Sometimes they are between good, better, and best. These are sometimes the hardest decisions. Edwards said that he would not live for what is merely good. Nor for what is better. He purposed to live only for what is best. Whatever is most to the glory of God — that is what is best!

Edwards believed that God’s glory was inseparably connected with his “own good, profit, and pleasure.” Whenever he sought God’s glory, he was confident that it would inevitably yield God’s greatest good for his life. The glory of God produced his greatest “pleasure.” So it is with us. Would you know unspeakable joy? Abundant peace? True contentment? Then pursue God’s glory.

With unwavering determination, young Edwards chose this first resolution to mark “the whole of my duration.” As long as he was alive, this was to be the driving thrust of his life. He must always live for God’s glory. He would never outgrow this central theme. He must never exchange it for a lesser glory.

Also, Edwards’ believed that his commitment to God’s glory would bring the greatest “good of mankind.” By seeking God’s honor, the greatest advantage would accrue to others. Thus, living for the glory of God would lead to the greatest influence of the Gospel upon the world. Souls would be converted. Saints would be edified. Needs would be met.

Would you have maximum impact upon this world? Would you lead others to Christ? Would you live for eternity? There it is! Live for God’s glory.

No matter what, Edwards resolved to live for God’s glory despite “whatever difficulties I meet with, how ever so many and ever so great.” Regardless the cost, despite the pain, he would pursue God’s honor. Even if it meant persecution or poverty, his mind was made up, his will resolved. He would pay any price to uphold the glory of God, regardless of the hardship that awaited him.

This is my challenge to the next generation: Would you seek the highest goal? Would you know the deepest joy? Would you realize the greatest good? Would you cast the widest influence? Would you overcome the greatest difficulties?

Then make this first resolution of Jonathan Edwards your chief aim. Be resolved to live for God’s glory.

*Article originally appeared in Tabletalk Magazine, August 1, 2008. Dr. Steven J. Lawson is the senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Dr. Lawson serves on the board of directors of The Master’s College and on the ministerial board for Reformed Theological Seminary, and teaches with Dr. John MacArthur at the Expositor’s Institute. In addition, Dr. Lawson has written numerous books, including Foundations of Grace and Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, and his recent offering The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon.

 

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