New Year, Old Resolutions
A new year is now in full swing, and I am sure that there are a number of New Year’s resolutions that we have already failed to keep. The anticipation of a New Year is always exciting, and we get caught up in the possibility of self-improvement. We think that a new year will bring a new version of ourselves, or a new life, or a new whatever. But when we wake up on the second of January, we soon realize that it is just another day, and we are still the same as we were the day before.
Why then do we continue to make resolutions year after year? We start with great hope, and by the end of January we are depressed that things didn’t go “according to plan.” After a while, we expect this sort of thing to happen, and some of us simply resolve to stop resolving. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? I believe that the answer is that each one of us is wired to long for a new reality.
This innate longing for newness is not new and it is not unique to us. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” I think that this statement sums up the underlying issue with the resolutions that we tend to make. Most of our resolutions are not rooted in our identity, which is found in Christ. If we resolve to do anything outside of the finished work of the gospel, we are resolved to fail. As one modern hymn puts it, “Should nothing of our efforts stand/No legacy survive/Unless the Lord does raise the house/In vain its builders strive.”
At this point, some may be thinking, “We better give up making New Year’s resolutions. After all, our efforts will not stand if Christ is not in them.” But, that is not what I am suggesting. In fact, if we look back in church history, some great minds within the Christian faith have celebrated the New Year by making resolutions. One of these minds was that of the greatest theologian to come out of the Americas - Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards was an 18th century theologian, philosopher, and minister who grew up in the Puritanism of the early British American colonies. After studying divinity at Yale in the 1720’s (then a college, not a university), he began ministering in New England with his grandfather.
While ministering in Northampton, Edwards observed the moral decline in the lives of the people around him. The influence that the Puritans had once held was starting to wane. New England was in need of revival. Through his preaching and writing, Edwards became a strong force in the Great Awakening. Jonathan Edwards went on to write some of the greatest revival literature of all time; works like The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.
Coupled with his passion for spiritual awakening and missions, was a theological mind that was unparalleled. After becoming a pastor in Stockbridge, Edwards dedicated more time to writing his theological and philosophical discourses. It was here that Edwards would write Concerning the End for Which God Created the World and Freedom of the Will, among others. Edwards would become instrumental in the debate concerning puritanical doctrines and would shape the way in which Americans would view the nature of man.
But above Edwards’ passion for the lost and his brilliant mind was his devotion to his Lord and the Word of God. Back in the 1720’s, after leaving Yale with no real direction, Edwards began to pen what he would later refer to as his “Resolutions.” Here is how he opens these resolutions:
Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
What followed was a list of 70 resolutions. What we see from the preface, and the resolutions themselves, is that Edwards, even at a young age, was keenly aware that any resolution that he made would not last if he made them apart from God and for the sake of Christ.
Here are but a select few of my favorite resolutions of Edwards’:
6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.
16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
From reading Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions, we can learn how better to resolve. Any resolutions that we make should be made in light of the gospel and should be rooted in Christ. If our resolutions are going to last, they must find their firm foundation in the Everlasting. Any newness of life that we seek to find should be sought only in Christ who is our life and creator of all things new.
As we embark on this new year, let us resolve to seek the things that are above; let us set our minds on those things where Christ is. May we be available to the Lord’s leading, and let us allow resolutions to fail if they be outside of God’s will and for any other sake but Christ’s. I pray that this year we would all find what it means to rest in Christ, to take joy in our union with him, and to hope for his return. For it is then that we will fully realize the newness for which we now so long.