Trace It Back: Wisdom from Edwards’ Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

In 1722-23, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote his now-famous Resolutions which have benefited believers since they were penned. Of significance, Edwards wrote these when he was 19-20 years old–how mature of him in Christ to pen such resolutions at such an age.

In reading through these, I found an interesting phrase that occurred in both Resolutions 23 and 24:

23. Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God, and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it as a breach of the 4th Resolution.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

Here, we see the positive and negative aspect, all with the glory of God as its end.  The phrase?  “Trace it back.” If something was done for the glory of God, trace it back to “the original intention.”  If an evil action was done, trace it back to “the original cause.”

These Resolutions smack not of impulse, like many of our New Year’s resolutions, but of intentionality. He looks not simply to the ends, but also to the root and to the means as well.  He looks at the heart of the action, not simply the habits.  Habits come from the resolve of the heart.  The heart of the resolutions are found in the preamble:

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.

The original cause and mission of all believers is the glory of God and the gospel good of humanity (see Matthew 22:37-40).  But none of this is possible outside of God’s help.  That Mylon LeFevre song found in our hymnals speaks truth:

Without Him, I could do nothing;
Without Him, I’d be enslaved;
Without Him, I would be drifting
Like a ship, without a sail.

So live with a gospel intentionality and trace back your actions, good or bad or indifferent, and see if they bring glory to God or not.  What may look glorifying to God to many may well be fueled by a desire for the glory of self.  Trace it back to the original intention and cause.

Yes, wise words from an old, dead guy (who may well be the greatest mind America has ever produced).  May we stand on the shoulders of giants like these.

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2 thoughts on “Trace It Back: Wisdom from Edwards’ Resolutions

  1. Anytime I hear the name of Jonathan Edwards, I stop and take note. I would love to read the book on marriage that was either written by his wife or by someone else who wrote from the perspective of his wife. Apparently in spite of his great spirituality, he was a difficult man to live with. His wife’s example is an inspiring story of how to make marriage work.

    (I don’t know the title or author of the book. The last time I researched the matter, the book cost something like $60, so I did not pursue it further.)

    “Trace it back” — such wisdom! One could also say, “connect the dots” and mean the same thing. What did we do, what were we about, when such-and-such happened? What do we need to do differently so we don’t repeat the sin? (and conversely, what should we continue to do if we did something with good results)

    I enjoy your blog a lot and this particular post resonates with me. Keep up the good work!

    • I’m grateful, Barbara–glory to God! I’m working on a blog post about why bloggers blog to begin with. So many motives, both good and bad. I pray this blog is beneficial.

      To your other point, I understand that Charles Wesley and A.W. Tozer were most difficult as well. I wonder if they were so focused and driven that all else took a back seat? Either way, it’s sad. It’s one of the many, many reasons I love Spurgeon–he adored his wife and she him. Even with his great busyness, he never let Susannah doubt of his love for her.

      Again, thanks for the encouragement!

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