Jonathan Edwards on Personal Bible Study

Far too few of us are willing to pick up the pickaxe of sound exegesis to labor and uncover the treasure of truth in the Scriptures that awaits us. As Christians, we are people of the book, birthed and formed by the word of truth (John 1:18). Though we live in one of the most literate countries in the history of the world with easy access to God’s word, far too few are giving the Bible a cursory reading let alone searching the Scriptures with the sort of intensity God desires for us. We tend to reduce Bible reading to just another task on a to-do list. This “get-it-done” mentality appeals to our pragmatism and mirrors the shallowness that typifies our culture, but a superficial reading of the Bible robs us of the slow and meditative reflection through which the Spirit forms us by his word.

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4 Lessons from Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions

Jonathan Edwards, one of Americas greatest thinkers and pastors, was a man of incredible discipline. At New Years he tends to come up again and again because of his personal resolutions. As a young man he resolved a series of 70 resolutions for how he would live his life.  Desiring God put together a great post organizing Jonathan Edwards 70 resolutions into different categories.  You can read them all here. I love reading these resolutions, and read through them again this time of year, because you can almost feel hit youthful vigor, ambition, and drive to live for the Lord. Here are a few of my favorites.

Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

I’d encourage to take a ten minutes or so and read through all 70. By examining these carefully, here are a 4 lessons we can learn about from Jonathan Edwards as we kick off the New Year.

1. We Must Practice the Art of Self-Reflection

Edwards was a man of careful self-reflection. Many of his resolutions involve him examining his behavior. However, he is not just concerned about his own behavior but he is concerned with the sinful motivations that may be underlying his actions. Self Examination is largely losses upon us today. We tend to be too busy to pause and reflect on the state of our hearts. Yet, Edwards thought it was vital for him to regularly check the pulse of his spiritual life. In fact, he would read through his resolutions weekly to remember them and to put them into practice. Perhaps the reason our spiritual life flounders so much is because we do not pause and reflect on our own hearts. We don’t pause and let the Holy Spirit reveal to us hidden sin.

2. We God’s Glory Must Drive and Motivate All We Do

Edwards was motivated by one thing, God’s glory. His faith in God was not kept in a separate compartment away from his day to day life. Edwards was a man who wanted his entire life to be devoted to God and his glory. Many Christians today may confess Christ, but their beliefs and actions do not match up. We may say we long for God’s glory, but we do not live that way. Edwards’ resolutions were the consistent overflow of his theology and worldview. It affected how he thought about his time to how he thought about his eating. If the grace of God does not penetrate to the deepest and mundane levels of every day life, we are missing all that God has for us. The Gospel is holistic, changing the totality of who we are.

3. We Must Live in Light of our Mortality

Edwards was a man who had the faint aroma of his own death in his nostrils. He was constantly reminded of his own mortality and desired to live as if every day was his last. Although we would never say it, many of us live like we are immortal. We live as if tomorrow was guaranteed to us. We goof off and slack off now, because we think tomorrow we can get our act together. Yet Edwards lived his life with the end in mind. He didn’t not want to become an old man filled with regret over wasted time. No matter how young or old we may be, Edwards teaches us to live in light of our mortality.

4. We Must Be Ambitiously Disciplined

These resolutions are incredibly ambitious. It is that ambition that I love about these resolutions. Throughout Edwards life he would fail in the pious perfective goals he set for himself. Although he knew he would not follow them perfectly, he set them any way. He continually sought perfection in this life, even though he knew he could not attain it this side of glory. So often we tend to just give up in our walk with Christ. We think “I can never get rid of this sin” or “I will never be that Christ-like”. We tend to apathetically live our lives letting sin defeat us, all the while failing to realize that sin has lost all power in the life of the believer. Edwards reminds us that we should be unapoloticalcly ambitious in disciplining ourselves for godliness.

As you prepare to Kick Off the next year, dream big. Be ambitious in resolutions and seek after God with every fiber of your being. Resolve to do all for the glory of God and to be found a faithful steward of your life.

Happy New Year!

Why I'm Switching Back to Pen and Paper

14:365 Pen & Paper I love technology.  Computers, tablets, and smartphones are vital tools in any ones line up.  In fact, my life is largely paperless thanks to Evernote. Yet, over the past week I've decided to move much of my writing to the "old school" format of pen and paper.  This is in large part to Jonathan Edwards.  One of the things that amazed me about this man is that he wrote all the time.  Here are three things I learned from him and are trying to implement in my own study:

1. He Thought with His Pen in Hand

I've noticed that the majority of my thinking stays up in my head and thus unremembered. I think a lot of great thoughts (sometimes!), but none of it gets recorded.  I want to learn to record these thoughts.  Although I love the convenience of technology, it is often not worth the price of distraction.  As I'm doing deep writing an email pops up or I get side tracked on another task.  This is one of the reasons why I am going with pen and paper for deep thoughtful personal writing. I can type much faster than I can write.  However, writing with a pen in hand forces me to slow down and think.  Because of that, I see how my thoughts seem much deeper and more focused.

2. He Had the Freedom of Creativity

In the area of theology I have a great fear of unintentionally being a heretic.  Creativity and theology don't often go well together and it can be a quick recipe for a disaster.  Yet, Jonathan Edwards was an open thinker. He was willing to freely  explore deep doctrines like the Trinity from unique perspectives.  In his personal notebooks he would write every thought and had the freedom to explore deep truths.  I want that same freedom to explore deep doctrines privately in my notebooks.

3. He Recorded All His Thoughts on Scripture

Edwards had an extensive system of notebooks to record all his thoughts.  One of those notebooks was a blank Bible, in which Edwards fashioned himself in making a super large margin Bible to write all his thoughts in his Bible. Another notebook he had was his miscellaneous notebook, in which he would record random theological thoughts.  This is a model that I want to imitate.  I want one notebook where I can record all my thoughts on the Bible and theology.  I wanted to create my own journal with just biblical exegesis and interpretation.

Although I've just been doing this old school method for about a week, I have already seen the Lord use it in my life.  Writing with a pen and hand and electronics off has allowed me to think much more deeply.  I've been reading through the book of 2 Samuel and some of the truths God has shown me is amazing (I might share some of it later on this week in a blog).  I believe part of this is that I'm slowing down and listening much more carefully, without the buzz of electronic distraction.

I don't know if you were like me and thought that pen and paper were too archaic for practical use. I still do a lot of electronic writing for blogs, my personal journal, and sermon writing yet for deep reflection I've switched to pen and paper.  I'm glad I did.   There is something about the slow sensory experience of tactile writing that spurs some of my best thinking.  Maybe you should give it a shot and start thinking with a pen in hand.

What about you? What advantages have pen and paper brought to your thinking? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

7 Things We Can Learn from the Life of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan-EdwardsI just finished reading Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney.  If you are looking for an introduction to Edwards' life and thought I highly recommend you pick this book up.  It is a easily readable biographical and theological summary of his life.  Jonathan Edwards has been an object of intense personal study the past year, and I am planning on taking a course on his theology this summer.  He has been hugely influential not only in his day but in ours also. At the very end of the book Sweeney lists seven theses for discussion on what we can learn from Edwards' life and ministry.  I list those seven theses here to encourage you to pick up the book and to stir your mind about what we can learn from Jonathan Edwards.

  1. Edwards shows us the importance of working to help people gain a vivid sense, an urgent impression, of God's activity in our world. 
  2. Edwards shows us that true religion is primarily a matter of holy affections.
  3. Edwards shows us the advantages of keeping an eschatological perspective on our lives.
  4. Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ.
  5. Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.
  6. Edwards shows us that even the strongest Christians need support from others.
  7. Edwards shows us the necessity of remaining in God's word.

You can pick up this book here.

Other great books on Jonathan Edwards are:

The Key to Christian Growth: The Spirit or Self-Discipline?

I'm always disgusted by my own desire for the things of this world at the expense of the things of God.  As I am reading a biography of Jonathan Edwards, one of the things that has really challenged me is Edward's relentless discipline in keeping his mind and heart focused on Spiritual things.  In fact, he was a man just like any other who experienced spiritual highs and spiritual lows.  In describing one week of Edward's journaled highs and lows, Biographer George Marsden wrote the following:

 In his diary he also kept track of his spiritual highs and lows. On Saturday, December 22, 1722, he noted that he was particularly "affected with the sense of the excellency of holiness" and that he "felt more exercise of love to Christ than usual." On Monday the twenty-fourth he had "higher thoughts than usual of the excellency of Jesus Christ and his kingdom." The next day he "was hindered by the headache all day." By Saturday sunset, the time when the Sabbath began, he was "dull and lifeless." The next Tuesday the dullness persisted, despite the fact that he could not think of any "negligence" of which he was guilty. On Wednesday he reflected how without the Spirit of God, no amount of resolution could help him. Nevertheless, he also believed the inverse. Without the firmest resolution, he would not find the Spirit. So when finding that the tally of his "weekly account" had fallen low, he "Resolved, that I have been negligent in two things: in not striving enough in duty; and in not forcing myself upon religious thoughts."

The thing that challenges me about Edwards is his undying pursuit to ignite his affections for Jesus, all the while knowing that they would not ignite apart from the spirit.  When seeking to ignite the fires of our own spirituality we would do well to follow Edwards in his example.  The temptation so many of us have is to dichotomize our sanctification.  We either overemphasize God's sole sanctifying effort and become lazy and undisciplined Christians or we overemphasize discipline and diligence and try to sanctify ourselves in our own strength.

I am finding in my own life that the words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 2:12-13 is true when he writes, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act for his good pleasure."  These verses so often puzzled me.  Am I responsible to work out my own salvation or is it God who works through me?  The answer is yes.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit alone, but at the same time we are given the responsibility to discipline ourselves and pursue Christ with rigorous dedication and relentless pursuit. Even Edwards, a strict Calvinist, understood the balance between the two.

So what does this mean for us in our own Christian maturity?  It means that we must  be relentless in our pursuit of Christ.  We must resolve to seek Christ above all worldly things. All the while we must remember, just as Edwards had, that without the sanctifying power of the Spirit, even the firmest resolution will fall.  In my own experience, I have found that when I feel dry spiritually, I stop and pray until I sense the Spirit's power.  Discipline yourself to read the Scriptures when your flesh is weak, and it is through those efforts that the Spirit works to sanctify us and make us like Jesus Christ.  Just as God has spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13)

Have you found this to be true in your own life? What disciplines has the spirit worked through to ignite your affections for Jesus?  Share your thoughts in the comments! I'd love to hear your thoughts!