He entered Yale at age 12.
He served as a missionary to the Mohicans.
He was the President of Princeton University.
One of his sermons, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, is considered the most famous sermon ever preached.
His grandson became the Vice President of the Unites States under Thomas Jefferson.
His biography of David Brainerd inspired thousands of people to become missionaries, including William Carey, Adoniram Judson, John Wesley, and Jim Elliot.
His preaching sparked the First Great Awakening, which lead to thousands of conversions and the founding of six hundred colleges and universities.
But before Jonathan Edwards was THE Jonathan Edwards, he was an 18-year-old interim pastor in New York City who didn’t know what to do with himself. His father was a preacher. His grandfather was a preacher. His uncles were preachers. He was well-educated, was good at science, and the possibilities paralyzed him. New York City in 1722 was overwhelming. The city boasted almost 10,000 inhabitants, far too much for a small-town New England boy.
I wrote briefly about Edwards in A Year of Living Prayerfully:
I visited the Boston area, where Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards led the First Great Awakening in America. I stood on the very stone where Edwards preached to the masses in Northampton. It was an incredible experience to picture an enormous crowd, gathered in the square, and I imagined Edwards preaching to the masses, each one clad in colonial attire. (Edwards later published a book on prayer, whose breathy title is An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People, in Extraordinary Prayer, for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.)
Lost though he was, Edwards knew that his character would guide his calling, and so, like fellow colonialist Benjamin Franklin, Edwards began to write a list of resolutions that would guide the rest of his life. He spent a year on the project, starting shortly after his 19th birthday in the late autumn. He penned his 70th resolution on August 17, 1723.
Edwards’s resolutions offer great insight into the level of commitment necessary to cultivate a godly character. If your keen to make a difference in this world, it might be worth studying one of history’s most interesting documents written by a teenager.
The 70 Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards
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.
Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.
1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or ever 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, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
2. Resolved, To be continually endeavouring to find out some new contrivance and invention to promote the forementioned things.
3. Resolved, If ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.
4. Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God, nor be, nor suffer it, if I can possibly avoid it.
5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve 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 any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
8. Resolved, To act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings, as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.
9. Resolved, To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
10. Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.
11. Resolved, When I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances do not hinder.
12. Resolved, If I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by.
13. Resolved, To be endeavouring to find out fit objects of liberality and charity.
14. Resolved, Never to do anything out of revenge.
15. Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.
16. Resolved, Never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
17. Resolved, That I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
18. Resolved, To live so, at all times, as I think is best in my own devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel, and another world.
19. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.
20. Resolved, To maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
21. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.
22. Resolved, To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea, violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.
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 fourth 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 endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
25. Resolved, To examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.
26. Resolved, To cast away such things as I find do abate my assurance.
27. Resolved, Never willfully to omit any thing, except the omission be for the glory of God; and frequently to examine my omissions.
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.
29. Resolved, Never to count that a prayer, nor to let that pass as a prayer, nor that as a petition of a prayer, which is so made, that I cannot hope that God will answer it; nor that as a confession which I cannot hope God will accept.
30. Resolved, To strive every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honour, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said any thing against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this resolution.
32. Resolved, To be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Proverbs 20:6 “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.
33. Resolved, To do always what I can towards making, maintaining, and preserving peace, when it can be done without an overbalancing detriment in other respects.
34. Resolved, In narrations, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple verity.
35. Resolved, Whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved.
36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.
37. Resolved, To enquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent — what sin I have committed — and wherein I have denied myself; also, at the end of every week, month, and year.
38. Resolved, Never to utter any thing that is sportive, or matter of laughter, on a Lord’s day.
39. Resolved, Never to do any thing, of which I so much question the lawfulness, as that I intend, at the same time, to consider and examine afterwards, whether it be lawful or not; unless I as much question the lawfulness of the omission.
40. Resolved, To enquire 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, wherein I could possibly, in any respect, have done better.
42. Resolved, Frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism, which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church.
43. Resolved, Never, hencefoward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s.
44. Resolved, That no other end but religion shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, in the least circumstance, any otherwise than the religious end will carry it.
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 relating to it, but what helps to religion.
46. Resolved, Never to allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness at my father or mother. Resolved, to suffer no effects of it, so much as in the least alteration of speech, or motion of my eye; and to be especially careful of it with respect to any of our family.
47. Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving, and sincere, temper; and to do, at all times, what such a temper would lead me to; and to examine strictly, at the end of every week, whether I have so done.
48. Resolved, Constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or not; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of.
49. Resolved, That this never shall be, if I can help it.
50. Resolved, That I will act so, as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.
51. Resolved, That I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again; Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think 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 safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.
54. Resolved, Whenever I hear anything spoken in condemnation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, that I will endeavour to imitate it.
55. Resolved, To endeavour, to my utmost, so to act, as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and hell torments.
56. Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
57. Resolved, When I fear misfortunes and adversity, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it, and let the event be just as Providence orders it. I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin.
58. Resolved, Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness, and benignity.
59. Resolved, When I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times.
60. Resolved, Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.
61. Resolved, That I will not give way to that listlessness which I find unbends and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on religion, whatever excuse I may have for it — that what my listlessness inclines me to do, is best to be done.
62. Resolved, Never to do any thing but my duty, and then, according to Ephesians 6:6-8, to do it willingly and cheerfully, as unto the Lord, and not to man: knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive from the Lord.
63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in it’s true lustre, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.
64. Resolved, When I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered,” of which the apostle speaks, and those breathings of soul for the longing it hath, of which the psalmist speaks, Psalm 119:20, that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavouring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness.
65. Resolved, Very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, namely, with the greatest openness of which I am capable, 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, and every circumstance, according to Dr. Manton’s sermons on the 119th Psalm.
66. Resolved, That I will endeavour always to keep a benign aspect, and air of acting and speaking, in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.
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.
68. Resolved, To confess frankly to myself, all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help.
69. Resolved, Always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
70. Resolved, Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.