Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 02/26/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A booklet-sized window into the soul of Jonathan Edwards at his most vulnerable.
This combined edition of Jonathan Edwards’ famous “Resolutions” coupled with a less famous letter entitled “Advice to Young Converts” will be a helpful aid to those attempting to access the weighty thought of Jonathan Edwards. Not too long ago I listened to John Piper’s biographical message from the 1988 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in which he mentioned two noteworthy items. Firstly, that Edwards is now known in history texts as “a gloomy, sullen, morose, perhaps pathological misanthrope who fell into grotesque religious speech the way some people fall into obscenity.” After all, doesn’t the title of his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” bear out these labels? Secondly, that autobiographical details emerge from Edwards’ own writing much too rarely. So what are we to make of this man Edwards? As with both Martin Luther and J. Gresham Machen, Stephen J. Nichols has released a P&R booklet focusing on two of Edwards’ most personal works: “Resolutions” and his “Advice to Young Converts,” both of which have seen continuous reprints since Edwards’ days.
Nichols opens with a brief introduction to Edwards’ historical context, the events of his life, and a brief note on the two texts themselves. Like many puritans ministers, Edwards kept a personal journal to chronicle the ups and down of not only parish life, but his own soul. Composed mainly during the year in which he took his masters degree at Yale before embarking upon pastoral ministry, “Resolutions” paints a picture of a young minister whose strength and trust lie in his God, not in the piece of paper documenting his graduation from seminary. He desires not just the ‘good’ in life, but the ‘best,’ which he roots in happiness found only in God. How many seminary students display such humility in the form of an inventory itemizing their greatest failings for all of posterity to see? And how many pastors will take the time to compose a lengthy response to a letter from a young woman who doesn’t even attend his parish? Jonathan Edwards, that’s who.
Reading the “Resolutions” provides the reader a window into those areas of weakness that Edwards felt particularly vexed by. Many resolutions echo a desire to act always as if it were his last day on earth, while many others document his fight against dullness. Others focus on cultivating an attitude of benignity and diligence. As with most puritan teaching, Edwards repeats himself quite a bit. While the “Resolutions” is a valuable text, it should be noted that this text only documents one man’s struggles with particular areas. It goes without saying that all of us struggle in different areas.
The final document in this little booklet is the oft-printed “Advice to Young Converts,” a response to a letter from a young woman in a nearby parish. Judging from Edwards’ opening comments, she has inquired about Christian conduct, and in true form Edwards responds by speaking to her heart. This is perhaps the warmest and most pastoral document ever penned by Edwards, which is no doubt one of the reasons why it has been continually printed through the years. He begins by warning her against her religion growing cold (this letter was written in the midst of the first Great Awakening of 1740-7142) and cautions her to seek the same grace from God that she sought during conversion. He goes on to enumerate many ways to stir up her soul to godliness: frequent prayer and humble confession, careful application of sermon material, partaking in communion, and encouraging others in the pursuit of God. Edwards includes large swaths of Scripture in his letter, rendering the tone of the letter pastoral rather than moralistic. No wonder Miss Hatheway treasured this letter, ensuring its survival to this day.