Edwards’s Method of Intense Self-Observation
In all my Christian counseling and pastoring, the greatest felt need of most Christians is the desire to more disciplined in the exercise of prayer and devotion. Could it be that we do not pray not out of lack of desire to pray but because we do not know how to pray. Our prayer life is devoid of method.
Let say a child is given a problem to solve, for example, ‘learn how to hit a baseball’ .The problem is very visible. The child swings and misses every time. So, as a parent, if we say, go learn how to hit a baseball, but the child is not coached as to how to hit the baseball, the result will be that the child will become easily discouraged and in fact practice baseball very little. The result will be a child who complains, “I stink at baseball”. This is I believe a good analogy of most of our prayer life. We a re told and we understand that prayer would be a good thing. In fact, we might even believe that prayer could open up the door to a more beautiful and God glorifying life. If we have a strong desire to pray but if we do not know how to pray and no one teaches us, we end up being Christians who simple lament, “I stink at prayer”.
Yesterday, I discussed prayer as contemplation and I introduced the role of music to help our minds contemplate an aspect of God or our relationship with God. Such extended contemplation forces us to examine as to whether our affections are in line with our actual intellectual assent. Edwards work “On religious Affections” makes the point that true works of grace enlighten the mind to the knowledge of the Gospel and the beauty of God to the extent to which they transform the affections. So that sanctified affections, heartfelt love for God, is the true sign of a legitimate work of Grace. Such affection, which grows in time, is much like the love of a mature and healthy marriage. Such love for God is the direct result of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in us through the knowledge of God in the Gospel. The means of attaining such transformed affections is contemplation of which music is a wonderful God ordained tool.
Today I would like to introduce a second practice of prayer which Edwards and the revivalists exercised: The first being contemplation; the second being Intense Self-Observation.
The Resolutions and Diary of Edwards;
Jonathan Edwards did not write much about himself but one important phase of his life is recorded. The Diary begins in December of 1722. At this time Edwards is nineteen at the time. Edwards had entered Yale at 12 and by the time of the resolutions, he had completed his masters of divinity and was at his first pastorate. It would be 11 years later that Edwards would preside over his first historic outpouring of the Spirit. A grace from God that just so happened to coincide with his preaching series on Justification By Faith.
So after schooling, Edwards begins a serious quest for Godliness and understanding. The journal begins after he is half-way through his soul searching “Resolutions” is finished.
The Diary begins as follows:
Dec. 18. This day made the 35th Resolution. The reason why I, in the least, question my interest in God’s love and favor, is, — 1. Because I cannot speak so fully to my experience of that preparatory work, of which divines speak: — 2. I do not remember that I experienced regeneration, exactly in those steps, in which divines say it is generally wrought: — 3. I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith. I fear they are only such hypocritical outside affections, which wicked men may feel, as well as others. They do not seem to be sufficiently inward, full, sincere, entire and hearty. They do not seem so substantial, and so wrought into my very nature, as I could wish. — 4. Because I am sometimes guilty of sins of omission and commission. Lately I have doubted, whether I do not transgress in evil speaking. This day, resolved, No.
I would like you to notice a few things. 1. “. I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith”. This word sensibly means consciously and aware in my senses as my experience. Edwards is saying that he is not assured that his faith is full of conviction. Do I really believe with all my person or am I full of doubts as well.
Is this a valid inquiry? Many would say that we are not to “feel” faith. Faith is an issue of our reason and we just know it, but Edwards was not satisfied that his experience was like the testimony (the story) of the great divines (i.e. the reformers before him). Edwards wanted to be sure that his actual life and soul, his story, was filled with the authentic experience of his heroes. WOW!!!
When I was a young Christian, I was blessed to be introduced to Edwards and Whitfield long before I was lulled to sleep by the pop milk toast of the 20th century. All I can say is that to seek to have these experiences of the soul and to be satisfied only with a sensible faith makes one strong. Seek Him and He will be found.
It is right to seek God and to know Him and to not rest until He blesses us.
The second thing I would notice is Edwards extreme self examination. Some would think it being too hard on oneself. Edwards is not being hard on himself. Edwards is simply being honest. This is the key. Edwards has keen sight of his own soul. He is honestly confessing his state. He is looking at his soul obbectively and simply describing what he sees. All else is denial. This deep view of self in the sight of God and in the illuminating presence of God is the path to blessing and sanctification.
Look at the 35th resolution:
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.
Edwards is saying if I ever feel so much as a hint of guilt I will right down exactly why I feel this way, what the offense is and I will solve the problem.
This brings us to the heart of Edwards’ method. Edwards is resolving himself to be a problem solver. This is why he starts his diary. He is saying here are my goals, my resolutions and I must think deeply and write out my shortcomings if I am to improve.
We in the 20th century expect change to happen ad hoc. But if we are not methodical about solving our problems even the problems of our soul we cannot expect to change.
When I disciple, this is how I start.
Write a personal constitution. Define the ideal. Use the Sermon on the mount and the biblical lists of virtues like in 1 Tim 3. define the goals and ideals of character and behavior.
Journal every violation.
Choose the area with the most urgent problem.
Work on it with a mentor every day until it is solve.
We need first a keen ability to observe our own soul. We need a clear vision of moral beauty and the perfections of Christ, and then we need to be transparent before a mentor. This is biblical, and may I say the Edwardsian, path to sanctification.