Are Christians called to a Higher Life?
This weekend I was on a camping trip with a group of church families. During one lunch time, I was sitting with a friend of ours, and we sat and read our books. She was reading a book on parenting and I was reading Edwards’ Resolutions. As I read the resolutions, I would interrupt her reading and say, “Listen to this ….” and I would read a resolution. As I read the lofty resolutions of Edwards, I could tell that my friend was a bit dismayed. Is this Edwards guy for real? Did he have any children?
Yes Edwards had eleven children and an unwavering commitment to the ideal with respect to Godliness and character.
Developing a Personal Constitution
How Jonathan Edwards approached his spirituality is completely foreign to most of us in the 21st century. This is why we need a 21st century reformation. Somehow the Christianity of the churches has not acquainted the Christian with a life of spiritual disciplines that bring transformation to the soul. Unfortunately, the church continues to reproduce itself. Are we really doing God a service if we reproduce ourselves in kind?
Looking At Edwards’ resolutions, we see a totally different approach to spirituality than we are taught from today’s pulpit.
Take these resolutions for example on His life of Prayer:
#64 Resolved, when I find those “groanings which cannot be uttered” of which the apostle speaks, and those “breathings of the soul for the longings it has” Ps 119”20 that I will promote them to the utmost of my power; and that I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to vent my desires, nor of the repetitions of such earnestness
I quote 64 to quote 65
#65 resolved Very much to exercise myself in this (#64 – Crying out to God for what my soul truly longs for [i.e. God and His Kingdom and Glory on Earth]), all my life long and with the greatest openness of which I am capable, to declare my ways to Go, and lay open my soul to him, all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and everything, and every circumstances, according to Dr. Manton’s sermon on the 119th Psalm..
Edwards is resolving to pray to God in such a way that every though of his heart is laid bear before the Lord in prayer. Edwards says he resolves to pray “with the greatest openness of which I am capable”. He is resolving to fan the flames of inspiration whenever they come in prayer. In every way every aspect of his life will be covered in prayer.
Now think of the church. How many men are incapable of intimacy and opening their soul to their wives and with other men? Such a disease of the soul, such inability to communicate must be solved if we are to be made spiritually well. Edwards knew and taught that such openness and skill in communication and understanding of ones ways is learned in the secret place of prayer. We are almost taught in the church today to ignor your feelings, but the Christianity of the past taught us to transform our feelings by being brutally honest. In fact, it is in the realm of our uncontrolled and un bridled feelings that life happens.
How long did such an prayer exercise take a man like Edwards. The answer is hours and not minutes and certainly not seconds. Think if we called ourselves to account before God for every anxious thought and we resolved to be absolutely open to the Lord. If we do not control our heart, we cannot control our lives.
Look at Edwards dedication to the transformation of his temperaments;
#47 Resolved To endeavor, to my utmost, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good and universally sweet and benevolent, quite, 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.
#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.
Here Edwards is saying that if his temperament is moved the least bit away from peace and calm or if he becomes anxious or disturbed that he will examine himself strictly. We already know that he will declare all his difficulties and fears and sorrows to God. What this means then is that whenever his temperament is less than calm and loving that he will bring this to God.
Lastly I quote resolution #24
#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.
So here is his method. If his soul is moved he will lay this before God and examine if this movement is indeed unprofitable to God’s glory. He will do this daily and weekly and monthly to see if he is truly growing in grace. If he finds that the movement in his heart provoked some outward behavior, “any conspicuously evil action”, he will ask why until he comes to the original cause. Then, he will endeavor through prayer and all his might against this original cause. Edwards has a method. He writes out all the movements of his soul and treats them like a difficult scientific problem or theological inquiry. He studies his spirituality and his soul. He solves the problem.
Note the unwavering commitment to the ideal with respect to character. This unwavering commitment to the ideal of Godliness and a map of the ideal, I call a personal constitution. We map “true north” and commit to stay the course. True north is the person of Christ in every aspect of His life. This constitution is not some one-time writing but the rule of all our years written in our own words. Here is the start of a method we can teach our congregations.
So the conclusion is that in today’s church we do not endeavor to teach men and women to live in a way that is constantly measuring ourselves against perfection. I contend that we ought to.
Whenever I am in prayer and I come to my senses, I realize that I have been ripped off by allowing the standard to waver. I have wasted precious time because I was deceived by thinking some source of joy could come from a place other than total surrender and holiness.
I encourage you, therefore, to set a standard of perfection and strive with all your might to enter it by grace and prayer. This is foreign to the 21st century Christian, but so too is power and so too is the church as morally beautiful community. Let us reason together with the Lord and see if He does not call us to a higher life.