Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is probably the most well known American preacher and theologian of the 18th century and perhaps any century. Interest in him and his theology grows each day with the body of secondary literature rising at an unbelievable rate. Beyond the body of secondary literature, Edwards was a prolific writer and the primary materials take up 26 large hardcover volumes from Yale University Press. Some know only of his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and perhaps only from studying it in school as part of their American literature. Some disdain his Calvinistic theology and some extol it. He was a theologian of revival and prayer. But, the question is, is there a need for another volume on Edwards? Steven Lawson proves there is!
Lawson, Senior Pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church, Mobile, AL and President of New Reformation Ministries (a ministry dedicated to bring biblical reformation to the church today) has already proved himself with his volumes The Expository Genius of John Calvin, Foundations of Grace: A Long Line of Godly Men (both from Reformation Trust), and Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching (Moody Press) amongst others. He has other volumes coming out soon in his “Long Line of Godly Men” series. And if his existing books are any indication, future ones will be just as profound. Lawson is the prophet Evangelicalism needs to highlight the famine in the land with the hopes of God bringing the rain of expository preaching.
In this current volume on Edwards’ Lawson focuses on an area that should be of great importance to many of us today, the unwavering resolve of Edwards. Lawson’s focus therefore are on Edwards’ personal resolutions he made. These seventy “purpose statements for his life” (p. xiii) were written in 1722 and 1723 at the ages of 18 and 19. Lawson notes as a result of these resolutions, “this young Puritan minister wrote and worked hard to keep these seventy vows. Here is the key to his spiritual growth–Edwards disciplined himself for the purpose of godliness. He understood that growth in holiness is not a one-time act, but a lifelong pursuit, one that requires a daily determination to live according to the truths taught in Scripture” (p. xiii).
Essentially this volume on Edwards then is on the personal piety of the great 18th century theologian and pastor. Lawson argues that more important than Edwards intellect or anything else is his personal holiness. We live in a day of great spiritual interest and confusion. As Evangelicals we must turn to a spirituality that is rooted in the Word of God. Studying the godly men of the past gives us a helpful look at how to apply that Biblical spirituality in our lives today. That makes looking at the personal holiness and resolutions of Edwards of utmost importance.
This book then uses Edwards resolutions as a starting point and then includes material from his diary and his “Personal Narrative” to see how he implemented these resolutions in his life. The book begins with a detailed but simple chapter outlining the life and legacy of Edwards. He then moves into looking at the resolutions directly. The first section deals with the purpose and historical setting of the resolutions as well as the theological roots behind them. Then Lawson looks at the resolutions under the broad categories of “the prerequisite of faith,” “the priority of God’s glory,” “the putting away of sin,” “the precipice of eternity,” “the passion of discipline,” “the practice of love,” and finally “the posture of self-examination.” Especially important for today’s believers in this last section. The Puritan practice of self-examination is lost in today’s generation. The journals and diaries of various Puritan authors outlining their lives and highlighting where improvement could be made is a valuable discipline that most today have lost. Journaling our spiritual lives is something of great value as we continue to grow in Christ that we can learn particularly from Edwards.
Lawson highlights the major importance of studying Edwards today and learning from him for a new generation in his conclusion. He writes, “In this day, some three hundred years after Edwards’ time, there is a desperate need for a new generation to arise onto the scene of history that will prize and promote the glory of our awesome God. Beholding the soul-capturing vision of this all-supreme, all-sovereign, and all-sufficient God transforms in life-altering ways. This is what we learn from Edwards, and this is what we must experience in our own lives. Our lofty theology, centered on God Himself, must be translated into daily living in practical ways” (p. 154).
Truly Lawson will encourage those who already love Edwards and his God but will also encourage those who know not the great American theologian. This book should be in the hands of every pastor especially but in the hand of every believer in Christ to encourage them and challenge them in their constant walk with the sovereign God of the universe! Soli Deo Gloria!