Edwards vs. Franklin

Last week, I posted an article in which I offered caution when it comes to making resolutions (see Resolution Faith vs. Gospel Faith).

Gene Edward Veith has an excellent article in Table Talk Magazine entitled “The Resolution Solution.” In this article, he uses Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin as paradigms to illustrate the difference between lawful and unlawful resolving.

There is a lot of talk and emphasis in conservative, evangelical circles about Edwards and his resolutions. However, too often, the tendency is for the focus to rest predominantly upon the resolutions and the gospel ends up being eclipsed. This is a mistake.

Following are two critical points Veith makes to keep in mind in relation to Edwards and his resolutions:

1. “Edwards’ effort at self-improvement, though — so strenuous as to engage “all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of” — is that of a man wholly informed by the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Edwards exercised his will while knowing that his will was in bondage. He resolved to be righteous, while knowing that his righteousness did not earn his salvation. He scrutinized himself, while knowing that his spiritual security resided outside himself — in the objective fact of Christ’s atonement for his sins,” (emphasis mine).

2. “Many of the puritans’ habits and habits of mind — their work ethic, their self-discipline, their moral seriousness — persisted long after the eclipse of their theology, to be taken up by Enlightenment secularists, social-gospel liberals, and Victorian materialists,” (emphasis mine).

These two points pinpoint precisely the problem I have found and experienced when it comes to Edwards and his resolutions.

Within many circles the problem is that well-intentioned resolutions persist long after the eclipse of their theology. Believers resolve to be righteous without a forthright, conscious reminder of knowing that their righteousness doesn’t earn their salvation.

In other words, we need to be constantly reminded that our acceptability to God doesn’t lie in our resolutions (i.e., what we do) but rather through trusting, resting in the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. The “key” to living a holy life is union with Christ not resolutions.

This is how Walter Marshall puts it, “This is the key error Christians fall into in their lives: they think that even though they have been justified by a righteousness produced totally by Christ, they must be sanctified by a holiness produced totally by themselves,” (The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, pp. 39-40).

Thus, instead of being cautious to follow the precedent set by Edwards (i.e., “Gospel Faith,” to be “wholly informed by the Word of God and the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ”), many end up following the example set forth by Benjamin Franklin (i.e., “Resolution Faith,” “Christ is reduced to being a good example for him to follow, mentioned in the same breath as Socrates.”).

To be sure, a “resolution faith” is not the intended outcome for many believers. However, without a clear, intentional, continual focus and feast upon Christ and the gospel, the de facto outcome is always “Christ, the example to follow,” rather than “Christ, the Savior to rest upon.”

One Response to Edwards vs. Franklin

  1. Richard says:

    I re-read Veith’s article yesterday because of something our pastor said on Sunday about seeking assurance by our good works. Veith’s concluding paragraphs are most excellent–about looking outside of ourselves, to Christ, instead of being inner-directed. Excellent, John!

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