The Personal Narrative of Jonathan Edwards - Part VII
“On January 12, 1723. I made a solemn dedication of myself to God, and wrote it down; giving up myself, and all that I had to God; to be for the future, in no respect, my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed, to take God for my whole portion and felicity; looking on nothing else, as any part of my happiness, nor acting as if it were; and [to take] his law for the constant rule of my obedience: engaging to fight, with all my might, against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life. But I have reason to be infinitely humbled, when I consider, how much I have failed, of answering my obligation.”
We live in a society where demanding one’s “rights” has become something of a national pastime. I have a “right” to do with my body whatever I want. I have a “right” to conduct my sexual life however I please. I have a “right” not to be treated disrespectfully by others. And on and on it goes.
Edwards believed he had no “rights”. Let’s be clear about this. He’s not talking about political rights or the right to an education or property rights, or any such thing. He’s talking about his relationship with God (although Edwards would be the first to say that even these former so-called “rights” were a gift of grace to an undeserving soul). He has no “rights” in himself, no claim to autonomous freedom, as if he can arbitrarily determine what he will do with his body or his time or his mind or his talents or his money. God owns everything. Edwards, like every believer, has been “bought with a price”, the precious blood of Jesus, and has no claim to anything in himself or regarding himself. Neither he, nor we, have any “right” to look at whatever we please or think whatever we please or sleep with whomever we please or spend our money however we please or to pursue whatever career or course in life as suits our fancy.
We are each bondslaves of Jesus Christ. We are not the “lord” of our lives. He is. Paul said that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). That is to say, whatever breath we breathe, he grants it, whatever movements we make, he energizes them, however long we live, he sustains and preserves us each moment of each day until such time as he calls us to himself.
What would life look like if we were to take this seriously, if we were to get up each day conscious of the fact that the only reason we awakened at all is because God mercifully willed it so? My mind is not free to think whatever it wants nor my fingers to type whatever I please nor my eyes to read whatever they fall upon. Every fiber of my being, body, soul, and spirit, belongs to the Lord who loved me and gave himself for me.
The brief statement you read above, taken from Edwards’ Personal Narrative, is but a summation of the longer declaration of personal resolve that is found in the entry to his Diary, recorded on Saturday, January 12, 1723. Read it closely, prayerfully, and make it your own.
“In the morning. I have this day, solemnly renewed my baptismal covenant and self-dedication, which I renewed, when I was taken into the communion of the church. I have been before God, and have given myself, all that I am and have, to God; so that I am not, in any respect, my own. I can challenge no right in this understanding, this will, these affections, which are in me. Neither have I any right to this body, or any of its members: no right to this tongue, these hands, these feet; no right to these senses, these eyes, these ears, this smell, or this taste. I have given myself clear away, and have not retained any thing, as my own. I gave myself to God, in my baptism, and I have been this morning to him, and told him, that I gave myself wholly to him. I have given every power to him, so that for the future, I’ll challenge no right in myself, in no respect whatever. I have expressly promised him, and I do now promise Almighty God, that by his grace, I will not.
I have this morning told him, that I did take him for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else, as any part of my happiness, nor acting as if it were; and [I did take] his Law, for the constant rule of my obedience; and would fight, with all my might, against the world, the flesh and the devil, to the end of my life; and that I did believe in Jesus Christ, and did receive him as a Prince and Savior; and that I would adhere to the faith and obedience of the Gospel, however hazardous and difficult, the confession and practice of it may be; and that I did receive the blessed Spirit, as my Teacher, Sanctifier, and only Comforter, and cherish all his motions to enlighten, purify, confirm, comfort and assist me. This, I have done; and I pray God, for the sake of Christ, to look upon it as a self-dedication, and to receive me now, as entirely his own, and to deal with me, in all respects, as such, whether he afflicts me, or prospers me, or whatever he pleases to do with me, who am his. Now, henceforth, I am not to act, in any respect, as my own. I shall act as my own, if I ever make use of any of my powers to any thing that is not to the glory of God, and do not make the glorifying of him, my whole and entire business: [I shall act as my own] if I murmur in the least at affliction; if I grieve at the prosperity of others; if I am in any way uncharitable; if I am angry because of injuries; if I revenge them; if I do any thing purely to please myself, or if I avoid any thing for the sake of my own ease; [I shall act as my own] if I omit any thing, because it is great self-denial; if I trust to myself; if I take any of the praise of any good that I do, or that God doth by me; or if I am in any way proud.”