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Contemplating Death

Jonathan Edwards (via Steve Lawson) on death as a sanctifying agent:

imgTo help himself value his time, Edwards determined to keep an eye on the final hour of his life—the hour in which he would stand on the threshold of his entrance into the presence of God. In resolution 7, Edwards vowed:
7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
   This resolution was primarily intended to help Edwards in the mortification of his sin. He anticipated that asking himself whether he would engage in a particular activity if he had only one hour to live would help him steer clear of temptation. He was persuaded he would not want to pass into God’s presence after committing any sin. If he could say that he ought to avoid it at any point in his Christian walk. This perspective would restrain his sinful thoughts, activities, and words.
   Edwards often found much sanctifying value in focusing on the certainty of his death. When combating worldly thoughts, he wrote in his diary: “Sabbath morning, Sept. 1. When I am violently beset with worldly thought, for a relief, to think of death, and the doleful circumstances of it.” Thoughts of death turned his mind to eternal realities, making worldly temptations of the moment seem empty and unattractive. Living as if he was in his last hour helped him keep sinful things at a distance.
   Thoughts of death also helped Edwards keep a proper perspective on possessions. In his diary, he asked himself a probing question: “Monday, Feb.3. Let every thing have the value now which it will have upon a sick bed; and frequently, in my pursuits of whatever kind, let this question come into my mind. ‘How much shall I value this upon my death-bed?’” Edwards believed that contemplating his deathbed scene forced him to value what was most important in the present.
img   Contemplating his death even helped Edwards prepare himself for death. Edwards recorded: “Friday morning, July 5. Last night, when thinking what I should wish I had done, that I had not done, if I was then to die; I thought I should wish, That I had been more importunate with God to fit me for death, and lead me into all truth, and that I might not be deceived about the state of my soul.” Though Edwards wrote these words as a teenager, in the full bloom of life, he wanted to be prepared to meet his Lord with His approval.
   Focusing upon the end of life had the effect of helping Edwards prioritize what was most important in his life. This perspective restrained his sinful thoughts, activities, and words. Further, it helped him choose the highest ends in life. Not all choices in the use of his time were between good and evil. Some of the most difficult choices were between good, better and best. Always living as if he were at the end of his life caused him to live for what is best, the glory of God.

—Steve Lawson, The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust, 2008), 96–98.

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Posted  in: Church History · Jonathan Edwards · Spiritual Warfare · Steve Lawson · The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards
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