Resolve to think about Death
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great theologian, philosopher, and Pastor was one of the men God used to ignite the Great Awakening, the religious revival that swept the British American Colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. Among others, he was known for his famous and no-nonsense sermon titled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But he was lesser known for “70 Resolutions” seventy commitments that he made to God, which will serve as a compass in life. Arguably, these resolutions are what made Jonathan Edwards, the Jonathan Edwards. It is quite remarkable that he made these resolutions when he was just 18 and 19 years of age.
Edwards is an heir of Puritanism. Like the puritans of old, he intended to bring all of his life under the authority of Scripture. This explains why his resolutions are not just self-help mantras or borrowed from ancient philosophy, but they are actually founded and derived from Scripture. Among others, one of the resolutions, he wrote and remind himself of once a week was:
Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying,
and of the common circumstances which attend death.
The Bible in many instances reminds us about the brevity of life. Consider some of them:
- Moses says “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). Because Life is short. Moses asks God, “Teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90:12a). In other words, Moses is asking God to reveal to him the brevity of life. And when we truly understand how short life is, it will lead us to wise living.
- David prays “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath” (Psalm 39:4-5)
- Job says “Man, who is born of woman, Is short‑lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not stand” (Job 14:1-2).
- Solomon says “There is an appointed time for everything . . . a time to give birth and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
- James says “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
The only thing certain in life is death. No one can escape death indefinitely. No one gets out of life alive. According to the World Population Review, approximately 35,214 people die every day in India. That is, one person dies every two seconds. This is a staggering reality. Yet, paradoxically due to the advancement of modern medicine and public health, death seems very distant and unreal to us. Contemplating our own mortality is not easy and people try to deny and avoid talking about it. One bright side of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it forced us to confront our own mortality and the unpredictability of life.
The enemy, Satan, keeps us from thinking about death. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape Letters, said one of Satan’s best weapons is “contented worldliness.” Satan wants humans to be concerned with the here and now and not think about what will happen to them.
So, let us resolve in the spirit of Edwards, for the good of our soul, to think more of our own dying. I think there is great benefit in it, temporarily and eternally:
- It motivates us to be intentional, strategic, and purposeful in life. It helps us to see things in perspective. Jonathan Edwards prays, “O God, stamp my eyeballs with eternity.” Amid the fast-paced world, thinking of our own mortality helps us to set our priorities right and want to make our only life count for God. C.T. Studd, a Cricketer turned Missionary beautifully captures it in this line:
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last
- It purges us of our materialism and earthly-mindedness. Knowing our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:7) and that we cannot carry anything beyond the grave (1 Tim. 6:7) should free us to invest our money and resources in what matters eternally. We should store our treasures “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20). We need to remind ourselves more often of what Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”
- It teaches us to redeem our time (Eph. 5:16). Redeem is a commercial term. It conveys the idea that there is something offered in the market and if we don’t grab the offered items quickly, it will be gone forever. “Time has wings only to fly forward -it never returns! Time flies irrevocably,” says the puritan Thomas Watson. Practically speaking, we should find ways to be productive in how we utilize our time. We should make use of the present opportunities available to be holy, do good works and live a life pleasing to the Lord. We should live as though this may be our last day.
- It purges us of our pride and helps us to grow in godliness. All humans die. It’s just a matter of time. Some of us die more quickly than others. Job 14:10a says, “Man dies and lies prostrate.” Here, the Hebrew word for “Man” is Geber and it can mean mighty, strong, brave, or warrior. The meaning is that man, however brave and strong, perishes. Hamlet reminds King Claudius that when he dies, he will be eaten by worms. This is the reality of life. At the end of the day, we are just worm food. This is humbling.
- Thinking about death can lead us to despair in life. This is where the gospel can make a difference. In this angsty moment, the promise of the Gospel becomes more real and sweet. For the believers, the sting of death, however painful it may be, can only deliver us to the hands of God. Jesus promises us that, “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). We have an assurance that Jesus who was born to give us a second birth will deliver us even from the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).
As I write this article, the whole world is witnessing The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. We know how sportsmen train and discipline their bodies. The Author of Hebrews in 12:1 and the Apostle Paul elsewhere compares the Christian life with running a race. Like a true sportsperson, we must put off, and lay aside what will hinder our growth in godliness. Insofar as Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions help us — we are encouraged to run the race of the Christian life, in the pursuit of personal holiness, in glorifying God and honouring Christ. This is worth considering and worth emulating.