Reviewed by Josh Gelatt.
Steven Lawson serves as pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. An author of over a dozen books, Lawson now offers us the second volume in A Long Line of Godly Men series. His first volume highlighted the expository genius of John Calvin. In this volume, Lawson draws the reader’s attention to Jonathan Edwards’ faithful and unwavering resolve for the glory of God. The book relies heavily on Edwards’ resolutions (provided as an appendix) and his personal diary.
The first two chapters cover the background and life of Edwards. For those unacquainted with the man, these chapters provide a valuable introduction. Yet this book is less about Edwards and more about the nature of true discipleship. Using Jonathan Edwards as a guide, Lawson provides a desperately needed antidote to the superficial devotion evidenced in western Christianity. In much of contemporary evangelicalism, faith has been reduced to its most therapeutic form. In an age when leading pastors are urging people to “give Jesus a 60-day trial and see how He improves your life,” is it any wonder why much of the church has lost a vision of the grandeur of God?
Of course, Edwards would agree in part with the modern sentiment that God will improve our lives. In chapter 4 Lawson notes that Edwards “believed that prizing God above all else would lead to [our] greatest benefit” (p. 66). In fact, his first resolution stated that bringing glory to God would result in his “own good, profit, and pleasure.” It was no crime to Edwards to be motivated by a love for God and our own pleasure. Where Edwards would disagree with modern expressions of Christianity is in the order of these motivations and our ability to accomplish the latter.
In chapter 3 Lawson demonstrates, through Edwards’ own spiritual journey, that the prerequisite of faith is the recognition of our own inability. Not only are we incapable of providing for ourselves lasting pleasure, according to Edwards we are also unable to bring glory to God through our own strength. In chapter 4 Lawson demonstrates Edwards’ firm belief that the desire to bring glory to God must be our chief motivation. While he believed our own joy would arise from this motivation, he nevertheless affirmed the absolute necessity of desiring God above all things. For Edwards, this involved a positive as well as a negative. It meant there are actions we must do, as well as actions we must avoid. Even good things, if they are not for God’s glory, must be avoided. Lawson writes that Edwards “passed up the good and the better for the best.”
Chapter 5 offers the first step in becoming a person who brings glory to God: putting away sin. Lawson begins the chapter with a remarkable definition: “sin is the antithesis of God’s glory, a contradiction of His holy nature” (p. 77). If there ever was a soul-damaging problem in the contemporary church, it is found in its flippant understanding of sin. Chapter 6 reconstructs Edwards’ understanding of the shortness of human life. He lived as if he would die at any moment. Larson writes, “Always living as if he were at the end of his life caused him to live for what is best, the glory of God.” As such, every activity in his daily life was made subordinate to his primary motivation in life. This disciplined life is expanded upon in chapter 7. Edwards monitored his eating habits, use of time, and daily activities—all to maximize God’s glory.
Chapter 8 unfolds for us how Edwards brought glory to God through developing a heart of love for others. True discipleship cannot exist in a vacuum. Our relationships are one of the greatest spheres in which we can magnify the Lord’s glory. In the final chapter, Lawson walks us through Edwards’ repeated practice of self-examination. Lawson writes, “Only by regularly scrutinizing ourselves can we engage in the pursuit of personal holiness to the fullest extent.”
The last few decades have seen a resurgence of many of the chief doctrines of the Reformation. The last and greatest Sola, the one to which the other four point and find their logical conclusion, is Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone). Lawson notes in the conclusion that “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 (p. 154).” In this profile of the life of Jonathan Edwards, Lawson provides this generation with a sure-footed guide.