Monday, December 29, 2008

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair

The popular tradition of making new years resolutions has origins in Ancient Babylon and Rome. The Babylonians would typically return farm equipment that they had borrowed during the year, while in Caesar's time Janus, a mythical god, became the symbol for resolutions because he had two faces that could look to the past and into the future. Today we make New Years Resolutions to try to improve some aspect of ourselves in the coming year. Popular resolutions include quitting smoking, losing weight and getting out of debt. This sounds good but the sad truth is that most of us break them well before the year is out. In fact, Pew Research found that 22% of people give up on their resolution in the first week and by the end of March more than half of New Years resolvers have fallen off the bandwagon.

That was not the case for Jonathan Edwards, the first President of Princeton University. Edwards, who was a Presbyterian minister and the grandfather of Vice President Aaron Burr, is famous for preaching a sermon entitled “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” The sermon was preached on July 8, 1741 in Enfield, Connecticut and continues to be the leading example of a Great Awakening sermon. It is still used in religious and academic settings today. But Edwards was a man who made resolutions and kept them.

For Edwards, resolutions were neither pious hopes, romantic dreams, nor legalistic rules. They were instructions for life, tenets to be followed in all respects. Edwards depended on the sustaining strength of God to enable him to live up to them. Edwards laid out the resolutions in a matter-of-fact style, treating them much like scientific principles. At the ripe old age of nineteen, he made seventy resolutions, the first one written on December 18, 1722, amd the last on August 17, 1723. You can read them at
Drawing up resolutions was a standard practice for educated people in the eighteenth century. Scholars have long compared Edwards’ and Benjamin Franklin’s resolutions.
Around 1730, while in his late 20s, Benjamin Franklin listed thirteen virtues that he felt were an important guide for living. These virtues consisted of temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. Franklin divided the virtues into two categories—personal behavior and those related to social character traits. Franklin tried to follow these guides in his life, although he often went astray. You can read Franklin’s resolutions at

Franklin’s resolutions stand in interesting comparison with Edwards’. Both men agreed on the value of making resolutions, evaluating their effectiveness and making a lifelong commitment to keeping resolutions, but Edwards were more dependent upon a sovereign Creator whereas Franklins’ were dependent upon the present world and the preparation of a good citizen. Both sets of resolutions merit study and consideration.

How do you make good resolutions? According to Alexander Harlamov, there are a few practical ways to set resolutions and follow them. He lists three simple steps: identifying the right goals, adding action to the goal, and reminding yourself regularly of the resolutions as a way to set and accomplish resolutions.

Business management guru Stephen Covey says about resolutions. “The start of a new year is often accompanied by a renewed energy around self-improvement and goal-setting in the form of resolutions.” “Resolutions are only important if accompanied by a deep personal sense of mission.” “People often make resolutions, break them, and allow this to become their habit pattern until the process itself eventually becomes rather meaningless.” “Until people think really deeply about what is truly most important to them, this rather discouraging pattern is likely to continue.”

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says the most effective New Year resolutions list is the “stop doing” list. Collins says, "The "stop doing" list became an enduring cornerstone of my annual New Year resolutions—a mechanism for disciplined thought about how to allocate the most precious of all resources: time.”

Whether one resolves to start or stop doing something, New Year is a traditional time for introspection and reflection. May our goals be ones reflective of Edwards’ first two resolutions- Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will. Have a safe and happy New Year!

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