There was a time when New Year’s Day was considered to be the time when new resolutions should be made.
We entered a new year. Before us once again are three hundred sixty-five days, fifty-two weeks, twelve months, a whole year in which we shall be active, as God spares our lives, in thinking, willing and employing our physical strength.
The position is taken that, to use a figure of speech, we have turned another page in the book of our own personal history. We turned a new leaf in that book. As we stand today on. New Year’s Day, the page is mostly blank. What we shall do and shall be recorded on that page that has for its heading Nineteen Hundred Sixty-Two is still unknown to us. We have our plans. We know what we would like to write on that page or have men write about us on that new leaf. But at the moment we do not know. There are too many unpredictable things. We have so little control over our own lives, to say nothing of those among whom we live and who, especially because of our complex life in this twentieth century, certainly affect us in our journey down the corridor of time and as we walk our pilgrimage through this world unto the new creation. Whether nations far beyond the reaches of our national boundaries shall plunge us into war, we do not know. But so small is the world today that peoples whom we never see and are on the other side of the globe may indeed have a drastic effect on our life. We may find that on this new leaf in the book of our life little men, unknown men, may be recorded there as having brought us into war and grief and trouble.
At any rate there was a time when men did speak of New Year’s resolutions. It seemed like a good time to take inventory of the past to consider all the faults and failures of the year gone by and to make resolutions to rectify matters in the year that lies before us. New Year’s Day was the day to resolve not to do this anymore, to break this evil habit, to be more charitable and faithful, more loyal and considerate, to go to church more regularly, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and a host of other “improvements” upon our earthly life.
Now making resolutions surely is not sinful.
Turn to David’s psalm, the one hundred first psalm. It has rightly been called the Psalm of Resolutions. In each verse David makes mention of one or more things which he resolves to do. He will sing of mercy and of judgment. He will behave himself wisely and will set no wicked thing before his eyes. Yea, as king he resolves to “destroy all the wicked of the land” and “cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord.” Then too in the Form for the Administration of Baptism to adults the question is asked: “Fifthly. Hast thou taken a firm resolution always to lead a Christian life; to forsake the world and its evil lusts, as is becoming the members of Christ and of His Church; and to submit thyself to all Christian admonitions?” Of those who make confession of faith the question is asked, “Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto and to lead a new, godly life?” In the Form for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper we are instructed in the self examination that each one must ask himself “whether he purposeth henceforth to show true thankfulness to God in his whole life and to walk uprightly before Him; as also whether he hath laid aside unfeignedly all hatred and envy and doth firmly resolve henceforth to walk in true love and peace with his neighbor.”
The question may be asked as to whether New Year’s Day is the most appropriate day for making resolutions. Would it not be just as well on the day one celebrates one’s birth? As we read a moment ago from the Baptism Form, the adult is asked then whether he resolves to walk in harmony with the idea of his baptism. But should not each parent resolve, when God is pleased to give him another child, to be more diligent in training his children? Should he not at that time, in light of the fact that the world is continually doubling its efforts to deceive and steal away our covenant seed, resolve anew whenever God blesses him with another child, to treble his efforts and to theutmost of his power help or cause his children—all of them—to be instructed in the truth of God’s Word, as he has learned to know it and believe it? And again, should one wait until New Year’s Day to make his resolutions? Should he at that time begin to review his life and to resolve to do better where he has failed? Nay, but daily we fall into sin; and therefore daily we should resolve that by the grace of God we will fight against and flee this evil. To do so once a year is not to be sincere, If it can wait, and the very idea of mending our ways does not come but once a year, then we are not serious about it either. Of that you may be sure. New Year’s Day resolutions are all right provided they are every day resolutions. He who can wait until the first of the year and a new leaf is turned will also forget his resolves in short order.
And the important thing in regard to resolutions—regardless of the day on which they are made—is what we resolve to do, why we do and with what strength we expect to be able to keep our resolves. It is quite possible to make resolutions that are resolutions to sin. These we are making every moment of our earthly life as we are by nature. To resolve is to determine. Always by nature we determine to walk in ways of sin. And so very often when we think that we are resolving to do that which is pleasing to God, we still are deciding to do evil. So corrupt are we by nature that we are like those of whom Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:21-23 who shall say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? But God will say to them, “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Indeed, it was iniquity that they worked. Yet they boasted of having done all this in Christ’s name and for His glory: Humanism and Christianity are not one and the same.
Let me remind you of that beautiful “Love Chapter” of I Corinthians 13. Paul says, “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned and have not love, it profiteth me nothing.” And plainly what Paul means by love (for that is the word rather than charity which leaves a much more superficial idea) is the love to God. We may translate, as far as the idea is concerned, “Though I indeed have charity towards men so that I am moved about their need for food, and therefore give all my goods to provide for their needs, and I have not love to God, it profiteth me nothing; and God will say to me, I never knew you, depart from me thou worker of iniquity.” For note that love “rejoiceth in the truth” according to verse 6. The love to God rejoices in the truth, not simply charity to man. It is quite possible to be filled with charity and natural love for man and hate God with all your being. Saul loved his son Jonathan and wanted him to have the throne, but in it all he rejected David and Christ, and loved Jonathan in a hatred against God. But Jonathan loved God, and though he must oppose his own father, in love to God he clings to David, and so to Christ. And how can a man commit adultery in order to show his love to God? He may have a natural fleshly love whereby he is overwhelmed with love for an ungodly, outspoken atheist and want to worship that creature in his love. Yet in it all he hates God who is denied and hated by that object of this man’s love. What is more, Jonah loved his own people and could not in his natural love see the blessing of the Jews bestowed also upon the Ninevites. And so he ran away. But it was an act of hatred against God, and God let him know it in no uncertain terms in the terrible storm and on the bottom of the sea. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah loved their own children and cared for their sick and poor; yet God destroyed them all to that last man! The people in Jericho loved their fellow citizens and shut up the gates of the city because in natural love they did not want harm to come to any of them. But God killed them all because of their hatred against Him and His Church. Only one family was saved and that family had love to God which even moved it to receiving the spies in peace, these spies who would soon bring ruin to the rest of the neighbors in that city. Rahab did not bestow all her goods to feed the poor in Jericho but instead received in peace those who would come and kill the poor and the rich alike. But she loved God, and that makes all the difference.
Not every one that says, “Lord, Lord, have we not brought much social improvement to our city and community? and in Thy name cast the devils out of the sweat shops of our country? made the working conditions for the laboring man better? done many humanitarian deeds and given regularly to welfare agencies and institutions of mercy?” will be rewarded with glory.
But listen! here is a resolve of a child of God that we may make our own by His grace every day, “I will meditate in Thy precepts, and have respect unto Thy ways. I will delight myself in Thy statutes: I will not forget Thy word,” Psalm 119:15, 16. That is a resolve in His fear, for it is concerned with the glory of God. God’s precepts, God’s way, God’s word and His statutes, in His fear we will seek these, meditate on them and have respect to them. All else will then fall in place. We will love the neighbor as ourselves in the love of God. We will have charity and give our goods to the poor and needy, we will confess Christ and trust in His atoning blood, for that Word of God, which we will not forget, constantly holds that before us.
One thing more, however: it makes a world of difference how you expect to keep that resolve. We are not interested, and neither is God, in empty, on-the-spur-of-the-moment resolves that have no depth and are forgotten on the second day of January. Nor are we interested, for God is not either, in resolves that we expect to keep in our own strength. God knows that we cannot; and we will soon find that it is impossible. The Psalmist in Psalm 119 was sincere and knew the strength and source of strength he needed to keep his resolve. In verse 32 he declares, “I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart.”
Unless God gives you enlargement of the heart in 1962 all your resolves are vain boasts and will fall flat to the ground. May He enlarge your heart and increase your ability and capacity to walk in His fear.