"Resolved, Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination."
Thus reads the sixtieth resolution in Jonathan Edwards's remarkable list, drawn up when he was a young man. Out of the seventy resolutions, I chose the one above because it directly addresses self-examination, a Puritan practice that is particularly foreign to the typical modern person. Edwards's "Resolutions" shows how he examined his soul and serves as a portal into the Puritan perspective.
Edwards was committed to living daily in full obedience to God. Therefore, he questioned every habit, attitude, and idle tendency in his life, and he continually cultivated godly virtue and demeanor. At the end of every day, week, month, and year, he meditated on his spiritual condition, his duties, successes, and sins. Edwards left no stone unturned in his soul, so to speak, as he earnestly sought full surrender. Awareness of death and eternity pressed on him--he resolved to live each day as if it were his last.
Personal devotional writings like Edwards's "Resolutions" and diaries show the Puritan character perhaps better than the other forms of writing. The personal journals record individuals' struggle for proof of salvation, their earnest and disciplined lives, their abhorrence of sin, and their delight in God's revelation. Joined with an understanding of covenantal community (shown in sermons), a reading of diaries or spiritual autobiographies is an excellent introduction to the Puritan mind.