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Book Review: The Life of God in the Soul of Man

A few days ago, a friend of mine was looking at a book we had on one of our end tables. It was a book of Puritan prayers. After reading a small part of it, he commented that those “guys” weren’t very happy. They seemed to be very sad. My first reaction was this: they weren’t sad; they were just serious about spiritual things. I think that sometimes we are a little too light-hearted about our spiritual lives. Most of us could use a heavy dose of seriousness.

Our book of the month might impress you the same way the Puritan prayers did to my friend. The title is The Life of God in the Soul of Man. That sounds pretty serious, if you ask me. It’s written by Henry Scougal, who actually preceded the Puritans. He was a theologian and minister in Scotland and died at the ripe old age of 27 (Sorry. I’m being a little lighted-hearted!).  blog5

This book is actually a letter that he wrote to a friend for the purpose of guiding him in his spiritual life. It’s a very long letter. Later it was made into a book and was given to George Whitefield, an English preacher who came to America and was a leader in the Great Awakening revival that swept the American colonies. Scougal’s book was influential in Whitefield’s conversion.

So what will you find in this serious book? J. I. Packer writes in the introduction that Scougal gives a “healthy reminder that heart-change and character-change” is what Christianity is all about. Then he says that “the self-deceived will be forced to face the fact that those who not yet been changed are not yet Christians at all.” (p. 15)

After a biographical section on the author, the content of the letter is given in three parts. In Part 1, he describes what he calls the “Divine Life,” also identifying it as “Christ formed within us.” He speaks of true religion. Now there’s a word that is often downplayed and ridiculed today. Religion. But to people like Scougal and the Puritans, religion was an important word that described how they lived their lives as a result of what God has done in them. And that is what this letter seeks to do.

Scougal sees this “Divine Life” as consisting of four branches: love to God, charity (love) to man, purity, and humility. Each of these branches proceeds from the root of faith. He shows how these branches can be observed in the life of Christ. Part 2 shows how these four branches are superior.

Finally, in part 3, Scougal explains what practical steps should be taken so that these four branches will blossom, how this “Divine Life” can be formed in us. He talks of avoiding sin and temptation, watching over our lives, and examining our actions each day. I especially like what he says about putting yourself “out of love with this world.” He says that we must wean our affections from created things, and all the delights and entertainments of the lower life, which sink and depress the souls of men, and retard their motions toward God and heaven; and this we must do by possessing our minds with a deep persuasion of the vanity and emptiness of worldly enjoyments.

That’s the light-hearted side of our lives that gets in the way of our spiritual growth. I couldn’t have said it better! And there is so much more that this letter/book has to offer by way of challenging the work of Christ that God is forming in you.

Here is a book that is definitely not light-hearted. It’s serious stuff. And it’s what every Christian needs. Take some time to slowly go through this book, and let it challenge you in how you think of living the Christian life. It really is time for many of us to be a little more serious about spiritual things.

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