Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"The Life of God in the Soul of Man" A Review

The great Awaking preacher, George Whitefield claims that this book was one of the primary means that God used to awaken him to faith. I can understand why.

Henry Scougal (1605-1678) originally meant The Life of God in the Soul of Man to be nothing more than a letter to a downtrodden friend, to encourage him in his faith. The recognition of its profundity eventually led to its publication.

The book primarily outlines what Scougal sees to be the three primary Christian virties: Love (both of God and man), purity, and humility. He expounds upon these virtues by 1) elaborating on their excellence by showing what they may look like if fully acquired, 2) showing how Christ perfectly exemplified them, and 3) giving practical advice as to how to cultivate them.

The book is short and all the better for it. Scougal wastes no words. Almost every sentence seems quotable. I hope to emulate this is my own discipline. This work is truly an inspiration toward a fruitful heart and mind, such that a casual letter to a friend could be so profound.

The elaboration of the excellence of the virtues is very encouraging. It is helpful for any Christian to think about why the ways of Christ are not just commanded, but actually most realistically beneficial. It is also refreshingly practical, in a puritanical kind of way, in its suggestions as to how the virtues can be cultivated. I often refer back to its advice as I try to acquire these virtues myself.

J. I. Packer points out on of the weakness of the book in his introduction. Being a product of its Christianized era, it assumes many of the gospel truths that a book written today would do well to expound upon. So, while the book did lead to Whitefield’s conversion, I would more likely recommend it to someone well familiar with the Christian faith than a new convert. Its dated and heavy language also recommend it to a more experienced reader. All of this being said, a new Christian would certainly be no worse off for reading it.

I highly recommend this book. It is one of the most influential devotional books for me so far. I have read it multiple times and have committed many of its principles to heart. What I have most gleaned from it is the realization of the priority of heart formation, from which everything else proceeds.

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