November 20, 2016
It was probably in the year 1672 that Henry Scougal put pen to paper and wrote the book for which he is best known today.
Although written to and for a friend, the book was seen and read by Gilbert Burnet. He asked Scougal to allow it to be published. Scougal agreed. It was printed in 1677, but without the author’s name. A year later, in 1678, Scougal died. He was aged 27.The book deals with an important subject. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that it is probably the most important matter you can ever consider. The title sums it up neatly. The matter that Scougal wanted his friend to clearly understand is The Life of God in the Soul.
He begins with a consideration of what religion is. You do not need to read more than a page or two of the text to discover how Scougal uses the word religion. Today it often refers to a belief system (for example, Hindu, Sikh, or Islam). Some-times it is used to describe the state or way of life demanded of or adopted by those who follow a particular set of beliefs.
When Scougal uses the word religion he wants you to think about your relationship with God. He shows that true religion is true faith. And he describes true faith.How does Scougal begin? He provides a summary of what many think religion is. There are, he says, three prevailing ideas.
First, some think that religion has to do with what you understand. That is, what you think about God. The key faculty, they argue is the understanding. And the main issue is what you know about God.
Secondly, others argue that religion has to do with how you live. It is what you do that matters. Do you live at peace with others? Do you behave decently? Do you go to church? Do you pray? Do you help people in need?
Thirdly, there are those who think religion is all about how you feel and what stirs up your emotions. You probably know the term religious fervour. It is used of those who express themselves with passion.
Scougal readily admits that those who have true faith do use their minds and do seek to understand what God has made known about himself and his will for us. He also recognises that what an individual does is important. And, likewise, he realises that those with true faith feel things passionately. However he also believes that taken separately or together a definition of true faith that is limited to the understanding, to actions, or to the affections is to miss something vital.
It is not difficult to see why Scougal argues that those ways of defining religion or faith are deficient. Each person needs to be stirred to seek true understanding, to do what God would have us do, and to be whole-hearted in serving him.
A person may have a great intellect but he may not have a right understanding of the things of God. The same may be said about those who focus on behaviour or feelings when they define the term faith. So what is missing?
According to Scougal it is divine life. Or to use another term we find in his writings, it is the union of the soul with God. It is knowing the life of God in the soul.
The word soul refers to what we sometimes call the inner person. Each of us is an enfleshed soul. It is put that way because the body and soul belong together. Human beings are not just flesh and blood. We do not just have a body. We are also able to think and reason. We show emotions. We appreciate the beauties of the natural created order, that is flowers, and animals and waterfalls, etc. In other words there is a part of us that is more than physical. The term soul is sometimes used to encompass our minds and the spiritual dimension we have. It refers to our inner being, to what we are at heart, deep within ourselves.
We all struggle to describe adequately that which you cannot see or touch. The body is a dimensional structure. It has height, and depth and breadth. Our inner being cannot be described in the same way. That does not mean it does not exist. We all know that there is a spiritual aspect to us. But there is a problem. And it is no mere trifle. It is deep seated and, if not corrected, it will have catastrophic consequences for us. The problem with all of us is that we do not naturally love and serve God. In fact by nature we are hostile towards him (Romans viii.7 and Colossians i.21).
It is this hostility towards God that in part explains why there are so many different belief systems in the world. The systems that exist include the religious and the secular. They include both political and self-improvement philosophies. But one thing is definitely excluded. And that is love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Naturally speaking not one person wants to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. As a result there is no divine life in the soul. But that is precisely what each person needs.
Scougal in his book explains the term divine life. He does so by looking separately at the two words of which it is composed. He begins with the second, life, and then speaks about the first, divine.
Scougal shows that the word life is important because it refers to that which is active and continuing. The state of death is the opposite. A dead person is not active. Nor does he continue to be. Those with life are those who grow and go forward. Such growth may wane from time to time but it is never extinguished. They grow in the grace and know-ledge of Jesus Christ. They experience his love and are excited and stirred by it.
The word divine is of utmost importance because it describes the origin of the life enjoyed by those who have true faith. It comes from God himself. But it does not just do that. It also describes the character or nature of the life a believer enjoys. It is the life of God within the soul. It is to know Christ formed within the soul (Galatians iv.19).
The person who knows that God in Christ has made his home within him (John xiv.23) is a person who lives in a particular way. Scougal shows that such a life is characterised by four key features.
First, a person who has the life of God in his soul is a person who loves God. His desire is to please God who loves him so wonderfully. It makes him resign and sacrifice himself wholeheartedly to God. He delights in communion with God.
Secondly, a person who enjoys being loved by God is a person who loves other people. How could he do otherwise? Knowing that God has been so gracious to him, he spontaneously wants to show such love to others.
Thirdly, a person who has divine life in his soul is a person who strives to lead the holy or pure life God would have us lead. We are called to be holy as God is holy (see Leviticus xi.45 and 1 Peter i.16).
Fourthly, those with divine life in their souls are humble as Christ is humble. Being aware of their weakness they show dependence upon Christ. And the Christ upon whom they depend is gentle and lowly in heart and promises rest to those who embrace him by faith (Matthew xi.28-29).
Faith, faith in Jesus Christ, is the root of divine life in the soul. It comes from God through Christ. There is no other way to know and enjoy it.
EPC 20 November 2016