I spent some time hiking with a man who practiced many of the contemplative and introspective aspects of Buddhism last week. More than once, he explained that he believes the self is perfected through constant reflection and meditation. “What is your ultimate example of this?” I asked. “Even the Buddha said that to make him the ultimate example would mislead others, because they need to find enlightenment through themselves, on their own journey,” he responded.
Fortunately, for the Christian, we are not left unto the dreadful prospect of finding our ultimate understanding of perfection within ourselves. In this excerpt from Scougal’s “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”, he carries us through several misinterpretations of Christian religion, until he reveals the true, Bible-based description of what it is.
I hasten to point out how accurate many of the false pretenses of religion which he presents are still apt descriptions of the distortions of Christianity that prevail today. For this reason, I believe we do well to think for a minute with Henry on the topic of religion.
I cannot speak of religion, but I must lament, that among so many pretenders to it, so few understand what it means: some placing it in the understanding, in orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is, that they are of this and the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those many sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided. Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties, and a model of performances. If they live peaceably with their neighbors, keep a temperate diet, observe the returns of worship, frequenting the church, or their closet, and sometimes extend their hands to the relief of the poor, they think they have sufficiently acquitted themselves. Others again put all religion in the affections, in rapturous hearts, and ecstatic devotion; and all they aim at is, to pray with passion, and to think of heaven with pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting expressions wherewith they court their Saviour, till they persuade themselves they are mightily in love with him, and from thence assume a great confidence of their salvation, which they esteem the chief of Christian graces.
Thus are these things which have any resemblance of piety, and at the best are but means of obtaining it, or particular exercises of it, frequently mistaken for the whole of religion: nay, sometimes wickedness and vice pretend to that name. I speak not new of those gross impieties wherewith the Heathens were wont to worship their gods. There are but too many Christians who would consecrate their vices, and follow their corrupt affections, whose rugged humour and sullen pride must pass for Christian severity; whose fierce wrath, and bitter rage against their enemies, must be called holy zeal; whose petulancy towards their superiors, or rebellion against their governors, must have the name of Christian courage and resolution.
But certainly religion is quite another thing, and they who are acquainted with it will entertain far different thoughts, and disdain all those shadows and false imitations of it. They know by experience that true religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation of the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul, or, in the apostle’s phrase, “It is Christ formed within us.”