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Archive for the ‘Series: Henry Scougal’ Category

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Last week, we began our series following Scougal through his applications of Jesus’ command to love our enemies. He began by focusing our attention on how the love Christ commands, “excludes all harsh thoughts and groundless suspicions”. He showed us how those “groundless suspicions” contrast with divinely rooted love which, “hopeth all things,” and, “believeth all things”.


As he continues, he emphasizes that a true love for our enemies keeps all anger in check. If we become angry, we must make sure that our anger is a) clearly warranted and b) “governed by discretion and kept within the bounds of reason”. It is so easy for us to become outraged by something which is not even wrong, but merely unusual or hard to understand. But even when we are right to be upset about something, there are biblical principles by which me must manage our anger. Scougal makes several references to passages which teach us these principles, but he gives no references. If you’re up for it, try to find any of the verses he alludes. Please leave your findings as a comment if you do!


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Luke VI. 27.

But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies.

Again, the love which we owe to enemies, excludes all causeless and immoderate anger: it suffereth long and is not easily provoked; endureth all things.

Our Saviour tells us, that whoso is angry with his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and if his anger exceed the cause he is equally guilty. All anger is not vicious; we may be angry, and not sin. This passion, as all others implanted in us by God, is innocent when kept within its due bounds: it has its proper office in the mind, as the spleen in the body; but its excess and distemper swells into a disease. To make it allowable, it must not exceed the value of the cause, nor the proportion of the circumstances. It must be governed by discretion, and kept within the bounds of reason, that it break not forth into indecent expressions, or violent and blamable actions. And further, it must not be too permanent and lasting; we must not let the sun set upon our anger.

Plutarch tells us, that the Pythagoreans were careful to observe the very letter of this precept: for if anger had boiled up to the height of an injury or reproach, before sunset they would salute each other, and renew their friendship; they were ashamed that the same anger which had disturbed the counsels of the day, should also trouble the quiet and repose of the night, lest, mingling with their rest and dreams, it should become prevalent and habitual in them. And sure, we owe an infinitely greater deference to the precepts of our blessed Saviour, and his holy apostles, than they did to their master’s reasoning and advices. And though we should not take this precept in its strictest and literal signification, yet this we must know, that the same passion and resentment which was innocent and rational in its first rise, may become vicious and criminal by its continuance. Anger may kindle in the breast of a wise man, but rests only in the bosom of a fool.

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As we examine the sermon “The Indispensable Duty of Loving Our Enemies”, we see that, after Scougal makes a thorough exposition of the Luke 6:27, he then tells us how to love our enemies. He writes, “the nature and measures of this love will more fully appear, if we consider what it does exclude, and what it does imply.” This excerpt is the first of five excluded qualities.


As I read this, the deception of my own heart began to unfold. I realized how often
I sin in my heart against people whom I wouldn’t even classify as “enemies”. I deeply appreciate how Scougal uses his keen understanding of the human condition alongside his encyclopedic knowledge of God’s word to apply a simple passage in a very convicting way.

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Luke VI. 27.

But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies.

First, then, it excludes all harsh thoughts and groundless suspicions. The Apostle telleth us, that charity thinketh no evil; that it hopeth all things, believeth all things. To entertain, with pleasure, every bad report of those who have offended us, and to put the worst construction on their doubtful actions, is both a clear evidence of our hatred, and an unhappy method to continue it. Were once the love we recommend seated in the soul, it would soon cast out those restless jealousies, sour suspicions, harsh surmises, and embittered thoughts; and display itself in a more candid and gentle disposition; in fair glosses, and friendly censures; in a favourable extenuation of greater faults, and covering of lesser. It would make a man interpret all things in the best meaning they are capable of; and choose rather to be mistaken to his own prejudice, by a too favourable opinion, than to his neighbour’s, by a groundless jealousy. And even in this sense, it may be, that charity covereth a multitude of sins.

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minute-with-henry.jpgI 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.

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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.”

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minute-with-henry.jpgLast Thursday I had the opportunity to hang out with a close friend of mine. He’s currently studying Philosophy in Colorado, so it was a nice coincidence that the same few days he came to Kent were the same days I was in Kent to teach VBS.

He picked me up and we immediately started talking about Modest Mouse, a band from Issaquah, which was playing on his I-pod/car stereo. He commented about how cynical many of their songs are.

“Cynicism is the thing right now,” I replied, referring to its prevalence not only in music, but contemporary attitudes about the world.

“Cynicism is the thing, alright,” he replied.

Fortunately for the Christian, cynicism doesn’t have to be the thing. Were our hope to reside in earthly things, naïveté would be our only alternative to cynicism, since this world is lost in rebellion against God. But He calls us to be those who rejoice always. How can we maintain a joyful spirit? I believe one of the avenues by which we can constantly rejoice is found in this excerpt from Scougal’s sermon.

 

The Duty and Pleasure of Praise and Thanksgiving

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“O that men would praise the LORD for his goodness,
and for his wonderful works to the children of men.”
(Psalm 107:15)

 

There is scarce any duty of religion more commonly neglected, or slightly performed, than that of praise and thanksgiving. The sense of our wants puts us upon begging favors from God; and the consciousness of our sins constrains us to deprecate his wrath; thus interest and self-love send us to our prayers.

But alas! how small a part has an ingenuous gratitude in our devotion? How seldom are we serious and hearty in our acknowledgments of the divine bounty? The slender returns of this nature which we make, are many times a formal ceremony, a preface to usher in our petitions for what we want, rather than any sincere expression of our thankful presentment for what we have received.

Far different was the temper of the holy Psalmist, whose affectionate acknowledgments of the goodness and bounty of God, in the cheerful celebration of his praise, make up a considerable part of his divine and ravishing songs. How often do we find him exciting and disposing himself to join voice, hand, and heart together, in this holy and delightful employment!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless his name. (Psalm 103:1)

My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed I will sing and give praise.
Awake up, my glory, awake, psaltery and harp:
I myself will awake right early. (Psalm 57:7-8)

And being conscious of his own insufficiency for the work, he inviteth others unto it; calling in the whole creation to assist him,

“Sing unto the LORD a new song:
Sing unto the LORD, all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1)

“Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people,
Give unto the LORD glory and strength.” (96:7)

“Praise ye the LORD from the heavens:
Praise him in the heights.” (148:1)

“Praise him, ye sun and moon:
Praise him, all ye stars of light.” (148:3)

“Mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and cedars.
Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying fowls.” (148:9-10)

“Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion.” (103:22)

Many such figurative expressions occur, and allowance must be made for the poetical strain, but in the text we have a proper and passionate wish: “that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”

O that men would praise the LORD for his goodness…”

All the attributes of God deserve our highest praise; power, wisdom, and goodness, are all one in him: but, as we have different conceptions of these, goodness is that lovely attribute which doth peculiarly attract our affection, and excite our praise. Our love to God doth not so much flow from the consideration of his greatness, whereby he can do whatever he will, as from the consideration of his goodness; that he always willeth what is best, that his almighty power has infinite wisdom to regulate it, and unspeakable bounty to actuate and exert it.

“…and for his wonderful works to the children of men.”

The divine goodness doth spread and extend itself over all the parts of the universe, and embraceth the whole creation in its arms: it not only displayeth itself most illustriously to the blessed inhabitants of the regions above, but reacheth also to the meanest worm that crawleth on the ground. The beasts of the field, and the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea, and the innumerable swarms of little insects which we can hardly discern with our eyes, are all subjects to that Almighty care: by him they are brought forth into the world, by him they are furnished with provision suitable for them:

“These all await upon thee”, says the Psalmist, “that thou mayest give them their meat in due season; that thou givest them, they gather: thou openest thine hand; they are filled with good.” (Psalm 104:27-28)

But here, to excite us to thankfulness, he makes choice of an instance wherein we ourselves are more nearly concerned, and exhorteth, “to praise the Lord for his wonderful works to the children of men.” If the goodness of God to the holy angels be above our reach, and his bounty to the inferior creatures be below our notice, surely we must be infinitely dull if we do not observe his dealings with ourselves, and with those of our kind. As our interest makes us more sensible of this, so gratitude doth oblige us to a more particular acknowledgment of it.

 

 

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It may come as a surprise to many, but as the Puritans enjoyed mental immersion in every Biblical topic, the idea of love was no exception. Perhaps the modern church fools itself to reckon it is much more whole-hearted in its pursuit of love, but this is a vast deception. Jonathan Edwards preached voluminously on the topic and many others often wrote or preached about it.

 

 

The real difference between modern approaches to the idea of love, and Puritan ones, is not a matter of how heartfelt they or we are, but of how precise. As you read these excerpts from Scougal’s sermon entitled “The Indispensable Duty of Loving Our Enemies”, you may find that, not only does Scougal compel heartfelt affection, but thoughtful affection as well.

LUKE 6:27

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies.

While we travel through the wilderness of this world, much of the comfort of our pilgrimage depends on the good correspondence and mutual services and endearments of our fellow-travellers: therefore our blessed Savior, whose precepts are all intended for perfection and felicity, fitted to procure to us both the good things of this world, and that which is to come, has taken especial care to unite the minds of men in the strictest bonds of friendship and love: he has been at great pains by his precepts, and by his example, by earnest persuasions and powerful motives, to smooth our rugged humours, and calm our passions, and take off the roughness from our natures, which hinders us from joining together. To love those who have obliged us, is that which nature might, teach, and wicked men practise; to favor those who have never wronged us, is but a piece of common humanity: but our religion re­quires us to extend our kindness even to those who have injured and abused us, and who continue to do and wish us mischief, and that we never design any other revenue against our most bitter and inveterate enemies, than to wish them well, and do them all the good we can, whether they will or not; for unto “those that hear him,” Our Savior says, ” Love your enemies.”

The persons whom we are commanded to love are called our “enemies”. Lest we should mistake them, they are clearly described in the following words: the fountain of their enmity is within – they are those “who hate us”, who envy our happiness, who wish our misery, and abhor our persons and society. But were this fire kept within their breast, though it might scorch themselves, it could not prejudice us; but “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”, their malice sharpens their tongues. They are farther described, as those that “curse us”; they vent their wrath in oaths and impreca­tions, secret calumnies and open reproaches: nor are their bands always bound up, they “use us despitefully” and procure us mischief.

Now, if our love be extended to all these, we shall hardly find any whom we dare exclude. Of our private enemies there can be no question, but what shall be said of the enemies of our country, and of our religion?

First, for the enemies of our country, I see no warrant to exclude them from our charity: we may indeed lawfully oppose their violent invasion, and defend our rights with the sword, under the banner of the public magistrate; but all this may be done with as little malice and hatred, as a Judge may punish a malefactor: the General may be as, so void of passion as a LORD Chief Justice, and the soldier as the executioner. But charity will oblige a Prince never to have recourse to the sword, till all other remedies fail; to blunt the edge of war by sparing as much as may be the shedding of innocent blood, with all other barbarities that use to accompany it, and to accept. of any reasonable capitulation.

We come, next, to the enemies of our religion. Indeed there are many who are so far from thinking them to be among the number of those whom they are obliged to love, that they look upon it as a part of their duty to hate them: their zeal is continually venting itself in fierce invectives against Antichrist, and every thing they are pleased to call Antichristian and they are ready to apply all the prophecies and imprecations of the Old Testament in their very prayers against those that differ from them; and ordinarily the animosities are greatest where the differ­ences are least; and one party of a reformed Church shall be more incensed against another, than either against the superstition and tyranny of Rome, or the carnality of the Mahometan faith: yea, perhaps, you may find some who agree in, and only differ in several ways of expressing, the same thing, and yet can scarce look on one another without dis­pleasure and aversion.

But, alas! how much do these men disparage that religion for which they appear so zealous! How much do they mistake the spirit of Christianity! Are the persons whom they hate, greater enemies to, reli­gion, than those who persecuted the Apostles and martyrs for professing it? And yet these were the persons whom our Savior commanded his disciples to love, and him­self did pray for those that crucified him: and severely checked the disciples, when, by a precedent brought from the Old Testament, they would have called for fire from heaven on those that would not receive them, telling them, they knew not what spirit they were of. They did not consider by what spirit they were prompted to such cruel inclinations; or, as others explain it, they did not yet understand the temper and genius of Christianity, which is”pure and peaceable, gentle and meek, full of sweetness, and full of love.”

If men would impartially examine their hatred and animosities against the enemies of their religion, I fear they would find them proceed from a principle which themselves would not willingly own. Pride and self-conceit will make a man disdain those of a different persuasion, and think it a disparagement to his judgment, that any should differ from it. Mere nature and self-love will make a man hate those who oppose the interest of that party which himself has espoused. Hence men are many times more displeased at some small mistakes in judgment, than the greatest immoralities in practice. Yea, perhaps they will find a secret pleasure in hearing or reporting the faults or scandals of their adversaries.

Cer­tainly the power of religion rightly prevailing in the soul, would mould us into another temper: it would teach, us to love, and pity, and pray for the person, as well as hate and condemn the errors they are supposed to espouse: it would make us wish their conversion, rather than their confusion, and be more desirous that God would fit them for another world, than that he would take them out of this. We may indeed wish the disappointment of their wicked purposes; for this is charity to them, to keep them from being the unhappy instruments of mischief in the world; but he that can wish plagues and ruin to their persons, and delights in their sins, or in their misery, has more of the devil than the Christian.

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This selection comes from a sermon of Scougal’s sermon entitled “That There are But a Small Number Saved”, based on the text from Luke 13:23,

“Then said one unto him,

“Lord, are the few that be saved?”

 

 

In this selection, we find Scougal proposing a theology that bears a sharp contrast the the inclusivism of the Anglican church of his day, as well as that of many Christian churches in America today. Consider this interview between Larry King and Joel Osteen:

KING: What if you’re Jewish or Muslim, you don’t accept Christ at all?

OSTEEN: You know, I’m very careful about saying who would and wouldn’t go to heaven. I don’t know …

KING: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They’re wrong, aren’t they?

OSTEEN: Well, I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I believe here’s what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with judge a person’s heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity. So I don’t know. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

When King pushes Osteen for a direct response to the question, “What if people don’t accept Christ?” Osteen repeats, “I don’t know,” several times. He doesn’t want to make a distinction between those who believe in Christ and those who don’t. He wants to make the way to heaven seem as open and available as possible. As we see in Luke 13:23 and in Scougal’s sermon, this is not only a flawed position; it is lethally dangerous.

Amongst all the stratagems whereby the great Enemy of mankind contrives their ruin, few are more unhappily successful than the fond persuasion he has filled them with, that heaven and everlasting happiness are easily attainable. What one says of wisdom, we may, with little alteration, apply unto this purpose: ‘That many might have reached heaven, if they had not been so confident of it.’

The doors of the Christian Church are now very wide, and men have access unto them upon easy terms; nay, this privilege descends unto men by their birth, and they are reckoned among Christians before they come well to know what it means. The ordinances of our religion are common to all, save those whom gross ignorance or notorious crimes exclude; there are no markers on the foreheads of men whereby we can judge of their future; they die, and are laid in their graves, and none cometh back to tell us how it fareth with them, and we desire to think the best of every particular person.

But whatever charity be in this, there is little prudence in the inference that many draw from it, who think they may live as their neighbors do, and die as happily as they, and since the greatest part of men are such as themselves, heaven must be a very empty place if all of them be debarred. Thus perhaps you have seen a flock of sheep upon a bridge, and the first leapeth over, and the rest not knowing what is become of those that went before, all of them follow their companions into that hazard of ruin. Interest and self-love so strongly blind the minds of men, that they can hardly be put from the belief of that which they would fain have true.

Hence it is that, notwithstanding all we are told to the contrary, the opinion of the broadness of the way that leads to heaven, is still the most epidemic, and I think the most dangerous heresy. Many are so ignorant as to avow it, and the strange security of more knowing persons as loudly proclaim it.

I know he undertakes an unwelcome errand, who goes about to dispossess the minds of men of such a pleasant and flattering error; but what shall we do? Shall we suffer them to sleep on and take their rest, until the everlasting flames a wake them? Shall we draw their blood on our heads, and involve ourselves in their ruin, by neglecting to advertise them of their hazard?

No, my friends; duty doth oblige us, and the Holy Scriptures will warrant us to assure you, that there are very, “few that shall be saved”; that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1); and that they are a “little flock” to whom the Father will give the kingdom .”(2)

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Henry Scougal is my favorite Christian writer. Scougal was a Scottish Puritan who became a professor at the Unversity of Aberdeen at 19, a pastor at 23, professor of Divinity in the King’s college at 24, and died at 27.

 

At one webpage we read that Scougal “was led to the study of theology, in the hopes of finding in it a balm for disappointed affections; and this is in so far countenanced by the tenor of several passages of his writings.” This is exemplified in many passages such as this one, found in his most famous work “The Life of God in the Soul of Man”:

That which imbitters love, and makes it ordinarily a very troublesome and hurtful passion, is the placing it on those who have not worth enough to deserve it, or affection and gratitude to requite it, or whose absence may deprive us of the pleasure of their converse, or their miseries occasion our trouble.

These sorts of passages did not exist merely to vent discouraging thoughts about love, but as a spring-board for Scougal to clarify that the one perfect object for our love is God:

The true way to improve and ennoble our souls is, by fixing our love on the divine perfections, that we may have them always before us, and derive an impression of them on ourselves; and, “beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, we may be changed into the same image, from glory to glory.”

Scougal has a profound gift for taking Biblical teaching and drawing out clear principles by which we can gain a better understanding of God, Scripture, and ourselves.

Due to my admiration for his writing, I’ll include an excerpt every now and then with the heading: “A Minute for Henry”. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

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