Friday, January 14, 2011

Scougal on Religion with a Few Miscellaneous Thoughts

Henry Scougal wrote the following in The Life of God in the Soul of Man. It is one long paragraph in the original, which I have divided for ease of thought.

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 neighbours, 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 think of heaven with pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting 39 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 now 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 ragged 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.

Here you have your intellects or academics, your legalists, your pietists, and the last group.

I am not sure how to designate them, though it sounds like a lot of fundamentalists I know, but not like all fundamentalists I know.

I suppose that is why it resonates with me some. It is easy to mistake sound and fury as substance, to pretend that picking fights (or picking nits) is the same as defending the gospel and right doctrine. It is easy to label intemperate speech and ill-advised, uncritical tirades as “Christian courage and resolution.”

I am increasingly reminded of the great dose of humility that I need. It’s not the type of humility that pretends I don’t know anything, or at least don’t know anything for sure. I do know a few things, and in fact, about some things I know more than other people do. Humility does not pretend I am the dumbest, most ill-informed guy in the conversation.

It’s rather the type of humility that speaks truly and firmly, but cautiously, that allows others the grace of growth and the dictates of their own conscience.

It’s the type of humility that recognizes that I am not God, and I should not pretend to be. He did not die and leave me in charge, for which we are all glad since I actually slept last night. 

It’s the type of humility that reminds me that I have way more to answer for in my own life than I want to admit, and I surely need to be careful about playing policeman to the world.

Let us not confuse pride and intemperance for courage and defense of the Bible anymore than we confuse uncertainty and tolerance for humility.

Let us, in the words of Scougal, experience “that true religion [which] 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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