[Over three centuries ago this pastor/scholar admonished Christians to experience wholehearted devotion to God. Following a discussion of spiritual disciplines, he turns here to a consideration of God’s gracious love–the wonderful inspiration for our spiritual growth and ministry.]
… A deep and serious consideration of the truths of our religion, and that, both as to the certainty and importance of them … is the most proper method to beget that lively faith which is the foundation of religion, the spring and root of the divine life …
Especially, if we hereunto add the consideration of God’s favour and good-will towards us; nothing is more powerful to engage our affection, than to find that we are beloved. Expressions of kindness are always pleasing and acceptable unto us, though the person should be otherwise mean and contemptible; but to have the love of one who is altogether lovely, to know that the glorious Majesty of heaven hath any regard unto us, how must it astonish and delight us, how must it overcome our spirits, and melt our hearts, and put our whole soul into a flame!
Now, as the word of God is full of the expressions of his love towards men, so all his works do loudly proclaim it. He gave us our being, and, by preserving us in it, doth renew the donation every moment. He hath placed us in a rich and well-furnished world, and liberally provided for all our necessities. He raineth down blessings from heaven upon us, and causeth the earth to bring forth our provision. He giveth us our food and raiment, and while we are spending the productions of one year, he is preparing for us against another. He sweeteneth our lives with innumerable comforts, and gratifieth every faculty with suitable objects. The eye of his providence is always upon us, and he watcheth for our safety when we are fast asleep, neither minding him nor ourselves.
But, lest we should think these testimonies of his kindness less considerable, because they are the easy issues of his omnipotent power, and do not put him to any trouble or pain, he hath taken a more wonderful method to endear himself to us: he hath testified his affection to us by suffering as well as by doing; and because he could not suffer in his own nature he assumed ours. The eternal Son of God did clothe himself with the infirmities of our flesh, and left the company of those innocent and blessed spirits who knew well how to love and adore him, that he might dwell among men, and wrestle with the obstinacy of that rebellious race, to reduce them to their allegiance and felicity, and then to offer himself up as a sacrifice and propitiation for them.
I remember one of the poets hath an ingenious fancy to express the passion wherewith he found himself overcome after a long resistance: that the god of love had shot all his golden arrows at him, but could never pierce his heart, till at length he put himself into the bow, and darted himself straight into his breast. Methinks this doth some way adumbrate God’s method of dealing with men. He had long contended with a stubborn world, and thrown down many a blessing upon them; and when all his other gifts could not prevail, he at last made a gift of himself, to testify his affection and engage theirs. The account which we have of our Saviour’s life in the gospel, doth all along present us with the story of his love: all the pains that he took, and the troubles that he endured, were the wonderful effects and uncontrollable evidences of it. But, O that last, that dismal scene! [Calvary] Is it possible to remember it, and question his kindness, or deny him ours? Here, here it is, my dear friend, that we should fix our most serious and solemn thoughts, “that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and heighth; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God.” [Eph. 3:18,19]
We ought also frequently to reflect on those particular tokens of favour and love, which God hath bestowed on ourselves; how long he hath borne with our follies and sins, and waited to be gracious unto us–wrestling, as it were, with the stubbornness of our hearts, and essaying every method to reclaim us. We should keep a register in our minds of all the eminent blessings and deliverances we have met with, some whereof have been so conveyed, that we might clearly perceive they were not the issues of chance, but the gracious effects of the divine favour, and the signal returns of our prayers…
[“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him … We love Him because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:16,19 NKJV]
An excerpt from The Life of God in the Soul of Man, by Henry Scougal (from Part III: On the Difficulties and Duties of the Christian Life). The full text is available online at http://www.ccel.org/s/scougal/
Biblical allusions in this section include: James 1:27; Eph 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:14; 1 John 9-19; Psalm 104:14; Matt. 6:25-33; John 3:16-18; 1 John 2:1,2; 1 Thess. 5:18
This section on love is in the context of the believer’s need to repent of any sin and rebellion: “When we have got our corruptions restrained, and our natural appetites and inclinations towards worldly things in some measure subdued, we must proceed to take such exercises as have a more immediate tendency to excite and awaken the divine life …”
“Henry Scougal (1650-1678) was a godly young Scotch Puritan who produced a number of works in his brief life while a pastor and professor of divinity at King’s College, Aberdeen. His greatest production is by consensus, The Life Of God In The Soul Of Man, which was originally written to a friend to explain Christianity and give spiritual counsel. This short treatise displays unusual perception and maturity for one so young. In fact, this work was almost universally well-spoken of by the leaders of the Great Awakening, including George Whitefield, who said he never really understood what true religion was till he had digested Scougal’s treatise…” – http://www.lamblion.net/Quotations/scougal.htm