In Part One of Henry Scougal’s The life of God in the soul of man the writer successfully explains the foundations upon which ‘true religion’ stands. In Part Two he draws the reader’s attention to the ‘excellency and advantage’ of the Christian faith as revealed in the inerrant and inspired Word of God. In this third and final part of Scougal’s treasured treatise he endeavours to impart that confidence and assurance in God that is so essential to the spiritual well-being of each believer.
Out of a deep love and compassion for his friend he wisely cautions him against falling prey to doubt and despondency on account of his apparent lack of progress on that path of discipleship which ultimately terminates in the Celestial City and eternal glorification.
Scougal puts himself in the shoes of the newly regenerate man: ‘I may toss and turn as a door on the hinges, but can never get clear off, or be quite unhinged of self, which is still the centre of all my motions; so that all the advantage I can draw from the discovery of religion is but to see, at a huge distance, that felicity [happiness] which I am not able to reach; like a man in shipwreck, who discerns the land, and envies the happiness of those who are there, but thinks it impossible for himself to get ashore’.
The apostle Peter reminds us that all those born again are like new-born babies (cf. 1 Peter 2:2). They must recognise that they need to grow and develop spiritually by God’s grace and power working on and in them. In other words, while the Christian is justified and saved from the wrath to come the moment he or she believes on Christ and his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, sanctification involves a process. Moreover, from the perspective of of this life, complete or perfect sanctification is not possible this side of the grave.
That all too many folks lamentably and falsely labour under the delusion that the moment they believe on Jesus their sin is so eradicated that they should be able to live a godly and a sin-free existence should not detract us from this crucially important truth.
It has to be recognised that such an erroneous viewpoint has caused endless heartache and confusion in the church universal from its very inception. It is too often predicated on an erroneous understanding of the central and most fundamental biblical doctrine – justification by faith in Christ alone.
Roman Catholics, sixteenth-century Anabaptists, eighteenth-century Wesleyans, those involved in the holiness movement of the nineteenth century, and countless others in our own day, have falsely and dangerously claimed that Christ’s righteousness is infused into believers rather than imputed to them.
They labour in the expectation of achieving Christian perfection in this life, thereby earning their salvation through meritorious works, like the self-righteous Pharisees in the gospel accounts. In so doing they sadly turn God’s salvation of grace into a salvation of works. They inflict endless misery and torture upon themselves in what is a hopeless quest to merit their own redemption before a God who is infinitely holy and just. It is hardly surprising that such individuals very often lack assurance that they are saved!
Grace at work
Holy Scripture, however, makes clear to each believer that we have no reason to doubt, fear or question his calling, because salvation rests entirely upon the sovereign grace of God. Christ has redeemed all who believe on him to the uttermost through his supreme sacrifice on the cross.
Scougal writes: ‘Let us encourage ourselves my dear friend, let us encourage ourselves with those mighty aids we are to expect in this spiritual warfare, for greater is he that is for us than all who can rise up against us’ (cf. Deuteronomy 33:27). God and no other ‘hath committed the care of our souls to no meaner person than the eternal Son of his love’ (cf. Hebrews 7:24-5).
While Scougal categorically recognises and emphasises the sovereign power of God’s grace in all those who are co-heirs with Christ and being conformed to his perfect image, he wisely insists that ‘we must not expect that this whole work should be done without any concurring endeavours of our own’.
Scougal tells his reader ‘we must not lie loitering in the ditch, and wait till Omnipotence pull us from thence; no, we must bestir ourselves, and actuate those powers which we have already received: we must put forth ourselves to our utmost capacities, and then we may hope that, “our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58) ‘.
He emphasises: ‘Though there must intervene a stroke of Omnipotence to effect this mighty change in our souls, yet ought we to do what we can to fit and prepare ourselves, for we must break up our fallow ground, and root out the weeds, and pull up the thorns (Jeremiah 4:3), that so we may be more ready to receive the seeds of grace, and the dew of heaven’.
Scougal concludes his masterly little treatise by listing a series of imperatives to ensure that his friend will walk humbly with God and mature spiritually. Firstly, he rightly insists ‘There can be no treaty of peace till once we lay down these weapons of rebellion wherewith we fight against heaven; nor can we expect to have our distempers cured if we be daily feeding on poison’.
The believer must strive to lead a faithful, fruitful and obedient life in God’s glorious kingdom. Crucially, the word of the King of kings must regulate the actions of all his subjects. Aware that God is omniscient – that he is all-knowing and all-seeing, we need to constantly examine ourselves – our thoughts, words and deeds, that we would not offend his divine Majesty and bring shame and opprobrium upon the body of Christ.
The believer is called out of this fallen world and is no longer held spellbound by the transient pleasures and splendours it has to offer. ‘The love of the world, and the love of God’, Scougal reminds us, ‘are like the scales of a balance, as the one falleth, the other doth rise’.
He adds: ‘Let us withdraw our thoughts from this earth, this scene of misery, and folly, and sin, and raise them toward that more vast and glorious world, whose innocent and blessed inhabitants solace themselves eternally in the divine presence, and know no other passion but an unmixed joy, and an unbounded love’.
Therefore in order to ‘excite and awaken the divine life’ the regenerate man and woman must strive to glorify God and honour the name of Jesus. This is done through corporate and individual worship, through adoration, reverence and praise for his divine Majesty.
The believer need only marvel at the infinite wisdom, love and grace of God, particularly the amazing condescension of God the Son who left incomparable glory to come and die in the place of his elect, to recognise what limitless gratitude and adoration he owes to God.
This is achieved through the study of and obedience to God’s Holy Word and through partaking in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is done in and through prayer. In prayer, Scougal insists, ‘we make the nearest approaches to God, and lie open to the influences of heaven. Then it is that the sun of righteousness doth visit us with his directest rays, and dissipateth our darkness, and imprinteth his image on our souls.’
Believers are commanded to love their neighbours. Christians must humble themselves and show love and compassion for their co-heirs in Christ and towards those in grave danger of perishing eternally on account of their unbelief.
‘The meanest and most contemptible person’, The Life affirms, ‘is the offspring of heaven, one of the children of the Most High; and however unworthy he might behave himself of that relation, so long as God hath not abdicated and disowned him by a final sentence, he will have us to embrace him with a sincere and cordial affection.’
All men are made in the image of God and while that image ‘be miserably sullied and defaced, yet it is not altogether razed’ in the unbeliever. God the Great Potter can take the most ruined, deformed and crooked vessels and completely recreate them into glorious and holy utensils of his grace. Christ came to save sinners, even you and I, the chief of sinners. He will continue to do so to his eternal praise.