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Book Summary

This book (originally a letter) was written by Henry Scougal, a Scottish minister in the 17th century. The audience for this book was a friend who had lost the faith and become disillusioned with Christian living. This letter was originally published a year before Scougal's death (he died at the age of 28).

This book is broken up into three main sections. In the first, Scougal dives into what religion really means and how it differs from mans' ideas of God. He explains why true religion is important and calls it the "life of God in the son of man." In the second part, he focuses on how amazing divine love can be and why it is important to have. Lastly, in the third part, he acknowledges the challenges of following God and the sacrifices that go along with it.


This book had a profound influence on George Whitefield. According to Whitefield, "I really wanted to know God and be assured of salvation, but even strict discipline didn't seem to help. God showed me (in Scougal’s writings) that I must be born again."

Table of Contents:

  • On Religion: The Natural and Divine Life and How Divine Love is Demonstrated in Our Blessed Savior
  • The Excellence of Religion and Divine Love
  • On the Difficulties and Duties of the Christian Life

The Life of God in the Soul of Man

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Chapter 1: On Religion: The Natural and Divine Life and How Divine Love is Demonstrated in Our Blessed Savior

My dear friend,

This designation gives you the right to any efforts I can make to serve your interests. Your desire to do so is in line with my duty, so I don't have to go out of my way to please you. I can both be a friend and fulfill my role, since promoting virtue and holiness, which I hope is your main focus, is my job. This is the best way for me to show my love and appreciation for you, so I won't delay any longer in fulfilling my promise.

I'm sure you have better resources than what I can provide, and you probably already know all this, but I'm hopeful that something coming from a friend will be welcomed by you: and I'm sure that with God's guidance, something I say may be of use to you. I hope you'll forgive me if I start by discussing the nature and characteristics of religion, and if I go off on tangents as I explore the topic - I'm sure you understand that I'm not doing this to be superfluous, but rather to ensure that I'm conveying my thoughts in the best way possible.

I can't talk about religion, but I must express my sadness that so few people understand what it really means. Some people think it's about having the right beliefs and opinions, and all they can say about their religion is that they belong to one of the many sects that Christianity is divided into. Others think it's about doing external duties, like living peacefully with their neighbors, eating healthily, going to church or praying in private, and helping the poor. They think that if they do these things, they've done enough.

Others view religion as something that exists solely in the emotions, with passionate hearts and ecstatic devotion. All they strive for is to pray with fervor, to think of heaven with joy, and to be moved by the tender words they use to woo their Savior, until they convince themselves that they are deeply in love with Him. This gives them a great sense of assurance in their salvation, which they consider to be the most important aspect of Christianity. Unfortunately, these things that resemble piety, or are merely means of obtaining it, or particular expressions of it, are often mistaken for the entirety of religion. Even wickedness and vice can sometimes be given the same label.

I'm not talking about the gross impieties that pagans used to practice in their worship of their gods. Unfortunately, there are too many Christians who dedicate their vices and follow their sinful desires. They try to pass off their bad behavior as Christian piety, their anger and rage against their enemies as holy zeal, and their insolence towards their superiors or rebellion against their rulers as Christian courage and resolution.

Religion is something entirely different, and those who are familiar with it will have a different perspective and reject any false representations of it. They know from experience that true religion is a connection between the soul and God, a real sharing of the divine essence, a reflection of God in the soul, or, as the apostle said, "It is Christ formed within us." To sum it up, I don't know how to better describe the nature of religion than to call it a Divine Life. In this context, I will discuss it, first by explaining why it is called a life, and then why it is called divine.

I choose to refer to life as a term for religion, because of its permanence and stability. Religion isn't something that just suddenly appears in someone's mind, even if it reaches a level of intense emotion and leads to extraordinary actions. Most people have a sense of the need to do something to save their souls, which can cause them to act quickly, but then they quickly lose interest. They may have been passionate at first, but then their enthusiasm fades away because they didn't have a strong foundation to begin with.

These sudden fits can be likened to the violent and convulsive movements of a body that has just been beheaded, caused by the agitation of the animal spirits after the soul has departed. These movements, however intense and impulsive, cannot last for long. On the other hand, the motions of holy souls are constant and regular, stemming from a permanent and vibrant source. It is true that this divine life does not always remain at the same strength and vigor, and holy people often find it more difficult to resist temptations and less enthusiasm in performing their duties. Nevertheless, it is not completely extinguished, nor are they completely at the mercy of those corrupt desires that control the rest of the world.

Again, religion can be thought of as a way of life, because it is an internal, free, and self-motivated force. Those who have made progress in it are not just driven by external pressures, threatened by consequences, or bribed by rewards; they are strongly drawn to what is good and take pleasure in doing it. The love that a devout person has for God and goodness is not just because of a command telling them to do so, but because of a new nature that guides and encourages them. They don't just offer their devotion as a way to appease divine justice or to quiet their conscience; rather, these religious practices are the result of the divine life, the natural activities of a reborn soul.

He prays, gives thanks, and repents not only because it is expected of him, but because he is aware of his needs, the divine goodness, and the foolishness and suffering that comes with a sinful life. His charity is not forced, nor is his giving coerced; his love makes him willing to give, and even if there were no external obligation, his heart would still be generous. Injustice, intemperance, and all other vices are as abhorrent to him as the most dishonorable actions are to the most noble spirit, and impudence and rudeness to those who are naturally shy. So I can confidently say with St. John, "Whoever is born of God does not sin, for his seed remains in him and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

Though holy and religious persons take the law of God very seriously, it is not so much the authority of the law that motivates them as its reasonableness, purity, and goodness. They find it to be excellent and desirable in its own right, and that there is great reward in following it. The divine love that drives them makes them become their own law.

Who can set rules for those who are in love?

Love is a more powerful force that compels them.

In a nutshell, what our blessed Savior said of himself can be applied to his followers in some way: they find it their "food and drink" to do their Father's will. Just like our natural appetite for food doesn't require us to think about the necessity of it for our survival, our inclination towards what is good and commendable is natural and unforced. Of course, external motivations can be very helpful in encouraging and strengthening this internal drive, especially when it is weak and we can hardly detect it ourselves. We often need to be pushed by our hopes and fears, by the weight of our suffering or the joy of our blessings, by the power of the law, or the influence of others.

If someone is conscientious and consistent in their obedience, and is struggling with a sense of dullness in their duties, but still desires to perform them with more enthusiasm and energy, these are the first signs of the divine life. Though it may be faint and weak, it will be nurtured by heavenly influences and grow stronger. But if someone is completely devoid of this inner principle and does not strive for it, instead relying on what they have been taught or what they fear, they cannot be considered a religious person any more than a puppet can be called a human. This forced and artificial religion is usually heavy and sluggish, like a weight being forced upwards.

It is cold and uninspiring, like the reluctant obedience of a woman who was forced into marriage and is now dutifully fulfilling her obligations to a husband she does not love, out of a sense of morality or honor. As a result, this religion is limited and stingy, especially when it comes to those practices that go against human desires; and those who are subservient will only do what is absolutely necessary.

It is a law that requires them to adhere to certain restrictions, and they will be reluctant to go beyond what it allows them. They will often try to interpret it in a way that gives them the most freedom. However, true religion is generous and open-minded, not petty and restrictive. Someone who has devoted themselves to God will never think they are doing too much for Him.

By now, I hope it is clear that religion is aptly referred to as a life or vital principle, and that it is essential to differentiate between it and obedience that is forced and relies on external factors. I come next to explain why I chose to call it Divine Life. It's not just because it comes from God and is created in people's souls by the power of the Holy Spirit, but also because of its nature. Religion is a reflection of God's perfection, a reflection of the Almighty in the soul of man. It's even a real part of His nature, a ray of eternal light, a drop of the infinite ocean of goodness. Those who have it can be said to have "God dwelling in their souls, and Christ formed within them."

Before I delve into the specifics of the divine life that makes up true religion, it may be appropriate to discuss the natural or animal life that is present in those who are unfamiliar with the divine life. By this, I mean nothing more than our tendency to pursue things that are pleasing and agreeable to our nature; or, in other words, our self-love that manifests itself in the various desires and inclinations we have.

The basis of animal life, I believe, is sense, broadly speaking, as it contrasts with faith and involves our perception and feeling of things that are either pleasant or unpleasant to us. These animal instincts, when considered on their own and as they are naturally instilled in us, are not wrong or blameworthy; in fact, they are evidence of the Creator's wisdom, providing His creatures with desires that lead to their survival and wellbeing. This is like a law for the animals, guiding them towards the goals for which they were made. However, since man was created for higher purposes and to be guided by more noble laws, he becomes guilty and culpable when he is so overwhelmed by the desires of this lower life that he fails to fulfill his duty or ignores the higher and more meaningful objectives of his existence.

Our natural emotions should not be completely eradicated and destroyed, but rather kept in check and overruled by higher and more noble principles. In short, the difference between a religious and a wicked person is that in the former, divine life is in control, while in the latter, the animal life takes precedence.

It's strange to see how differently people can act when they are guided solely by their natural inclinations, depending on the circumstances they find themselves in. But this can often lead to dangerous mistakes, as people may think highly of themselves due to the differences between them and others, when in reality their actions may be coming from the same source. If we look at people's natural temperaments, we can see that some are more lighthearted and carefree, leading to behavior that is seen as extravagant and silly. Others, however, are more serious and solemn, and this demeanor earns them a great deal of respect and admiration.

Some people have a naturally grumpy and morose disposition, and they can't be pleased and don't want anyone else to be either. Thankfully, not everyone is born this way; some people have a natural sweetness and kindness that makes them enjoy the company of others and take pleasure in being able to help them. It's a good thing that nature has provided this kind of tenderness, to make up for the lack of true charity in the world and to encourage people to look out for each other's wellbeing.

Again, when it comes to education, some people have never been taught to do anything other than what is pleasurable or beneficial to them. However, others have been so conditioned to adhere to the highest standards of propriety and integrity, and to demonstrate acts of virtue, that they are almost incapable of doing anything they consider to be dishonorable or beneath them.

In conclusion, it is clear that the behavior of people is greatly impacted by the strength or weakness of their intelligence and their willingness to use it. Intemperance, lust, injustice, and other immoralities that plague the world are the result of self-love, when it is not controlled by religion or reason. However, if reason is embraced and intelligence is employed, these more base vices can be avoided and replaced with virtuous behavior.

If a man has enough reason to consider the harm that comes from overindulgence and excessive desire to his health, wealth, and reputation, self-interest should be enough to keep him in check. One can also observe the rules of morality when dealing with others as the best way to protect their own interests and maintain their reputation. But this is not all; this natural principle, with the help of reason, can go even further and bring us closer to matters of faith and religion. Why shouldn't these topics be enjoyable and interesting to curious and inquisitive minds?

It may make people passionate about defending and spreading the beliefs they have adopted, and eager for others to accept their opinion and agree with the religious choices they have made. It may make them enjoy hearing and creating excellent speeches about religious topics; for eloquence is very enjoyable, no matter the subject. For some, it may even lead to a deep level of spiritual devotion.

The wonderful things that are said about heaven can make even a worldly person fall in love with it. The metaphors and comparisons used in the Bible, such as crowns, scepters, and rivers of pleasure, can easily capture someone's imagination and make them want to be there, even if they don't understand or desire the spiritual joys that are being described. When someone comes to believe that Christ has bought these glorious things for them, they may feel a kind of tenderness and affection towards such a generous benefactor, and think they are deeply in love with Him, yet still remain unfamiliar with the holy spirit of Jesus. Recently, several knowledgeable and wise writers have explored how much of a role a person's natural disposition may have in the ecstatic devotion of some melancholic people.

To wrap up, there is nothing that can truly make life enjoyable or make someone stand out in the world, except for this natural principle, combined with wit and reason. I'm not saying these things are bad, but it's important for us to understand them so that we don't go overboard and also so that we don't place too much importance on our own natural desires or accomplishments.

It is now time to return to the discussion of the divine life, which is hidden with Christ in God and therefore has no visible presence in the world. To the natural man, this may seem like a dull and uninteresting concept. The animal life is focused on a narrow and selfish love, and a propensity towards things that please our nature. In contrast, the divine life is characterized by a universal and unrestricted love, and a mastery over our natural inclinations so that they never lead us to anything that is wrong.

The foundation of the spiritual life is faith; its main components are love for God, kindness to others, purity, and humility. As a wise person once said, these words may not sound extraordinary, but they carry such immense meaning that nothing more powerful or excellent can be said. Faith has the same role in the spiritual life as senses do in the physical life - it is essentially a kind of feeling or conviction of spiritual matters. It applies to all divine truths, but in our current state, it is particularly related to God's declaration of mercy and willingness to forgive sinners through a mediator. Therefore, it is usually referred to as faith in Jesus Christ.

The love of God is a beautiful and heartfelt appreciation of His divine qualities, which leads us to surrender and dedicate ourselves to Him completely. We want nothing more than to make Him happy and take joy in being in His presence and having fellowship with Him. We are willing to do or endure anything for His sake or at His request. Although this emotion may be initially sparked by God's kindness and mercy towards us, it grows and develops beyond that, and is based on His infinite goodness that is evident in all of His creations and plans.

A soul filled with divine love must have an expansive, sincere, and unconditional affection for all of humanity, due to their connection to God as His creatures, and the fact that they bear His image. This is the charity I mentioned as the second branch of religion, and it encompasses all aspects of justice and the duties we owe to our neighbors. Someone who loves the world will be deeply invested in the wellbeing of everyone, and will never wrong or harm another person. They will even feel the pain of others as if it were their own.

By purity, I mean a detachment from the body and control over our lower desires. It's a state of mind that makes us reject and abstain from any pleasure or delight that is sinful or diminishes our appreciation of more spiritual and intellectual pleasures. It also implies a willingness to endure any hardships that come with doing what is right, so that not only chastity and temperance, but also Christian courage and magnanimity, are included in this concept.

Humility requires us to recognize our own insignificance and to express our gratitude for all that we have been given by God. This should be done with sincere respect for God's will and a lack of interest in worldly fame and recognition from others. These are the highest attainments that both humans and angels are capable of - the very foundation of heaven is planted in the soul. Those who have achieved this need not worry about trying to uncover the secrets of God's plans or search the heavens to understand their eternal fate. Instead, they can find a reflection of God's thoughts about them written in their own hearts.

His love for God can give him confidence that God will be favorable to him; and the beginnings of joy he feels when his soul is in harmony with God's nature and in compliance with His will, are a sure sign that his bliss will be perfected and will last forever. It's not without reason that someone said, "I'd rather feel the genuine effects of a godly nature in my own soul than have a vision from heaven or an angel come to tell me my name is written in the book of life."

Once we have said all that we can, the profound mysteries of a new life and divine nature cannot be adequately expressed. Language and words cannot capture them, and they can only be truly understood by those souls that are ignited within and awakened to the appreciation and savor of spiritual matters. "There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives this understanding."

The power and vitality of religion can be better expressed through actions than words; actions are more vivid and better reflect the inner motivation from which they come. We can get the best understanding of these divine gifts by observing the behavior of those who possess them, especially when they are perfectly embodied in the holy life of our blessed Savior. A large part of His mission on Earth was to teach by example what He expected of others, and to make His own behavior a perfect reflection of the unparalleled rules He prescribed. If ever true goodness was visible to human eyes, it was then, when His presence illuminated and adorned this world.

The deep and sincere love that his blessed soul had for his heavenly Father was expressed in his complete acceptance of His will. Doing the will of the one who sent him was his sustenance, and he devoted himself to it from his childhood to his later years. He spared no effort in fulfilling his Father's mission, and found such joy in it that even when he was exhausted from his travels and stopped to rest at Jacob's well, he asked the Samaritan woman for water. The success of his conversation with her, and the progress that was made towards the kingdom of God, filled his mind with such joy that it seemed to have a physical effect, invigorating his spirits and making him forget the thirst he had complained of before, and refuse the food his disciples had gone to purchase.

He was incredibly patient and obedient to God's will, working diligently to fulfill it. He endured the harshest punishments and miseries ever inflicted on a mortal without complaint or discontent. He was far from being numb to pain or stoically stubborn, feeling it as acutely as anyone else, and understanding the anguish he would experience in his soul, as evidenced by his bloody sweat and profound shock and sorrow. Yet he accepted this difficult providence and willingly agreed to it. He prayed to God, asking if it was possible, or if He was willing, for the cup to be removed. But he quickly added, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done." The importance of his words in John 12:27 is clear. He first acknowledges the anguish of his spirit, saying, "Now is my soul troubled," and then wonders, "What shall I say?" He then pleads for his suffering to be spared, saying, "Father, save me from this hour." But he quickly realizes why he is here and changes his plea to, "But for this cause came I into the world," and ends with, "Father, glorify thy name."

Now, we must not view this as any kind of frivolity or fault of Jesus. He was aware of all the suffering he was to endure and he faced it courageously. This shows us the immense burden he was to carry, which was so distressing and contrary to his nature that he could not think of it without fear. Yet, knowing God's will and the glory that would come from it, he was not only willing but eager to suffer it.

Another example of his love for God was his joy in praying to Him. He often withdrew from the world to spend entire nights in prayer, even when he had no sins to confess and few worldly matters to pray for. Unfortunately, these are usually the only things that motivate us to pray.

No, we can say that his entire life was like a prayer; a continuous connection with God: even if the offering was not always present, the flame was still kept alive; and Jesus was never taken aback by the dullness or lack of enthusiasm that we often have to struggle with before we can be ready to practice devotion.

In the second place, I should speak of his love and charity towards all people. His actions and words were always intended to benefit and help others. His miraculous works were evidence of his power and goodness, and they provided help and amazement to those who witnessed them. His generosity was not limited to his family or close friends; his kindness extended far beyond the special bond he shared with his beloved disciple. Everyone who followed his holy commands, as stated in John 15:14, was considered a friend. He viewed anyone who did the will of his Father as a brother, sister, and mother.

Never was anyone unwelcome to him who came with honest intentions, nor did he deny any request that was beneficial to those who asked it. So what was said of that Roman emperor, who was known for his kindness and was called the darling of mankind, was true of him - no one ever left him with a heavy heart, except for that rich young man (Mark 10) who was disappointed to learn that the kingdom of heaven was so expensive and he couldn't save his soul and his money.

Certainly it pained our Savior to see that, even when he had the means to acquire wisdom, the man had no desire to do so. His initial approach had already earned him some favor; it is said, "and Jesus, beholding him, loved him." But did he have to create a new path to heaven and change the laws of nature, which make it impossible for a greedy person to be content?

And what can I say about his meekness, when he faced the outrageous ingratitude and deceit of the villain who betrayed him, without speaking any harsher words than "Judas, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" What more proof do we need of his passionate and boundless love than that he willingly gave up his life even for his most bitter enemies; and as he was dying, he prayed to the Father that his death would not be held against them, but would become the means of eternal life for those very people who caused it?

The third aspect of the divine life is purity, which, as I said, involves disregarding worldly comforts and resolutely enduring any difficulties that come with doing our duty. Certainly, if anyone was completely indifferent to the pleasures of the natural life, it was Jesus, who rarely indulged in them when they presented themselves, but never strayed from his path to seek them.

Though he allowed others the joys of marriage and honored the institution with his presence, he chose to live a life of celibacy and never experienced the wedding night. Though he provided wine through a miracle, he refused to work a miracle to satisfy his own hunger in the wilderness. This showed the gracious and divine nature of his soul, allowing others to enjoy the pleasures he himself chose to abstain from and providing not only for their more pressing needs, but also their smaller wants. We often hear of Jesus' sighs, groans, and tears, but never that he laughed, and only once that he rejoiced in spirit. This perfectly matches the description of him given by the prophet of old, that he was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."

Nor were the difficulties and hardships of his life anything other than matters of his own choosing; for never did anyone come onto the world stage with greater advantages to have achieved the highest level of worldly success. He who could bring such a vast number of fish into his disciples' net, and at another time receive tribute from a fish which he was to pay to the temple, could easily have made himself the wealthiest person in the world. Even without any money, he could have raised an army powerful enough to have challenged Caesar for his throne, having fed thousands of people with just a few loaves and small fish on multiple occasions; but to show how little he valued all the worldly pleasures, he chose to live in such a humble and impoverished condition, "that though the foxes had dens and the birds of the air had nests, he, who was Lord and heir of all things, had not whereon to lay his head."

He avoided the company of royalty and the wealthy, instead preferring to keep the company of fishermen and other people of humble means. He lived a lifestyle that was appropriate for his humble background as the son of a carpenter. And so, I find myself unexpectedly discussing his humility, the last aspect of his divine life; he was a shining example for us to follow, so that we can "learn from him to be meek and humble of heart." I won't go into the immense condescension of the eternal Son of God in taking on our nature, but rather focus on his humble behavior while he was on Earth. He had none of the sins and flaws that can rightly humble even the best of us; instead, he was so overwhelmed by the infinite perfection of God that he saw himself as nothing in comparison.

He reflected on the remarkable qualities that shone in his divine soul, not as his own, but as gifts from God. He humbly refused to take any credit for them and rejected the title of "Good Master" when addressed to his human nature by someone who was unaware of his divinity. He said, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but God only," as if to say that the goodness of any creature is not worth mentioning. It is only God who is truly and inherently good.

He never used his miraculous power for show or to impress others.

He refused to give the Jews a sign from heaven to satisfy their curiosity, or to do something grand and public to gain fame, as his countrymen and family suggested. But when his compassion led him to help the needy, his humility often led him to ask them to keep the miracle a secret. When the glory of God and the purpose of his mission demanded that the miracles be made public, he always gave the credit to his Father, saying that he was unable to do anything on his own.

I cannot emphasize enough the examples of humility in his behavior towards others: his refusal to be made a king; his respect for his mother and her husband during his younger years; and his willingness to endure the insults and mistreatment inflicted upon him by his cruel and malicious enemies. The accounts of his holy life, written by those who were with him, are full of such examples; and truly, a careful and thoughtful study of them is the best way to gain a proper understanding of humility, and all the other aspects of faith that I have been trying to explain.

But now, to make it easier for you to read this lengthy letter, I'll break it up with a prayer that could be appropriate for someone who has been misguided in their understanding of religion, but is now beginning to understand what it truly is.

A Prayer

Infinite and eternal Majesty! We, your poor sinful creatures, know so little of you and how to serve and please you. We talk of religion, but how few of us really understand what it means. We often mistake our own desires and self-love for the divine graces that make us acceptable in your sight. It's heartbreaking to think of how long I've been wandering and settling for empty imitations of piety and religion. But I can't help but be grateful for your goodness in opening my eyes and showing me what I should be striving for.

I am filled with joy to think of the great progress my character is capable of making, and the divine spirit that is present in those you have chosen and brought close to you. Praise be to your infinite mercy for sending your own Son to live among us and teach us through his example and his laws, giving us a perfect example of what we should strive to be. May the holy life of the blessed Jesus always be in my thoughts and before my eyes, so that I can gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the wonderful qualities that shone so brightly in him! I will never stop trying until that divine nature takes hold of my soul and Christ is formed within me.

Chapter 2: The Excellence of Religion and Divine Love

And now, my dear friend, having uncovered the essence of true religion, I think it would be beneficial to take a moment to reflect on its excellence and benefits, so that we can be motivated to pursue the methods that will bring us such joy. But, oh! What words can we use to describe the inner contentment and secret pleasures that can only be truly understood by those who experience them? "A stranger cannot comprehend their joy." Holiness is the right attitude, the strong and healthy state of the soul. Its abilities had been weakened and disordered before, so that they couldn't do what they were meant to do; it had been struggling and never found peace. Now that the illness has been cured, it feels good; its abilities are in harmony and each part is full of energy. The mind can recognize what is good and the will can stick to it. The emotions are not just driven by physical sensations and external influences, but they are moved by more spiritual feelings, and can sense what is unseen.

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