Classic Soul-Care: An Evangelical Perspective
Evangelicals have been criticized more than once for being thin on the dynamics of sanctification. As this criticism runs, if you want to know how to be saved, Evangelicals abound with wise advice, but once you are in the kingdom other sources are needed to carry you safely through the ups and downs of this world, which is no friend to grace.
This critique is both true and false: if we consider much of our heritage from the previous century, the criticism is on target, but once we go back to retrieve Evangelical riches from the 16th through to the 19th centuries, there is an enormous cache of spiritual wealth.
Reformers of the 16th-century such as John Calvin remind us first and foremost that the goal of our lives and true fulfillment is found in knowing God. As he wrote in 1559: “It is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face” and seen the depths of his need and sin. To grow in grace, we need above all things humility, and this virtue is found by steady meditation on our great God and all of His attributes as laid out in the Scriptures. In this way meditation is critical to Christian maturity. As the 17th-century Puritans put it, meditation is a great heart-warmer.
The Puritans and their heirs in the 18th and 19th centuries, Evangelical leaders like the Wesley brothers — John and Charles — and Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon were also deeply aware that the Holy Spirit is vital to our spiritual growth. Unlike far too many Evangelicals in the past century, these men were not afraid to call on the Spirit for empowerment and growth in grace. They thus studied what the Scriptures said about the Spirit and sought to live in dependence on His grace and
Our Evangelical forebears from Calvin to Spurgeon were also very aware that critical nourishment in the Christian life is not only found in such places as prayer and meditation on the Scriptures, but also in the Lord’s Supper. Charles Wesley, for example, wrote hymns to be especially sung at the celebration of the Table, for he rightly knew that such occasions could initiate personal and corporate revival.
In a world arrogantly passionate about the present and the future, God’s people need to learn afresh the meaning of that word that occurs again and again in the Scriptures: “remember.” And in our remembering, let us re-read the great spiritual classics of the past and find springs of refreshment in this time of desiccation.
What then to read? Well, here are five timeless classics to begin with:
1. John Calvin, The Golden Booklet of The True Christian Life
2. John Owen, Communion With God
3. Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections
4. Andrew Fuller, Memoirs of Samuel Pearce
5. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour
— Dr. Michael Haykin is Professor of Church History & Biblical Spirituality, and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.