Andrew Fuller’s Advice for Your Daily Quiet Time

Man-Reading-Bible235x275Various Christian traditions tend to emphasize different practices when it comes to cultivating a healthy personal piety. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, prayerful meditation, often with the aid of icons, has occupied a signal place in personal spirituality. In Roman Catholicism, Marian piety remains a perennial emphasis. In Anglicanism, the Book of Common Prayer shapes individual devotional practice almost as much as corporate worship. For most evangelicals, including Southern Baptists, arguably the central spiritual practice is the daily quiet time of Bible reading and prayer.

The famous Baptist pastor-theologian Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) was once asked to give his advice about personal Bible reading. It’s interesting that over two centuries ago, what he described is so very similar to what we would consider to be a healthy daily quiet time. He recommended daily Scripture reading and prayer, suggesting that morning was the best time. He recommended using commentaries and other tools when you come across something in your reading that confuses you, though he cautions against over-reliance on these non-inspired study tools. He suggested not just reading the Scriptures, but meditating on what you read. Fuller even recommended journaling about insights that come to you as you read and meditate on the biblical text. In other words, Andrew Fuller was Richard Foster and Donald Whitney before the latter two were cool. You can read his short essay below.

I do not wish the following remarks to supersede any other answer which may enter more fully into the subject. All I have to offer will be a few hints from my own experience.

In the first place, I have found it good to appoint set times for reading the Scriptures; and none have been so profitable as part of the season appropriated to private devotion on rising in the morning. The mind at this time is reinvigorated and unencumbered. To read a part of the Scriptures, previous to prayer, I have found to be very useful. It tends to collect the thoughts, to spiritualize the affections, and to furnish us with sentiments wherewith to plead at a throne of grace. And as reading assists prayer, so prayer assists reading. At these seasons we shall be less in danger of falling into idle speculations, and of perverting Scripture in support of hypotheses. A spiritual frame of mind, as Mr. [Samuel] Pearce somewhere observes, is as a good light in viewing a painting; it will not a little facilitate the understanding of the Scriptures. I do not mean to depreciate the labours of those who have commented on the sacred writings; but we may read expositors, and consult critics, while the “spirit and life” of the word utterly escape us. A tender, humble, holy frame is perhaps of more importance to our entering into the mind of the Holy Spirit than all other means united. It is thus that, by “an unction from the Holy One, we know all things.”

In reading by myself, I have also felt the advantage of being able to pause, and think, as well as pray; and to inquire how far the subject is any way applicable to my case, and conduct in life.

In the course of a morning’s exercise it may be supposed that some things will appear hard to be understood; and I may feel myself, after all my application, unable to resolve them. Here, then, let me avail myself of commentators and expositors. If I read them instead of reading the Scriptures, I may indeed derive some knowledge; but my mind will not be stored with the best riches; nor will the word “dwell richly in me in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” If, on the other hand, I read the Scriptures, and exercise my own mind on their meaning, only using the helps with which I am furnished when I particularly need them, such knowledge will avail me more than any other; for, having felt and laboured at the difficulty myself, what I obtain from others towards the solution of it becomes more interesting and abiding than if I had read it without any such previous efforts. And as to my own thoughts, though they may not be superior nor equal to those of others, in themselves considered, yet, if they be just, their having been the result of pleasing toil renders them of superior value to me. A small portion obtained by our own labour is sweeter than a large inheritance bequeathed by our predecessors. Knowledge thus obtained will not only be always accumulating, but of special use in times of trial; not like the cumbrous armour which does not fit us, but like the sling and the stone, which, though less brilliant, will be more efficacious.

I may add, it were well for those who can find leisure to commit to writing the most interesting thoughts which occur at these seasons. It is thus that they will be fixed in the memory; and the revision of them may serve to rekindle some of the best sensations in out life.

See Andrew Fuller, “Reading the Scriptures,” in The Works of Andrew Fuller, vol. III, ed. Joseph Belcher (1845; reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988), p. 788.

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Book Review: Formed for the Glory of God

Kyle Strobel, Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2013). 192 pp. $16.00.

Of the writing of books about Jonathan Edwards there is no end. Nearly every month it seems that at least one new book appears. Some of these works are technical monographs written by scholars, while others are popular devotional books or biographies written by pastors. This isn’t counting the dozens of journal articles, book chapters, and dissertations about Edwards that are written every year.

One of the most helpful books I’ve read about Edwards in recent months is Kyle Strobel’s Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013). Strobel is a theologian with expertise in both Edwards’s theology and Christian spirituality. These two emphases are brought together in this delightful book, which is a handbook for spiritual growth that uses Edwards as the central dialog partner. Formed for the Glory of God isn’t a dry academic study of spirituality; Strobel argues that “Christian spirituality is ultimately about the work of the Spirit to bind us to the Son in love” (p. 13). Strobel believes that Edwards is a great role model for a healthy evangelical spirituality. He writes, “In Edwards’s grasp of spiritual formation we find a well-rounded account of following Christ, an account that deserves to be meditated upon in our day as much as in his own” (p. 15).

Strobel divides his book into two parts that cover seven chapters and four appendices. Chapter one shows how Edwards’s spirituality focused upon the Christian life as a journey toward the beatific vision of God that will occur when we are glorified in the next life. When we become Christians, we are given a new spiritual sight that guides us in this pilgrimage and begins to fit us for heaven, where we will forever be in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer. The second chapter roots Edwards’s spirituality in his evangelical view of salvation as a personal, covenantal relationship with the Triune God. When we believe, God forgives us of our sins, adopts us into his family, and empowers us for the journey toward the beatific vision. Chapter three discusses Edwards’s view of the affections, which is a central theme in his thought. Through faith, God communicates himself to us, renewing our hearts and redirecting our intellect, emotions, and will in a Godward direction. To say it another way, our internal compass, which has been distorted by sin, is recalibrated to the True North of God’s glory in Christ.

Part two begins with chapter four, which looks at Edwards’s understanding of the spiritual disciplines as a means of grace. The Word of God and prayer are spiritual disciples (or postures, as Strobel prefers) that orient our hearts toward God and his gospel. God works through these disciplines to draw us closer to him and grow us in holiness. Chapter five looks at the relationship between knowledge of God and knowledge of self, a traditional Reformed theme dating back to Calvin himself. Honest self-awareness and self-examination leads us out of the deception of false humility into the grace of true spiritual humility. Chapter six examines Edwards’s commitment to the Puritan practices of Scripture-saturated, prayerful meditation, which in turn leads to greater contemplation of God and his ways. These emphases are where head, heart, devotion, and spiritual happiness intersect for God’s glory.

Chapter seven examines a handful of other spiritual practices that were central to Edwards’s spirituality. Examples include observing the Sabbath (for Edwards, the Lord’s Day), fasting (both personal and, especially, corporate), a focused form of spiritual accountability called “conferencing,” an approach to self-examining prayer called “soliloquy,” silence and solitude, and personal times of prayer. Strobel includes helpful descriptions of these disciplines and suggestions for how contemporary believers might imitate them. The appendices provide further suggestions along these lines and introduce readers to Strobel’s ongoing “Jonathan Edwards Project,” a series of books of varying levels of difficulty that are meant to complement one another.

Let me cut to the chase: I really like Formed for the Glory of God. I see four particular strengths to the book. First, while it is well-researched, this is not a scholarly book. Strobel is writing for the church more than he is for Edwards scholars. Second, Strobel’s exposition of spiritual formation and spiritual disciplines avoids the incipient legalism that too often accompanies books of this kind. Strobel’s basically Reformed assumptions keep the means of grace rooted in God’s initiative in every step of the Christian journey, from regeneration to glorification. Third, Strobel demonstrates how Edwards is a role model for evangelicals who care about practices such as fasting, meditation, and silence, but want to avoid more mystical (in the bad sense) approaches to these disciplines. Finally, Strobel shows how Edwards’s  spirituality arose from and reinforced his theological convictions; Scripture guided experience, which confirmed Scripture. My only mild complaint about Strobel’s book is the lack of an index, which would have made it even more accessible.

Formed for the Glory of God is an informative and practical introduction to Jonathan Edwards’s spirituality. It is also a useful primer to Christian spirituality, particularly for readers who consider themselves evangelical and/or Reformed in their convictions. The book is an excellent resource for church staffs, church reading circles, seminary and college courses, or personal devotional reading. Readers interested in the writings of authors such as Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Donald Whitney will especially enjoy learning from the spiritual practices of the most influential pastor-theologian in American history. I will be recommending it to my students.

(Note: This post is cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)