A Book Review of Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God

One of the most important Carmelite figures of the seventeenth century was Nicolas Herman, best known by his religious name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691). This French Discalced Carmelite became famous for his mystical spirituality as reflected in his posthumous book, The Practice of the Presence of God. This book is a collection of Brother Lawrence’s writings (his Letters [chapter 3], Spiritual Maxims [chapter 2]) and Conversations (chapter4) recorded by his first biographer-editor Joseph de Beaufort. The book, which underwent several editions and appeared with different titles, was originally published in French shortly after Laurence’s death. The English critical edition of this work, which is the subject of this review, includes a short but helpful introduction to Laurence’s life and writings. The critical edition also includes the Practice of the Presence of God (chapter 5) derived from Laurence’s letters by his biographer, and two other biographical pieces: Eulogy (chapter 1) and the Ways of Brother Laurence (chapter 6).

 

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Brother Lawrence Mysticism Nicolas Herman Practice of the Presence of God

Prayer in the Psalms: The Means to Intimate Communion in God’s Presence

Unity: Monists perplex Christians by claiming that an impersonal reality encompasses a personal deity and that we are all part of that one being. As a mechanical formula, unity seems better than a diversity of creatures in creation – after all everyone is looking for a unified theory in science. Atheism likewise seeks unity in matter. Scriptural truth, however, which provides a coherent whole matching reality, is diametrically opposed to the unity of Hinduism or Atheism or any other world system. This paper attempts to bring out how biblical prayer in the Psalms supersedes any pagan conceptions of divine union. It will hopefully correct and balance Christian appreciation of prayer as divine access to God, in an experiential rather than philosophical sense.

Spirituality: Common language often relates “spirituality” with elements of pagan mysticism. Biblical spirituality wrests that domain back to a true and genuine practice of man’s spirit in relation with God who is Spirit. This practice should be governed by God’s revelation.

Prayer: Prayer is central to the spiritual life of all Christians. In examining the practice of prayer in the Psalms, this paper will explore the connection between God and the believer. It will use the categories of religious experience from Caroline Franks Davis to focus on intimate prayer in the Psalms. Thus the non-Christian mystical impulse is contrasted against pure biblical intimacy. The goal is to isolate the legitimate, beneficial, and necessary aspects of spiritual intimacy in prayer. Such a study can elevate the enjoyment of God as much as scripture permits.

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The article is by Pradeep Tilak, a doctoral candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. Focusing on apologetics, he regularly writes articles that engage the culture. He serves as an elder at Bethlehem Bible Church. You can contact Pradeep at ptilak@yahoo.com.

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Mysticism Prayer Spirituality

The Spirituality and Theology of William Law (1686-1761)

Spirituality is a phenomenon that has touched both the Protestant and Catholic branches[1] of Christianity.  Spirituality is hard to define accurately,[2] but in both Protestant and Catholic circles particular characteristics are common.  The characteristics of prayer, meditation, contemplation, mysticism, asceticism, and a drive for perfection accompany all forms of Christian spirituality.  Protestant spirituality can be generally categorized into mystical or “meditative”spirituality, and energetic or “missionary” spirituality.[3]

This essay will inspect eighteenth century English meditative spirituality, as found in the works of the greatest writer of this tradition, William Law (1686-1761).[4] In doing so I will first give a brief sketch of William Law’s life; then, secondly, explain and review his doctrine of the atonement and union with God.  I must point out that these two doctrines are ultimate to all forms spirituality because they configure the paradigm for their doctrine of the Christian life; a life of disciplined self sacrifice, which was epitomized by Jesus on the cross, and a life of the here-and-now experience of complete love in oneness with God.

 

The article is by Rev. Henry Bartsch, minister of the Trinity Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Chatham Ontario, Canada.  He is currently pursuing an M.Th. degree at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is husband to Tammy and father of six children.

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[1]There are numerous schools of spirituality within Roman Catholicism today. Cistercian, Carmelite, Marian and Jesuit spirituality make up the majority of the Roman Catholic preoccupation with spirituality.

[2] Many equate pietism with spirituality, and to some degree this is justified, particularly in Protestantism where the term has been widely used.  However, one must keep in mind the difference between “pietism” and “piety”.  Pietism in Protestantism is associated with meditative mystical spirituality.   Pietism began in seventeenth century Germany and distinctively expressed itself in the Moravians of the eighteenth century.  Piety, however, is not a philosophy but a Christian way of life.  The Puritans, for example urged Christians unto piety, but it was not couched in meditative mystical spirituality, but in the objective Word of God and gospel.

[3] David Lyle Jeffrey divides spirituality into the “meditative” and “missionary” categories.  But he is quick to point out that “a missionary oriented spirituality [like that of Isaac Watts, and the Wesley’s] has almost always had its origin in a profound encounter with meditative spirituality – an emphasis on the workings of the Spirit in the inner life, on the psychology of spiritual response, and on the intimate experience of the personhood of Jesus.” David Lyle Jeffery, English Spirituality.  (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987). Pg, 25.  In my observation, meditative spirituality is always mystical, and is usually accompanied with perfectionist doctrine.

[4] Jeffrey comments on Law’s significance.  “William Law…is the outstanding spiritual writer of the nonjuror right wing of the Anglican church, and perhaps the outstanding spiritual writer of the age.”  Jeffrey, 27.  Jeffery also records what Aldous Huxley said about Law’s writings.  “He [Law] is one of the greatest masters of devotion and philosophical theology is passed over almost in silence.”  Jeffrey, 120.  William Law falls into the category of mystical or “meditative” spirituality.

Mysticism Spirituality William Law