For the Bookshelf: True Christianity
August 20, 2018—Johann Arndt was a German Lutheran theologian, serving some time as a pastor. He lived in the late 16th and early 17th century (1555-1621). He was born to a Lutheran pastor who served as a chaplain to a duke. His father was a devout man and saw to the religious education of his son. Arndt lived in a time of changing devotional practices because printing and education were increasing along with the focus on theological doctrine. His purpose was to encourage his readers to turn from the intellectual discussions of doctrine and return to worship of God. Arndt expresses his purpose as “Now, to this end, my Christian reader, this book may, to a certain extent, serve thee as a guide, showing thee not only how thou mayest, through faith in Christ, obtain the remission of thy sins, but also how thou mayest avail thyself of the grace of God, in order to lead a holy life…”
Arndt wrote The Garden of Paradise as a reference book including prayers for all occasions and needs. After reading Garden, there were so many references to True Christianity, I decided to review it. At 866 pages, it is quite the compendium of Arndt’s theological understanding. It was written in a very orderly fashion, as four books developed between 1605 and 1610. It contains 170 chapters. Every chapter, indeed every section lists biblical quotations or references.
Book one describes how the word of God works for human faith. Humans are led to die to the life of sin and live in faith with repentance. They are to a life with Christ, a life of love, which includes loving neighbor. Book two introduces Jesus Christ and his righteousness, by which humans are blessed and encouraged to live in righteousness. The old sinful human life must be abandoned with repentance, in order to accept the mercy of God. Book three describes the internal treasure which man possesses within the soul and how God desires to relate to the human soul. Book four explains the scriptures of creation described in Genesis. This is followed by extensive discussion of the love of God versus the love of man and life in the world versus Christian life.
Arndt’s discussion emphasizes holy living rather than intellectual progress. He claims that the only way to a holy life as, “Hence serious and fervent prayer is, as I said before, the first step to a holy life.” He also believed that God is only too willing to bless a man who comes before him in prayer. “This love, proceeding out of a “pure heart” must be obtained from God by prayer and supplication. And truly, God is willing to enkindle in us this heavenly flame through the love of Christ, if he be but earnestly solicited, and if the heart be every day and every moment laid open to his divine influence.” And Arndt again teaches of God’s blessings when he instructs, “Seriously consider, that no good and perfect gifts are obtained or preserved except by prayer: for every good and perfect gift descendeth from God.”
Although Arnd would agree that the virtues and graces of a Christian life are important, he emphasizes the time spent with God in devotion, time offering the heart to God, is the starting point. “So that the most acceptable service a man can do unto God, is to keep his heart so quiet and still that God may rest and manifest himself in it.” The gift of Christian faith and Christian virtues will follow when people focus on their relationship with God through prayer.
“But as even faith and prayer are the work and gift of God, so we must daily apply ourselves to Him for the same.” Another key element when seeking God’s presence is humility, as demonstrated by Christ. Arndt says, “Without true humility all prayer is in vain. Our Lord Jesus Christ is… a perfect mirror to us of all the virtues and graces.”
I was seeking Arndt’s references to devotional practices. He is trying to prove to his readers that faith and worship and prayer are more important that knowledge of theological doctrine. Arndt’s True Christianity does not discuss many specific elements of devotional practices other than prayer. But he does emphasize the critical role prayer plays in successful Christian living. I found this book informative but marginally helpful for personal devotional practices.
Johann Arndt, True Christianity. Edited by Charles F. Schaeffer. Project Gutenberg.
Rev. Paul Sherwood is pastor of the Oakmont Presbyterian Church, Hoover AL and a DMin candidate at Columbia Theological Seminary.
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