In his forward to Depression, Anxiety, and the Christian Life, J.I. Packer makes some interesting observations about the what Puritan pastors in 17th-century England worked to try to foster in the people who attended their churches. Their focus, he writes, began with promoting:
…a regenerative conversation (faith in Christ, Godward repentance, assurance of justifying acceptance and adoption into God’s family, worshipful communion with the Father and the Son, and daily obedience to God’s law by the power of the Holy Spirit).
That was the beginning they encouraged people to experience. Then:
Christian life as such would then take the form of love and service (good works) in family, church, and society, monitored by conscience pursing its two concerns.
Notice the two main concerns Puritan Pastors urged on their congregations:
Concern number one was the discerning of duty, that is, the specifics of God’s biblically revealed will for each day’s action.
Concern number two was self-examination or self-search, the regular reviewing of one’s motives and actions to make sure that one was living as a real believer and not a self-deluded “gospel hypocrite,” as pew sitting formalists were sometimes called.
Though number two can be carried too far (no one should sit around worrying they are a fake Christian), both concerns can be extremely helpful to remember for growth in our Christian life. First–we should most definitely take time regularly to think about where we are in life and what God requires of us based on our situation–and if we’re actually being faithful to do those things. Second–we shouldn’t just assume we’re on point spiritually–we probably want to “get real” with our selves from time to time. Am I authentic? Am I in private what I am in public? Am I in thought what I am in word and what I am in deed? What most excites me? …motivates me? …moves me?
The Puritans viewed life as a landscape crisscrossed by many paths, of which one must always seek to discern and follow the most God-honoring, which will be the wisest and best for others and oneself. Casuistry was the Puritan name for study of the principles for making this choice each time, and conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil was understood to be involved in actually doing that.
“Casuistry” (I think it’s pronounced KAZ-ew-is-tree) is probably not a word you’ve used before. But do you get the concept? Don’t we all need to grow in our ability to make wise decisions–in fact, the wisest–the decisions that will be best for ourselves and others? And aren’t these things worthy of effort to study, understand, and improve?