Samuel Davies on the Nature of the Spiritual Life

By Joe Harrod

Samuel Davies (1723–1761) used the language of communion or fellowship when describing the nature of spiritual life: “If you love God and the Lord Jesus Christ, you delight in communion with them.”[1] True friends seized every opportunity for fellowship and a dear companion’s “absence is tedious and painful to them.”[2] God was such a friend to believers. Davies balanced God’s transcendence and immanence:

Though God be a spirit, and infinitely above all sensible converse with the sons of men, yet he does not keep himself at a distance from his people. He has access to their spirits, and allows them to carry on a spiritual commerce with him, which is the greatest happiness of their lives.[3]

Jesus had promised this communion (c.f. John 14:21–23) and it was a “mystical fellowship” that believers enjoyed, which sinners knew not.[4] Just as friends experienced communion through mutual exchanges, so God drew near to his people as a father might approach his child, showering grace, kindling love, and fostering assurance of his closeness. For their part, Christians had freedom to approach God through acts of devotion, especially prayer:

And oh! how divinely sweet in some happy hours of sacred intimacy! This indeed is heaven upon earth: and, might it but continue without interruption, the life of a lover of God would be a constant series of pure, unmingled happiness.[5]

Contrary to the opinion of some detractors, religion provided “a happiness more pure, more noble, and more durable than all the world can give.”[6] Such happiness was the believer’s present joy, and consisted of “the pleasures of a peaceful, approving conscience, of communion with God, the supreme good, of the most noble dispositions and most delightful contemplations.”[7] These blessings were gospel fruits and it was through Christ that believers had “sweet communion” with God, “the reviving communications of divine love, to sweeten the affections of life; and the constant assistance of divine grace to bear us up under every burden, and to enable us to persevere in the midst of many temptations to apostacy [sic], deliverance from hell, and all the consequences of sin.”[8]

Occasionally the believer’s experience of God did not seem so intimate, for “at times their Beloved withdraws himself, and goes from them, and then they languish, and pine away, and mourn.”[9] He recognized that the deep communion with God that he described was foreign to many, and he anticipated objections that such talk was “enthusiasm, fanaticism, or heated imagination.”[10] He appealed to more than a  half-dozen passages of Scripture (James 4:8; Hebrews 7:19 and 10:22; Psalms 69:18 and 73:28; Lamentations 3:57; and 1 John 1:3) which promised such intimacy, but replied that such communion was indeed true of God’s friends and if some critics questioned the possibility of such a close relationship, then their distance from God testified to their alienation.[11]

[1]Davies, “Nature of Love to God and Christ Opened and Enforced,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 2 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 463. Cited henceforth as Sermons.

[2]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[3]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[4]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463.

[5]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[6]Samuel Davies, “The Ways of Sin Hard and Difficult,” in Sermons, 2:549.

[7]Davies, “Ways of Sin,” in Sermons, 2:549.

[8]Samuel Davies, “The Gospel Invitation,” in Sermons, 2:631.

[9]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[10]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:464.

[11]Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:463–64.


jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.