On Thomas Adam’s “Private Thoughts on Religion.”
What’s interesting to note about centuries-old preachers and theologians is their absolute devotion to Christ. And while many of the writings of the Puritan “divines” are received with angst and hesitation nowadays, the vast majority of them intended solely to bring attention to the Lord Jesus through means that seem foreign and, perhaps, legalistic when compared to today’s standards. Granted, every generation of mankind is infected with the same disease of sin, but when reading the reverence and seriousness with which these men approached the Word and their study of it, it’s hard not to imagine a simpler, more devout and “divine” age of Christian writing.
What is somewhat unfamiliar, though, are authors penning and publishing their innermost thoughts and feelings throughout the throes and travails of life. Perhaps the most revealing modern pastors and speakers get is through their Twitter feeds (and that’s not saying very much) Much of today’s society is built on covering up the flaws and hiding the scars. To share these openly, for all the world to see, is somewhat unprecedented and disdained. Therefore, Thomas Adam’s Private Thoughts on Religion should be considered a storehouse for deep, honest, and raw emotion and devotion to God and his gospel.
This work is a posthumously published compilation of Adam’s thoughts and extracts from his private diary. Much of this was received with contempt when originally released, with the vast majority of the religious crowd deeming the reflections too revealing and inconsistent with the “sound doctrine” of the gospel. But, as the editor himself professes, learning only of the happy, victorious, and sunny days of devout men does nothing for the soul that wishes to progress and grow in the faith. A glance at Scripture would likewise reveal that “everything is recorded without disguise,” nothing is hidden. The brokenness and wreckage that followed in the wake of many of the patriarchs isn’t dismissed or disguised or disregarded, but is revealed, front and center, thereby showing exactly the sort of people God’s after: those who are broken, desperate, and destitute. As Adam rightly notes, “We can only come to Christ with a catalogue of our sins in our hands.”1
What you’ll find throughout the pages of these “private thoughts” are the real reflections and introspections of a man who was dealt some serious blows, physically and spiritually, throughout the course of his life. But there are scarce things more beautiful than raw grace meeting real needs. As Adam says: “Descend more willingly into the valley of humiliation, and you will find comfort in Christ, and strength against sin, to abound more freely.”2 Boldly entering that “valley of humiliation,” that “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4) is easier, though nonetheless daunting, with the reassurance that neither God’s grace nor he himself will ever leave or forsake you. (Heb 13:5)
I would contend that we need more of this kind of writing — less formal, more real. It’s the stuff of contrition and desperation and conviction — it’s the stuff of grace. This work is delightful only in the subject to which it points: Jesus Christ. Its subject matter is sometimes dark and depressing. But Adam’s honesty and vulnerability bring all the more glory to God and his grace.
Thomas Adam, Private Thoughts on Religion and Other Subjects Connected With It (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1843), 62.