Teellinck, Willem. The Path of True Godliness, tr. by Annemie Godbehere, ed. by Joel R. Beeke. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006. Reviewed by Rev. J. Wesley White.
Have you ever wished that you had a little manual to help show you how to live the Christian life? Perhaps someone to guide you through the Bible and show you what it means to live a godly life in this age? Perhaps a north star to point you in the right direction?
If so, I would highly recommend to you Willem Teellinck’s (1579–1629) The Path of True Godliness. Teellinck’s book is not only powerful and profound but also extremely readable. Jacob Koelman (1632–1695) recommended it as one of the books that you should give to your children to read, and it is also a book that is rich with insights for pastors and elders who are trying both to lead a godly life and teach others to do so.
Willem Teellinck was a leader in the Dutch Reformed Church in the 17th century promoting godliness. He emphasized that we must not only know Reformed doctrine but also live a godly life. He along with several other writers produced the spiritual classics of the Dutch Reformed Church that are only now being translated into English through the labor of the Dutch Reformed Translation Society.
Even though The Path of True Godliness has been loved by many through the past centuries, a book like this is especially important in our godless and irreligious day. Everything in our society directs our attention to this present world and scoffs at those who take religion seriously. This book will help you gain your bearing as the north star does for those lost at sea or in the woods (The North Star was the original title in the book).
Teellinck begins his book by describing the general character of godliness. According to Teellinck, it begins with a firm resolve to live a godly life. This is a simple but yet profound point. How many of us begin every day with a resolution like the Psalmist, “I have sworn and confirmed that I will keep Your righteous judgments” (Psalm 119:106)?
How much would our lives change if we began with this simple resolution? This is not a Pelagian belief in our own ability. Teellinck is quick to add that on our own we can do nothing. He writes:
Above all things of the world, we should seek to experience the power of Christ’s death in order to put to death our members, which are upon the earth, and all evil desires and to feel the power of his resurrection in order to rise again in newness of life and so express the life of Christ in our own life (p. 35).
We must go to Christ and seek from Him all things and especially the ability and power to live a godly life.
Teellinck then gives an outline of the enemies that we must face in living a godly life. This is particularly important in light of the fact that today we tend to severely underestimate the enemies of the Christian, especially Satan himself.
His descriptions of Satan’s attacks are particularly helpful. It is interesting to see how things that we often chalk up to modern, relativistic philosophy were just as much a problem in Teellinck’s day because they are the result of Satan’s deceptions in every age.
He explains how Satan seeks to get people to make false conclusions about the facts of the world. For example, we often hear today, “Everyone sins. Nobody’s perfect.”
Teellinck says that Satan tries to get us to conclude from this fact that “we should not be too concerned about godly living.” And this is the conclusion that so many draw from it! The right conclusion is that since even the best of us continues to sin, no one can be justified by works (see pp. 76–77).
Similarly, Satan points out to people that even wise men make errors and do not know the truth. Satan then tries to get us to conclude that we should not be too concerned about finding out the truth. This is, of course, the wrong conclusion. The conclusion that we should draw from the fact that all men are liars (Romans 3:4) is that “each person must deny his own opinions and subject all his thoughts to God’s Word” (pp. 77–78).
In chapters 4–6, Teellinck describes what we must do to promote the kingdom of light and destroy the kingdom of darkness. To accomplish this we must understand the goal of our lives and the true purpose of life. We must be diligent to use the means God has given and conduct ourselves wisely in the use of these means.
The true purpose of life is rather simple but something we often forget. He says that the true purpose of life is to promote the glory of God, our soul’s salvation, and the salvation of others. We might easily pass by this as obvious, but how often do we live as if other things such as our work, entertainment, vacations, getting our children good jobs, or any number of other things are more important?
We see this especially in the use of means. Teellinck emphasizes that if we are serious about attaining a godly life, then we will apply the means that God has given toward that end. Consider (this is my example) if a college student said he wanted to be a doctor, but he never wanted to take any biology or chemistry classes. How serious would we think he is about becoming a doctor? Similarly, if we do not make diligent use of God’s promises, works, and holy ordinances to advance God’s glory and our salvation, then are we really serious about wanting to be godly?
In chapter 6, Teellinck offers a great deal of practical advice on just how we can carry this out. Teellinck emphasizes that if we are going to be godly, we must have a disciplined life in which there are established times and fixed hours for our duties. In doing this, we must follow these three guidelines. First, put God first. Second, practice mercy, which includes showing love and care to our friends and members of the Church. Third, do what is most important. He emphasizes that if we hope to accomplish something with the limited amount of time that we have, we must do what is most important first. Again, this is an obvious rule but one that is easily neglected.
There is much in this book to challenge us. If we read this book, we will find out just how far we all fall from godliness. But this is not surprising. We are often ready to recognize that we not where we should be as Christians, but we are less willing to hear about it when it comes to particular sins and sinful habits and how we can correct them. This book will help show us exactly where we are failing and how can we live a more godly life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Teellinck concludes his book with motivations for living a godly life. He especially emphasizes that we must keep our eyes focused on eternity and the goodness of God. When we consider how much God has done for us, the eternal fruit that will come from seeking after godliness, and the horrible result of rejecting godliness, we should easily be able to discern what we should do and why.
From every side today we hear that we should not worry too much about “religious matters.” We are told to worry about health, vacations, houses, food, and retirement. While these things indeed have some value, they are really nothing compared to the eternal value of godliness (1 Tim. 4:8). And this is really to say nothing more and nothing less than that our relationship with God is more important than anything else (Mt. 6:33, Dt. 6:5). This is not only a message that is profitable for Christians of all ages and conditions, but in its simplicity and readability this book is particularly well-suited to deliver that message.