There is nothing more unsteadfast than the mind of man and nothing more unfixed than the heart of man. Therefore is there a great need for that which anchors the mind and fixes the heart, for that solemn meditation of God. For when Christ is our treasure there will our hearts be and when we meditate upon God our souls shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. (Psal. 63. 4.)
Here we look at that great Christian exercise of mediation with Richard Allestree in his The Whole Duty of Divine Meditation Described in all its Various Parts and Branches: with Meditations on Several Places of Scripture. We consider: What meditation is; the kinds of meditation; and lastly meditation as our duty.
What Meditation is.
First, Divine meditation differs from occasional, by these examples: When you hear the hour of the day or night, think with thyself, What thoughts, O my God, have I had of thee, this hour? I am now nearer the silent grave, and know not how soon I may be arrested by the hand of death. These are like ejaculatory prayers; which though they are as parenthesis in our worldly employment, yet they signify more than all the rest of the business we are employed in; but meditation is of longer duration than solemn prayer upon ordinary occasions.
Second, It differs from study: For study consists of those things that are most difficult, and generally such as afford little spiritual nourishment; but the subject of Divine Meditation, concerns our eternal happiness: the end of study is knowledge, but the end of meditation is sanctity.
Third, It differs from contemplation: For contemplation is applicable to the Beatifical Vision, where the angels behold the face of the Almighty: Now meditation is like fire kindling; and contemplation, the flaming of it when fully kindled: The one is like the spouse’s seeking of Christ; and the other, like her enjoying of him.
Fourth, To conclude; meditation is, a serious and solemn considering of heavenly things, to the end we may understand how much it concerns us, and that our hearts thereby may be raised to some holy affections and resolutions.
Kinds of Meditation
Now there are four kinds of solemn meditation, according to their several subjects.
First, Some solemn meditations are, upon the hearing of sermons: which is a very useful and necessary practice amongst Christians; and it is better to hear one sermon, and meditate on it, than to hear two, and meditate of neither. Now, to prescribe a method for meditating on sermons, is neither necessary nor possible; since the methods of sermons are various, therefore the mediators are to observe the method of the sermon they meditate upon; and the fruits of such meditations, is to work those truths, advices, and motives, &c. upon our affections, that are proposed to us in the sermon.
The second kind of solemn meditation, is, when upon some providential occasion, spiritual distemper, or temptation, we retire, and pour out our souls in prayers, soliloquies, &c. Which cannot but in a very large sense be styled prayer, being mix'd of such variety, as sometimes speaking to the great Majesty of Heaven, and humbly acknowledging how we stand affected to Him and his Ordinances; sometimes we examine our soul, chiding, encouraging, or instructing it; sometimes we reason with our selves, what holy resolutions we design to put in practice, and what we intend to supplicate the Almighty. Many instances of this nature you may find in Psalm 42. and other Psalms which cannot properly be called prayers, but solemn meditations.
The third kind of solemn meditation, are those that are upon Scripture, which is the Word of God, and his words are pure, even as the silver tried seven times in the fire, Psal. 12. 6. Our Saviour's Precept, is, That we should search the Scriptures, Joh. 5. 39. And St. Paul bids us prove all things, 1 Thes. 5. 21. And if we meditate on God's Word, which is the golden rule of all our devotions, we shall acquire that peace to our souls, which the World cannot give, nor none upon earth can take from us; for all his promises are yea, and amen, 2 Cor. 1. 20.
The last kind of meditation, is, upon some practical truth of religion; which is, the planting and nourishing of all true virtue among men; to grow in grace, 2 Pet. 3.8 to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, 2 Cor. 7. 1 And endeavour∣ing to take hold of St. Paul's pressing argument to his Corinthians, to be stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; then this assurance will infallibly appertain to us, That our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord, 1 Cor. 15. 58.
That Meditation is a Duty.
That Isaac did not neglect solemn meditation, is evident, by reason he went out into the fields to perform it; and to show that it was a set-duty, 'tis said, that he went out to meditate. And God commanded Joshua to perform this duty, as a chief means for the keeping of the Law, Josh. 1. 18. And indeed we ought not to forget so important an exercise; for the occasion of sin, is the want of consideration, and not want of knowledge: Isa. 1. 3. For, who is there, almost, in the world, that knows not but that he must die, but how few are they that consider it? Deut. 32. 29.
Next, the necessity of meditation is very material: For none can enter into a state of conversion, who thinks it insignificant. To confirm which, we have it recorded in Scripture the story of the prodigal son, who listed himself in harlot’s company; but upon his submissive return, was received again into his father's favour. Now, this is the method of the converted: First, He hears the sacred truth of God's Word, and is convinced by it. Secondly, He considers and meditates upon it, and sees how much it concerns himself. Thirdly, He is affected with them; and being thus affected, it raises holy resolutions of better obedience.
But some will object and say, I am illiterate, and cannot attain to it, and therefore I must relinquish it, and leave it to the learned, who is best able to perform a duty of so great importance. To which I answer, as in the mathematical science; He that is a rational man, and does but improve his reason, though he hath neither tongues nor arts to assist him, may understand and grow to an extraordinary excellency in any art if he has God's assistance, and does but exercise and improve it, he may reap the benefit and fruit of meditation.
Others will object, and declare, it is a very hard duty. To which my reply is this; That the harder any thing seems, it is the more excellent when it is attained; but the obstacle is apparent, and infers it not to be consonant to our perverse wills and affections; and the more dissonant any thing is to that which is evil, the more congruous it is to sublimer actions: For it cannot reasonably be expected that any duty should be performed at the first, with much facility. For example; the seven liberal sciences, which are of great excellency in temporal enjoyments, are not so easily attained without solicitation and sedulity.
Now the reason is evident; for this duty is powerful in mortifying corruptions: dulcified things nourish and pamper the body, and bitter things gives a purgation: Therefore, if you will only perform those duties that are pleasant and delectable, they will only nourish, not purge out corruption. Therefore implore the Almighty to inflame your hearts with his divine love; and then this duty will not only be facile and delightful, but will so affect the undertaker, that it will be very difficult to avoid a duty of so great importance; for it is as great a difficulty to take our affections off from what we admire, as it is to place 'em upon what we abhor: For, bid the covetous person forsake his gold and silver, and bid him entertain the thoughts of things celestial, and he'll find an equal difficulty in both.
Indeed, the love of the Almighty, and desire of spiritual things, are acquired by meditation; and when once our hearts are inflamed by that exercise, then our meditations are inflamed by love: For, as sparks of fire is first blown up before the flame increases; so the difficulty of meditation appears at the beginning, when there is but, as it were, a spark of divine love in the heart, it will require some pains, by meditation, to blow it up to a flame; but afterwards the heart will be so fervent with these conflagrates of love, that it will so inflame all the thoughts, and create in us not only facility, but a necessity to meditate on things spiritual.
Now some will object, if it be a duty so necessary, how comes it to pass, that it hath been so generally neglected by most Christians? To which I answer; that it has been practised by many in ancient times, and by many modern Christians. The sacred Scriptures inform us, and it is evident that the Psalms of the Royal Prophet, are frequently digested into meditations: But this being a private closet-duty, the omission nor performance of it could not be taken notice of; and so the omission of it could not be reprehended, nor performance observed.