The Christian Duty of Divine Meditation, (2) Directions, by Richard Allestree (1619-1681).
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, while I meditate on thee. Ps. 63. 4
Having established the necessity of this goodly exercise of meditation, Allestree now gives directions on its performance and expounds upon its parts so that we might be better able to perform it.
Much here is worthy to be learned by the humble Christian to follow the example of the Royal Prophet that we may say I have set the Lord always before me, that we may be in his fear all the day long. (Ps 16:8)
Rules and Directions for Meditation.
As to the place, that must be apart, remote from society and disturbance; the Patriarch Isaac went into the fields, our Blessed Saviour into a garden; and the Prophet David advises us to enter into our chamber, and be still, Psal. 4. 4. And Christ commands us, to enter into our closet, and shut the door. Now the reason of the privacy is this, that we might receive no interruption, or any distraction, nor be forced to break off abruptly before the duty be ended; next, that we may be recluse from the observation of all mortals that we may neither be heard nor seen; for there are divers gestures and expressions, which are not requisite or necessary for any but God and the soul to be privy to: now what place soever you find to be necessary for this important duty, be solicitous to make choice of.
As for the time; the best opportunity is in the morning: for the first fruits of the day being holy, all the rest are sanctified. Moreover, our thoughts being then not polluted with worldly affairs, they are not so liable to distraction: and the body itself is more serene than after meals; and this duty requires a vacuity in the stomach; not only because the head will be more perspicuous and apt for meditation, but also, because many passages of meditation require so much attention of the mind, and fervency of affection, that they do hinder digestion: And this duty being performed in the morning, it will have an influence upon the whole day. But this rule is not universal; for we read, that Isaac went forth in the evening to meditate, Gen. 24. 63. And if the subject of your meditation be a sermon, then perhaps the properest time is immediately after the hearing of it, before your affections cool, or your memory fail you.
For the duration; considering the parts of meditation are so many, as preparation, considerations, affections, resolutions, and the like: And not one of these are to be past slightly over; for affections are not quickly raised: nor are we to cease blowing the fire, if it flame, until it be well kindled; half an hour may be reckon'd to be the least for beginners, and an hour for those that are proficients in this duty.
But in this particular, there is two rules especially to be observed: First, that as we ought not to desist from our prayers before that temper and frame or heart is wrought, which is suitable to the requests of our petitions; so we should not desist in our confession of sin, till our hearts are truly sensible, and humbled for sin; neither should we slacken our praises, until our hearts are filled with holy admirings, and inflamed with the love of the Almighty. Now, the end of meditation, are affections and resolutions, therefore we should not desist till those are effected.
So in private prayer, when we find our hearts enlarged by the effusion of the Spirit of supplication upon us, we are not to desist, unless by our persisting in that duty, we omit another to which we are more particularly obliged at that juncture; so in meditation, when we perceive the heart affected, we are to continue it: but this caution must be observed, That in our enlargements, we must not continue them longer than while they flow freely, without much straining and compulsion: for honey which comes freely from the comb, is pure; but forced by heat and pressure, is not so well relished. Now, if the heart is dead, we must use our utmost diligence to awaken it; and when once our hearts are inflamed, and enlarged by holy affections in an extraordinary manner, it is but an impediment to our affections to return to the meditation of those points that raised them.
The Subject and Method of Meditation.
First, avoid controversy, for that will convert meditation into study; and nice speculations, for they are sapless without nutriment: besides, being so light, they fluctuate in the brain, and want ponderosity to sink them down into the heart; and indeed, were they admitted, they are so insignificant, as the heart, by its reception, could acquire no affectation. But let the subject of your meditation be the plainest, most powerful, and usefulest verities of the Almighty, as death, judgment, hell, and heaven; the mercies of God, our own sins, and the love and sufferings of a crucified Saviour, contemplate on that which is most suitable to your spiritual wants; as in the time of desertion, meditate most of the love and mercies of God, and thy own unworthiness, &c.
Now the rules for meditation are these three: First Preparatory. Secondly, For the body of the duty. Thirdly, the Conclusion.
In our duty of preparation, besides the choice of the subject, we are to be convinced and affected with the presence of the Deity, and to use fervent prayer for the Divine assistance.
Body of the Duty
For the body of meditation, it consists of three parts:
The First Part - Consideration
The first is consideration; which is, the convincing our hearts of several verities appertaining to that subject whereof we meditate. If the subject of our meditation be death, the considerations may run thus: Alas, O my immortal Soul! the manner, time and place where we shall expire, we are ignorant of; generally men’s lives come to a period sooner than they expect; and certain it is, whensoever that hour or minute approaches, we must bid adieu to honours, pleasures, riches, friends, and at last, our own frail bodies, &c.
The Second Part - Affections
The second part, is, affections; whether it be love of God, Christ, or spiritual things; despising of the world, admiring of the omnipotency, or any other spiritual affection.
The Third Part - Resolutions
The Third Part, are, resolutions to perform that which is agreeable to God's command, and to desist from all manner of evil.
Now that this is the most proper and genuine way of meditation, evidently appears: First, because it is not artificial, and such as requires learning, as those instructions are which advise us to consider the efficient, final, formal, material cause of defunction, with the adjuncts, concomitants, and concatenations, &c. which though they, perhaps, may please the learned, yet such difficult words astonish the ignorant. Now, this is the method by which every one that is brought home to God, is converted.
And the first thing in conversion, is, our being convinced of some truths; which conviction raises affections: For if the verities of the divine omnipotence end in conviction, and go no further; nay, if they end in affections only, and never arrive to resolutions of shunning evil, and performing of good, conversion can never be perfected. As for example: one is convinced that he is a miserable, undone wretch, by reason of original and actual abomination: Upon this conviction, fear and sorrow are excited; yet if these do not operate in us a fixed resolution of forsaking those sins, we are yet in our sins, and unconverted.