The Christian Duty of Divine Meditation, (3) Preparations, by Richard Allestree (1619-1681).
In this third instalment from Richard Allestree's The Christian's Duty the preparatory work of meditation is set out and explained. Namely, consideration of the Divine presence and prayer.
Preparation 1: Of Being Affected With The Divine Presence.
We are to consider, God is present in all places, as really and essentially as he is in Heaven: For, omnipotency did not create Heaven for his confinement, but to manifest his glory; for the Heaven of Heavens are not able to contain him; neither is the Almighty included by, nor excluded from any place: And though Jacob said, Surely the Lord was in this place, and I knew it not, Gen. 28. 16. yet we must not imagine that Jacob was ignorant of the verity of it, but did not actually consider it; but the the Psalmist, in the 139th Psalm, is perspicuous in explaining and clearing up the omnipresence of the Almighty.
Next, we must consider, that the Almighty does more peculiarly observe his servants, while they are performing of heavenly duties: Yet this is to be understood, not as if God observed us more at one time than another, in respect of his omnisciency; but we may infer that God is much more offended with us, if our deportment and frame of heart, be more irreverent and unholy in the duty of prayer and meditation, than in the duties of our particular calling.
We may consider with ourselves, that Christ does actually behold us, especially in these duties of sanctity: For it is not the remoteness of place that does obstruct Christ's omnisciency, and exact observing of us. Little did Nathanael think that Christ saw him under the fig-tree: Nathanael did not perceive Christ, neither then was he corporally present, yet Christ beheld Nathanael when he prayed. So Christ beheld St. Stephen before the Heavens were opened, and the opening of the Heavens was not; that thereby Christ might be enabled the better to behold St. Stephen, but that this holy proto-Martyr might thereby be the better enabled to discern that Christ looked on him.
And without all controversy, the Almighty observes and knows with what reverence, faith, and love, we address ourselves to him; for else our prayers would be fruitless, and our faith ineffectual: For, how could he distribute to us according to our faith, if he knew not the extent of it? If the inferior frame of our hearts were not observed by omnipotency, we may then infer, that an hypocrite which can utter extraordinary expressions, should acquire more by his addresses to the Almighty, than a true Nathanael, in whom there is no guile.
Suppose that thou hadst lived in that age when Christ was upon Earth, or that he were corporally present now, near thy habitation; consider with what joy, reverence, alacrity, and assurance, thou wouldst address thyself to him for the pardon of thy sins, or for any other mercy you stand in need of: After the same manner you may now address thyself; his remoteness from thee, in respect of a corporal presence, does not diminish his power to discern thy wants, or give an audit to thy petitions; nor his being now glorified, does not derogate his benevolence to grant thy requests, than if he were corporally present, in the room with thee in the form of a servant, as he was once at Jerusalem.
The glory of Christ does not slacken his love and goodness; for Christ is the express image of his Father, and God's attributes are all consonant: The majesty of Heaven does not set limits unto his goodness, and make that finite; nor doth his bounty make his omnipotency less glorious: His goodness makes his deity more amiable, and his omnisciency makes his mercies more wonderful; so neither does the exaltation of Christ, excite him to abate or diminish his goodness to any that serve him, according to his divine precepts.
But if in any method his love is mutable, it is by an augmentation: For when our blessed Lord was in the flesh, you must have approached him by faith, or expected no mercy; and by faith, though he is enthroned in Heaven, you may obtain mercy in time of need. Thus you may ponder upon any of these considerations, until your heart be so convinced of, and affected with the presence of God, that you thereby may be the better fitted for the carrying on the duty of meditation more effectually.
Preparation 2: Of Preparatory Prayer Before Meditation.
The next preparatory consideration is, Prayer; which thou mayst perform to this or the like purpose.
LORD, my design, at this time, is not to be sequestered an hour from worldly enjoyments, for that were to be guilty of a cessation, and to increase the number of my sins, not my graces; but my solicitation, at this time, is, to be so convinced and affected with those spiritual verities revealed in thy Word, that I may fully resolve, by thy strength and power, to reform my life: for I can neither understand the things that belong to my peace; not understanding them, be convinced of the certainty and verity of them.
Nay, Lord, though my understanding is illuminated, yet without thee my affections cannot be enflamed: I can neither know, resolve, nor perform any good without thee; for from thee proceeds both the will and the benefit of thy good pleasure. Lord, I humbly implore thee to replenish me with thy grace, that I may be conscientious in performing this duty with my whole strength, and not negligently, and inconsiderately. And, Lord, do thou illuminate me, and convince me with thy sacred truths, and so affect my heart with the love of sanctity, and a detestation of all sin and wickedness, that I may thereby be fully and firmly resolved (notwithstanding all the oppositions that the flesh, the world, or the devil can procure) to run the ways of thy commandments with joy and celerity.
And, Lord, grant that when thou hast operated in me the will so to perform, give me also the benefit, and let me not trust to the strength of my resolutions, but to the continual gracious assistance of thy Holy Spirit for the Performance of those duties that through thee I shall resolve to pursue. Grant this, O holy and blessed Father, even for the merits of thy dear Son, who hath commanded me to approach to thee in his name for any mercies I stand in need of. O let these my petitions reach thy merciful ears even for his sake who is my only Lord and Saviour, Amen.
This or the like prayer thou art to send up to the throne of grace: But this must be done with thy whole heart; for thou must believe, that it is by the strength which thou shalt acquire from God, by prayer, whereby thou shalt be enabled to perform this or any other duty profitably; for it is he that teaches us to be proficients. Now, he that begins a holy duty without God, will end it without him also. It is a pernicious thing to imagine that we can by our natural parts, learning, or by the strength of Grace already received, without the Almighty's further assistance, perform any thing that can please him, or edify our own souls; for though our mountain be made strong, yet if he withdraws the light of his countenance, we are in obscurity.
We may with much more reason declare, now the sun is in his full meridian, and the air is so serene, that now we can transact well enough for a space, though that solar luminary be eclipsed; than to testify, though our hearts be never so much inflamed with the love of the Almighty, now we are so supplied and inflamed with his divine love, we can subsist by our own strength, and for the present we want not God's further assistance; afford us but subject matter to meditate of, and we shall be of ability to continue and increase our flames. Do not possess thyself that it is a burthen, but a mercy and privilege, that omnipotence has necessitated and commanded thee always to extract strength from Him.