In this particular chapter from Richard Allestree's guide to the Christian duty of meditation the parts of meditation are set out being: consideration, affection, and resolutions & vows.
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Joshua 1:8
First Part of Meditation - Of Consideration.
First, Our considerations must be plain, not intricate and abstruse; for the main scope of meditation being the affecting of our heart, and reforming of our lives. Next, they must be certain and evident, not controversial and dubious; for the effect of meditation is not peculiarly to increase our knowledge, but to improve it. Neither let considerations be curious and nice speculations: Neither make choice of those books to assist thee, in this duty, which are embellished with rhetorical and eloquent expressions which appear, in the eye of the world, to be witty, but are indeed very empty: for verity, indeed, is many times lost in those allurements; and entangles the mind, by disengaging of it, from serious consideration: as many dishes become unsavoury, by having too much cost bestowed, and so lose their virtue before they reach the stomach.
The bee fixes not upon the freshest coloured rose, or fragrant's smell; but on the herb thyme, which is of slender beauty. Besides, eloquence in this duty, may please some persons, as pictures in books please children, who while they gaze upon them, neglect their learning; even so, while we are affected with elegancy of speech, we stray from the performance of conveying the verity of what we ponder of, to our hearts: As in the disease of the bladder, the skilful physician, to perform a cure, administers those remedies which may soonest reach the part affected; for if they meet with any obstruction, they lose their virtue, and are insignificant: so if our understanding should explicate the eloquence, or search out the meaning or certainty of the verity it considers, any long season, the heart will prove cool and unaffected; and be under the same circumstance with those musicians that were to play their concert before a great Emperor, but were so long a tuning their instruments, that he would not stay to hear them.
The next rule, is, if any doubt arises upon an evident truth, in which the Devil is apt to cast in scruples; then act as the Arch-Angel did with him, enter the lists; and perhaps when you have examined the matter, the cloud may vanish, and the Sun shine in its full meridian; by which resistance Satan will take flight: but if he still persist, and your blasphemies are not removed, then dispute no more, but use the Arch-Angel's words, The Lord rebuke thee, Satan. To this purpose, 'tis requisite to be well grounded in the verity of God's Word, which is the Sword of the Spirit, by which our Saviour silenced Satan in all his temptations: We must not dispute with that enemy by human reason, but we must put on the whole Armour of God, if we will be able to stand in the day of temptation, and when all is done to stand.
Our next rule, is, not to over-multiply our considerations; but when, by considering the truths of God, we find our hearts ardently affected, then we are to make a progression. But this caution is observable, that when we find our hearts, never so little affected, we must desist in our considerations: The bee will not leave the flower, while any honey is to be extracted. And it is a temptation which Christians ought to take notice of, that Satan is ready to make us hastily pass over duties, before we have extracted half the strength of them: For when we are confessing our sins, and our hearts begin in the least measure to be humbled, they are often filled with such joy, as may be suspected to proceed from him, or our corrupted hearts.
Corn, when it springs too fast, and grows rank, the husbandman cuts it down. A corrosive applied to eat dead flesh, must not be removed when it begins to smart: And wheat in stony ground soonest springs up. Our considerations must take deep root, and not entertain affections and resolutions when the heart has newly received any impression: But this we must remember, that if our affections be much enflamed when we begin our considerations, we are to yield to the inspirations of God, and be guided by it: for this method here proposed, is not to limit the extraordinary operations of God's Spirit; but if our hearts be only a little excited, we must not leave blowing the fire so soon as it begins to kindle; for green wood will suddenly extinguish, unless it be throughly kindled.
Second Part of Meditation - Affections and Resolutions & Vows.
Without knowledge, we cannot consider: and consideration raises affections; and affections produces resolutions; and the effect of resolution is action, and a through reformation of our lives and manners. Now, our affections may vary according to the subject of our meditation: for sometimes we admire the goodness, majesty and wisdom of the Almighty; another time we are amazed at our own folly and madness, in living so contrary to our own principles; and that those sacred truths revealed in God's Word, which we might improve to our eternal salvation, should be laid by, as useless; as if one should have in his possession an excellent and effectual receipt for the stone, and yet lock it up, and make no use of it.
Sometimes we despise the world, and with Job, abhor ourselves in dust and ashes: sometimes we affect sorrow, joy, love, fear, &c. of which we may be furnished out of the Book of Psalms, which were indeed but David's meditations, though not in this method. Now, when our affections are much excited, we may make a progress to resolution.
Now your resolutions must be fixed; not vain and frivolous, but serious and resolved purposes. Say not with thyself, I am assured the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience, and I must embrace hell, or forsake taking of the name of God in vain; the offence is great, which I commit in swearing, and I could heartily wish I could omit it: but instead of this, argue thus with thyself, I am solemnly resolved, by the blessing of the Almighty, to forsake all sin, especially what I am most guilty of; for God will not be mocked, neither must I give a faint denial to sin.
Whatever thy resolutions are, put them presently in practise, and drive them not off to futurity. Art thou addicted to drinking? Do not resolve and say, this sin I intend to forsake, but for the present I am engaged to meet company where I must appear sociable; but that being finished, I design to prosecute my resolution. This is one of Satan's devices, and is cast in thy way as a stumbling-block, which, if not removed, will prove pernicious.
Next, let not thy resolutions be only against sin, but against the temptations and allurements to it. Solomon does not say to the adulterer, Thou may discourse a harlot; but, Be not enticed by her words to uncleanness: He will not permit thee to go into her house, or by her door; Prov. 5. 8. And when he dissuades the drunkard from that vice, he advises him not to look upon the wine; for as the beauty of a prostitute harlot, so the colour of wine will inflame our desires after it, Prov. 23. 31. After this method Job resolved, I have made a covenant with mine eyes, why then should I look upon a maid? Job. 31. 1.
Next, you must observe this caution: If you find your heart never so much resolving against, and detesting of any sin, yet be very circumspect, that you confide not upon the strength of resolution, but earnestly deprecate the Almighty, that he would enable you by his Divine power; and that as he has given you the will, so he would give you his grace to perform it.
As your resolutions are, so let your vows be; rather against the occasions of sin, than against sin itself. In things indifferent beware of making any perpetual vow, but rather let it be conditional. As, first, that you will abstain from such a thing, or perform what you designed, unless you shall be otherwise advised by some discreet, sober person. Secondly, add this caution, if thou art guilty of drinking, viz. If I think of it, I will not drink wine this month. Now, if a breach of this vow be made, though you did not think of it, you sin if your vow be absolute.
The next caution concerning things indifferent, is this; add a penalty upon the breach of your vow; which may be to this purpose: I resolve to set a-part one hour in the day, in prayer for the Church, to the end of this month; or else give alms to the poor. In such a case, if we perform either, we sin not: And the reason of our penalty, is, because some inconveniences may arise which may prove very prejudicial to us; and then we have liberty to take the other part of our vow, viz. To give so much to the poor.
Now, this penalty we inflict upon ourselves, must not be too light and trivial, but of such consequence as may be obligatory; yet not of that ponderosity to be prejudicial. For a rich man to vow he will bestow a small matter on the poor, is inconsiderable; yet, perhaps, by a poor man, the same value may be of too large an extent: But let your penalty be according to the rules of Scripture and reason, and opposite to those sins which are most prevalent in thee. For example, if covetousness reigns in thee, exercise thy penalty in alms: if voluptuousness, prayer and fasting, or abstaining wholly, for a time, from thy greatest delight and recreation.
Lastly, Let your vows be rather against the external than the internal acts of sin; rather against speaking angrily, than being angry: For though external acts of sin are worse, yet we have not so much dominion over them. If your vows extend to the performance of holy duties, let it be as to the time, not the quantity. For Example: Should'st thou bind thyself to read such a number of chapters, perhaps thou art tempted to read them too hastily over; whereas if thou dost allot thy self so much time, thou art not so liable to this temptation.
Third Part of Meditation - How to Conclude your Meditations.
First, Thou must earnestly beseech the Almighty to give thee strength to perform whatever thou hast resolved to act in his service. This must be performed fervently, though briefly and humbly, from an earnest desire to act what thou hast promised and resolved, and also from an humble sense of thine inability in the performance. Next, express thy thankfulness; and when thou findest any alteration wrought in thy heart to detest sin, give God the glory, and rejoice not in thyself, except it be with trembling at thy own pride and arrogance.
Next, We are to remember what parts of our meditation did most affect us, and lay them up so in our thoughts, that frequently we may ponder on them.
Lastly, When thy meditations are ended, depart not hastily to thy temporal employments: Go not from the presence of the Almighty, as a bird out of the snare of the fowler, with alacrity and speed, but go vigilantly and warily from holy duties.
In the following instalments from Allestree's The whole duty of divine meditation described in all its various parts and branches we shall look at his meditations upon several places of scripture.