Why aren’t we more greatly and lastingly moved by the truths we believe? It’s easy to grasp something intellectually and to receive it as truth without it making a powerful impact on us. We hear powerful sermons, we read penetrating words of Scripture but are we powerfully stirred by them? Sound doctrine has not done its work in us till we both live it and love it. Do we dwell on these truths enough to let them sink down into our hearts? To do this we need to set aside time to meditate on spiritual things. This is nothing to do with mindfulness and eastern practices. It is the biblical requirement of giving our minds and hearts entirely to spiritual things for a set time.
We are always giving our minds and hearts to something – why not the best things? Such a practice prepares us for engaging in spiritual things and helps us to profit from them. Even if we were only speaking about hearing sermons it would be essential. As Edmund Calamy (1600-1666) put it, “God requires you to hear sermons, [and] requires you to meditate on the sermons you hear”.
It is digesting that nourishes not the mere action of eating something. “Meditation is digesting all the things of God. It is not merely hearing a sermon that does you good, but meditating on what you hear. If a man has a plaster and lays it on his sore, and then takes it off as soon as he has laid it on, it will do no good at all. So when you hear a sermon, if you forget it as soon as ever you have heard it, if you do not chew, meditate and ponder upon what you hear, you will never get any good”.
There are “so many lean Christians that devour hundreds of sermons…and are never any better, never any fatter”. Why is this? Because it goes in one ear, and out the other. “They never meditate, ponder and consider what they hear, that is the reason why you are so lean in grace”. Calamy points out that it takes many hours to digest a little meat which it has not taken long to eat. We should spend many hours digesting a sermon.
Calamy was a member of the Westminster Assembly and, like many other puritans, he wrote a book on the subject of meditation. The following is an updated extract from The Art of Divine Meditation.
Meditation is the soul’s transmigration to heaven, the soul’s transfiguration, the soul’s going up to heaven to converse with God, Christ and the things of eternity
The Christian who does not meditate may have Christ by faith just like someone who possesses a jewel in a purse. But meditation opens the purse, takes out the jewel and looks on it. Our failure to meditate tends to encourage hard-heartedness, ingratitude, unbelief and formality. Calamy even asserts and shows that failure to meditate is the cause of all sin.
1. What is Daily Meditation?
Daily meditation is set, solemn and deliberate. It is when someone sets apart some time and goes into a room alone or takes a private walk to solemnly and deliberately meditate on the things of heaven.This holy meditation is dwelling and abiding on things that are holy. It is not only knowing God and about Christ but dwelling on the things we know. As the bee dwells and abides on the flower to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower; so we must suck out all the sweetness we can in the things we meditate on.
To meditate is to continue and fix ourselves and our hearts on the things we know. Scripture calls meditation holy musing (Psalm 39:3). It is to commune with our own hearts (Psalm 4:4). It is both communing and consulting with our own hearts or “bethinking” ourselves (as in 1 Kings 8:47). The Hebrew word in 1 Kings 8:47 is: if they will bring back to their hearts or reflect on themselves. Meditation is a reflecting act of the soul by which the soul is carried back to itself and considers all the things that it knows.
Meditation is an inward, spiritual act of the soul by which it looks back on itself and considers all the things that concern its everlasting happiness.
Another metaphor is in Psalm 119:59 “I thought on my ways”. The word in Hebrew refers to traders who when they buy a commodity, turn it over and over and over again. They look into every part of it. Meditation is a thorough contemplation and consideration of the things of God.
2. How Does Daily Meditation Engage the Heart?
It is an act of the heart as well as of the head. It is not mere speculative knowledge of divine things but rather practical knowledge. It is not only an act of the intellect and understanding but also of the will and affections. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She did not only think of them in her head but she pondered them with her heart (see Deuteronomy 4:39).
True meditation is when we meditate on Christ in such a way as to get our heart inflamed with the love of Christ. It is to meditate on the truths of God to be transformed into them; to meditate on sin to get our hearts to hate it. Such musing on God kindles a fire in the whole soul (Psalm 39:3). It is to so contemplate on God that our heart is all on fire with the love of God.
When the heart is affected with meditation in the head David says “My meditation of him shall be sweet” (Psalm 104:34). This is true meditation, when we so meditate on God as to taste a sweetness in Him.
Meditation does not stop in the intellect, but flows into the will and affection so that the heart is all inflamed with the things on which we meditate.
Many great scholars meditate much on God, Christ and heaven, yet never become any holier by their meditation. This is because they meditate on these things merely to find out curious things about God, Christ and heaven. They do not meditate on these things to get their hearts affected, and get heavenly and divine hearts. Thus, many scholars can be as undevout and as unholy as other people even though they know more and meditate more.
I have found many poor lay people that get more good by meditation than great scholars. This is because the great scholar’s meditation many times vanishes into empty speculations, notions and opinions. But the godly man’s meditation is all about putting it into practice. He meditates on sin to hate it, on God to love Him and on Christ to be inflamed with a desire after Him. Thus, he often gets more good by meditation.
Both the butterfly and the bee dwell on the flower but the butterfly does not suck honey from the flower. There are many scholars that meditate much about the things of God but the honest plain-hearted Christian meditates on God like the bee, to suck out the sweetness of God.
3. Meditation Must Enter Three Doors
Meditation must enter into three doors or it will never do you any good.
1. It must get into the door of the understanding.This is the proper place of meditation but if it stays there, you will never be any better for it.
2. It must get into the door of the heart and affections. You must never stop meditating till it gets into that door likewise.
3. The door of practical living. Your meditation must not stop in the affections, it must influence your conduct by making it more holy. You must meditate on God to walk as God walks and so meditate on Christ as to prize Him and live in obedience to Him. Live out your meditation (Joshua 1:8). Let meditation and practice, like two sisters, walk hand in hand. Meditation without practice will only increase your condemnation.
4. Daily Meditation is Essential to the Christian Life
Meditation will help to obtain and increase grace and also resist the devil and all his temptations.
(a) It obtains grace
- It helps produce repentance in us (Psalm 119:59; Ezekiel 36:31; Mark 14:72).
- It helps produce love to God and Christ in us (Psalm 104:34)
- It helps produce the fear of God in us (Isaiah 51:12-13; Jeremiah 5:22-23).
(b) It preserves and increases grace
As wood preserves fire, oil preserves the flame and water preserves fish, so meditation preserves your graces. It preserves and increases every grace. Meditation is a divine pair of bellows to blow on the sparks of grace. When there is only a little fire, meditation will kindle this fire more and increase it.
When you find your love of God grows cold meditate on the love of God, this will kindle the love of God in your hearts. When you find the fear of God diminish within you, meditate on the power of God. Consider that your breath is in His hand and He has you in His hand; this will increase the fear of God. When the love of the world increases within you, meditate on the vanity and nothingness of it – this will decrease the love of the world.
(c) It is an essential duty
This duty is not only a duty but the quintessence and marrow of all other duties. No duty will leave any impression on your souls without practising this duty.
It is the very life and soul of Christianity, without it a Christian is but the carcass of a Christian. Lack of meditation is the cause of all sin and all punishment.
Let me tell you, you would be tall Christians in grace if you accustomed yourselves to this duty. The reason why you are such dwarfs in Christianity – so unacquainted with God, the promises, Christ and heaven – is due to failing to practise this duty. This is the reason you crawl along the ground and are so poor in grace and so lean in religion.
Meditation is as necessary as your daily bread.
There is much more to learn about daily meditation; Calamy gives around 200 pages to the subject (see this outline of the contents). But it is time to apply what we have gleaned. It would be an indictment if we only grasped the necessity and benefits of meditation with our intellects. We also need to ensure that it enters through the doors of our affections and practical living.
Calamy says that we ought to mourn if we have a Christian for many years and yet have never really practised the duty of meditation. Were we ever solemnly and seriously in the Mount of God for even half an hour? We should also mourn if meditation has become a lost duty in our Christian experience.
The heart of man is restless like the pendulum of a clock that cannot stop once wound up. The heart of man will always be meditating on something or other.
You should mourn if you have spent your days in meditating what to eat, drink, wear or how to become rich, manage your job and prosper in the world. You have been meditating all your life long on vain things and have not meditated on eternity – the things of greatest concern to you eternity. You have been meditating on things that will not profit at the hour of death and concern eternity.
Those in business must have time to meditate on their work, I will not lay heavier burdens on you than Scripture. But if you waste all your time in meditating on earthly things and are never serious in meditating on heavenly things you should mourn.
Though time is scarce and you work long hours, you can still draw spiritual lessons from outward things as you go about your work. But even if you have no time during the working week for set, solemn meditation; you do have time on the Lord’s Day when your work is laid aside. This is the God has set apart for public worship and private meditation. Meditation on the work of creation, redemption and our eternal rest in heaven is our great work on the day of rest.