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affections, than any other part of meditation. Though while we but plead the case with ourselves, we may be careless and unaffected, yet when we turn our speech to God, it may strike us with solemn awe; and the holiness and majesty of him to whom we speak, may cause both the matter and the words to pierce the deeper. The men of God who have left their meditations on record for our view, have thus intermixed soliloquy and prayer; sometimes speaking to their own hearts, and sometimes turning their speech to God. And though this may seem an indifferent thing, yet I conceive it very suitable and necessary; it is, in fact, the highest step we can advance to in the work.
I may, however, here observe, meditation and speaking to ourselves should go before prayer, or speaking to God. Want of this makes prayer with most to have little more than the name of prayer, and makes men speak as lightly and as stupidly to the dreadful God, as if it were to one of their companions, and with far less reverence and affection than they would speak to an angel, if he should appear to them, or even to a judge or prince, if they were speaking for their lives; and consequently their success and answers are often like their prayers. O! speaking to the God of heaven in prayer, is a weightier duty than most are aware of!
OF THE TIME AND PLACE FOR HEAVENLY CONTEMPLATION, AND THE PREPARATION OF THE HEART UNTO IT.
HAVING thus explained to you the nature of this duty, I shall now proceed to direct you in the work. And here I suppose thee to be a man that will conscientiously avoid the hinderances, and use the helps before
mentioned, or else it is in vain to set thee a higher lesson, till though hast first learned that. If thou hast done so, I shall proceed to give thee a few directions. First, concerning the time and season.
Secondly, concerning the place.
Thirdly, concerning the frame of thy spirit.
I. Have, as much as possible, a fixed and regular time for this duty.
Some there are who question the propriety of having stated times for holy duties, as being superstitious; but if thou suit thy time to the advantage of the work, and place no religion in the time itself, thou needest not fear lest this be superstition. As a workman will have a set place, in his shop, for each of his tools, or else, when he should use them, they may be to seek, so a Christian should have a set time for every ordinary duty, or else when he should practise it, it is ten to one but he will overlook it. Stated time is a hedge to duty, and defends it against many temptations to omission. God has stated none but the Sabbath himself, but he has left it to be determined by ourselves, according to every man's condition and circumstances, lest his law should prove a burden or a snare. Yet has he left us general rules, which, by the use of reason and Christian prudence, may help us to determine the fittest times for our various duties. Though God has not told you at what hour you shall rise in the morning, or at what hours you shall eat and drink, yet your own reason and experience will tell you that ordinarily you should observe a stated time. I advise thee, therefore, if it be in thy power, to have a stated time for this duty, and to be as regular in it, as in hearing or praying. Yet I know this will not prove every man's duty. Some, as most servants, have not themselves and their time at command, and therefore cannot set their hours; many, too, are so poor that the necessity of their families will not allow them this freedom. I do not think it the duty of such persons to leave their work at stated times, for this exercise,
no, not for prayer, or other acts of worship. No such duty is at all times a duty. When two duties come together, and cannot both be performed, it were then a sin to perform the less. Of two duties we must choose the greater, though of two sins we must choose neither. I think such persons had best be watchful, to redeem time as much as they can, and take their vacant opportunities as they fall, and especially to join meditation and prayer, as much as they can, with the very labours of their callings. There is no such enmity between labouring and meditating, or praying, but that both may conveniently be done together.
II. Let it be frequent as well as stated. How often it should be in each particular case, I cannot determine, because men's circumstances materially vary. But that, in general, it be frequent, the Scripture requires, when it speaks of meditating "all the day,"-meditating "in the night-watches,"-meditating "day and night." Circumstances of our condition may much vary the circumstances of our duties. It may be one man's duty to hear or pray oftener than another, and so it may be as to meditation. But for those that can conveniently do it, I advise that it be once a day at least. Though Scripture tells us not how often in a day we should eat or drink, yet prudence and experience will direct us twice or thrice a day, according to the necessities of our bodies. Those that think they should not tie themselves to order or number in their duties, but should only meditate or pray, when they find the Spirit moving them to it, go upon uncertain and unchristian grounds. I am sure, the Scripture calls us to frequency, and our necessity seconds the voice of Scripture; and if, through my own neglect, or resistance, the Spirit does not excite or quicken me, I dare not, therefore, disobey the Scripture, nor neglect the necessities of my own soul. I should suspect that spirit, which would turn my soul from constancy in duty. If the Spirit in Scripture bid me meditate or pray, I dare not forbear it. If I find not incitation to duty before, yet I may find assistance while I wait in the performance of it. I am afraid of laying my
corruptions upon the Spirit, or blaming the want of the Spirit's assistance, when I should blame the backwardness of my own heart; nor dare I make one corruption a plea for another; nor urge the inward rebellion of my nature, as a reason for the outward disobedience of my life.
There are three reasons, in particular, which should persuade to frequency in this meditation on heaven.
1. Seldom conversing with God will produce a distance between him and thy soul. The chief design of this duty is that thou mayest have fellowship with God therein if therefore, thou engage but seldom in it, thou wilt remain a stranger to him still, and so miss the end of the work. O, when a man feels his need of God, and must seek help from him in a time of necessity, when nothing else can do him any good, you would little think what an encouragement it is to go to a God that we know, and are acquainted with. But especially when we come to die, and must immediately appear before God, how great will the difference then appear! What a joy will it be to think, "I am going to that place in which I daily conversed; to the place whence I drew such frequent delights; to that God whom I have so often met in my meditations. My heart has been in heaven before now, and tasted its sweetness; and if my eyes were so enlightened, and my mind so refreshed, when I but tasted of that sweetness, what will it be when I shall freely feed upon it?" On the other hand, what a terror will it be to think, "I must die and go, I know not whither; I must go from a place where I am acquainted, to a place where I have no acquaintance!" O brethren, it is an inexpressible horror to a dying man to be a stranger to God and heaven. I am persuaded there is no cause that so commonly makes death, even to godly men, unwelcome and uncomfortable. Therefore I persuade thee to frequency in this duty, that there be no estrangement between thy soul and God.
2. Seldomness in conversing with God will render thee unskilful in the work. How awkwardly do men
put their hands to a work to which they are unaccustomed! The heart, which of itself is naturally backward to this duty, will contract a greater unwillingness through disuse; whereas frequency will habituate thy heart to the exercise, and thou wilt better know how to practise it, and it will also become more easy and delightful.
3. By long intermissions, thou wilt lose that heart and life, which thou didst obtain in the duty. If in holy meditation thou get near to Christ, and warm thy heart with the fire of his love; and if thou then turn away and come but seldom, thou wilt soon return to thy former coldness. I advise thee, therefore, to be engaged as often as possible in this soul elevating duty, lest when thou hast long rowed hard against the wind and tide, the boat should go further down the stream by thy intermission, than it was got up by all thy labour.
III. Choose the most seasonable time. All things are beautiful in their season. Unseasonableness may lose thee the fruit of thy labour. It may raise up disturbances and difficulties in the work; yea it may turn a duty to a sin; whereas the seasonableness of a duty makes it easy, removes impediments, emboldens us to the undertaking, and ripens its fruits.
The seasons of this duty are either ordinary or extraordinary.
1. The ordinary season for your daily performance of the duty cannot be particularly determined by man, otherwise God would have fixed it in his word. Men's circumstances and employments are so various that that may be a seasonable time to one, which is unseasonable to another. Every man is the meetest judge for himself. Only give me leave to offer you my observation, as to the time I have found fittest for myself, and that is, the evening, from sun setting to the twilight; and this corresponds with the experience of a better and wiser man than myself, namely, Isaac, for it is said, that "he went out to meditate in the field at the eventide ;" and his experience I dare more boldly recommend unto you than my own.