A Treatise Concerning Meditation By Thomas Watson
"His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:2
VI. Showing the SUBJECTS of Meditation.
The next particular to be discussed, is the subject-matter of meditation; what a Christian should meditate upon. I am now gotten into a large field —but I shall only glance at things; I shall but do as the disciples, pluck some ears of corn as I pass along.
Some may say, "alas, I am so barren I know not what to meditate upon!" To help Christians therefore in this blessed work, I shall show you some choice select matter for meditation. There are fifteen things in the Word of God, which we should principally meditate upon.
Section 1. Meditate on God's ATTRIBUTES.
The Attributes of God are the several beams by which the divine nature shines forth to us; and there are six special attributes which we should fix our meditations upon.
1. Meditate upon God's OMNISCIENCE. His eye is continually upon us; he has a window open into the conscience; our thoughts are unveiled before him. He can tell the words we speak "in our bedchamber," 2 Kings 2:12. He is described with seven eyes, to show his omniscience. "You number my steps," Job 14:16. The Hebrew word signifies to take an exact account. God is said to number our steps, when he makes a precise and critical observation of our actions; God sets down every step of our lives, and keeps as it were, a day book of all we do, and enters it down into the book. Meditate much on this omniscience.
Meditation on God's omniscience would have these effects.
1. It would be as a bridle to check and restrain us from sin. Will the thief steal—when the judge looks on?
2. Meditation on God's omniscience would be a good means to make the heart sincere. God has set a window in every man's breast, "does not he see all my ways?" Job 31:4. If I harbor proud, malicious thoughts, if I look at my own interest more than Christ's, if I juggle in my repentance—the God of heaven takes notice! Meditation on his omniscience, would make a Christian sincere, both in his actions and aims. Only a fool would dare to be a hypocrite before God!
2. Meditate on the HOLINESS of God. Holiness is the embroidered robe God wears: it is the glory of the Godhead, Exod. 15:11. "Glorious in holiness!" Holiness is the most orient pearl of the crown of heaven. God is the exemplar and pattern of holiness. It is primarily and originally in God as light in the sun; you may as well separate weight from lead, or heat from fire, as holiness from the divine nature; God's holiness is that whereby his heart rises against any sin, as being most diametrically opposite to his essence, Hab. 1:13. "You are of purer eyes than to behold iniquity." Meditate much on this attribute.
Meditation on God's holiness would have this effect; it would be a means to transform us into the similitude and likeness of God; God never loves us until we are like him. There is a story of a deformed man, who set lovely pictures before his wife, that seeing them she might have lovely children, and so she had. Be that as it may, while by meditation we are looking upon the beams of holiness, which are gloriously transparent in God, we shall grow like him, and be holy as he is holy. Holiness is a beautiful thing, Psalm 110. It puts a kind of angelical brightness upon us; it is the only coin which will pass current in heaven; by the frequent meditation on this attribute, we are changed into God's image.
3. Meditate on the WISDOM of God. He is called "the only wise God," 1 Tim. 1:17. His wisdom shines forth in the works of providence; he sits at the helm guiding all things regularly and harmoniously; he brings light out of darkness; he can strike a straight stroke by a crooked stick; he can make use of the injustice of men to do that which is just; he is infinitely wise, he breaks us by afflictions, and upon these broken pieces of the ship, brings us safely to shore; meditate on the wisdom of God.
Meditation on God's wisdom would sweetly calm our hearts.
1. When we see things go badly in the public. The all-wise God holds the reins of government in his hand; and whoever the earthly ruler—God over-rules; he knows how to turn all to good; his work will be beautiful in its season.
2. When things go badly with us in particular, the meditation on God's wisdom would rock our hearts quiet. The wise God has set me in this condition, and whether health or sickness, his wisdom will order it for the best. God will make a golden cordial from poison, all things shall be beneficial and medicinal to me; either the Lord will expel some sin, or exercise some grace. Meditation on this would silence murmuring.
4. Meditate on the POWER of God. His power is visible in the creation. "He hangs the earth upon nothing," Job 26:7. What cannot that God do—who can create? Nothing can stand before a creating power! He needs no pre-existent matter to work upon; he needs no instruments to work with, he can work without tools; he it is before whom the angels veil their faces, and the kings of the earth cast their crowns. He it is who "removes the earth out of her place," Job 9:6. An earthquake makes the earth tremble upon her pillars—but God can shake it out of its place. God can with a word, unpin the wheels, and break the axle of the creation. He can suspend natural agents, stop the lion's mouth, cause the sun to stand still, make the fire not burn! Xerxes, the Persian monarch, threw fetters into the sea, as if he would have chained up the unruly waters; but when God commands, "the winds and sea obey him," Matt. 8:27. If he speaks the word, an army of stars appear, Judg. 5:20. If he stamps with his foot, a multitude of angels are presently in battalia; if he lifts up an ensign, and does but hiss, his very enemies shall be up in arms to revenge his quarrel, Isaiah 5:56. Who would provoke this God! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Heb. 10:31. As a lion—"he tears in pieces his adversaries," Psalm 50:22. Oh meditate on this power of God.
Meditation on God's power would be a great stay to faith. A Christian's faith may anchor safely upon the rock of God's power. It was Samson's riddle, "Out of the strong came forth sweetness;" Judges 14:14. While we are meditating on the power of God, out of this strong comes forth sweetness. Is the church of God low? he can "create praises in Jerusalem," Isaiah 65:28. Is your corruption strong? God can break the head of this leviathan. Is your heart as hard as a stone? God can dissolve it. "The Almighty makes my heart soft." Faith triumphs in the power of God: out of this strong comes forth sweetness. Abraham meditating on God's power, did not stagger through unbelief, Romans 4:20. He knew God could make a dead womb fruitful, and dry breasts give suck.
5. Meditate upon the MERCY of God. Mercy is an innate disposition in God to do good; as the sun has an innate property to shine, Psalm 86:5. "You Lord are good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all them that call upon you. God's mercy is so sweet, that it makes all his other attributes sweet. Holiness without mercy, and justice without mercy, would be dreadful. Geographers write that the city of Syracuse in Sicily is curiously situated, that the sun is never out of sight; though the children of God are under some clouds of affliction, yet the sun of mercy is never quite out of sight. God's justice reaches to the clouds; his mercy reaches above the clouds.
How slow is God to anger. He was longer in destroying Jericho, than in making the world; he made the world in six days—but he was seven days in demolishing the walls of Jericho. How many warning arrows did God shoot against Jerusalem, before he shot off his destroying arrow? Justice goes by foot, Gen. 18:21. Mercy has wings. The sword of justice often lies a long time in the scabbard, and rusts, until sin draws it out and sharpens it against a nation. God's justice is like the widow's oil, which ran a while, and ceased, 1 Kings 4:6. God's mercy is like Aaron's oil, which rested not on his head—but ran down to the skirts of his garment, Psalm 133:2. So the golden oil of God's mercy does not rest upon the head of a godly parent— but is often poured on his children, and so runs down, "To the third and fourth generation," even the borders of a pious seed. Often meditate upon the mercy of God.
Meditation on mercy would be a powerful loadstone to draw sinners to God by repentance. It would be as a cork to the net—to keep the heart from sinking in despair. Behold a city of refuge to fly to—"God is the Father of mercies," 2 Cor. 1:3. Mercy does as naturally issue from him, as the child from the parent. God "delights in mercy," Micah 7:18. Chrysostom says, it is delightful to the mother to have her breasts drawn; and how delightful is it to God to have the breasts of mercy drawn! Mercy finds out the worst sinner; mercy comes not only with salvation in its hand —but with healing under its wings.
Meditation on God's mercy would melt a sinner into tears: One reading a pardon sent to him from the king, fell a weeping, and burst out into these words, "A pardon has done that which death could not do, it has made my heart relent."
6. Meditate upon the TRUTH of God. Mercy makes the promise, and Truth performs it, Psalm 89:33, "I will not allow my faithfulness to fail." God can as well deny himself as his word. He is "abundant in truth," Exod. 34:6. That is—if God has made a promise of mercy to his people, he will be so far from coming short of his Word, that he will be better than his Word. God often does more than he has said, never less; he often shoots beyond the mark of the promise he has set, never short of it. He is abundant in truth. God may sometimes delay a promise, he will not deny it. The promise may lie a long time as seed hidden under ground—but it is all the while a ripening. The promise of Israel's deliverance lay four hundred and thirty years under ground; but when the time was come, the promise did not go a day beyond its reckoning, Exod. 12:41. "The strength of Israel will not lie," 1 Sam. 15:29. Meditation on God's truth would—
1. Be a pillar of support for faith. The world hangs upon God's power, and faith hangs upon his truth.
2. Meditation on God's truth would make us ambitious to imitate him. We should be true in our words, true in our dealings. Pythagoras being asked, "What makes men like God?" answered, "When they speak truth."
Section 2. Meditate upon the PROMISES of God.
The promises of God are flowers growing in the paradise of scripture; meditation, like the bee, sucks out the sweetness of them. The promises are of no use or comfort to us, until they are meditated upon. Roses hanging in the garden may give a fragrant redolence, yet their sweet water is distilled only by the fire. Just so, the promises are sweet in reading over —but the water of these roses, the spirits and quintessence of the promises, are distilled into the soul only by meditation. The incense, when it is pounded and beaten, smells sweetest. Meditating on a promise, like the beating of the incense, makes it more fragrant and pleasant. The promises may be compared to a gold mine, which only enriches when the gold is dug out. By holy meditation, we dig out that spiritual gold which lies hidden in the midst of the promise, and so we come to be enriched!
Cardan says that every precious gem-stone has some hidden virtue in it. They are called precious promises, 2 Pet. 1:4. When they are applied by meditation, then their virtue appears, and they become precious indeed. There are three sorts of promises which we should meditate upon.
1. Promises of REMISSION. "I, even I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and will not remember your sins," Isaiah 43:25. Whereas the poor sinner may say, "Alas, I am deep in debt with God, I fear I have not filled his bottle with my tears—but I have filled his book with my debts!" Well, but meditate on his promise, "I am he who blots out," etc. The word there in the original to blot out, is a metaphor alluding to a merchant, who when his debtor has paid him, he blots out the debt, and gives him an acquittance. So says God, "I will blot out your sin, I will cross out the debt-book!" In the Hebrew it is, "I am blotting out your transgressions." "I have taken my pen, and am crossing out your debt!" Oh, but may the sinner say, "There is no reason God should do thus for me." Well, but acts of grace do not go by reason, "I will blot out your sins—for my name's sake." Oh, but says the sinner, "Will not the Lord call my sins again to remembrance?" No, he promises to send them into oblivion; "I will not upbraid you with your sins—I will remember your sins no more." Here is a sweet promise to meditate upon; it is a hive full of the honey of the gospel.
2. Meditate upon promises of SANCTIFICATION. The earth is not so apt to be overgrown with weeds and thorns, as the heart is to be overgrown with lusts! Now, God has made many promises of healing, Hos. 14:4, and purging, Jer. 33:8. Promises of sending his Spirit, Isaiah 44:3, which, for its sanctifying nature, is compared sometimes to water which cleanses the vessel; sometimes to wind, which is the fan to winnow and purify the air; sometimes to fire, which refines the metals. Meditate often on that promise, Isaiah 1:18, "Though your sins be as scarlet—they shall be as white as snow!" Scarlet is so deep a dye, that all the art of man cannot take it out; but behold here a promise—God will whiten the soul; he will make a scarlet sinner—into a snow white saint! By virtue of this refining and consecrating work, a Christian is made partaker of the divine nature; he has a suitability and fitness to have communion with God forever. Meditate much on this promise.
3. Meditate upon promises of REMUNERATION. "The haven of rest," Heb. 4:9. The beatifical sight of God, Matt. 5:8. The glorious mansions, John 14:2. Meditation on these promises will be as choice cordials to keep us from fainting under our sins and sorrows.
Section 3. Meditate upon the Love of Christ.
Christ is full of love, as he is of merit. What was it but love—that he should save us—and not the fallen angels? Among the rarities of the loadstone, this is not the least—that leaving the gold and pearl, it should draw iron to it—which is a baser kind of metal. Just so, that Christ should leave the angels, those more noble spirits, the gold and pearl—and draw mankind to him—how does this proclaim his love? Love was the wing on which he flew into the virgin's womb!
1. How TRANSCENDENT is Christ's love to the saints! The apostle calls it a love "which passes knowledge," Eph. 3:19. It is such a love as God the Father bears to Christ; the same for quality, though not equality, John 15:9. "As the Father has loved me—so have I loved you." A believer's heart is the garden where Christ has planted this sweet flower of his love. It is the channel through which the golden stream of his affection runs.
2. How SOVEREIGN is Christ's love! "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." 1 Corinthians 1:26 In the old law God passed by the noble lion and the eagle —and took the dove for sacrifice. That God should pass by so many of noble birth and abilities, and that the lot of free grace should fall upon me —O the depth of divine grace!
3. How INVINCIBLE is the love of Christ! "It is strong as death," Cant. 8:6. Death might take away Christ's life—but not his love! Neither can our sin wholly quench that divine flame of love; the church had her infirmities, her sleepy fits, Cant. 5:2, but though blacked and sullied, yet she is still a dove; Christ could see the faith, and wink at the failing. He who painted Alexander, drew him with his finger over the scar on his face. Just so, Christ puts the finger of mercy upon the scars of the saints! He will not throw away his pearls for every speck of dirt! That which makes this love of Christ the more stupendous, is that there was nothing in us to excite or draw forth his love! He did not love us because we were worthy —but by loving us he made us worthy!
4. How IMMUTABLE is Christ's love! "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end," John 13:1. The saints are like letters of gold engraved upon Christ's heart, which cannot be erased out. Meditate much upon the love of Christ.
1. Serious meditation on the love of Christ, would make us love him in return. "Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burnt?" Proverbs 6:28. Who can tread by meditation upon these hot coals of Christ's love, and his heart not burn in love to him?
2. Meditation on Christ's love, would set our eyes abroach with tears for our gospel unkindnesses. O that we should sin against so sweet a Savior! had we none to abuse—but our best friend? Had we nothing to kick against—but affections of love? Did not Christ suffer enough upon the cross—but must we needs make him suffer more? Do we give him more gall and vinegar to drink? O, if anything can dissolve the heart into mourning, it is the unkindness offered to Christ. When Peter thought of Christ's love to him—Christ could deny Peter nothing, yet he could deny Christ, this made his eyes to water; "Peter went out and wept bitterly."
3. Meditation on Christ's love would make us love our enemies. Jesus Christ showed love to his enemies. We read of "the fire licking up the water," 1 Kings 18:38. It is usual for water to quench the fire, but for fire to dry up and consume the water, which was not capable of burning, this was miraculous! Such a miracle did Christ show; his love burned where there was no fit matter to work upon—nothing but sin and enmity. He loved his enemies; the fire of his love consumed and licked up the water of their sins! He prayed for his enemies, "Father forgive them;" He shed His tears—for those who shed His blood! Those who gave him gall and vinegar to drink—to them he gave his sin-forgiving blood to drink. Meditation on his love—should melt our hearts in love to our enemies. Augustine says, "Christ made a pulpit of the cross, and the great lesson he taught Christians was, to love their enemies."
4. Meditation on Christ's love would be a means to support us in case of his absence. Sometimes he is pleased to withdraw himself, Cant. 5:6, yet when we consider how entire and immutable his love is, it will make us wait with patience until he sweetly manifests himself to us. He is love, and he cannot forsake his people very long, Micah 7:19. The sun may be gone a while from our climate—but it returns in the spring. Meditation on Christ's love may make us wait for the return of this Sun of Righteousness; Heb. 10:37, "For yet a little while and he who shall come will come." He is truth, therefore He shall come; He is love, therefore He will come.