Many make excuses not to meditate because it is difficult. Some neglect it totally, and yet others may have simply never learned to do it rightly. A masterful work by a respected Westminster Divine.
Godly Meditation: A Duty for All Believers
by C. Matthew McMahon
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Phi. 4:8).
Consider Philippians 4:8. All of these adjectives have the duty of thinking, or meditation in common. Each of these adjectives describes the “things” we are to meditate on. This is Paul’s exhortation (the Holy Spirit’s command) to meditate on them. It is a duty which connotes a thought process of careful deliberation. People often attribute meditation to something akin to oriental mysticism. This is not what biblical meditation is about. Instead, the bible exhorts us to ponder the word of God. Pondering God and His works is the duty of every Christian and commanded by God for daily piety. The Reformers and Puritans believed this emphatically, and they were master exegetes at drawing God’s mind on this matter out of the word of God.
What then, does it mean to meditate? Meditation will not be sweet to you until it is first understood, exercised, and then exercised with profit. You cannot know how sweet it is without doing it. And, it is not merely head knowledge of something done. It is an experience with the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Consider some thoughts on divine meditation by previous ministers and theologians of the church. Thomas Hooker said, “Meditation is a serious intention of the Mind whereby we come to search out the truth and settle it on the heart.”
Thomas Brooks said, “Remember, it is not hasty reading—but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that make them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. It is not the bee’s touching of the flower, which gathers honey—but her abiding for a time upon the flower, which draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most—but he who meditates most, who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”
William Fenner said, “Meditation is a settled exercise of the mind for the further inquiry of the truth, and so affecting the heart with that, and therefore there are four things in meditation, 1) an exercise of the mind, 2) a settled exercise that dwells on the truth, 3) to make a further inquiry…meditation pulls the latch of the truth and looks into every closet, and every cupboard, and every angle of it, and 4) it labors to affect the heart.”
Thomas White said, “Divine meditation we may say, is a serious solemn thinking and considering of the things of God, to the end that we might understand how much they concern us, and that our hearts by it may be raised to some holy affections and resolutions.”
Thomas Watson said, “Meditation is the soul’s retiring of itself, that by a serious and solemn thinking upon God, the heart may be raised up to heavenly affections.”
John Ball said, “To meditate, signifies primarily to meditate, commune, or discourse with one’s self, or which is the same, to imagine, study, consider or muse in mind or heart. Meditation is a serious, earnest and purposed musing on some point of Christian instruction, tending to lead us forward toward the Kingdom of Heaven, and serving for our daily strengthening against the flesh, the world and the Devil. Or it is the steadfast and earnest bending of the mind on some spiritual and heavenly matter, discoursing on it with ourselves, until we bring it to some profitable point, both for the settling of our judgments, and the bettering of our hearts and lives.”
Nathaniel Ranew said, “Pious meditation is the duty of every Christian; or, it is the high institution of Christ, and greatly incumbent duty of Christians, to exercise themselves much in holy meditation. Meditation is of that happy influence, it makes the mind wise, the affections warm, the soul fat and flourishing, and the conversation greatly fruitful. Meditation is to be the motion of the heavenly spirit heavenward; to carry it up to heaven and keep it a time there: a looking of the eye of the mind, and a lifting up of the heart, a making a stay, and taking a spiritual solace in heaven with God.”
Richard Allestree said, “Meditation is, a serious and solemn considering of heavenly things, to the end we may understand how much it concerns us, and that our hearts thereby may be raised to some holy affections and resolutions.”
Thomas Manton said, “The word feedeth meditation, and meditation feedeth prayer. Meditation must follow hearing and precede prayer. What we take in by the word we digest by meditation and let out by prayer.”
William Bridge said, “It is the vehement or intense application of the soul unto some thing, whereby a man’s mind doth ponder, dwell and fix upon it, for his own profit and benefit. There must be the application, of the soul to some thing; and therefore sometimes it is expressed by laying of a thing to heart: “The righteous are taken away, and no man lays it to heart;” no man considers on it. “If ye will not lay these things to heart,” etc. Mal. 2:2. And as there must be an application, so there must be a vehement and intense application of the soul unto a thing, for every consideration does not make meditation: consideration heightened makes meditation. Meditation is the work of the whole soul. The mind acts, and the memory acts, and the affections act. “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart:” it is an intense and a vehement application of the soul unto truth.”
Ezekiel Culverwell said, “Meditation is a study to get grace, whereby upon all occasions we make some good use of all that comes to our mind, whereof the frequentest use shows the most heavenly soul, as contrarily the neglect thereof the carnal.”
Thomas Boston said, “Meditation is a necessary duty, to the performance of which, people should set themselves; seriously making choice of such times and places for it, as the duty may be gone about with the best advantage. Meditation is to think on some spiritual thing, in order to the bettering of the heart.”
It is your duty to meditate. What is a duty? A duty is something obliged to be done. We, as Christians, are obliged to meditate because God commands it. Why does God command it, or, what is the end or goal of meditation? As with every duty, in fact, the whole of one’s life, it is the glorification of God. Secondly, it is for the edification of ourselves. God never gives us spiritual “busy work” for the sake of work. There is always a purpose for everything under the sun. Thirdly, it is for the further edification of the church in various ways. Think about this: if we are not thinking Christians what will we neglect to do simply from a lack of thought? What duties will we forget, or what spiritual gifts will we not exercise? Who will we not help? Who will we not speak with after solemn consider of some spiritual benefit? Our personal devotional time is critical in our walk as a Christian in the church of Christ eagerly awaiting the day of His coming. There should be a close watch on these ends so that we may never mistake using the duty of meditation for the glory of God, for our own profit, and for our own usefulness in the church.
Meditation is not just a memorization or regurgitation of theological thoughts; we must be more than a student in this act and exercise. It should be described as “serious thought.” The highest seriousness makes the best scholar, and consequently, the best Christian. This is a searching and scanning, a deep dive into the things of God. In John Ball’s work on meditation, he shows that it should be a peculiar visit to the throne room of heaven. Would it be special to visit God’s throne-room? And this is not something done once and forgotten; it is something done daily. In relation to our will it fixes it to resolve to do that which God desires. It sets us to do the things we are thinking about. It places the mind and will under the influence of the Spirit, and it helps us to avoid sin, among many other things he will point out.
There are those who make excuses not to do it, and those who neglect it totally, or even those who have never learned to do it rightly. There is a right way and wrong way to meditate or think on these things of the Lord. Serious thinking is fundamental to all right doing. Meditation is hard and difficult, in that it is an acting of the quickest faculty and the most slippery part of the soul. It is easy to let the mind go. But, you cannot be a good Christian no matter what others may think of you if you neglect this or reject it because you find it too hard. You cannot be a subject of Christ if you do not submit to the Law of Christ. You may have to ask yourself what sin is stopping you from engaging in such a blessed help? This is to think like a Christian.
 Hooker, Thomas, The Application of Redemption, (London: Peter Cole, 1656) 210.
 Brooks, Thomas, The Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980) 7.
 Fenner, William, The Use and Benefit of Divine Meditation, (London: E.T. 1657) 2-3.
 White, Thomas, Instructions for the Art of Divine Meditation, (Coconut Creek: Puritan Publications, 2013) 22.
 Watson, Thomas, The Saint’s Spiritual Delight and the Christian on the Mount, (Coconut Creek, FL: Puritan Publications, 2013) 50.
 Ball, John, A Treatise of Divine Meditation, (Crossville: Puritan Publications, 2016) 27.
 Ranew, Nathaniel, Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation, (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995) 57.
 Allestree, Richard, (1619-1681). The Whole Duty of Divine Meditation Described in All Its Various Parts and Branches: With Meditations on Several Places of Scripture, (London: Printed for John Back, 1694) 2.
 Manton, Thomas, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, Volume 17, (Worthington, IL: Maranatha Publications, 1979) 272.
 Bridge, William, The Works of the Rev. William Bridge, Volume 3, (Beaver Falls: Soli Deo Gloria, 1989) 125.
 Culverwell, Ezekiel, Time Well Spent in Sacred Meditations, (London: T. Coates, 1635) 216.
 Boston, Thomas, The Complete Works of Thomas Boston, Volume 4, (Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts Publishers, 1980), Sermon 39.
 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Cor. 10:31).
 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” (Eccl. 3:1).
 “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God,” (2 Peter 3:12).
 “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer,” (Psa. 19:14).
 “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
Consider these works on the subject:
- The Wells of Salvation Opened – by William Spurstowe (1605-1666)
- The Saint’s Spiritual Delight, and a Christian on the Mount by Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
- The Rules of a Holy Life – by Nicholas Byfield (1579–1622)
- The Art of Happiness – by Francis Rous (1579–1659)
- Instructions for the Art of Divine Meditation – by Thomas White (d. 1672)
- A Treatise on Heavenly Mindedness – by Thomas Jollie (1629-1703)
- A Treatise of Divine Meditation – by John Ball (1585-1640)
- A Discourse on Self-Examination – by Nathaniel Vincent (1639-1697)
Articles on Godly Meditation: