Sunday, August 9, 2009

Daily Meditations

"Tomorrow is promised to no man." James Durham taught that "Death, and the happiness of them that die in the Lord, is a suitable and profitable subject of the meditation of God's people, especially in times of difficulty and trouble" (The Blessed Death of Those Who Die in the Lord, p. 96). The Puritan refrain was that we should keep in mind often "the four last things": "death, judgment, hell and heaven." The New England Primer is full of reminders that death is near to all, young and old, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom and seek after God while he may be found. Death is far removed from the thoughts of modern man in our society, except for passing news reports and the occasional wake, but it comes to all men and it behooves us to pause while we live and contemplate our end before the end comes.

Little is known about the life of Philip Pain, a New England Puritan who himself died in a shipwreck soon before the posthumous publication of his Daily Meditations: or, Quotidian Preparations for and Considerations of Death and Eternity, Begun July 19, 1666 (1668). Oscar Wegelin, Early American Poetry, p. 60, writes that "[t]his work is the earliest known specimen of original American verse printed in the English colonies." His poetic meditations on death ought to be better known today than they are.

Many know the famous prayer from The New England Primer (first published between 1687-1690):

Now I lay me down to take my sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Pain's meditations are accompanied by an evening prayer at the bottom of each page which includes these lines:

This day is past; but tell me, who can say
That I shall surely live another day.

Think every day thy last, and ready be;
And so the uncertain hour shall welcome thee.

I now lie down to rest, but do not know
Where by morning God will me bestow.
Lord, if my Soul this night away thou take,
Let me by morning then in Heaven awake.

Here follow a few of his 17th century meditations for our own contemplation and edification.

Meditation 1.

Great God, how short's man's time! each minute speaks
He is but dust, and this his Vessel leaks.
Each moment of my momentary time,
Does plainly tell me 'tis not mine, but Thine.
He gives me time to live, and verily
Ere long I shall have likewise time to die.

Meditation 4.

This World a Sea of trouble is, and Man
Is swimming through this vast wide Ocean,
The Billows beat, the Waves are angry, and
'Tis seldom that he spies a helping hand
To buoy his head up. O great God, let me
Be kept from sinking into misery.

Meditation 9.

Man's life is like a Rose, that in the Spring
Begins to blossom, fragrant smells to bring;
Within a day or two, behold Death's sent,
A public Messenger of discontent.
Lord, grant that when my Rose begins to fade,
I may behold an Everlasting shade.

Meditation 10.

Alas, what is the world? a Sea of Glass.
Alas, what's Earth? it's but an Hour-Glass.
The Sea dissolves; the Glass is quickly run;
Behold, with speed man's Life is quickly done.
Let me so swim in this Sea, that I may
With thee live happy in another day.

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