Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Comforts in a Box

Ezekiel Culverwell, "Epistle to the Christian Reader" in Richard Sibbes, Divine Meditations and Holy Contemplations, in Sibbes' Works, Vol. 7, pp. 181-184:

As sweet spices yield small savour until they are beaten to powder, so the wonderful works of God are either not at all, or very slightly smelled in the nostrils of man, who is of a dull sense, unless they be rubbed and chafed in the mind, through a fervent affection, and singled out with a particular view; like them which tell money, who look not confusedly at the whole heap, but at the value of every parcel. So then a true Christian must endeavour himself to deliver, not in a gross, but by retail, the millions of God's mercy to his soul; in secret thoughts, chewing the cud of every circumstance with continual contemplation. And as a thrifty gardener, which is loath to see one rose leaf to fall from the stalk without stilling; so the Christian soul is unwilling to pass, or to stifle the 'bed of spices,' in the garden of Christ, without gathering some fruit, Cant. vi. 2, which contain a mystery and hidden virtue; and our 'camphire clusters in the vineyards of Engedi,' Cant. i. 14, must be resolved into drops by the still of meditation, or else they may be noted for weeds in the herbal of men, which hath his full of all kinds. But some are slightly passed over, as the watery herbs of vanity, which grow on every wall of carnal men's hearts, and yield but a slight taste how good the Lord is, or should be to their souls. It therefore behoveth us, first, to mind the tokens of his mercy and love, and afterwards for the helping of our weak digestion, to champ and chew by an often revolution, every part and parcel thereof, before we let it down into our stomachs; that by that means it may effectually nourish every vein and living artery of our soul, and fill them full with the pure blood of Christ's body, the least drop whereof refresheth and cheereth the soul and body of him which is in a swoon through his sin, and maketh him apt to walk and talk as one who is now living in Christ.

By this sweet meditation the soul taketh the key where all her evidences lie, and peruses the bills and articles of covenant agreed and condescended unto between God and man. There she seeth the great grant and pardon of her sins, subscribed unto by God himself, and sealed with the blood of Christ.

There he beholdeth his unspeakable mercy to a prisoner condemned to die, without which at the last in a desperate case he is led and haled unto execution, by the cursed crew of hellish furies.

Here she learneth how the Holy Land is entailed, and retaileth by discourse the descent from Adam, unto Abraham and his son Isaac, and so forward unto all the seed of the faithful. By meditation the soul prieth into the soul, and with a reciprocal judgment examineth herself and every faculty thereof, what she hath, what she wanteth, where she dwelleth, where she removeth, and where she shall be.

By this she feeleth the pulses of God's Spirit beating in here; the suggestions of Satan; the corruptions of her own affections, who like a cruel step-dame mingleth poisons and pestilent things to murder the Spirit, to repel every good motion, and to be in the end the lamentable ruin of the whole man.

Here she standeth, as it were with Saul upon the mountains, beholding the combat between David and Goliath; between the Spirit and the uncircumcised raging of the flesh, the stratagems of Satan, the bootless attempts of the world.

Here appear her own infirmities, her relapses into sin, herself astonied by the buffets of Satan, her fort shrewdly battered by carnal and fleshly lusts, her colours and profession darkened and dimmed through the smoke of affliction, her faith hidden because of such massacres and treasons; her hope banished with her mistrust; herself hovering ready to take flight from the sincerity of her profession.

Here she may discern, as from the top of a mast, an army coming, whose captain is the Spirit, guarded with all his graces; the bloody arms of Christ by him displayed, the trumpets' sound, Satan vanquished, the world conquered, the flesh subdued, the soul received, profession bettered, and each thing restored to his former integrity.

The consideration hereof made Isaac go meditating in the evening, Gen. xxiv. 63.

This caused Hezekiah to 'mourn like a dove, and chatter like a pye' in his heart, in deep silence, Isa. xxxviii. 14.

This forced David to meditate in the morning, nay, all the day long, Ps. lxiii. 6, and cxix. 148th verse, as also by night in 'secret thoughts,' Ps. xvi. 7.

This caused Paul to give Timothy this lesson to meditate, 1 Tim. iv. 13, seq. And God himself commanded Joshua, when he was elected governor, that he should meditate upon the law of Moses both day and night, to the end he might perform the things written therein, Josh. i. 8.

And Moses addeth this clause, teaching the whole law from God himself, 'These words must remain in thy heart, thou must meditate upon them, both at home and abroad, when thou goest to bed, and when thou risest in the morning,' Deut. vi. 7.

This meditation is not a passion of melancholy, nor a fit of fiery love, nor covetous care, nor senseless dumps, but a serious act of the Spirit in the inwards of the soul, whose object is spiritual, whose affection is a provoked appetite to practise holy things; a kindling in us of the love of God, a zeal towards his truth, a healing our benumbed hearts, according to that speech of the prophet, 'My heart did wax hot within me, and fire did kindle in my meditations,' Ps. xxxix.3, the want whereof caused Adam to fall, yea, and all the earth, into utter desolation; for there is no man considereth deeply in his heart, Jer. xii. 16. If Cain had considered the curse of God, and his heavy hand against that grievous and crying sin, he would not have slain his own brother. If Pharaoh would have set his heart to ponder of the mighty hand of God by the plagues already past, he should have prevented those which followed, and have foreslowed his hasted in making pursuit, with the destruction of himself and his whole army.

If Nadab and Abihu had regarded the fire they put in their censers, they might have been safe from the fire of heaven.

To conclude, the want of meditation hath been the cause of so many fearful events, strange massacres, and tragical deaths, which have from time to time pursued the drowsy heart and careless mind; and in these our days is the butchery of all the mischiefs which have already chanced unto our contrymen; for whilst God's judgments are masked, and not presented to the view of the mind by the serious work of the same, though they are keen and sharp, it being sheathed, they seem dull, and of no edge unto us, which causeth us to prick up the feathers of pride and insolency, and to make no reckoning of the fearful and final reckoning which most assuredly will be made, will we, nill, before God's tribunal. Hence it cometh to pass that our English gentlewomen do brave it with such outlandish manners, as though they could dash God out of countenance, or roist it in heaven as they carve it here, so that thousands are carried to hell out of their sweet perfumed chambers, where they thought to have lived, and are snatched presently from their pleasant and odoriferous arbours, dainty dishes, and silken company, to take up their room in the dungeon and lake of hell, which burneth perpetually with fire and brimstone.

And for want of this, God's children go limping in their knowledge, and carry the fire of zeal in a flinty heart, which, unless it be hammered, will not yield a spark to warm and cheer their benumbed and frozen affections towards the worship and service of God, and the hearty embracing of his truth.

By this God's works of creation are slipped over, even 'from the cedar to the hyssop that groweth on the wall,' 1 Kings iv. 33.

The sun, the moon, the stars, shine without admiration; the sea and the earth, the fowls, fishes, beasts, and man himself, are all esteemed as common matters in nature. Thus God worketh those strange creatures without that glory performed which is due, and his children receive not that comfort by the secret meditation of God's creation as they might.

Hence it proceedeth that they are often in their dumps, fearing as though they enjoyed not the light; whereas if they would meditate and judge aright of their estates, they might find they are the sons of God, and heirs of that rich kingdom most apparently known and established in heaven, and shall suddenly possess the same, even then most likely when their flesh thinketh it farthest off; as the heir being being within a month of his age, maketh such a reckoning of his lands that no careful distress can trouble him. But this consideration being partly through Satan's, and partly through their own dulness and over-stupidness, they fare like men in a swoon, and as it were bereaved of the very life of the Spirit, staggering under the burden of affliction, stammering in their godly profession, and cleaving sometimes unto the world. Through this they carry Christ's promises like comforts in a box, or as the chirurgeon his salves in his bosom.

Meditation applieth, meditation healeth, meditation instructeth. If thou lovest wisdom and blessedness, meditate in the law of the Lord day and night, and so make use of these Meditations to quicken thee up to duty, and to sweeten thy heart in thy way to heavenly Jerusalem.

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