4. The last circumstance in the text is the time, 'In the even-tide,' which is also a matter of an arbitrary concernment. Time in itself is but an inactive circumstance; all hours are alike to God; he taketh no more pleasure in the sixth or ninth hour than in the first hour; only you should prudently observe when your spirit is most fresh and smart. To some the morning is quickest, the fancy being fittest to offer spiritual and heavenly thoughts, before it hath received any images and representations from carnal objects abroad. Morning thoughts are, as it were, virgin thoughts of the mind, before they have been prostituted to these inferior and baser objects, and so are more pure and sublime and defecate; and then the soul, like the hind of the morning, with a swift and nimble readiness climbeth up to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense: Song of Sol. 4:6,’Until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of mvrrh and to the hill of frankincense;’ and it tended much to season the whole day when we can talk with the law in the morning: Prov. 6:22, ‘When thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.' To some the evening seemeth fitter, that when the gayishness and vanity of the spirit hath been spent in business, their thoughts may be more serious and solemn with God; and after the weights have been running down all day through their employments of the world, they may wind them up again at night in these recesses and exercises of piety and religion; as David says; Ps. 25:1, 'Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.' To others the silence and stillness of the night seemeth to be an help, and because of the curtain of darkness that is drawn between them and the world, they can the better entertain serious and solemn thoughts of God. David speaks everywhere in the psalms of his nocturnal devotions: Ps. 63:6, ‘When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night-watches.’ The expression is taken from the custom of the Jews, who divided the night into so many watches. Whilst others were reposing their bodies on their beds, David was reposing his soul in the bosom of God, and he have the less rest to his eyes that he might give the more to his soul. So Ps. 119:148, ‘Mine eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate in thy word.’ Certainly in the night, when we are taken off from other business, we have the greatest command of our thoughts, and the covert of darkness that God hath stretched over the world begetteth a greater awe and reverence. Therefore Mr. [Richard] Greenham, when he pressed any weighty point, and perceived any careless, used to beg of them that, if God by his providence should suffer them to awake in the night, they would but think of his words. Certainly the mind, being by sleep emptied of other cares, like a mill falleth upon itself, and the natural awe and terror is the effect of darkness helpeth to make the thoughts more solemn and serious. So that you see much may be said for the conveniency of either of these seasons, evening or morning, or night. It is your duty to be faithful to your own souls, and sometimes to take the advantage either of the night or of the day, or the morning, or the evening as best suits us. David saith, Ps. 119:97, ‘Oh! how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’ So he describes his blessed man: Ps.1:2, ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night;’ that is, sometimes in the day and sometimes in the night; no time can come amiss to a prepared spirit. Isaac’s hour was in the even-tide; in the evening he went out to meditate, in which two things are notable:...
CASE 4. When must we meditate?
1. In the general, something should be done every day; seldom converse begetteth a strangeness to God, and an unfitness for the duty. It is a description of God's servant, Ps.1:2, ' His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.' At least we should take all convenient occasions. It is an usual way of natural men to make conscience of duties after a long neglect; they perform duties to pacify a natural conscience, and use them as a man would use a sleepy potion or strong waters; they are good at a pinch, not for constant drink. Alas! we lose by such wide gaps and distances between performance and performance; it is as if we had never done it before.
2. For the particular time of the day when you should meditate, that is arbitrary. I told you before you may do it either in the silence of the night, when God hath drawn a curtain of darkness between you and the things of the world; or in the freshness of the morning, or in the evening, when the wildness and vanity of the mind is spent in worldly business.
3. There are some special solemn times, when the duty is most in season:
[1.] After a working sermon; after the word hath fallen upon you with a full stroke, it is good to follow the blow; and when God hath cast seed into the heart, let not the fowls peck it away : Matt 13:19, ' When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.' Ruminate on the word, chew the end; many a sermon is lost because it is not whet upon the thoughts: James 1: 23, 24, ' He is like a man that beholdeth his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was:' Matt. 22: 22, ' When they heard these things, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.' You should roll the word in your thoughts, and deeply consider of it.
[2.] Before some solemn duties, as before the Lord's supper, and before special times of deep humiliation, or before the sabbath. Meditation is, as it were, the breathing of the soul; that it may the better hold out in religious exercises, it is a good preparative to raise the spirits into a frame of piety and religion. When the harp is fitted and tuned, it doth the better make music; so when the heart is fixed and settled by a preparative meditation, it is the fitter to make melody to God in worship.
[3.] When God doth specially revive and enable the Spirit. It is good to take advantage of the Spirit's gales; so fresh a wind should make us hoist up our sails. Do not lose the Spirit's seasons; the Spirit's impulses are good significations from God that now is an acceptable time.
Case 5. What time is to be spent in the duty?
I answer - That is left to spiritual discretion. Suck the teat as long as milk cometh. Duties must not be spun out to an unnecessary length. You must neither yield to laziness, nor occasion spiritual weariness; the devil hath advantage upon you both ways. When you rack and torture your spirits after they have been spent, it makes the work of God a bondage; and therefore come not off till you find profit, and do not press too hard upon the soul, nor oppress it with an indiscreet zeal. It is Satan's policy to make you out of love with meditation by spinning it out to a tediousness and an unnecessary length.
Case 6. Whether should the time be set and constant?
I answer - It is good to bind the heart to somewhat, and yet leave it to such a liberty as becomes the gospel. Bind it to somewhat every day, that the heart may not be loose and arbitrary. We see that necessity quickeneth and urgeth, and when the soul is engaged it goes to work the more thoroughly. Therefore the Lord asks, Jer. 22:21, ' Who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me?' It is good to lay a tie upon the heart; and yet I advise not to a set stinted hour, lest we create a snare to ourselves. Though a man should resist distractions and distempers, yet some business is unavoidable, and some distempers are invincible. I have observed this, that even religious persons are more sensible of their own vows than of God's commands; when men have bound up themselves in chains of their own making, their consciences fall upon them, and dog them with restless accusations, when they cannot accomplish so much duty as they have set and pre-scribed to themselves. And besides, when hours are customary and set, the heart groweth formal and superstitious.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
A Time to Meditate
Thomas Manton, Sermons Upon Gen. 24.63 in The Works of Thomas Manton, Vol. 17, pp. 265-266; and 298-299: