Tag Archives: Puritan

Advice for Reading

 

One thing that took me awhile to learn was reading for profitability, not reading for the sake of reading.  There are far too many good, worthwhile books that cause your soul to stir and affections to swell for God than to waste your time (and eyes) reading bad books that produce little fruit.  Here is some advice from Thomas Brooks in his previously mentioned The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod for reading for profit

For, as many fish and catch nothing, Luke 5:5, so many read good books and get nothing, because they read them over cursorily, slightly, superficially; but he who would read to profit, must then,

First, Read and look up for a blessing—’Paul may plant, and Apollos may water,’ but all will be to no purpose, except ‘the Lord gives the increase,’ 1 Cor. 3:6, 7. God must do the deed, when all is done, or else all that is done will do you no good. If you would have this work successful and effectual, you must look off from man—and look up to God, who alone can make it a blessing to you. As without a blessing from heaven, your clothes cannot warm you, nor your food nourish you, nor medicine cure you, nor friends comfort you, Micah 6:14; so without a blessing from heaven, without the precious breathings and influences of the Spirit, what here is written will do you no good, it will not turn to your account in the day of Christ; therefore cast an eye heavenwards, Haggai 1:6.

It is Seneca’s observation, that the husbandmen in Egypt never look up to heaven for rain in the time of drought—but look after the overflowing of the banks of Nile, as the only cause of their plenty. Ah, how many are there in these days, who, when they go to read a book, never look up, never look after the rain of God’s blessing—but only look to the river Nile; they only look to the wit, the learning, the arts, the parts, the eloquence, etc., of the author, they never look so high as heaven; and hence it comes to pass, that though these read much, yet they profit little.

Secondly, He who would read to profit must read and meditate. Meditation is the food of your souls, it is the very stomach and natural heat whereby spiritual truths are digested. A man shall as soon live without his heart, as he shall be able to get good by what he reads, without meditation. Prayer, says Bernard, without meditation, is dry and formal; and reading without meditation is useless and unprofitable. He who would be a wise, a prudent, and an able experienced statesman, must not hastily ramble and run over many cities, countries, customs, laws, and manners of people, without serious musing and pondering upon such things as may make him an expert statesman; so he who would get good by reading, that would complete his knowledge, and perfect his experience in spiritual things, must not slightly and hastily ramble and run over this book or that—but ponder upon what he reads, as Mary pondered the saying of the angel in her heart.

Lord! says Augustine, the more I meditate on you, the sweeter you are to me; so the more you shall meditate on the following matter, the sweeter it will be to you. They usually thrive best who meditate most. Meditation is a soul-fattening duty; it is a grace-strengthening duty, it is a duty-crowning duty. Meditation is the nurse of prayer. Jerome calls it his paradise; Basil calls it the treasury where all the graces are locked up; Theophylact calls it the very gate and portal by which we enter into glory; and Aristotle, though a heathen, places felicity in the contemplation of the mind. You may read much and hear much—yet without meditation you will never be excellent, you still never be eminent Christians.

Thirdly, Read, and test what you read; take nothing upon trust—but all upon trial, as those ‘noble Bereans’ did, Acts 17:to, 11. You will try and count and weigh gold, though it be handed to you by your fathers; and so should you all those heavenly truths that are handed to you by your spiritual fathers. I hope upon trial you will find nothing—but what will hold weight in the balance of the sanctuary; and though all be not gold that glitters, yet I judge that you will find nothing here to blister, that will not be found upon trial to be true gold.

Fourthly, Read and do, read and practice what you read, or else all your reading will do you no good. He who has a good book in his hand—but not a lesson of it in his heart or life, is like that donkey that carries burdens, and feeds upon thistles. In divine account, a man knows no more than be does. Profession without practice will but make a man twice told a child of darkness. To speak well is to sound like a cymbal—but to do well is to act like an angel [Isidore]. He who practices what he reads and understands, God will help him to understand what he understands not. There is no fear of knowing too much, though there is much fear in practicing too little; the most doing man, shall be the most knowing man; the mightiest man in practice, will in the end prove the mightiest man in Scripture, John 7:16, 17, Psalm 119:98-100. Theory is the guide of practice, and practice is the life of theory.

Salvian relates how the heathen did reproach some Christians, who by their lewd lives made the gospel of Christ to be a reproach. ‘Where,’ said they, ‘is that good law which they believe? Where are those rules of godliness which they learn? They read the holy gospel, and yet are unclean; they read the apostles’ writings, and yet live in drunkenness; they follow Christ, and yet disobey Christ; they profess a holy law, and yet lead impure lives.’ Ah! how may many preachers take up sad complaints against many readers in these days! They read our works, and yet in their lives they deny our works; they praise our works, and yet in their lives they reproach our works; they cry up our labors in their discourses, and yet they cry them down in their practices—yet I hope better things of you into whose hands this treatise shall fall. The Samaritan woman did not fill her pitcher with water, that she might talk of it—but that she might use it, John 4:7; and Rachel did not desire the mandrakes to hold in her hand—but that she might thereby be the more apt to bring forth, Gen. xxx. 15. The application is easy. But,

Fifthly, Read and apply. Reading is but the drawing of the bow, application is the hitting of the bulls-eye. The choicest truths will no further profit you than they are applied by you. It would be as good not to read, as not to apply what you read. No man attains to health by reading books on health—but by the practical application of their remedies. All the reading in the world will never make for the health of your souls—except you apply what you read. The true reason why many read so much and profit so little—is because they do not apply and bring home what they read to their own souls. But,

Sixthly, and lastly, Read and pray. He who makes not conscience of praying over what he reads, will find little sweetness or profit in his reading. No man makes such earnings of his reading, as he who prays over what he reads. Luther professes that he profited more in the knowledge of the Scriptures by prayer, in a short space, than by study in a longer. As John by weeping got the sealed book open, so certainly men would gain much more than they do by reading good men’s works, if they would but pray more over what they read! Ah, Christians! pray before you read, and pray after you read, that all may be blessed and sanctified to you; when you have done reading, usually close up thus—So let me live, so let me die, that I may live eternally.

And when you are in the mount for yourselves, bear him upon your hearts, who is willing to ‘spend and be spend’ for your sakes, for your souls, 2 Cor. 12:15. Oh! pray for me, that I may more and more be under the rich influences and glorious pourings out of the Spirit; that I may ‘be an able minister of the New Testament—not of the letter—but of the Spirit,’ 2 Cor. 3:6; that I may always find an everlasting spring and an overflowing fountain within me, which may always make me faithful, constant, and abundant in the work of the Lord; and that I may live daily under those inward teachings of the Spirit, which may enable me to speak from the heart to the heart, from the conscience to the conscience, and from experience to experience; that I may be a ‘burning and a shining light,’ that everlasting arms may be still under me; that while I live, I may be serviceable to his glory and his people’s good; that no discouragements may discourage one in my work; and that when my work is done, I may give up my account with joy and not with grief. I shall follow these poor labors with my weak prayers, that they may contribute much to your internal and eternal welfare.”

Image Credit: http://acheronic.deviantart.com/art/Tolle-Lege-70881656

Sinful Indulgence

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24

In Thomas Watson’s penetrating book The Godly Man’s Picture, the Puritan arrives at a section along his journey of identifying the characteristics of a godly man which he entitles, “A Godly man does not indulge himself in any sin.”

He begins this section by means of question and answer propositions beginning with, “What is it to indulge sin?”  Watson provides two answers, the first of which reads, “To give the breast to it and feed it.  As a fond parent humours his child and lets him have what he wants, so to indulge sin is to humour sin.”

His second answer gives us insight into our affections for these sins, “to indulge sin is to commit it with delight: ‘they had pleasure in unrighteousness.’ 2 Thess. 2:12”

Those sins in which we indulge may be called pet sins.  They are the sins which are dearest to us, the ones toward which we run so often and so quickly.  They are the ones which have the deepest roots that are most difficult to hew out, in fact, we may be less likely to address them at all because of their intertwining nature.  In this respect they may also be the most dangerous of sins because of the ease with which they hinder us.   These are the sins from Watson’s analogy which we coddle and nurture.

Watson identifies for his audience four sorts of sins which a godly man will not allow himself to indulge.

  1. Secret Sins
  2. Gainful Sins
  3. A Beloved Sin
  4. Those sins which the world counts lesser

As to the first, secret sins, he writes, “Some are more modest than to commit gross sin.  That would be a stain on their reputation.  But they will sit brooding upon sin in a corner.  All will not sin on a balcony but perhaps they will sin behind the curtain.”  Watson then details three reasons why, “a godly man dare not sin secretly”.  First, a godly man knows that “God sees in secret.”  Secondly, because “a godly man knows that secret sins are in some sense worse than others.  They reveal more guile and atheism.  The curtain sinner makes himself believe that God does not see.”  Third, “a godly man knows that secret sins shall not escape God’s justice.”

Next, Watson turns his focus toward the second type of sin in which a godly man will resist indulgence, gainful sins.  These he describes as “the golden bait with which Satan fishes for souls.”  He points out that it was this type of sin that Satan tempted our Lord with, though Christ was quick to see the hidden hook and resist him.

The third sin, beloved sins, are central to his entire focus of sins in which we indulge and it is the one that rightly deserves the expansive treatment that Watson devotes towards it.  He writes, “There is usually one sin that is the favourite, the sin which the heart is most fond of.”  It is this type of sin, perhaps above the others described here, that is most nurtured in the bosom of man.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical that the godly man recognize his particular affinities and kill them.  “If we would have peace in our souls, we must maintain a war against our favourite sin and never leave off till it is subdued.”

Further unpacking this particular peccadillo, Watson asks, “How shall we know the beloved sin?” before expanding on six answers which are summarized below:

  1. The sin which a man does not love to have reproved is the darling sin.
  2. The sin on which the thoughts run most is the darling sin.
  3. The sin which has the most power over us and most easily leads us captive is the one beloved by the soul.
  4. The sin which men use arguments to defend is the beloved sin.
  5. The sin which most troubles us, and flies most in the face in an hour of sickness and distress, that is the Delilah sin.
  6. The sin which a man finds most difficulty in giving up is the endeared sin.

Summarizing this section on beloved sins, Watson concludes, “The besetting sin is a God-provoking sin.  The besetting sin is of all others most dangerous.  A godly man will lay the axe of repentance to this sin and hew it down.  He sets this sin, like Uriah, in the forefront of the battle, so that it may be slain.  He will sacrifice this Isaac, he will pluck out this right eye, so that he may see better to go to heaven.”

The fourth sin, according to the Puritan, is those sins which the world counts lesser are defined as sins of omission, vain oaths, and slander.  Which brings us to how Watson concludes this section, namely with nine consequences for indulgence in sin:

  1. One sin gives Satan as much advantage against you as more sins.
  2. One sin lived in proves that the heart is not sound.
  3. One sin will make way for more.
  4. One sin is as much a breach of God’s law as more sins.
  5. One sin lived in prevents Christ from entering.
  6. One sin lived in will spoil all your good duties.
  7. One sin lived in will be a cankerworm to eat out the peace of conscience.
  8. One sin allowed will damn as well as more sins.
  9. One sin harboured in the soul will unfit us for suffering.

“If, then, you would show yourselves godly, give a certificate of divorce to every sin.  Kill the Goliath sin: ‘Let not sin reign’ (Rom. 6:12).  In the original it is ‘Let not sin king it over you’.  Grace and sin may be together, but grace and the love of sin cannot.  Therefore parley with sin no longer, but with the spear of mortification, spill the heart blood of every sin.”

Unlike other sins, those in which we so easily indulge ourselves are like the invasive species of plants, which if left unattended will not maintain the status quo, but will grow and spread quickly and without warning.  Therefore it becomes all the more critical to stay on top of our eradication of this species of sins.

Let us concur with the author of Hebrews, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

The Lost Art of Biblical Meditation

 

Meditation in modern society has come to mean many things to many people, most common of which is a mystical practice rooted in a belief that emptying one’s mind of all thoughts will lead you into a higher, albeit relaxed, state of being.  Typically referred to as transcendental meditation[1], this unbiblical practice has been somewhat revitalized recently through various movements, not the least of which has been a resurgence of yoga practices and similar Buddhist-like activities, as well as by means of professing Christian movements such as the emerging/emergent church[2].

In contrast to this popular, pagan form of meditation, the biblical practice of meditation remains a lacking discipline in the lives of many followers of Christ.  Likewise, instructive teaching on it from either the pulpit or the pen remains deficient.  Ignorant to its proper meaning and spiritual benefits, we’ve shuffled meditation to the side treating it as a mystical stepchild to Christianity when the very practice is and has always been rooted in a desire to commune with God, better understand His Word, and reflect deeply upon it, ultimately leading to praise of God for His majesty and glory.

A brief survey of the biblical landscape finds a robust theme of meditation, explicitly among the Psalms but also as first observed in the patriarch Jacob, then in a command given to Joshua, and among Paul’s epistles, particularly in the instructions to young Timothy.  Additionally, other words and phrases are used to express the concept such as “think on these things” and “set you mind on” among others.  Basically, when we encounter passages of Scripture that call us to contemplate the things of God, it is generally a call to meditation.

With those biblical examples before us, let us then turn our attention toward further defining this much neglected practice.  What exactly is it? How is it performed?  Why should we meditate?  Upon what should we draw our meditative attention?  When and how often?

While it certainly would be possible to glean the answers to these questions by consolidating those verses and instances of meditation mentioned above, some of these questions and others are addressed and answered through the pen of Puritan Thomas Watson in an incredibly challenging work on the art of meditation, The Christian on the Mount.  In that treatise, Watson instructs us on the discipline of meditation by first defining it as a Christian duty.  All too often, duty has become a 4-letter word in modern Christian vernacular, perhaps one of the reasons for the neglect of this important practice.

Watson sees meditation as the “chewing upon the truths we have heard”[3] or read and that “meditation is like the watering of the seed, it makes the fruits of grace to flourish.”[4]  Going further in his definition we read that, “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”[5] and should be performed by way of locking up oneself from the world, which “spoils meditation” and rightly Watson rightly concludes that the “world’s music will either play us asleep or distract us in our meditations.”[6]

Using Scripture as our map and Watson as our tour guide we find that meditation is different than simply reading or studying, “study is a work of the brain; meditation is a work of the heart.”[7]  The argument could be made that a progression among these terms exists for the benefit a true gain or fruit from time spent in the Word.  First, the practice of reading followed by study then giving one’s thoughts over to the passage via meditation before settling on a practical application, which could be a new truth gleaned or wisdom for the day.

Watson then draws our attention to 15 objects for our meditations beginning with the attributes of God and concluding with meditation upon our experiences wherein we may have observed the hand of God working which may benefit us by 1) raising us to thankfulness 2) engaging our hearts to God in obedience 3) convincing us that God is no hard master 4) making us communicative to others.[8]

Summarizing our description of meditation we may conclude that it is the difference between knowing about God and knowing God.  It is the difference between knowing the truths of God’s Word and loving the truths of God’s Word.  It is the difference between a sick man noticing medicine on the shelf and that same man ingesting said medicine for a cure.  Like the transcendence of the sun apart from the immanency of its rays, so too is God’s Word when read or heard apart from the practice of divine meditation.  Quite simply, failure in this duty is akin to experiencing light from a fire without heat.  The path from the mind to the heart is paved with the gold of meditation.  Why then are so few Christians engaging in this practice?

To answer this question bluntly, Watson sees a connection between the failure to practice meditation and the reason why there are “so few good Christians.”[9]  Notice how relevant his nearly four hundred year old words are to today, “It [the practice of meditation] gives us a true account why there are so few good Christians in the world; namely, because there are so few meditating Christians: we have many that have Bible ears, they are swift to hear, but slow to meditate.  This duty is grown almost out of fashion, people are so much in the shop, that they are seldom on the Mount with God….so many who go under the name of professors, have banished good discourse from their tables, and meditation from their closets.”[10]

We conclude our holding of Watson’s hand with his offer of several pieces of practical advice from his own experiences in order to introduce us to the practice of meditation, including the best time of day, he prefers morning, the duration, he suggests at least 30 minutes, and the types (occasional: on any sudden occasion; deliberate: which he sees as chief, some set time each day) among additional helpful guidance through this practice.

So then is meditation necessary in the life of a believer?  Let us allow Watson the final word on the matter, “The necessity of meditation appears in this, because without it we can never be good Christians; a Christian without meditation is like a soldier without arms, or a workman without tools.  1. Without meditation the truths of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind, it is like the selvedge[11] which keeps the cloth from raveling.  2. Without meditation the truths which we know will never affect our hearts.”[12]

 

 

[1] From Google: “a technique for detaching oneself from anxiety and promoting harmony and self-realization by meditation, repetition of a mantra, and other yogic practices, promulgated by an international organization founded by the Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi ( circa 1911–2008)

Sometimes referred to as contemplative monastic meditation or centering prayer.

[2] Emerging Church

[3] Thomas Watson A Christian on the Mount. Google Digitized version, p. 198.

[4] Watson, 198.

[5] Ibid, 199.

[6] Ibid, 199.

[7] Ibid, 203.

[8] Ibid, 237.

[9] Ibid, 240.

[10] Ibid, 240-241.

[11] An edge produced on woven fabric during manufacture that prevents it from unraveling – wiki

[12] Watson, 239.