The Young Lady's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character
by Harvey Newcomb, 1843
Christian meditation is a serious, practical, and devout contemplation of divine things. It was the delight of holy men of old, as it is now delightful to all who set their affections on things above. It is inseparably connected with our growth in grace; for it is by "beholding the glory of the Lord," that we are "changed into the same image." And how can we behold the glory of the Lord, but by the devout contemplation of his infinite perfections? The natural tendency of our minds is to assimilate to those objects which we contemplate. If, then, our thoughts are occupied with earthly things, our minds will be earthly. Moreover, the word of God is "a lamp to our feet and a light to our path;" but, if we do not open our eyes to its truths, how can they guide our steps? It is by the practical contemplation of the Scriptures, that we are to understand our duty; and, by a devout contemplation of them, that we are to drink into their spirit, and hold communion with their Author.
Meditation should be incessant. Divine truth is the element in which the devout mind moves, as the fish plays in the depths of the sea, and the bird mounts aloft in the air. When deprived of its accustomed element, the fish is like one thrown upon the dry land; and the bird is like one pent up in a cage. Like the magnetic needle, when violently turned from the pole, such a mind will revert to the object of attraction, when the force which held it is removed. Its tendency is upward, as the needle to the pole. David says of the godly man, "His delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night. "O, how love I your law! it is my meditation all the day." This is true Christian feeling; and we ought to be in such a frame continually that our minds will dwell voluntarily upon the precious doctrines, facts, precepts, and promises, of the word of God. But, so long as we are beset with temptations without, and compelled to maintain a warfare with indwelling corruptions, we must labor and watch, with great diligence, to maintain a devout mind, and keep our hearts affected with spiritual things.
Indeed, nothing is to be attained, in the divine life, in our present state, without great labor and strife; "for the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another; so that you cannot do the things that you would." One of the most difficult matters in Christian experience is to keep the mind habitually upon heavenly things, while engaged in worldly employments, or surrounded by objects which affect the senses. Satan will be continually seeking to divert your mind, and indwelling corruptions will rebel. Vain thoughts will intrude; but if you hate them, and love the law of the Lord, you will not allow them to lodge with you. The Bible saints were fervent in spirit, even while engaged in business; and we have accounts of pious people in every age, who have been like them. This is for our encouragement; for what they have done, we, by the grace of God, may do likewise. A heavenly mind is worth the labor of many years. Rest not until you attain it.
Meditation should be mingled with all our devotional reading, particularly with our reading of the Holy Scriptures. And it is well, in the morning, to fix upon some subject, or some passage of Scripture, for the mind to dwell upon, while we are engaged in our ordinary pursuits. But, in addition to this, it is profitable to set apart particular seasons every day, or as often as practicable, for fixed and holy meditation. We have examples of this among the saints of old; and they embraced the most favorable opportunities for this devout exercise. Isaac went out into the field to meditate in the stillness and solemnity of the evening. David sometimes chose the calmness of the morning. At other times, he fixed his thoughts in holy meditation during the wakeful hours of the night. "I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches." "All night long I lie awake, to meditate on your word."
But this is a work of so much difficulty, requiring such labor of mind, that it is probable you will neglect it, unless you set apart stated and regular seasons for the purpose, and consider them as devoted to this sacred exercise. Select some subject, and think upon it deeply, systematically, practically, and devoutly. 'System' is a great assistance in everything. We can never obtain clear views of any complex object without separately viewing the various parts of which it is composed. We cannot see the beautiful mechanism of a watch, nor understand the principles which keep it in motion, without taking it in pieces, and viewing the parts separately. So, in contemplating any great truth which contains many different propositions, if we look at them all at once, our ideas will be confused and imperfect; but, if we separate them, and examine one at a time, our views will be clear and distinct.
Our meditation must be practical, because every divine truth is calculated to make an impression upon the heart; and, if it fails of doing this, our labor is lost. Make, then, a direct personal application of the truth on which your thoughts are fixed. But our meditations must also be devout. They must be mixed with prayer. As an example of what I mean, I refer you to the 119th Psalm. The Psalmist, in the midst of his meditations, continually lifts up his soul in prayer. His devout aspirations are breathed forth continually. And in proportion as you follow his example, will you succeed in this heavenly employment.
As for the subjects of meditation, the word of God furnishes an endless variety. You may, however, find advantage, in your seasons of fixed and solemn meditation, by fastening your mind on some particular portion of divine truth, and carrying it out in its various relations and applications. In my little work entitled "The Closet," which has grown out of a sense of my own needs, I have selected and arranged a considerable variety of topics, from which you may find some assistance. These are, however, intended as mere suggestions, and are, therefore, both imperfectly stated and partially carried out. One great difficulty in this exercise is, always to be able to fix the mind on some portion of truth in such a manner as to secure variety, and to contemplate truth in its proper proportions. I have arranged these subjects in such a manner, that, if taken in course, they will lead to the contemplation of divine truth, with some reference to its proper proportions, although they do not completely cover the ground. But any particular topic can be selected, according to your circumstances or inclination. Many of the subjects are divided under various heads; and, in some cases, one or two heads may be found sufficient for one season of meditation. But no mere mechanical attention to the matter, as a task imposed upon yourself, will be of any avail. Your heart must be in it—and then it will be an easy and delightful service.
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