Editor’s Note: Thomas Watson first called the Christians to holy meditation in 1669 in his book, The Christian Soldier, which would later be republished as “Heaven Taken by Storm.” The following excerpt is one of the finest calls to Christian meditation ever written.
Meditation is a duty wherein the very heart and life-blood of piety lies. Meditation may be thus described: it is a holy exercise of the mind; whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves. In meditation there are two things:
1. A Christian’s retiring of himself, a locking himself up from the world. Meditation is a work which cannot be done in a crowd.
2. It is a serious thinking upon God. It is not a few transient thoughts that are quickly gone—but a fixing and staying of the mind upon heavenly objects: this cannot be done without exciting all the powers of our souls, and offering violence to ourselves.
We are the more to provoke ourselves to this duty, because:
1. Meditation is so opposed to flesh and blood. Naturally we shun holy meditation. To meditate on worldly, secular things, even if it were all day, we can do without any difficulty; but to have our thoughts fixed on God, how hard do we find it? How do our hearts quarrel with this duty? What pleas and excuses we have to put it off? The natural averseness from this duty shows that we are to offer violence to ourselves in it.
2. Satan does what he can to hinder this duty. He is an enemy of meditation. The devil does not care not how much we read—so long as we do not meditate on what we read. Reading begets knowledge—but meditation begets devotion. Meditation stabilizes the heart and makes it serious, while Satan labors to keep the heart from being serious. What need therefore is there of offering violence to ourselves in this duty? But I hear some say, when they sit alone they do not know what to meditate about. I shall therefore furnish them with matter for meditation.
1. Meditate Seriously Upon the Corruption of Your Nature
We have lost that pure holy frame of soul that we once had. There is a sea of sin in us. Our nature is the source and seminary of all evil. It is like Peter’s sheet, wherein were “wild beasts and creeping things,” (Acts 10:12). This sin cleaves to us as a leprosy. This original pollution makes us guilty before the Lord; and even though we would never commit actual sin, it merits hell. The meditation of this pulls down our pride. Nay, even those who have grace have cause to walk humbly because they have more corruption in them than grace: their dark side is broader than their light.
2. Meditate Seriously Upon the Death and Passion of Christ
Christ’s soul was overcast with a cloud of sorrow when he was conflicting with his Father’s wrath; and all this we ourselves, should have suffered, Isaiah 53:5, “He was wounded for our transgressions.” As David said, “Lo, I have sinned—but these sheep, what have they done?” (2 Sam. 24:17). So we have sinned—but this Lamb of God—what had he done?
The serious meditation of this produces repentance. How could we look upon him “whom we have pierced,” and not mourn over him? When we consider how dearly our sins cost Christ; how should we shed the blood of our sins which shed Christ’s blood?
The meditation of Christ’s death would fire our hearts with love to Christ. What friend shall we love, if not him who died for us? His love to us made him to be cruel unto himself. As Rebecca said to Jacob, Gen. 27:13 “Upon me, be your curse.” So said Christ, “upon me, be your curse,” that poor sinners may inherit the blessing.
3. Meditate on Your Evidences for Heaven
What evidences do you show that you are going Heaven, if you should die this night? Ask yourself these questions.
Was your heart ever thoroughly convinced of sin? Did you ever see yourself lost without Christ? Conviction is the first step to conversion (John 7:16).
Has God ever made you willing to take Christ upon his own terms? (Zech. 6:13). “He shall be a priest upon his throne.” Are you as willing that Christ should be upon the throne of your heart to rule you—as well as a priest at the altar to intercede for you? Are you willing to renounce those sins to which the bias of your heart does naturally incline? Can you set those sins, as Uriah, in the forefront of the battle to be slain? Are you willing to take Christ for better and for worse? To take him with his cross, and to accept Christ in the worst of times?
Do you have the indwelling presence of the Spirit? If you have, what has God’s Spirit done in you? Has he made you of another spirit? Meek, merciful, humble? Is he a transforming Spirit? Has he left the impress of its holiness upon you?
These are good evidences for Heaven. By these, as by a spiritual touchstone, you may know whether you have grace or not. Beware of false evidences. None are further from having the true pearl, than those who content themselves with the counterfeit.
4. Meditate Upon the Uncertainty of all Earthly Comforts
Creature-delights have their flux and reflux. How often does the sun of worldly pomp and grandeur goes down at noon. Xerxes was forced to fly away in a small vessel, who but a little before lacked sea-room for his navy. We say everything is changing; but who meditates upon it? The world is resembled to “a sea of glass mingled with fire” (Rev. 15:2). Glass is slippery; it has no sure footing; and glass mingled with fire is subject to consume. All creatures are fluid and uncertain, and cannot be made to fix. What is become of the glory of Athens, the pomp of Troy? (1 John 2:17). “The world passes away.” It slides away as a ship in full sail. How quickly does the scene alter? and a low ebb follow a high tide? There’s no trusting to anything. Health may turn to sickness; friends may die; riches may take wings. We are ever upon the tropics.
The serious meditation of this truth has the following effects:
1. Keeps us from being so deceived by the world. We are ready to set up our rest here, Psalm 44:11, “Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue forever!” We are prone to think that our mountain stands strong. We dream of an earthly eternity. Alas, if we would meditate on how casual and uncertain these things are, we should not be so often deluded. Have not we had great disappointments; and where we have thought to suck honey, there have we not drunk wormwood.
2. The meditation of the uncertainty of all things under the sun, would much moderate our affections to them. Why should we so eagerly pursue an uncertainty? Many take care to get a great estate; it is uncertain whether they shall keep it. The fire may break in where the thief cannot: or if they do keep it, it is a question whether they shall have the comfort of it. They lay up for a child; that child may die; or if he live, he may prove a burden. This seriously meditated on, would cure the swelling of covetousness; and make us sit loose to that which hangs so loose and is ready to drop from us.
3. The meditation of this uncertainty would make us look after a certainty: that is, the getting of grace. This holy “anointing abides,” (1 John 2:27). Grace is a flower of eternity. Death does not destroy grace but transplant it and makes it grow in better soil. He who has true holiness can no more lose it than the angels can, who are fixed stars in glory.
5. Meditate on God’s Severity Against Sin
Every arrow in God’s quiver is shot against sin. Sin burned Sodom, and drowned the old world. Sin kindles hell. If when a spark of God’s wrath flies into a man’s conscience, it is so terrible, what is it when God ‘stirs up all his wrath”? (Psalm 78:38). The meditation of this would frighten us out of our sins. There cannot be so much sweetness in sin—as there is sting. How dreadful is God’s anger! (Psalm 90:11). “Who knows the power of his wrath?” All fire, compared with the fire of God’s wrath, is but painted and imaginary fire. O that every time we meddle with sin, we would think to ourselves we choose the bramble, and fire will come out of this bramble to devour us.
6. Meditate on Eternal Life
1 John 2:25, “This is his promise, even eternal life.” Life is sweet, and this word eternal makes it sweeter. This lies in the immediate vision and fruition of God.
The eternal life is a spiritual life. It is opposite to that animal life which we live now. Here we hunger and thirst; but there we “shall hunger no more” (Rev. 7:16). There is the marriage supper of the Lamb, which will not only satisfy hunger—but prevent it. That blessed life to come does not consist in sensual delights, food, and drink, and music; nor in the comfort of relations; but the soul will be wholly swallowed up in God, and acquiesce in him with infinite delight. As when the sun appears, the stars vanish, so when God shall appear in his glory and fill the soul, then all earthly sensitive delights shall vanish.
The eternal life is a glorious life. The bodies of the saints shall be clothed with glory: they shall be made like Christ’s glorious body, (Phil. 3:21). And if the cabinet be of such curious needle-work, how rich shall the jewel be that is put into it! how bespangled with glory shall the soul be! Every saint shall wear his white robe, and have his throne to sit upon. Then God will put some of his own glory upon the saints. Glory shall not only be revealed to them—but in them, (Romans 8:18). And this life of glory shall be crowned with eternity; what angel can express it! O let us often meditate on this.
Meditation on eternal life will make us labor for a spiritual life. The child must be born before it is crowned. We must be born of the Spirit; before we are crowned with glory.
The meditation on eternal life comforts us in regard to the shortness of natural life. Our life we live now, flies away as a shadow: it is called a flower (Psalm 88:15) and a vapor (James 4:14). Job sets forth fragile life very elegantly in three of the elements, land, water, and air, (Job 9:25-26). Go to the land, and there man’s life is like a swift runner. Go to the water, there man’s life is like a ship under sail. Look to the air, and there man’s life is like a flying eagle. We are hastening to the grave. When our years do increase, our life does decrease. Death creeps upon us by degrees. When our sight grows dim, there death creeps in at the eye. When our hearing is bad, death creeps in at the ear. When our legs tremble under us, death is pulling down the main pillars of the house: but eternal life comforts us against the shortness of natural life. That life to come is subject to no infirmities; it knows no end. We shall be as the angels of God, capable of no mutation or change. Thus you have seen six noble subjects for your thoughts to expatiate upon.
But where is the meditating Christian?
I lament the lack of holy meditation. Most people live in a hurry; they are so distracted with the cares of the world, that they can find no time to meditate or scarcely ask their souls how they do. We are not like the saints in former ages. David meditated in God’s precepts, (Psalm 119:15). “Isaac walked in the evening to meditate,” (Gen. 24:63). He did take a stroll with God. What devout meditations do we read in Austin and Anselm? But it is too much out of date among our modern professors.
Those beasts under the law which did not chew the cud, were unclean. Such as do not chew the cud by holy meditation are to be reckoned among the unclean. But I shall rather turn my lamentation into a persuasion, entreating Christians to offer violence to themselves in this necessary duty of meditation. Pythagoras sequestered himself from all society, and lived in a cave for a whole year, that he might meditate upon philosophy. How then should we retire and lock up ourselves at least once a day, that we may meditate upon glory.
Meditation makes the Word preached to profit; it works it upon the conscience. As the bee sucks the honey from the flower, so by meditation we suck out the sweetness of a truth. It is not the receiving of food into the mouth—but the digesting of it which makes it nutritious. So it is not the receiving of the most excellent truths in at the ear, which nourishes our souls—but the digesting of them by meditation. Wine poured in a sieve, runs out. Many truths are lost, because ministers pour their wine into sieves, either into leaking memories or feathery minds. Meditation is like a soaking rain, that goes to the root of the tree, and makes it bring forth fruit.
Holy meditation quickens the affections. “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (Psalm 119:97). The reason why our affections are so cold to heavenly things, is because we do not warm them at the fire of holy meditation. As the musing on worldly objects makes the fire of lust burn; the musing on injuries makes the fire of revenge burn; just so, meditating on the transcendent beauties of Christ, would make our love to Christ flame forth.
Meditation has a transforming power in it. The hearing of the Word may affect us—but the meditating upon it does transform us. Meditation stamps the impression of divine truths upon our hearts. By meditating on God’s holiness, we grow holy. As Jacob’s cattle, by looking on the rods, conceived like the rods: so while by meditation we look upon God’s purity, we are changed into his likeness and are made partakers of his divine nature.
Meditation produces reformation (Psalm 119:59). “I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.” Did but people meditated on the damnableness of sin; they would realize that there is a rope at the end of it, which will hang them eternally in hell; they would break off a course of sinning, and become new creatures. Let all this persuade us to holy meditation. I dare be bold to say that if men would spend but one quarter of an hour every day in contemplating heavenly objects, it would leave a mighty impression upon them, and, through the blessing of God might prove the beginning of a happy conversion.
But how shall we grow in meditation?
Get a love for spiritual things. We usually meditate on those things which we love. The voluptuous man can muse on his pleasures: the covetous man on his bags of gold. Did we love heavenly things, we would meditate more on them. Many say they cannot meditate, because they lack memory; but is it not rather because they lack love? Did they love the things of God, they would make them their continual study and meditation.