Meditation upon God is a sanctifying act because God is holy and perfect in His nature and attributes. The meditation of which the Psalmist speaks in the text is not that of the schoolman or the poet, but of the devout, saintly and adoring mind. That meditation upon God which is “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb” is not speculative but practical. That which is speculative and scholastic springs from curiosity. That which is practical flows from love. This is the key to this distinction, so frequently employed in reference to the operations of the human mind. All merely speculative thinking is inquisitive, acute and wholly destitute of affection for the object. But all practical thinking is affectionate, sympathetic and in harmony with the object. When I meditate upon God because I love Him, my reflection is practical. When I think upon God because I desire to explore Him, my thinking is speculative. None, therefore, but the devout and affectionate mind truly meditates upon God, and all thought upon that Being which is put forth merely to gratify the curiosity and pride of the human understanding forms no part of the Christian habit and practice which we are recommending.
Man in every age has endeavoured “by searching [to] find out God”. He has striven almost convulsively to fathom the abyss of the Deity and discover the deep things of the Creator. But because it was from the love of knowledge rather than from the love of God, his efforts have been both unprofitable and futile. He has not sounded the abyss, neither has his heart grown humble and gentle and tender and pure. His intellect has been baffled, and, what is yet worse, his nature has not been renovated. Nay more, a weariness and a curse has come into his spirit because he has put the understanding of an object in the place of the object itself; because, in his long struggle to understand God, he has not had the first thought of loving and serving Him.
There is indeed, for the created mind, no true knowledge of the Creator except a practical and sanctifying knowledge. God alone knows the speculative secrets of His own being. The moral and holy perfections of the Godhead are enough, and more than enough, for man to meditate upon. “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God,” said Moses to the children of Israel, “but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of His law.”
True meditation, thus proceeding from filial love and sympathy, brings the soul into intercourse and communion with its object. Devout and holy reflection upon God introduces man into the divine presence, in a true and solid sense of these words. Such a soul shall know God as the natural man does not, and cannot. “Judas saith unto Him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered, and said unto him, If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him and make Our abode with him.”
In the hour of spiritual and affectionate musing upon the character and attributes of God – and especially upon their manifestation in the Person and work of Christ – there is a positive impression upon the heart, directly from God. In what other mode can we get near to the Invisible One, here upon earth, than by some mental act or process? In what other way than by prayer and meditation can we approach God? We cannot see Him with the outward eye. We cannot touch Him with the hand. We cannot draw nigh to Him with a body of flesh and blood. In no way, here below, can we have intercourse with God except “in spirit”. He is a pure Spirit, and that part of us which has to do with Him is the spirit within us. And, in this mode of existence, the only ordinary medium of communication between the divine and the human spirit is thought and prayer. God, with all the immensity of His being and all the infinitude of His perfections, is virtually non-existent for that man who does not meditate and never prays. For, so long as there is no medium of intercourse, there is no intercourse. The power of thought and of spiritual supplication is all that God has given us in this life whereby we may approach Him and be impressed by His being and attributes. Eye hath not seen Him; the ear cannot hear Him. Nothing but the invisible can behold the invisible. Here upon earth, man must meet God in the depths of his soul, in the privacy of his closet, or not at all.
The Christian life is so imperfect here below that it is unsafe to set it up as a measure of what is possible under the covenant of grace. The possibilities and capacities of the Christian religion are by no means to be estimated by the stinted draughts made upon them by our unfaithfulness and unbelief. Were we as meditative and prayerful as was Enoch, the seventh from Adam, we, like him, should “walk with God”. This was the secret of the wonderful spirituality and unearthliness that led to his translation. Is there upon earth today any communion between man and God superior to that between the patriarchal mind and the Eternal? Men tell us that the ancient Church was ignorant, and that it cannot be expected that Seth and Enoch and David should be possessed of the vast intelligence of the nineteenth century. But show me the man among the millions of our restless and self-conceited civilization who walks with God as Enoch did, and who meditates upon that glorious Being all the day, and in the night watches, as David did; show me a man of such mental processes as these, and I will show you one whose shoe latchets, even in intellectual respects, the wisest of our scholars is not worthy to stoop down and unloose.
No scientific knowledge equals, either in loftiness or in depth, the immortal vision of the saint and seraphim. And were we accustomed to such heavenly contemplation and musing, the “fire would burn” in our hearts as it did in that of the Psalmist, and our souls would “pant” after God. God would be real to our feelings, instead of being a mere abstraction for our understandings. We should be conscious of His presence with a distinctness equal to that with which we feel the morning wind, and should see His glory as clearly as we ever saw the sun at noonday. With as much certainty as we know the sky to be overhead, and underneath the solid ground, we should be certain that God “is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him”. There would be contact. “I want”, said Niebuhr, (2) wearied with seeking and not finding, “a God who is heart to my heart, spirit to my spirit, life to my life.” Such is God to every soul that loves Him, and meditates because it loves.
True meditation then, being practical and thereby bringing the subject of it into communion with the object of it, is of necessity sanctifying. For the object is Infinite Holiness and Purity. It is He in whom is centred and gathered and crowded all possible perfections. And can our minds muse upon such a Being and not become purer and better? Can we actually and affectionately commune with the most perfect and high God in the heavens and not become sanctified? The spirit of a man takes its character from the themes of its meditation. He who thinks much upon wealth becomes avaricious; he whose thoughts are upon earthly glory becomes ambitious; and he whose thoughts are upon God becomes godlike.
1. The second head of one of Shedd’s Sermons to the Spiritual Man, entitled Religious Meditation, on the text: “My meditation of Him shall be sweet” (Ps 104:34a). Shedd was a prominent American theologian in the second half of the nineteenth century.
2. A German historian of the early nineteenth century.