Jonathan Edwards on Meditation
Here is a short excerpt from Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013), 120-122. Click here for the publisher page.
Edwards on Meditation
Edwards told his church to set their minds on things of a divine nature and to turn the eye of their minds toward them, “that these highest glories that can be thought [of], might be more the objects of their meditation!”14 The “eye of your mind” links the idea of meditation to the visual. As the Christian life is a journey to see clearly, meditation is attending deeply to the beauty and glory of God. This is not “physical” sight—we do not see new objects. Rather, the “eye of our minds” is able to see reality for what it truly is. As Spirit indwelt believers we now grasp the beauty of reality and the ugliness of depravity. Our posture in meditation is to receive grace to be formed according to this beauty—the beauty of God—that the ways of God become our ways. It is here that we seek the path of the Lord by seeking the Lord himself (Ps 5:8). Meditation is, therefore, an activity of the heart (Ps 4:4; Lk 2:19). As an activity that seeks to unite the understanding and the will to an affectionate knowledge of God (an activity of the heart), meditation is necessarily rational:
When we meditate, then we act as reasonable creatures, then reason acts, then the soul is in exercise. Shall we have souls within us, and let them lie dead without any exercise? We ought to spend much time in meditation; we ought to meditate on God’s Word day and night (Psalm 1:2). The law of God should be a constant companion to converse with, lying down and rising up, and wherever we are.
This is not how we tend to see rationality. This is not racking our brains around an idea trying to figure it out. Instead, in meditation we are “exercising” our minds according to their true created purpose—to gaze upon the glory and beauty of God. As pilgrims, this knowledge does not come easily. We focus our minds to try and understand Scripture, but we do so as a means of grace. This is not in our power but in a posture of dependence upon God. Edwards tells us, “Our understandings were given us to be used, and above all to be exercised, in divine things. Therefore God teaches us in such a way that we shall have some exercise of meditation and study. God gives us the gold, but he gives it to us in a mine that we might dig for it.” In meditation, we pour over how God has presented himself in Scripture, in redemption history, in the world and in our lives, and we hold that before God in light of who we are. This is why meditation ties together the Word, prayer and knowledge of God and ourselves. Meditation is where we hold these together before the prophetic gaze of Christ. Meditation leads us from Scripture to prayer because meditation is more than reading for information, but is learning from God in the reality of our own lives. For Edwards, meditation was a constant necessity of living in God’s world. Edwards talks about how he used to “praise God, by singing psalms in prose, and by singing forth the meditations of my heart in prose.” Throughout, and in closing, a time of meditation one would pray and praise God. There was not a specific model (do X, Y and Z in this specific order), but the whole purpose of meditation was to set one’s mind and heart on Christ and his truth.
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