The Christian Soldier; or Heaven Taken by Storm (Part 4, by Prayer and Meditation)
3. The third duty wherein we are to offer violence to ourselves, is in prayer. Prayer is a duty which keeps the trade of religion flowing. When we either join in prayer with others, or pray alone, we must use holy violence; not eloquence in prayer, but violence carries it. Theodorus, speaking of Luther, ‘once (says he) I overheard him in prayer: but, (good God), with what life and spirit did he pray! It was with so much reverence, as if he were speaking to God, yet with so much confidence, as if he had been speaking to his friend.’ There must be a stirring up of the heart,
1.To prayer. 2. In prayer.
1. A stirring up of the heart to prayer, Job xi. 13. ‘If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him.’ This preparing of our heart by holy thoughts and ejaculations. The musician first tunes his instrument before he plays.
2. There must be a stirring up of the heart in prayer. Prayer is a lifting up of the mind and soul to God, which cannot be done aright without offering violence to one-self. The names given to prayer imply violence. It is called wrestling, Gen. xxxii. 24. and a pouring out of the soul, 1 Sam. i. 15. both of which imply vehemency. The affection is required as well as invention — The apostle speaks of an effectual fervent prayer, which is a parallel phrase to offering violence.
Alas, how far from offering violence to themselves in prayer, 1. That give God a dead, heartless prayer. God would not have the blind offered, Mal. i. 8; as good offer the blind is as offering the dead. Some are half asleep when they pray, and will a sleepy prayer ever awaken God? Such as mind not their own prayers, how do they think that God should mind them? Those prayers God likes best which come seething hot from the heart.
2. How far are they from offering violence, who give God distracted prayer? while they are praying, they are thinking of their shop and trade. How can he shoot right whose eye is quite off the mark? Ezek. xxxiii. 31. ‘Their heart goeth after their covetousness.’ Many are casting up their accounts in prayer, as Hieram once complained of himself. How can God be pleased with this? Will a king tolerate that, while his subject is delivering a petition, and speaking to him, he should be playing with a feather? When we send our hearts on an errand to Heaven, how often do they loiter and play by the way? This is a matter of blushing. That we may offer violence to ourselves and by fervency feather the wing of prayer, let these things be duly weighed.
1. The majesty of God with whom we have to do. He sees how it is with us in prayer, whether we are deeply affected with those things we pray for. ‘The king came in to see the guests,’ Matt. xxii.11. So when we go to pray, the King of glory comes in to see in what frame we are; he has a window which looks into our breasts, and if He sees a dead heart, he may turn a deaf ear. Nothing will sooner make God’s anger wax hot than a cold prayer.
2. Prayer without fervency and violence is no prayer; it is speaking, not praying. — Lifeless prayer is no more prayer than the picture of a man is a man. To say a prayer, is not to pray; Ashanius taught his parrot the Lord’s Prayer. Ambrose saith well, ‘It is the life and affection in a duty that baptizeth it, and gives it a name.’ ‘Tis the violence and wrestling of the affections that make it a prayer, else it is no prayer. But a man may say as Pharaoh, ‘I have dreamed a dream,’ Gen. xli.15.
3. The zeal and violence of the affections in prayer best suits God’s nature. He is a spirit, John iv. 24. and sure that prayer which is full of life and spirit is the savory meat he loves, 1 Peter ii. 5. ‘Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.’ Spirituality and fervency in duty, is like the spirits of wine, which are the more refined part of the wine. Bodily exercise profits nothing. ‘Tis not the stretching of the lungs, but the vehemency of the desire, that makes music in God’s ears.
4. Consider the need we have of those things which we ask in prayer. We come to ask the favor of God; and if we have not his love, all that we enjoy is cursed to us. We pray that our souls may be washed in Christ’s blood, and if he wash us not, ‘we have no part in him.’ Such are these mercies that if God deny us, we are forever undone. Therefire what violence therefore we need to put forth in prayer? When will a man be earnest, if not when he is begging for his life?
Let it provoke violence in prayer, to consider, that those things which we ask, God hath a mind to grant. If a son ask nothing but what his father is willing to bestow, he may be the more earnest in his suit. We go to God for pardon of sin, and no work is more pleasing to him than to seal pardons. Mercy is his delight, Micah vii. 18. We pray to God for a holy heart, and this prayer is according to his will, 1 Thes. iv. 3. ‘This is the will of God, even your sanctification’. We pray that God would give us a heart to love him. How pleasing must this request needs be to God! This, if any thing, may excite prayer, and carry it in a fiery chariot up to Heaven, when we know we pray for nothing but that which God is more willing to grant than we are to ask.
6. No mercy can be bestowed on us but in a way of prayer. Mercy is purchased by Christ’s blood, but it is conveyed by prayer. All the promises are bonds made over to us, but prayer puts these bonds in suit. The Lord has told Israel with what rich mercy He would bespangle them; he would bring them to their native country and that with new hearts, Ezek. xxxvi. Yet this tree of the promise would not drop its fruit, till shaken with the hand of prayer, verse 67. For ‘all this yet be inquired.’ The breast of God’s mercy is full, but prayer must draw the breast. Surely, if all other ways are blocked up, there’s no good to be done without prayer; how then should we ply this oar, and by a holy violence stir up ourselves to take hold of God.
7. ‘Tis only violence and intenseness of spirit in prayer that has the promise of mercy affixed to it, Matt vii. 7. ‘Knock, and it shall be opened.’ Knocking is a violent motion. The Aediles among the Romans had their doors always standing open, so that all who had petitions might have free access to them. God’s heart is ever open to fervent prayer. Let us then be fired with zeal, and with Christ pray yet more earnestly. ‘Tis violence in prayer that makes Heaven-gates fly open, and fetcheth in whatever mercies we stand in need of.
8. Large returns God has given to violent prayer. The dove sent to Heaven has often brought an olive leaf in its mouth: Psalm xxxiv. 6. ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.’. Crying prayer prevails. Daniel in the den prayed and prevailed. Prayer did shut the lion’s mouth and opened the lion’s den. Fervent prayer (saith one) has a kind of omnipotency in it. Sozomen said of Apollonius, that he never asked anything of God in all his life that he did not obtain. Sleidan reports of Luther, that perceiving the interest of religion to be low, he betook himself to prayer; at length rising off his knees, he came out of his closet triumphantly, saying to his friends, Vicimus, Vicimus,We have overcome; we have overcome. At which time it was observed that there came out a proclamation from Charles the Fifth, that none should be further molested for the profession of the gospel. How may this encourage us and make us hoist up the sails of prayer when others of the saints have had such good returns from the holy land.
That we may put forth this holy violence in prayer, it is requisite there be a renewed principle of grace. If the person be graceless, no wonder the prayer is heartless. — The body while it is dead hath no heat in it: while a man is dead in sin, he can have no heat in duty.
2. That we may be the more violent in prayer, it is good to pray with a sense of our wants. A beggar that is pinched with want, will be earnest in craving alms. — Christian, review thy wants; thou wantest an humble, spiritual frame of heart; thou wantest the light of God’s countenance; the sense of want will quicken prayer. That man can never pray fervently who does not pray feelingly. How earnest was Samson for water when he was ready to die, Judges xv. 18. ‘I die for thirst.’
3. If we would be violent in prayer, let us beg for a violent wind. The Spirit of God is resembled to a mighty rushing wind, Acts ii. 2. Then we are violent, when this blessed wind fills our sails, Jude, verse 20. — Praying in the Holy Ghost. If any fire be in our sacrifice, it comes down from heaven.
The fourth duty wherein we must offer violence to ourselves is meditation; a duty wherein the very heart and life-blood of religion lies. St. Bernard calls meditation animae viaticum, a bait by the way. Meditation may be thus described; it is an 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 cross 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 diversion: 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 cares not how much we hear, nor how little we meditate. Hearing begets knowledge, but meditation begets devotion. Meditation doth ballast 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 methinks 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 quintessential 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: like Peter’s sheet, wherein were ‘wild beasts and creeping things,’ Acts x. 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 would be a means to pull 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. His soul was overcast with a cloud of sorrow when he was conflicting with his Father’s wrath; and all this we should have suffered, Isaih liii. 5. ‘He was wounded for our transgressions.’ As David said, ‘Lo, I have sinned, but these sheep, what have they done?’ 2 Sam. xxiv. 17. So we have sinned, but this Lamb of God – what had he done?
1. The serious meditation of this would produce 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?
2. 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. xxvii. 13. ‘Upon me, be thy curse.’ So said Christ, ‘upon me, be thy curse,’ that poor sinners may inherit the blessing.
3. Meditate on your evidences for Heaven. What have you to shew for Heaven, if you should die this night? 1. Was your heart ever thoroughly convinced of sin? Did you ever see yourself lost without Christ? Conviction is the first step to conversion, John vii. 16. 2. Hath God ever made you willing to take Christ upon his own terms? Zech vi. 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 as well as a priest at the altar to intercede? Are you willing to renounce those sins to which the bias of your heart doth 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 avouch Christ in the worst of times? 3. Do you have the indwelling presence of the Spirit? If you have, what hath God’s Spirit done in you? Hath it made you of another spirit? meek, merciful, humble? Is it a transforming Spirit? Hath it 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 no. Beware of false evidences. None are further from having the true pearl, than they who content themselves with the counterfeit.
4. Meditate upon the uncertainty of all sublunary comforts. Creature-delights have their flux and reflux. How oft doth 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 wanted sea-room for his navy. We say everything is mutable; but who meditates upon it? The world is resembled to ‘a sea of glass mingled with fire’ Rev. xv. 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 ii.17. ‘The world passeth away:’ It slides away as a ship in full sail. How quickly doeth the scene alter? and a low ebb succeed 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, would, 1. Keep us from being so deceived by the world. We are ready to set up our rest here, Psalm xliv. 11. ‘Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever!’ We are apt 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 seen 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 dropsy 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 ii. 27. Grace is a flower of eternity.
Non fertur ad umbras inclyta virtus.
Death does not destroy grace but transplant it and makes it grow in better soil. He that 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 it. Sin burned Sodom and drowned the old world. Sin kindles hell. If when a spark of God’s wrath flies into a mans conscience, it is so terrible, what is it when God ‘stirs up all his wrath’? Psalm lxxviii. 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 xc. 11. ‘Who knoweth the power of his wrath’? All fire, compared with the fire of God’s wrath. is painted and imaginary. 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 ii. 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. 1. This 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. vii. 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, meat, 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 complacency. 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. 2. It is a glorious life. The bodies of the saints shall be enameled with glory: they shall be made like Christ’s glorious body, Phil. iii. 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, Rom. viii.18). And this life of glory shall be crowned with eternity; what angel can express it! O let us often meditate on this.
1. Meditation on eternal life would 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.
2. The meditation on eternal life would comfort 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 ciii. 15. a vapour, James iv. 14. Job sets forth fragile life very elegantly in three of the elements, land, water, and air, Job ix. 25,26. Go to the land, and there man’s life is like a swift post. 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 doth 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 period. 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? — Here I might 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 cxix. 15. ‘Isaac walked in the evening to meditate,’ Gen. xxiv. 63. He did take a turn with God. What devout meditations do we read in St. Austine and Anselm? But it is too much out of date among our modern
Terras Astraea reliquit.
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.
1. Meditation makes the Word preached to profit; it works it upon the conscience. As the bee sucks the flower, so by meditation we suck out the sweetness of a truth. It is not the receiving of meat into the mouth, but the digesting of it which makes it nutritive. — So it is not the receiving of the most excellent truths in at the ear, that nourisheth 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.
2. Holy meditation quickens the affections, Psalm cxix. 97. ‘O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.’ The reason 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 amorous objects makes the fire of lust burn; the musing on injuries makes the fire of revenge burn: so meditating on the transcendent beauties of Christ, would make our love to Christ flame forth.
3. Meditation has a transforming power in it. The hearing of the Word may affect us;, but the meditating upon it doth 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.
4. Meditation produceth reformation, Psalm cxix. 59. ‘I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.’ Did but people meditated on the damnableness of sin; did but they meddled with it, 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 be able to meditate?
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 want affection? Did they love the things of God, they would make them their continual study and meditation.