Meditation is to the sermon, what the harrow is to the seed — it covers those truths which else might have been picked or washed away.
An affectionate hearer will not be a forgetful hearer. Love helps the memory: Can a woman forget her child, or a maid her ornaments, or a bride her attire? No, they love them too well. Were the truths of God thus precious to you, you would with David think of them day and night. Even when the Christian, through weakness of memory, cannot remember the very words he hears, to repeat them; yet, then he keeps the power and savor of them in his spirit, as when sugar is dissolved in wine you cannot see it — but you may taste it. When meat is eaten and digested, it is not to be found as it was received — but the man is cheered and strengthened by it, more able to walk and work than before, by which you may know it is not lost. Just so, you may taste the truths the Christian heard, in his spirit, see them in his life.
Until the heart is touched — the mind will not be fixed. Therefore you may observe, it is said, God opened the heart of Lydia "that she attended" (Acts 16:14). The mind goes of the will's errand; we spend our thoughts, on what our hearts propose. If the heart has no sense of its ignorance, or no desires after God — no wonder such a one listens not what the preacher says, his heart sends his mind another way. "They sit before you as my people," says God, "but their heart goes after their covetousness."
When the soul stands upon this Pisgah of meditation, looking by an eye of faith, upon all the great and precious things laid up by a faithful God for him — it is easy to despise the world's love and wrath. But, alas! it is hard for us to go up there who are so short-winded, and soon tired with a few steps up this mount of God. Would we but frequently retire from the world, and bestow some of that time in secret waiting upon God, which we lavish out upon inferior pleasures, and entertainments of the creature — we would invite God's Holy Spirit to us.
Let a wicked man set up a lust for his thoughts to dally with, and the devil will soon be at his elbow to assist him. And shall we not believe the Holy Spirit as ready to lend His helping hand to a holy meditation? Doubtless He is. Spread you your sails, and the Spirit will fill them with His heavenly breath. Be careful to provide fuel, gather matter for meditation, set your thoughts at work upon it — and the Spirit of God will kindle your affections. "While I was musing," says David, "the fire burned" (Psalm 39:3).
Meditation fills the heart with heavenly matter — but prayer gives the discharge and pours it forth upon God. Meditation is prayer's handmaid, to wait on it before and after the performance. It is as the plough before the sower, to prepare the heart for the duty of prayer, and as the harrow to cover the seed when it is sown.
Deadness in the heart of a saint will damp his zeal, if not cleared by daily watchfulness. Look, therefore, narrowly whence your cooling comes; perhaps your heart is too much let out upon the world in the day, and at night your spirits are spent, when you should be in prayer. If you will be hotter in duty — you must be colder towards the world.
Now, there is no better way for this, than to set your soul under the frequent meditation of Christ's love to you, your relation to Him, with the great and glorious things you expect from Him. But if you let your heart continue soaking in the thoughts of an inordinate love to the world — you will find when you come to pray, that your hearts will be as a wet log at the back of a fire, long in kindling, and soon out again.
Perhaps the deadness of your heart in prayer arises from not having a deep sense of your needs, and the mercies you are in need of. Could you but pray feelingly — you would pray fervently. The hungry man needs no help to teach him how to beg.
Prize the word, feed on the word, whether it be in public, or in a conference with some Christian friend, or in secret reading and meditation by your solitary self. Let none of these be disused, or carnally used by you. When your stomach fails to the word, your faith must needs begin to fail on the word.
But you will say, If we had so much time to spare as others, we would not be so unacquainted with the Scriptures. Could God find heart and time to pen and send this love-letter to you — and you find none to read and peruse it! Would the sick man take no time to look on his physician's prescription! Would the condemned malefactor fail to look on his prince's letter of grace, wherein a pardon is signed!
Must the world have all your time and swallow you up alive! Are you such a slave to yourself, as to tie your soul to your purse strings; and take no more time for the saving of it, than this cruel master will afford you! Who gave you permission thus to overload yourself with the encumbrance of the world? Is not God the Lord of your time? "Why did you not read My word, and meditate thereon?" will Christ say at that day. Dare you, then, be so impudent as to say, Lord, I was overcharged with the cares, and drunk with the love of the world — and, therefore, I could not read it! Well, if this be the thief that robs you of your time, get out of his hands, lest it also rob you of your soul!
What calling is more encumbering than a soldier's, and of all the soldiers, the general's? Such a one was Joshua — yet he had a strict command given him to study the Scriptures: (Joshua 1:8) "This book shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night." Must Joshua, in the midst of drums and trumpets, and distractions of war, find time to meditate on the law of God — and shall a few trivial occasions in your private calling discharge you from the same duty?
Take heed that you come not to the Scriptures with an unholy heart. If ever you know the mind of God in His word — the Spirit must impart it to you. And will He who is so holy, take you by your foul hand, to lead you into truth? No, your doom is set, "None of the wicked shall understand" (Dan. 12:10). If we have the truth for our guest, and are acquainted with the mind and will of God — we must have a holy heart for its lodging!
Go to God by prayer for a key to unlock the mysteries of His word. It is not the plodding, but the praying soul — that will get this treasure of scripture knowledge. God often brings a truth to the Christian's hand as a return of prayer, which he had long hunted for in vain with much labor and study: "There is a God in Heaven who reveals secrets" (Dan. 2:28); and where does He reveal the secrets of His word — but at the throne of grace? "From the first day," says the angel, "that you set your heart to understand, and to chasten yourself before your God, your words were heard"; that is for your prayer (Dan. 10:12). And what was this heavenly messenger's errand to Daniel, but to open more fully the Scripture to him? as appears by verse 14 compared with verse 21. This holy man had got some knowledge by his study in the word — and this sets him a-praying — and prayer fetched an angel from Heaven to give him more light.
"Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). It was not the Bible in his hand to read it, not the word on his tongue to speak of it; but the hiding it in his heart, that he found effectual against sin.
"Quench not the Spirit, despise not prophesyings" (1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20). They are coupled together; he who despises one, loses both. If the scholar is too proud to learn from the guide — he is unworthy to be taught by the master.
"They shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Satan commonly stops the ear from hearing sound doctrine, before he opens it to embrace corrupt doctrine...
~ William Gurnall