A Very Profitable Exercise!
Charles Spurgeon, 1858
"My meditation of Him shall be sweet!" Psalm 104:34
Meditation is a word that more than half of you, I fear, do not know how to spell. You know how to repeat the letters of the word; but I mean to say, you cannot spell it in the reality of life. You do not occupy yourselves with any meditation.
What do many of you who are merchants know concerning this matter? You rise up in the morning just in time to take your accustomed seat on the coach; you hasten to your business for your letters; and there you continue all day long for business when you are busy, or for gossip when business is dull; and at night you go home too tired and exhausted from overwork.
Week by week, month by month, and year by year, it is still with you, one everlasting grind, grind, grind. You have no time for meditation; and you reckon, perhaps, that if you were to set apart half an hour in the day to ponder the weighty matters of eternity, it would be to you a clear loss of time.
It is very wise of you to economize your minutes; but I suppose that, if half an hour in a day could earn you a hundred pounds, you would not say that you could not afford it—because you know how to estimate financial profit.
Now, if you equally knew how to count the great profit of meditation, you would deem it a positive gain to yourselves to spend some time therein, for meditation is most profitable to the spirit; it is an extremely healthful and excellent occupation. Far from being wasted time, it is a judicious employment of time.
Do not imagine that the meditative man is necessarily lazy; contrariwise, he lays the best foundation for useful works. He is not the best student, who reads the most books—but he who meditates the most upon them. He shall not learn most of divinity who hears the greatest number of sermons, but he who meditates the most devoutly upon what he does hear. Nor shall he be so profound a scholar who takes down ponderous volumes one after the other-as he who, reading little by little, precept upon precept, and line upon line, digests what he reads and assimilates each sentiment to his heart by meditation— receiving the word first into his understanding and afterwards receiving the spirit of it into his own soul.
Meditation is thus a very excellent employment. Let me for a few minutes tell you some of its uses.
First, meditation furnishes the mind with rest. It is the couch of the soul. The time that a man spends in necessary rest, he never reckons to be wasted because he is refreshing and renovating himself for further exertion. Meditation, then, is the rest of the spirit. "Oh!" says one, "I must have rest. Here have I been laboring and toiling incessantly for months; I must have a day's relaxation."
Yes, and such recreation, in its proper place, is desirable. We ought to have seasons of innocent recreation; but, at the same time, if many of us knew how to spend a little time daily in the calm repose of contemplative retirement, we would find ourselves less exhausted by the wear and tear of our worldly duties. To meditate would be to us a beneficial recreation; and instead of running ourselves out of breath and laboring until a respite is compulsory, we should spread our intervals of ease and refreshing over the whole year and secure a small portion every day by turning aside from the bustling crowd to meditate upon whatever subject we wish to occupy the most honorable place in our mind.
Just as a change of posture relieves the weariness of the body, a change of thoughts will prevent your spirits becoming languid. Sit down in a silent room at eventide, throw the window up, look at God's bright stars, and count those eyes of Heaven.
Or if you like it better, pause in the noontide heat, look down upon the busy crowd in the streets, and count the men like so many ants upon the anthill of this world. Or if you care not to look about you, sit down and look within yourself, count the pulses of your own heart, and examine the emotions of your own heart.
At times, it is well to muse upon Heaven; or if you are a man loving to revel in the prophetic future, turn over the mystic page and study the sacred visions recorded in the Book of Daniel or the Book of Revelation. As you enter these hallowed intricacies, and meditate upon these impressive symbols, you will rise from your study mightily refreshed—you will find it like a couch to your mind.
Again, meditation is the machine in which the raw material of knowledge is converted to the best uses. Let me compare it to a winepress. By reading, research, and study, we gather the grapes; but it is by meditation that we press out the juice of those grapes and obtain the wine.
How is it that many men who read very much know very little? The reason is, they read tome upon tome and stow away knowledge with confusion inside their heads until they have laid so much weight on their brain that it cannot work. Instead of putting facts into the press of meditation and fermenting them until they can draw out right inferences, they leave them to rot and perish. They extract none of the sweet juice of wisdom from the precious fruits of the vine.
When I have read a book for about half an hour, I like to walk awhile and think it over. I shut up the volume and say, "Now, Mr. Author, you have made your speech—let me think over what you have said. A little meditation will enable me to distinguish between what I knew before and the fresh subject you have communicated to me, between your facts and your opinions, between your arguments and those I should make from the same premises."
Some animals, after they have eaten, lie down and ruminate—they first crop the grass, and afterwards digest it. Just so, meditation is the rumination of the soul; thereby we get that nourishment that feeds and supports the mind.
When you have gathered flowers in the field or garden, arrange them in proper order and bind them together with the string of memory—but take heed that you do put them into the water of meditation, else they will soon fade and be fit only for the dunghill.
When you have gathered pearls from the sea, recollect that you will have gathered with them many worthless shells and much mud; therefore, sort them in your memory and only keep those that are worth preserving. You must also open the oyster to extract the pearl and polish it to make it appear more beautiful. You may not string it in the necklace of your mind, until it has been rubbed and polished by meditation.
Thus, you see that we need meditation to make use of what we have discovered. As it is the rest of the soul, so it is, at the same time, the means of making the best use of what the soul has acquired.
Again, meditation is to the soul what oil was to the body of the wrestlers. When those old athletes went out to wrestle, they always took care before they went, to oil themselves well to make their joints supple and fit for their task.
Now, meditation makes the soul supple—makes it so that it can use things when they come into the mind. Who are the men that can go into a controversy and get the mastery? Why, the men who meditate when they are alone. Who are the men that can preach? Not those who gad about and never commune with their own hearts alone, but those who think earnestly as well when no one is near them as when there is a crowd around them.
Who are the authors that write your books and keep up the constant supply of literature? They are meditative men. They keep their bones supple and their limbs fit for exercise by continually bathing themselves in the oil of meditation.
How important, therefore, is meditation as a mental exercise to have our minds in constant readiness for any service!
I have thus pointed out to you that meditation is useful to every man. As meditation is good for the mind, even upon secular topics and natural science—much more is it useful when we come to spiritual learning. The best and most saintly of men have been men of meditation.
Isaac went out into the fields at eventide to meditate (Gen 24:63).
David says, "I will meditate in your statutes" (Psa 119:48).
Paul, who himself meditated continually on all that related to the gospel, writing to Timothy concerning the important things needful in a good minister of Jesus Christ, says, "Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your profiting may appear to all" (1 Timothy 4:15).
To the Christian, meditation is most essential. I would almost question the being of a Christian, and I should positively deny his well-being—who lived habitually without meditation.
Meditation and prayer are twin-sisters, and both appear to me equally necessary to Christian life. I think meditation must exist where there is prayer, and prayer is sure to exist where there is meditation.
My brethren, there is nothing more lacking to make Christians grow in grace nowadays, than meditation. Most of you are painfully negligent in this matter. How often do you, through lack of meditation, miss the entire purpose for which the sermon was designed!
Unless you meditate upon the truths we declare unto you—you will gather little sweetness, you will acquire little profit, and, certainly, you will be in no wise established therein to your edification. Can you get the honey from the honey-comb until you press it?
You may be refreshed while you listen to the sermon, but it is the meditation afterwards which extracts the honey and gets the best and most luscious savor therefrom.
Let me tell you that there ought to be special times for meditation. I think every man should set apart a portion of each day for this gracious exercise. A Christian will ever be in a lean state if he has no time for sacred musings before his God. Those men who know most of God are such as meditate most upon Him. Those who realize most experimentally the doctrines of grace, are those who meditate and soar beyond the reach of all sublunary things.
We shall never have much advancement in our churches until the members thereof begin to accept habitually the counsel, "Come, my people, enter you into your chambers, and shut your doors about you" (Isa 26:20); or that other, "Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still" (Psa 4:4).
Until the din and noise of business somewhat abates, and we give ourselves to calmer thought, and in the solemn silence of the mind find at once our Heaven and our God—we must expect to have regiments of dwarfs in our churches—and only here and there a giant. Giant minds cannot be nourished by mere casual hearing. Gigantic souls must have meditation to support them. Would you be strong? Would you be mighty? Would you be valiant for the Lord and useful in His cause? Take care that you follow the occupation of the psalmist David and meditate. This is a very happy and profitable exercise.
"My meditation of Him shall be sweet!" Psalm 104:34