Ebenezer Pemberton on Divine Meditation

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Ebenezer Pemberton, Jr. (1705-1777) was one of the founders of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). His father, Ebenezer Pemberton, Sr., served as pastor of the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts; the younger Pemberton served as the pastor of the First (Wall Street) Presbyterian Church of New York City for 26 years.

He preached the ordination sermon for David Brainerd, as well as a notable sermon on the death of George Whitefield (published with Phillis Wheatley’s poem on Whitefield). These and other works by Pemberton (Jr.) have been recently added to Log College Press.

Another publication of note by Pemberton is the preface which he authored to Samuel Willard’s Some Brief Sacramental Meditations Preparatory for Communion at the Great Ordinance of the Supper (1743). Before praising the Puritan Willard, whose Sacramental Meditations were published posthumously, Pemberton highlighted the importance of Divine Meditation.

Divine Meditation is a religious exercise of great account in the School of Christ; and will be the employment of serious souls, that value their proficiency in Christianity. The very power and capacity for it argues the dignity of human nature; and the right exercise; and the right exercise of it will advance the soul to a divine and angelic perfection. This duty will afford the most agreeable employment, and pleasing entertainment to our thoughts, in their largest compass, and closest collection: it will exalt the most noble powers of the soul to satisfying converse with God the first Truth, and the supreme Good: And hence must be perspective of the soul in knowledge and holiness.

By meditation the mind comes to take a steady view of divine truths in their reality, excellency, and important aspect upon the soul. It chases away those clouds that veil the face of divine objects, that they may appear in their native beauty. There are indeed any times sudden flashes of light breaking into the soul by transient thoughts; which may afford hints, which, if improved and followed, would lead to many surprising and profitable discoveries of truth: yet this sudden blaze of thought, though never so bright, will not lay open the hidden mysteries of divine things to our view, unless the mind be brought by mediation to a holy praise upon them. These beams of truth may with their superficial touches for a moment lightly gild the mind; but not afford a steady light, or lasting impression; unless by deep and close musing, thoughts be fired and inflamed; which will not barely amuse but better the mind. For hereby the soul will be led to new discoveries of spiritual things, to a more full apprehension of truths already known, and known truths will leave more more of a transforming power upon all the faculties of the soul.

Meditation is there a duty of vast consequence to the Christian, in that it tends to advance his improvement in the graces of the divine nature, and in the duties of the divine life. This gives life and strength to faith: for herein the devout believer takes a view of the fullness and stability of the promises, and the unalterable fidelity of the Promiser; and can triumph in this, that he knows in whom he has believed. Hereby Hope is made more sure and steady; and its purifying and refreshing virtue strengthened. It brings food to gratify and nourish the most raised Hope: for in devout meditation the soul stands with Moses on Mount Pisgah, and surveys the good land of Promise; herein it is taken as the three favorite disciples into the Mount of Transfiguration, where it is encircled with some beams of heavenly glory; herein it receives some fore-tastes of the joys of the coming world, some pledges and earnests of the expected inheritance in light: whereby the Christian comes to know by happy experience, in some good measure, what is the hope of the calling of God, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Hereby divine love in the soul is maintained and cherished: it blows up the heavenly spark into an holy flame; and brings new fuel to preserve, and increase its power and brightness. Hereby the spirit of true devotion is warmed and raised. It disengages the mind from those things below that do dampen the force and heat of the Spirit in its holy aspirations, and ascents to God. It gives both fixation and flame to the soul in its divine musings. While the Psalmist was musing, the fire burned, and his heart was hot within him.

Again, meditation tends to make Providences more instructive in duty, and impressive of the obligations to it on the heart. Hereby divine ordinances will be made more mighty through God, to turn the sinner from the error of his ways to the wisdom of the just; and to make the man of God more perfect in grace, rich in comfort, and ripe for glory.

Sure I am, holy meditation can never be more seasonable, than when we make our solemn approaches to the table of the Lord. Meditation should be our preparation for it, our entertainment at it, and the conclusion of this spiritual banquet. And were this duty more exercised, we should attend this ordinance with greater awe and solemnity of spirit, with keener appetites after those spiritual dainties there set before us; and go away from it more strengthened with the Bread of Life, and more refreshed with the Wine of Consolation. And have the evidence of it by being less slothful in business, and more fervent in Spirit serving the Lord.

In the language of a colonial American (nevertheless, which has been slightly modernized), Ebenezer Pemberton here describes meditation as the spark that fuels a fire in the soul. It is the “musing,” or careful pondering, consideration and deliberation of select edifying thoughts which constitutes the divine meditation here in view. These may be Scripture verses, or themes, or occasional matters which furnish deeper thoughts on divine principles. The employment of this duty is especially of use, Pemberton argues, in preparation for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, wherein we are to examine ourselves and to discern the Lord’s body. Its neglect has a detrimental effect on spiritual life, and that is true whether we are speaking of the 18th century or the 21st.

The extract above from Pemberton’s Preface, along with Willard’s Sacramental Meditations, may be of use to stir us up in this often-neglected duty. Take time to consider the value of divine meditation, and then, with this encouragement, put it into practice, and it will be a blessing to you, dear reader.

Christian, do you experience depression? You are not alone - read this from the journal of David Brainerd

It was a Sabbath evening nearly 300 years ago when young David Brainerd wrote this in his journal:

Lord’s day, Dec, 16. [1744]

Was so overwhelmed with dejection, that I knew not how to live. I longed for death exceedingly: my soul was sunk into deep waters, and floods were ready to drown me. I was so much oppressed, that my soul was in a kind of horror; could not keep my thoughts fixed in prayer, for the space of one minute, without fluttering and distraction; and was exceedingly ashamed, that I did not live to God. I had no distressing doubt about my own state; but would have cheerfully ventured (as far as I could possibly know) into eternity.

While I was going to preach to the Indians, my soul was in anguish; I was so overborne with discouragement that I despaired of doing any good, and was driven to my wit’s-end; I knew nothing what to say, nor what course to take. But at last I insisted on the evidence we have of the truth of Christianity form the miracles of Christ; many of which I set before them: and God helped me to make a close application to those who refused to believe the truth of what I taught them. Indeed I was enabled to speak to the consciences of all, in some measure, and was somewhat encouraged to find that God enabled me to be faithful once more.

Them came and preached to another company of them; but was very weary and faint. In the evening, I was refreshed and enabled to pray and praise God with composure and affection; had some enlargement and courage with respect to my work; was willing to live, and longed to do more for God than my weak state of body would admit of.

I can do all things through Christ that strengtheth me; and by his grace, I am willing to spend and be spent in his Service, when l am not thus sunk in dejection and a kind of despair.

This great saint, the minister and missionary who spent himself in service to God and Native Americans, also struggled with bouts of depression, which is evident in reading his journal. If you are reading this, dear Christian, and you can relate, be encouraged, as Brainered was, by the promises of God for the support of his precious saints. And know that you are not alone. (HT: Victor McKinnon)

David Brainerd's Preface to Thomas Shepard's Diary

In August of 1747, two months before his death, David Brainerd (1718-1747) wrote a preface to Thomas Shepard’s (1605-1649) diary, published that year under the title Meditations and Spiritual Experiences. A portion of Brainerd’s preface was later extracted and included in the “Reflections and Observations” of Jonathan Edward’s (1703-1758) edition of Brainerd’s own journal.

The intersection of Brainerd and Shepard and Edwards — three of the brightest luminaries of American colonial experimental piety who each wrote diaries that they never envisioned would be published — is a remarkable window into the souls of the godly.

Recently added to the inventory of Log College Press, Brainerd’s preface to Shepard’s diary stands as a remarkable essay on the importance of true religion, exemplified in the life of a New England Puritan.

It was Brainerd’s hope that the publication of Shepard’s diary would serve to better illustrate the yearnings of a godly soul, and that Shepard’s example would stir up men, and especially ministers of the gospel, to greater holiness.

Now, as all proper means are to be used to cure the errors of men's minds, especially in things of religion, and as something of this nature may, therefore, seem peculiarly needful, especially in some places, so 'tis hopeful that the publication of the following small piece of the Rev. Mr Shepard's will be made, in some measure, serviceable in that respect. For, as it is a journal of the private experiences of that excellent and holy man, designed for his own use, so it contains, as it were, this true religion for a course of time delineated to us in a very exact manner; whence we have opportunity to see, with utmost plainness, what passed with him for religion, what he laboured after under that notion, and what were the exercises and difficulties he met with in pursuance of a religious life: And those who have any favour for the name and piety of that venerable man, 'tis hoped, will read his experiences with care and attention, and, as they read, consider whether there be any manner of agreement be tween his and theirs; and whoever reads attentively, I'm persuaded must own that he finds a greater appearance of true humility, self-emptiness, self loathing, sense of great unfruitfulness, selfishness, exceeding vileness of heart, smallness of attainments in grace; I say he must needs own that he finds more expressions of deep unfeigned self-abasement in these experiences of Mr Shepard's than some are willing to admit of And 'tis hopeful, the reader will further observe, that, when Mr Shepard speaks of his comforts in religion, as he frequently does of his satisfaction, sweetness, and desire to die and to be with Christ, he always gives a solid account of the foundation of these comforts, and mentions some exercises of grace from which they proceeded; so that they are wholly different from those groundless joys that arise in the minds of poor deluded souls from a sudden suggestion made to them — that Christ is theirs, that God loves them, and the like. The reader will further observe, that he valued nothing in religion that was not done with a view to the glory of God, as appears by many of his expressions, especially that under April 15, where he says, “When I looked over the day, I saw how I fell short of God and Christ, and how I had spent one hour unprofitably: and why? because though the thing I did was good, yet because I in tended not God in it, as my last end, and did not set my rule before me, and so set myself to please God, therefore I was unprofitable. O that others, from this example, would learn to lay the stress of religion here, and labour that whether they live, they might live to the Lord, or whether they die, they might die to the Lord!

There is something in these papers of the Rev. Mr Shepard's that seems excellently calculated to be of service to those who are in the ministry in particular. His method of examining his aims and ends, and the temper of his mind, both before and after preaching, whether he had met with enlargement or straitening, is an excellent example for those that bear the sacred character. By these means they are like to gain a large acquaintance with their own hearts, as 'tis evident he had with his.

May the blessing of heaven attend the following pages, that he who has long been dead may yet speak by them to the instruction, conviction, and saving benefit of many souls!

With an introduction such as this, be encouraged dear reader to read the whole of Brainerd’s short essay, and to peruse Shepard’s diary. Also on David Brainerd’s page is his own journal edited and reflected upon by Jonathan Edwards. These are two volumes which constitute a storehouse of spiritual treasures.