Ebenezer Pemberton on Divine Meditation

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

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.

The Very Foretaste of Heaven - James McGready

(If the author links in this post are broken, please visit our Free PDF Library and click on the author’s page directly.)

Pioneer Presbyterian minister James McGready (1763-1817) is well-known as a frontier revivalist, one who is closely associated with the Great Revival of 1800. However, scholars Leigh Eric Schmidt (Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period, 1989) and Kimberly Bracken Long (The Eucharistic Theology of the American Holy Fairs, 2011) have identified a sacramental theme in much of his preaching.

McGready himself wrote that sacramental seasons were especially meaningful for him. Describing one memorable such occasion, he writes:

Three of these great days of the Son of Man I have witnessed. One, on the Monongahela [western Pennsylvania], where I first felt the all-conquering power of the love of Jesus, which to all eternity I shall never forget, was at a Sacrament on the morning of a Sabbath in 1786. The second in North Carolina, in 1789. The third in Kentucky, from 1797 to 1802. And may I ever lie the lowest, humblest creature in the dust, when I reflect that the Lord made use of me, mean and unworthy, to begin the glorious work in both these blessed seasons. I rejoice at the prospect. I expect to meet with many souls in heaven, who were my spiritual children in both these revivals.

Schmidt writes that “McGready’s participation in these early sacramental revivals in western Pennsylvania set the tone for his later career” (p. 61).

When reading McGready’s sermons one is struck with his “sacramental homiletic” (Long, p. 66). An example of this appears in a sermon that he preached “On the Divine Authority of the Christian Religion”:

How precious, then, is Jesus to them that believe. When a pardoned sinner beholds the glory, beauty and preciousness of Jesus, does not this sight communicate the very foretastes of heaven?

Turning to his “A Sacramental Meditation,” we read in closing a remarkable echo of that thought:

…when Christians are seated at a communion table, and are near Christ, they are at the gate of heaven, for Christ is that gate. Time and eternity, heaven and earth, meet in him, and he is the medium of communication between the eternal I AM and worthless sinners. In his face they behold the glory of God, and through him they obtain a Pisgah’s view of the promised land, and are blessed with foretastes of heaven.

In “The Believer Embracing Christ” we read that:

The believer sometimes meets with Christ and embraces him in the arms of faith when he is seated at a communion table, then by faith, he sees a mangled, bleeding, dying, rising, triumphant Jesus, heading his own table, and feasting his blood-bought children with the bread of life and the milk and honey of Canaan.

How similar is that thought to this from his “Sacramental Meditation”:

A sacramental table is a dreadful place; for here heaven is brought down to earth. The richest branches of the tree of life, that grows in the midst of the paradise of God, overhang this table, and believers may stretch forth the hand of faith and pluck the sweet fruits of the heavenly Canaan. The table of God is spread with the dainties of Paradise; the bread of life, the hidden manna, and the grapes of Eschol, with all the rich blessings purchased by the death of Jesus Christ.

Examples of such eloquent use of sacramental language could be multiplied in his sermons. It seems that he was most in heaven while on earth at the communion table. Read his sermons to discover for yourself the rich experimental and eucharistic theology of James McGready.

Samuel Bayard on the Lord's Supper

Samuel Bayard (1767-1840) was the son of Col. John Bubenheim Bayard (1738-1808), a Continental soldier and a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania, of French Huguenot descent. Samuel was noted as a lawyer and a judge, and served as a clerk at the United States Supreme Court. He also served the College of New Jersey (Princeton) as a librarian, trustee and treasurer; and he was a founder and trustee of Princeton Theological Seminary. Additionally, he was a ruling elder at the Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey.

In 1822, Samuel Bayard published a collection of thirty letters and fifty-two sacramental hymns (some were written by Bayard himself, at least one by Samuel Davies, and other writers, such as William Cowper, are included) on the subject of the Lord’s Supper, addressing the scruples of some believers to coming to the table, and other matters common to all believers who come to the table. The introduction was written by Samuel Miller. James W. Alexander wrote a review of the book in 1840, in which he wrote.

Apart from the intrinsic importance of the subject, the volume derives peculiar interest from the fact that it comes from the pen of a layman, of a son of the Huguenots, and of “ an old disciple;” for the venerable author is now in his seventy-third year….

These Letters do not undertake to discuss the vexed questions concerning the Lord’s Supper which have occupied controvertists. They are eminently practical, being intended chiefly to remove from the minds of timid and desponding converts, particularly young believers, those undue scruples, and that unscriptural trepidation, which have kept thousands from the Lord’s Table. This is a good work, and has been performed in a manner altogether agreeable to what we suppose is the mind of the Spirit in the Scriptures. In connexion with this, the young communicant is in a perspicuous and interesting manner led into the knowledge of what this blessed ordinance signifies and communicates. There is in every page a character of gentleness and Christian benevolence, which renders it as fit to soothe the mind of the hesitating, as any similar manual with which we are acquainted. The author has gleaned from many rich fields, and spread before us the testimonies of a great number of the best theological writers, especially of French divines, whose works are not accessible to most readers.

Take time to peruse these letters, and see what a Presbyterian “son of the Huguenots” had to say about the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. There is much here to edify the 21st century believer.