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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.