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The Church of England then, in prescribing for her clergy the daily use of Matins and Evensong, bas in effect, prescribed to them the Religious Life. For the efficient discharge of this one duty a devotional and collected temper is required, which must be developed by other expedients. The case of a man who should ignore
. or neglect the formation of such a temper, and yet attempt to obey the Church's rule, would be lamentable but certain. He would first of all be distressed by the contrast between his own inward life, its aims, tone, and atmosphere, and that of the formularies, from periodical contact with which his sense of duty would not allow him to escape. Gradually, this sense of contrast would weaken and die, and the service would be said more and more mechanically. At length a crisis would arrive, however originating: nature would revolt at a degrading and hypocritical mechanism claiming to represent the soul's aspirations towards its Maker ; and the practice would be abandoned, without a suspicion that it might have become the stimulus and centre of vital religion, and not without a sneer at the Church which did not erase such a stumbling-block to earnest and honest men from its authorised formularies.
But in truth the sense of contrast between the language of the Prayer Book, and the inward life of the clergyman-created as this is by the grace of God—is meant by Him to issue in a widely different result. He makes us thus uneasy, at the existence of an admitted evil, that He may guide us to the remedy. It is His gracious purpose, that the soul should be continually approximating to the devotional type which is set before it in the Psalter, and that as it expands with ever-increasing tenderness and awe towards Him Who is its Centre and Sun, it should more and more perfectly appropriate and feel at home with that inspired language in which the saints have, for three thousand years, learned to know and to love Him. But how is this to be effected ? We reply, by Meditation,
Now Meditation is a duty, with which every person who is attempting to lead a religious life, is supposed to be familiar. The Bible says so much about it, that in a Bible-reading country like ours, everybody takes it for granted. But the popular idea of meditation is, we apprehend, as indefinite as it is general. It supposes at least this, that the mind is exercised on a religious subject. But beyond this it cannot advance. You see a worthy clergyman in his study,-he is resting his elbow on the table, and reflecting on some portions of his Bible-making remarks at intervals to his wife. This is indeed better than nothing, although it be a feeble and dreamy effort, failing in reverence, in intellectual address, in analysis, in stimulating the imagination, in challenging and coercing the will, in opening the soul in very truth to the eye, and making it court the gaze of its God,—in short, failing in all the great purposes of meditation. It fails in these because it fails
in system; meditation to be real MUST BE systematic; and the soul should be taught to move just as systematically and reverently when in the Divine Presence as the body. Such a meditation as this bears the same sort of relation to that of the well-instructed Christian, as does the rant of a meeting-house to the ritual of a well-appointed church. It is indeed an effort in the right direction, but an effort at once undisciplined, aimless, fruitless, because 'not according to knowledge,' because without 'decency and order.'
Meditation is popularly conceived to be an act of the soul when in a state of partial passivity and listlessness. It can think, contemplate, speculate, when through circumstances it is debarred from action. To meditate when a man can act is to lose time, and to be unpractical. Such is the popular idea on the subject : but we maintain on the contrary, that meditation implies an active exertion of all the powers of the soul,—that it is impossible when the intellect is wearied, and the will languid, and the memory overcast, --that it demands in short intellectual and moral activity, and that in return, it illuminates the intellect, and nerves and braces the will. Meditation is an act of the whole soul, rising in the fulness of its energy towards its God. It is not merely systematic thought about divine things, because such thought can exist when one power only of the soul is exercised, and meditation exercises all. Still less is it mere resolution to live justly and holily, resolution being sudden, and not always implying the exercise of thought. Nor is it mere action of the memory, however well-stored and docile,—for memory does not necessarily lead to intellectual or moral analysis, which is of the essence of meditation. Least of all, is it mere indulgence of the imagination or religious fancy: for this is compatible with utter paralysis of the will, and with feeble and desultory apprehension of Divine Truth on the part of the intellect. None of these powers can meditate alone: but in their conjunction, the understanding, the memory, the imagination, and the will, do effect that interpenetration of the soul by the atmosphere of Revealed Truth, that living simultaneous apprehension of its severities and its beauty, that sensitiveness which cannot but act upon what is known, and does not shrink from knowledge lest it should involve action ; results—which lie at the basis of the true priestly character. The mental powers were given us that we might return them to God, and this is best done by meditation. The reason has a higher subject matter than mathematics; the memory than Horace and Virgil; the imagination than poetry and works of fiction; the will than the effort to live and rise in life. The true object of the reason is the Incomprehensible; His Revelation of Himself is that of the memory: the imagination was meant to gaze in perpetual fascination on His surpassing Beauty; and His Holy Law is the one correlative of the Human Will. Man, in short, was made for God; and so far as the human soul is concerned, this truth is expressed by meditation.
Of course it is only gradually that the Christian soul learns how to apply her natural faculties to supernatural ends. At first the soul moves awkwardly and indecorously in the presence of God. Fluttered and confused, like a negro entering a Christian church for the first time in his life, she cannot reconcile her own activity with the Presence of Him Who is eternal rest. She is too excited to lie quiet and adore ; too awe-struck to move with collectedness and self-possession. She is alternately attracted and repelled, -first won by the beauty of the supernatural world, then scared by its exceeding fearfulness. As she gazes, mysteries are transacted which confuse her apprehension ; groups of beings throng around, with movements which she cannot interpret; voices sound, which, though the familiar words of Holy Writ, seem to her purposely unintelligible; she is in a blaze of light, but she is simply oppressed by it, unable to appreciate its piercing beauty, or to note its discoveries, or to mark its varying scintillations, or to pursue it with adoring love to its Source and Fountain. She shuts her eyes, and, while moving where all else is order and devotion, she alone is distracted, almost to being irreverent, and she begins to feel that the Presence of God, as revealed in meditation, demands from the soul the manners and bearing of those who move habitually around His Throne, and that it is beyond her present education and attainments.
Every parish priest knows how different is the basty walk, the excited gaze, the uncontrolled prostration, the rapid and unmeasured words of the new communicant, from the calm, collected, restrained, yet profound devotion of the man who has for years been constant in his attendance at the foot of the altar: and such is the difference between the beginner in meditation and the Christian who has made some progress.
We will endeavour to describe a meditation, in its leading features, premising that any such description is necessarily very general, and may need much adaptation to the wants and eccentricities of particular cases.
You first of all place yourself on your knees. This is essential : it reminds us that the attitude of the soul towards Divine Truth is one not of criticism, but of utter, prostrate, adoring self-surrender to God's assertions and commands. “Let God be true, and every man a liar," is the motto of the temper of mind wbich befits meditation. Meditation supposes the natural reason to have yielded to what S. Paul delighted to call, “the obedience of faith :" and proceeding on this assumption, it advances to subdue every thought to the obedience of Christ.' The world of time and sense, its transient and deceptive appearances, are left behind, and the soul and body lie motionless before Him Who is the Truth itself,—incapable alike of deceiving and being deceived, and before that Re
velation which is at once an attestation of His having spoken, and a record of what He has vouchsafed to say. Taceant omnes doctores: sileant omnes creaturæ in conspectu Tuo; Tu mihi loquere solus, l—is the language of the soul as she places herself in the Presence of the Ever-Blessed TRINITY, with a view to meditation.
Before and above her is the Almighty, Everlasting, Infinite God, Three and yet One,“ dwelling in light which no man can approach unto,” surrounded by the whole company of Heaven, the four awful creatures, the twenty-four elders, the ten-thousand times ten thousand. The Word made Flesh is there: His Sacred and Immaculate Manhood is adored by Archangels, Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, Confessors, Virgins, Innocents. On this side lies the narrow path to Paradise, steep, thorny, unfrequented; on that the “facilis descensus Averni," the descent to the Eternal Pit broad and inviting, thronged with its countless multitudes. This presence when realized forces the soul involuntarily to preparatory prayer. In a few heartfelt petitions, she (1.) protests to God her utter distrust of self, her firm trust in His boundless compassion, her resolution to attempt in His strength that to which nature is so unequal, and next (2.) she resigns herself to His Will, as to the results of meditation,-assuring Him of her readiness to accept cheerfully from Him, mental darkness, or dryness of spirit, or a sense of being deserted by Him, or distractions, no less than His illuminating and consoling grace. The earnestness with which this last petition can be urged, will enable a man to test how far he is seeking God because He is God, or only because meditation is a distinct source of intellectual pleasure to His intelligent creatures.
So much for the first step in meditation: the second consists in a careful consideration of the particular subject which is to furnish material on the present occasion.
As the meditation will be attempted if possible, early in the morning, when the powers of the soul are fresh, vigorous, and undistracted; the materials will have been perused over-night. The fact, whether mystery, or doctrine, parable, or miracle, which is to be approached, now comes before the soul, and while the memory carefully gathers up the fragments of the sacred narrative, the imagination, although under rein, mantles the object of meditation in appropriate scenery, gives life and vividness to scenes, persons, and actions concerned, and seizes with eager penetration on everything which can render the object of contemplation more real, life-like, and fascinating to the mental powers. For as Hooker remarks, "the mind, while in this present life, whether it contemplate, meditate, deliberate, or howsoever exercise itself, worketh nothing without continual recourse unto imagination, the only storehouse of wit, and peculiar chair of memory. And if it should appear dangerous to admit a faculty which has for its object matter beauty as distinct from truth to a conference with 1 De Imitat. Christi. i. 2.
2 Eccles. Pol. v. 67, 7.
the truth itself,--a faculty so erratic and creative as the human imagination ; let it be cousidered by those who feel the objection to have weight, that if God as the Eternal Truth is the object matter of the intellect and as Archetypal Purity is that of the moral sense, so there is a faculty which He has created that it might seek and find Him, as the Uncreated Beauty. Men are led to Christ from the world, sometimes because He alone has the words of eternal life, sometimes too, because He alone defies the criticism of the moral sense, but sometimes also because in His Body Mystical, no less than in the days of His Flesh, He is "fairer than the children of men.” And it may further be remarked, that if the imagination were to be denied any share in helping the human soul to find and enjoy its God, it is, at least, singular that He should have spoken to it in language of a structure and phraseology calculated to stimulate it to peculiar activity. It is singular, we repeat, that Revelation, which might have been thrown into the form of hard prose or formal propositions, should be imbedded in poetry such as that of the Psalter, or Isaiah, or the Canticles; if God were unwilling to be sought by His servants, through the action of their imaginations as well as through that of their intellects.
It is the intellect which is next summoned to the Divine Presence. Memory has recalled the subject of meditation : imagination has surrounded it with circumstance and detail; but to stop here would be to reduce meditation to the proportions of an imaginative reverie. The understanding accordingly proceeds to grapple with the subject, and to do this effectively, it must analyze it. It breaks up the sacred narrative or message, which has just been contemplated as a whole, and apprehends it piecemeal. There is, of course, some danger here, lest mere intellectual speculation should take the place of intelligent apprehension of Divine Truth: and to guard against this, it will be found necessary to have a constant eye to practical points, and to lay emphasis upon them. There is danger even in practical people, of an over anxiety to grasp many truths at once, so as to contemplate them in their symmetry and relative independence; and this will best be obviated by a resolution to be content with one point at a time, and sternly to exclude conterminous subjects which press, however invitingly, for consideration. It should also be observed that the temptation to give exaggerated attention to a favourite dogma, and so to violate the analogy and due proportions of the Faith, is one, against which a man must be on his guard, while engaged in meditation, more than at any other time; because the soul is not then under the control of exterval restraints, as in the Church Service, where we are obliged to move forward, and is particularly likely to surrender herself to the guidance of a temporary preference connected with the controversial or other circumstances of the day. And to do this would be very fatally to forfeit that religious discipline, which is one