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'It is not a slight thought of the mercies of God that will affect your hearts,
but it must be a dwelling on them by meditation.' Edmund Calamy

Have you ever eaten cold fish and chips? The nutrients are there but until digestion takes place, the meal sits heavily in your stomach. Our Scripture knowledge can also need digesting. We hear many sermons and read many Christian books, but we need to process what we have heard and read, so it can become part of our lives.

The Puritans called this digestion process 'meditation'. The Puritans were English and American believers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who desired to bring the whole of life under Christ's Lordship. Well known Puritans include John Bunyan, John Owen, and Richard Baxter. Richard Baxter was Vicar of Kidderminster (south of Birmingham) in the sixteenth century. Along with Sunday church attendance, daily personal prayer, family devotions, spiritual reading, examination of conscience, and journalling, Baxter so valued meditation that he wrote a 600 page book, The Saints' Everlasting Rest (1652), to extol its virtues and explain his method. His guidelines for meditation are practical and helpful. For easier reading, I have modernized Baxter's language and abridged his advice. Baxter defines what he means by meditation:
'The general title that I give this duty is meditation; not as it is precisely distinguished from thought, consideration, and contemplation; but as it is taken in the larger and usual sense for thinking on things spiritual, and so including both consideration and contemplation.

Such meditation was not a Puritan invention. Baxter draws on a tradition from King David and Augustine. In an influential treatise on consideration from the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux asks, 'Do you ask what piety is? It is making time for consideration' (On Consideration, I vii).

I am an enthusiast for Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He is not as well known as his English contemporaries John and Charles Wesley. He didn't cross the Atlantic as they did, but lived most of his life within a couple of days horse-ride from Boston. He did not speak with the oratorical style of George Whitefield, and was said to stare at the bell rope at the back of the church while preaching. Indeed, he is chiefly known for using spiders as sermon illustrations, and his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” is often anthologised, making him the model preacher of damnation. A man in need of a public relations makeover. A man of provincial tastes. A man with little to communicate to a modern audience? A man worth studying?

Jonathan Edwards is regarded as one of the greatest minds in North American history, and has had an enduring legacy in theology, philosophy, politics and social engagement. He has recently been listed in the Atlantic Monthly as one of the most influential thinkers ever in American history. Even in his own lifetime, he was used by God to bring hundreds and hundreds of men, women and children to faith in Christ through the revivals of the 1730s and 1740s, known cumulatively in North America as the Great Awakening. Do I still need to ask, why study Edwards?

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