Iron, till it be thoroughly heat
is uncapable of to be wrought;
so God sees good to cast some men
into the furnace of affliction
and beats them on his anvil
into what frame he pleases.
(From William Spurstowe’s Spiritual Chymist, 1666
Such is the disparity between a Lamp and a Star, as that happily it may not a little be wondered at, why I should make a joint meditation of them which are so greatly distant in respect of place, and far more in respect of quality: the one being an earthly, and the other a heavenly body?
What is a lamp or a star in regard of influence, duration or beauty? Haw it any quickening rays flowing from it? Or is its light immortal,s o as not become despised by expiring? Can it dazzle the beholder with its serene luster and leave such impressions of itself upon the eye, as may render it for a time blind to any other objects?
Alas! These are too high and noble effects for such a feeble and uncertain light to produce, and property only to those glorious bodies that sine in the firmament.
But yet this great inequality between the one and the other serves to make them both more meet emblems of the offering estate of believes in this and the other life, who is Scripture — while they are on this side of heaven — are compared to wise virgins with lamps burning; and when they come to heaven, to start shining, which endure for ever and ever.
Grace in the best of saints is not perfect, but must, like a lamp, be fed with new supplies that it go not out; and be often trimmed that it be not dim. Ordinances are as necessary to Christians in this life as manna to the Israelites in the wilderness (though in Canaan it ceased). And therefore, God appointed his Word and Sacraments to drop continually upon the hearts of his children, as the two olive trees upon the golden candlestick.
What mean then those fond conceits of perfectists, who dream of living above all subsidiary helps and judge ordinances as useless to them, as oil for a star or snuffing of the sun to make it shine more brightly [treating the stars and sun like oil burning lamps]?
It is true, when we come to heaven such things will be of no more use to our souls, than meat or drink will be to our bodies; but yet while we are earth, the body cannot live without the one, nor the soul without the other.
Do thou therefore, Holy God,
Preserve in me a due sense of my impotency and wants
Whose light is fading,
As well as borrowed;
That so I may daily suck supplies from thee
And acknowledge that I live not only by grace received
But by grace renewed
And while I am in this life
Have light only as a lamp in the Temple
Which must be fed and trimmed
And not as a star in Heaven
What specious names have physicians put upon diseases: Who call a plague sore a carbuncle, and the white film which takes away the delightful sight, “a pearl in the eye.”
Do they gild over diseases as they do their pills or bolus that so there their patients may less fear and feel the evil of the one — as they less taste the bitterness of the other? And are any by such slender artifices brought into an opinion that a carbuncle [the name of a red gem stone and a red skin sore] is less mortal or loathsome than any other swelling than has not so gay a name?
Or that blindness which is caused by a pearl in the eye is more comfortable than the loss of sight that comes by other accidents?
Methinks reason should not run as so low an ebb in any as to please themselves in such fancies. May not a poison have a name that sounds better to the ear, a color more pleasing to the eye and a taste that is more grateful to the palate than the antidote which expels it?
May not alchemy glitter when gold looks pale?
And yet, alas! in spiritual maladies, in which the danger is so much the greater by how much the soul is of more value than the body; with what strange delusions are many transported. Who when their minds are poisoned with error and blasphemy, do then put upon their corrupt opinions and tenets, the glorious names of revelations, visions, raptures, refined notions and what not, that may confirm themselves in their own dotages, and win others into an admiration of the persons.
Thus, Montanus [a heretic of the 2nd & 3rd centuries] gave out himself to be the Comforter that Christ had sent into the world. Aries proudly boasted that God had revealed something to him, which he hid from his apostles. End Ennoriaus fondly [like a fool] imaged that he was taken up into heaven, as Elijah was, and had seen God’s face, as had Moses, and was wrapt up to the third heaven as was Paul.
But what other things are these follies or rather frenzies than as if an Israelite infected with the botch of Egypt and overspread with it from the sole of the foot to the crown of the hear, should boast that he had robed the Egyptians of their most precious jewels and had decked themselves with them? Would not men pity his distemper, rather than believe his confidence? Would not they offer medicines to heal him, rather than suffer him to perish under his miserable delusion of possessing great riches?
How is then that in matters of faith, in which there is both clear evidence and certainty that heretics -that are no other than ulcerous persons fitter for dogs to lick than Christians to love- should throughout all ages so easily gain themselves with such a great multitude of proselytes only by putting fair names upon foul errors? It is because men for their lusts’ sake will not see, but willing corrupt themselves in those things which they know? Or is it because God has smitten them with a spirit of blindness that they shall not see, for their not receiving of the truth in love of it?
Surely whatever the cause be, such is the infatuation as that I need both to tremble and pray:
To tremble at the same woe which is denounced by God himself against that call evil good and good evil;
That put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter
And to pray, As David did
Teach my thy ways O Lord
I will walk in thy truth
Unite my heart to fear thy name
(These meditations were written by William Spurstowe. To the best of my knowledge, they have remained unpublished since 1666.)
The meditation of this subject is no less facile than delightful, like Jacob’s venison, it is soon come by, because God has brought it to my hand having often in his Word resembled dew (which makes the earth fruitful), to his Grace, that makes the hearts of men, naturally barren, to bring forth fruits of righteousness, so that it is not difficult task for to draw a useful parallel between the one and the other in sundry respects.
The dew if of a heavenly original, the nativity thereof is from the womb of the morning, it tarries not for man, not waits for the sons of men. And is it not thus in the grace of conversion? Is not that wholly from above, without any preparations, congruities, concurrencies, that do or can arise from the flesh? We are made active by grace, but we are not at all agents in fitting ourselves to grace. As no man ca be antecedently active to his first birth; so neither can he be to his second birth. Of God’s own will we are begotten by the Word of Truth.
The dew also in its descent and fall is silent and imperceptible, it flies every sense of which it may seem to be a proper object. It is so subtle as that the sharpest eye, as that the sharpest eye cannot see it; so silent, as that the quickest ear cannot hear it; and so thin, as that the naked hand cannot feel it. When it is come, it is visible: but how it comes, who can tell?
After such a secret manner oft times are the illapses [movements, descents; it was the word which the Puritans often used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit] of the Spirit, and the operations of his grace upon his heart; his teachings, his tractions, his callings, are all efficacious to draw, to persuade, yet the way is hidden, and the soul, ere ever it is aware, is made like chariots of Aminadab [Song of Songs 6:12, KJV].
The dew again, as Naturalists observe, is most abounding in calm and serene seasons, when the heaves are least disturbed with winds and storms; it is a moisture drawn up the sun in the day and then falling by small innumerable drops in the night. And is it not thus in the grace of God? Are not those hearts refreshed most with it, that are least disquieted with earthy cares and tossed to and fro with anxieties? Are not such, like Gideon’s fleece, plentifully wet with evidence of God’s love, when others, like the ground about it, are wholly dry?
Lastly, the dew is of a growing and reviving nature, which brings a life and verdue to the fields, vineyards, gardens, flowers, which the cold would chill or the heat would scorch. Therefore, when God promised to Israel the beauty of the Lilly, the stability of the cedar, the fruitfulness of the olive, to effect all this he says, “He will be as dew.”
And what ground can but bring forth when he who is the Father of Rain, and begets the drops of the dew, shall himself descend upon it in the bounty and goodness? Who can but love him with a love of duty, whom he shall thus tender with a love of mercy? Who can but love him with a love concupiscence [here, extremely strong desire, not a mere sexual desire], as being more desirous of new influences, than satisfied with former receipts, whom he so freely loves with a love of benefice?
My Soul thirsteth for thee as the gaping and chapped earth doth for the moisture of thy heavens;
I am nothing,
I can do nothing without thee;
My first fruits
Depend wholly upon the droppings of thy grace
When thy dew leith all night upon my branch
My glory is fresh in me
And my whole man is as the smell of a field with the Lord hath blessed.
Be not therefore unto me
O my God
As a cloud without rain
Lest I be as a tree without fruit.
But let thy grace always distill upon me as the dew
And as the small rain upon the tender herb
And then shall I be as the ground which drinketh in the showers that come oft upon it
And bringeth forth fruit meet for him by whom it is dressed
And receive also new blessing from God.
More on meditation: Thomas Manton, in a sermon on Ephesians 2:10, explains that one means to help us abound in good works is to meditate on the fact that God has created us and redeemed us. As Paul writes, “you are not your own”. See here again: we meditate so that our affections are changed, which leads us to action.
“Keep your hearts under a sense of God’s authority, that you may feel something in your own bosoms that may tell you you are bound to obey him, and may plead God’s right with you. This is, done by a frequent meditation upon your creation and redemption: your creation giveth God a full right to you, and redemption maketh it comfortable; by both you see you are his: Acts 27:23, ‘There stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.’”
Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 2 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1871), 407.
How would you do such thing? Stop and think. Read through Psalm 139, carefully considering each word: The Psalmists knows that God knows him and made him. Look how the Psalmist’s meditation ends: search me, know me, lead me. Read through Ephesians 2:1-10. Consider the gracious rescue of God, “but God”; consider the utter grace of salvation; look how God created and redeemed you for good works. Do not leave off pondering these things until you begin to feel created and purchased. Pray before and after. Do not rush. Ask, What hinders you from knowing yourself to be created and bought? What provokes you to right thoughts? Consider songs you know which speak about being created or redeemed. Redeemed how I love to proclaim it. And can it be that I should gain, an interest in the savior’s blood. Sing, pray, think, read, and then act.
Btw, meditating upon our belonging to God does not only provoke us to good works, but as the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us, it is our “comfort”:
Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.