The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation

In his 2014 book An Infinite Journey, Andy Davis notes, 

Meditation on Scripture is essential to gaining a deep understanding of the truth of its words. Without meditation, the words of our daily reading can flow through our minds like water in a pipe and make no impact. But by means of meditation, we give the word a chance to settle in our minds and do its work.

Similarly in the recently published Prayer, Tim Keller writes, 

Many have written about the hyperactivity of today’s contemporary society and our cultural attention deficit disorder that makes slow reflection and meditation a lost art. Nonetheless, if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.

Both of these men are pointing in the same direction, a return to a spiritual discipline that often eludes believers in an age of constant connectivity. Both Keller and Davis spend a few pages on the topic with some basic instructions, but there is a room for a great deal more practical instruction in the practice of Christian meditation. David Saxton provides such instruction in his recent book, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

It may be that the focus on the Puritans will turn some readers off from the beginning. However, that is a thoroughly unfair bias. As Leland Ryken shows in his book, Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, there is a lot more to the Puritans than Max Weber and Nathaniel Hawthorne allow. In fact, while we cannot adopt everything the Puritans espoused wholesale, the contemporary Christian can benefit greatly by exploring the deeply scriptural worldview they developed.

As such, Saxton’s book really is helpful. Saxton is, in essence, bringing the Puritans forward to a contemporary audience and summarizing their perspective on a neglected spiritual discipline. While extremely beneficial to read, the Puritans are often quite prolix at times. This makes books like this a welcome addition to an arsenal of texts on Puritan theology.

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a short book at 138 pages of text. It is divided into twelve short chapters and a conclusion. In a very practical manner, Saxton presents an apology for biblical meditation, differentiates it from unbiblical forms, and demonstrates some of the times that biblical meditation is most helpful and necessary. Thankfully, the book does not leave the reader at the theoretical, but pushes into practical methods for meditation on the Word.

The last six chapters deal with the practical aspects of mediation. Saxton presents some specific instructions on how to choose subjects for meditation, how to be motivated to meditate, what benefits to look for in meditation, and ways to recognize enemies of meditation. The final chapter is an even more basic primer of how to get started developing the habit of meditation.

If you love Puritan theology, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume, which is well stocked with Puritan quotes. If you want to deepen your walk with Christ, you will find this book very beneficial, because it points readers toward practices which are important for becoming more Christlike. If you need encouragement in your walk with Christ, this short text will provide ample exhortation. It is worth your time to read it.

The most significant weakness of this volume, in my mind, is a bias toward Christian separatism. Saxton rightly notes the distraction which our entertainment saturated society can find, but he goes on to cite ungodly friends, by which he means unspiritual ones not merely ruffian acquaintances, and a “failure to decisively separate from the world” as major obstacles to meditation. While these latter factors may negatively impact spiritual disciplines if we never separate from worldly amusements and spend all our time among non-Christians, Saxton seems to be proposing an intentional withdrawal from culture. This may be helpful for maintaining a focus on Christ, but it also removes opportunities for evangelization and influencing a culture which is need of both salt and light. This is not a major emphasis in the book, however, so the value of the volume is not diminished.

Buy the book, apply the technique. There is little doubt that meditating on the Word of God is both biblical and necessary for growing in the knowledge of Christ.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

I have previously reviewed Andy Davis' book, An Infinite Journey for Themelios, the academic journal of The Gospel Coalition. Click here to read the review.