September 26, 2005

R. L. Dabney (1820-1898) on Meditation

I just finished reading the article Meditation A Means of Grace by R. L. Dabney. The church needs to read Dabney's theological writings. This was a brilliant and godly man.

The following excerpt from his article describes some of the reasons why I named my Blog as I did. Deep meditation on theological truths should spark excitement and love for God, our neighbor, and for all of creation. When our affections are touched by true theological meditation, then we are ready to be used of God and we will have the right motives. If the church is infected by the desire to meditate on the divine being in Spirit and in truth, then it will once again "turn the world upside down" (Acts 17:6).

Dabney says:
"The strength derived from meditation has also been potent to bless. To this are due the evolutions of the greatest truths of philosophy and religious freedom which form the heritage of civilized man, as well as the noblest exploits of arms and policy. The authors of human progress have not been your self-styled "practical men," whose only notion of activity is change; whose only energy is restlessness; who see no end for truth save its immediate application to corporeal good. Let not these say that they can well resign to the man of meditation the shadowy glories of philosophy, since the arts are theirs which supply men's practical wants. They cannot even do this; even in their own poor, materialistic sense. But for the nobler dreamers, they could not have taught us to navigate ships, to spin calicoes, to compound drugs. Where would be your dexterous man of arts, your navigator, your chemist, your machinist, without the musings of a Kepler, a Bacon, a Newton? No; your merely practical man is not he who descends into the central caverns and primeval abysses of nature, to mine for us the golden ore of truth and right; he is but the trafficker, who circulates it from hand to hand, and who tarnishes and wastes it in his traffic.

The men who have changed the face of the world have been the reserved, the meditative; men of profound insight, wont to retire into the depths of their own consciousness; men who receive the beautiful and the good with a poet's intense appreciation, and hold them with unwavering grasp of mind and heart. See King David, warrior, conqueror, legislator, busy founder of a polity and dynasty; he, more than any other inspired author, delighted in holy musings, and satisfied his soul with midnight meditations, as with marrow and fatness. See the man from whose giant will proceeded, more than from that of any other man, that revolution of thought upon whose swelling tides we are still borne, after more than three centuries, whither, we know not. Luther burst upon Europe as teacher, preacher, critic, poet, musician, statesman, ecclesiastic, polemic, patriot and filled it with the din of his activity. It was amidst the musings of a convent and the reveries of his prison at Wartburg that the fires of this will were kindled. And this is what one should anticipate. Man feels as he sees, and acts as he feels. A great purpose is only formed when a great idea is kept in contact with the soul, by prolonged communion with it in the depths of its own conception. The mind which has basked long in the light of some quickening truth, like the tropic earth, bursts with the most vigorous and fruitful germs of purpose.
The habit of silent adoration is a fountain of happiness to the soul. "I will be glad in the Lord," saith the text. There is immediate pleasure in the sight of a material object of taste. We pause instinctively over a flower. We stand before a masterpiece of art, and crave leisure to enjoy it, deprecating analysis, criticism, and even converse, that the soul may silently imbibe the happiness of its perfection. When we look up, and see the moon walking in brightness, and the stars shooting their radiance from a stainless and unfathomable depth, we receive a spell of peaceful joy upon our hearts. But most happy are we when our meditations are charmed by the beauty of holiness and our eyes filled with the perfections of God; for there are the transcendent glory and symmetry to satisfy the intellect, the taste, and the conscience at once. What thought can be as sweet and grand as that of the Christian's God, infinite in being, in duration, in knowledge, in power, in holiness, directing his boundless kingdom with the calmness of infallible might, and yet with the beneficence of infinite love communicating himself as widely as his universe, and "opening his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing," to creatures like us, tossed amid vanities, cares, and change? How full of calmness is the thought of a Being sufficient to himself, as unchangeably blessed as he is excellent? In this vision of God are merged our noblest conceptions of the stability of the spheres, the purity of the fields of azure, the duration of grandest cycles, the might of all elements, all creature beauty, all good, all power, all wisdom, all blessedness; all are in him, even as one drop is in the sea; and the more the soul expands towards the thought the more are we assured that everlasting intuition will never exhaust nor even comprehend its glories."
Robert L. Dabney, “Meditation A Means of Grace,” in Discussions: Evangelical and Theological (Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1982), 1:649-651.

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