Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The One whom my soul loveth

This phrase is frequently in the mouth of the Church in the Song of Solomon. The best commentary on this book is Christian experience itself. Even if our own experience comes short of it, the experience of others help us to get a glimpse of the soul-experience that is described in the book.

This is true of the experience of Cotton Mather, the New England Puritan. Although his influence upon society is misrepresented and criticised it is clear that he was an eminently godly and spiritual man. His biographer writes: 'It might be said of Dr. Mather, with peculiar propriety, that "he was in the fear of the Lord all the day long," for he was almost continually conversing with God in his thoughts; and there was hardly a single occurrence that he met with in life, but he improved it to awaken in his mind some pious thoughts, and...prayers....His diligence in laying hold of all opportunities, and improving all proper means to maintain and cherish the life of faith in his soul, appears in the following extracts from his papers: —

The thoughts of Christ, are become exceeding frequent with me; I meditate on his glorious person, as the eternal Son of God incarnate; and I behold the infinite God as coming to me, and meeting with me in this blessed Mediator. I fly to Him on multitudes of occasions every day, and am impatient if many minutes have passed without some recourse to him. Every now and then, I rebuke myself for having been so long without any thoughts of my lovely Saviour. How can I bear to keep at such a distance from him! I then look up to him, and say, O my dear Saviour, draw near unto me! O come to dwell in my soul, and help me to form some thoughts wherein I shall enjoy thee. Upon this I set myself to think of his glories, his merits, his pattern, his maxims, what he has done, and what he will do for us. I find the subject infinitely inexhaustible. And after I have been thus employed in the day, I fall asleep at night in the midst of some meditation on the glory of my Saviour; so I fall asleep in Jesus, and when I awake in the night, I do on my bed seek him whom my soul loveth. The desires of my soul still carry me to him who was last in my thoughts when I fell asleep. I find that where Christ comes, a wondrous light, life, and peace comes with him, together with strength to go through services and sufferings.

The holiness and happiness to which I am introduced by this way of living, is better to me than all the enjoyments of this world. All the riches of this world appear contemptible things to me, while I have the unsearchable riches of Christ thus brought into my possession; and all the glory of the world would not tempt me to forego them. Now, O my dear Jesus, I know I have an inward witness, that, thou art the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world.

The blessedness of the heavenly world lies in our being with Christ; and by being with the Lord, in beholding his glory, by believing and affecting thoughts of him, I have enjoyed a sort of heaven upon earth. The light and peace, the joy, strength, and purity with which this fills my mind, is an earnest and foretaste of heaven.

As for the delights of this world, such of them as are most helpful to me in seeing and serving God, are those which I w"buld have the greatest value for. But I know of no delights comparable to those which I take in communion with my Saviour.

As for the riches of this world, I use no labour for them, I have no desire to obtain them, they appear to me as contemptible things; my nches are my opportunities to do good, and those illuminations of my mind which furnish me for it. In my Saviour I have unsearchable riches, and in my fruition of him I have a full supply of all my wants. As for the honours of this world, my abhorrence of having the great God robbed on my account, by people's honouring me without their being led through me to him, renders the praises of men distasteful to me; I do nothing to gain honours for myself, and whatever honours are conferred upon me by men, shall be improved for the interest of God. To be accepted of my Saviour, to have his image imprinted on me, and to be employed in his work, for the advancement of his kingdom, are all the honours that I wish for.

When I am exercised with any affliction, I repair to my Jesus. I realize to myself not only his hand, but also his love in sending the trouble. I see my Saviour as once encountering the same trouble, and I am heartily pleased at my conformity to him. I consider what is that good which this trouble deprives me of, and I see the same good, and what is infinitely better, laid up in my Saviour; and I am satisfied. I find the thoughts of my Saviour for ever sweetening the bitter waters of Marah to me; I find him the Comforter that always relieves my soul, when I have him near unto me. How many, O Lord, are my thoughts of theel the occasions on which, and the means by which I cherish such thoughts, cannot be reckoned up in order.

When I see any thing excellent in any man, it leads my thoughts to the superior excellences of Christ my Saviour; and when I behold the miseries of any of my fellow-creatures, I think on the miseries from which I am delivered by my Saviour; and on my obligations to my kind deliverer. I dare not let my mind be idle, as I walk in the streets; I rebuke myself, and I make my moan to heaven, if I have gone many steps without one thought of my Saviour; and when I have been at a loss for fresh thoughts of him, I have compelled the very signs and the shops in the street, to suggest new matter for meditation. I have done expecting any good things from this world; or if such expectations do at any time arise in my mind, I check them with this thought: — What is the good, O my soul, of that which thou expectest of all this good thou hast already in thy Saviour.

In conversing with my Saviour, I go through many portions of Scripture which testify of him, especially in the book of Psalms, taking a verse or more, or sometimes but a part of a verse at a time for the subject of my meditation, when every night I fall asleep in Jesus. The psalms are full of prayers, many of which are so suited to my own condition, that I cannot express it better before the Lord than in those very words which his Spirit teacheth. Several of those petitions were the prayers of Christ; and when I offer them up for myself, it is a vast encouragement and comfort to me to think, that therein I maintain a sweet fellowship with my Saviour, and that this very prayer was once presented by my Saviour unto his eternal Father: my Saviour once prayed at this rate, and found acceptance. I pray but as my Saviour taught me, and as he did before me: certainly such a prayer will be grateful unto God.

Finally, I am solicitous, that while I contemplate the glorious transactions of my Saviour in his work of redemption, I may feel the power of those things upon my own heart; which is a token for good that he has been concerned for me in all those several transactions. For instance, I see God uniting himself to man in the person of my Saviour; I feel the power of it in my returning to God, and in the union of my heart to him. I see my Saviour leading a hidden life, and passing through obscure circumstances while he sojourned amongst us; I feel the power of it, in my being willing to have my walk with God carried on with all possible privacy, and concealed as much as may be from the view of men. I see my Saviour dying on the cross for my sins; I feel the power of it in the death of my sinful dispositions, in my dying unto creatures, and in the world's being crucified to me, or my affections being weaned from it. "I see my Saviour in his resurrection triumphing over the powers of darkness, and entering upon a new life, which he lives for evermore; I feel the power of it, in my rising out of a state of spiritual death and darkness, and walking in newness of life, as being quickened with an everlasting principle of piety, to which I was once a stranger.

The Life of the Late Reverend and Learned Dr. Cotton Mather, Of Boston, (New England) by Samuel Mather (originally published 1729)

Another precious portion written by Mather is found at http://www.puritansermons.com/reformed/mather1.htm

Cotton Mather wrote and published more than 400 works. More information is available at http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil//mather.htm