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Biblical Counseling Coalition: Grace & Truth

Old School Counseling, Part 2

Old School Counseling Part 2

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part 2 in a two-part blog mini-series by Adam Embry on learning biblical counseling from the Puritans. Read the first part at Old School Counseling, Part 1.

Learning from the Puritans

In Part 1 of this blog mini-series, I introduced how the English Puritans understood and used God’s promises in their counsel with church members. The Puritans teach biblical counselors and our counselees that believing, applying, and praying God’s promises leads to obedient living.

The Puritans and Meditation

Now in part 2, I return to Joel Beeke’s and Mark Jones’ book, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life, for instruction on a second aspect of Puritan theology that is helpful for biblical counselors—the practice of meditation. Recently, the BCC had an article with a helpful worksheet on the practice of biblical meditation based on Psalm 1 and 2.

Like the instruction in that article, the Puritans direct our attention back to the Bible for how we need to renew our heart and mind through meditation. The Puritans wrote prolifically on mediation. Beeke and Jones remind us, “The Puritans never tired of saying that biblical mediation involves thinking upon the triune God and His Word” (890). It’s time to learn from them.

Why Do Counselees Need to Learn to Meditate on God’s Word?

There are numerous examples of believers meditating on God’s promises and truth throughout Scripture (for example, Genesis 24:63; Joshua 1:8; Psalm 63:6; Psalm 119:148). Christians are called to renew their minds with truth (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23; Colossians 3:2). The Puritans believes that biblical meditation involved the mind and the heart, as believers approached God and his Word with our intellect and affections.

What is Meditation?

Thomas Watson called meditation, “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” Edmund Calamy drew a vivid description of what happens in mediation:

“A true meditation is when a man doth so meditate of Christ as to get his heart inflamed with the love of Christ; so meditate of the Truths of God, as to be transformed into them; and so meditate of sin as to get his heart to hate sin.”

This experience in meditation corresponds to the result biblical counseling seeks to achieve with troubled counselees: changed affections, Word-driven obedience, and a commitment to fight sin.

When Do We Meditate?

The Puritans urged occasional and deliberate meditation. King David observed creation and asked that his meditation would be pleasing to the Lord (Psalm 104:34). An occasional walk outside on a beautiful day could prompt spur of the moment meditation similar to this.

But it’s in the realm of deliberate meditation that the biblical counselor will work with counselees. The Puritans taught that deliberate meditation centered on Scripture, the practical truths of Christianity, God’s providence, and sermons (893).

Meditation is distinguished from studying the Word, as it takes place after study. Biblical counselors often (and should) give counselees homework or passages of Scripture to study. Study must lead to heart application. Thomas Watson explains, “Study is the finding out of a truth; meditation is the spiritual improvement of a truth” (893).

The Puritans believed that meditation must be frequent. It appears that the biblical pattern is twice a day, morning and evening (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2). Whenever it may occur, biblical counselors need to encourage counselees to have a set time and stick to it. Many problems in counseling often involve an unorganized life. For many counselees, advising them to follow the biblical pattern of morning and evening will bookend their emotionally chaotic day with times with God and his Word. The Puritans typically recommended up to an hour as adequate time to reflect on God’s promises.

What Happens During Meditation?

  • Counselees need to ask the Spirit for assistance in helping them understand and love the Word which can change them.
  • A passage of Scripture is read and studied in context. Presumably the passage studied is related to the homework assignment their biblical counselor has given them.
  • Every passage of Scripture teaches truth, so counselors need to teach counselees how to recognize the doctrine in the passage. A doctrine could be a truth about God and his attributes, Christ’s person and passion (death), the Holy Spirit’s comfort, the joys of heaven, or calls to faith and obedience, among other truths. A good practice is for the counselor to walk the counselee through a passage of Scripture and show him how to discern the truth of the passage.
  • The passage should be committed to memory or at least internalized to where it can be easily summarized.
  • Stir up your affections. Consider how the passage draws your heart to love, desire, hope, courage, gratitude, zeal, and joy in God. Think about your inadequacies in these areas, but also how God desires to fulfill your longing for holiness.
  • Apply your mediation to yourself, by considering how the passage’s call to put off sin and live obediently.
  • Examine growth in grace. Ask yourself, “What have I done?” and “What am I resolved to do, by God’s grace?” Beeke and Jones wisely comment, “Do not ask such questions legalistically but out of holy excitement and opportunity to grow in Spirit-worked grace” (898).
  • Turn application into resolution. Biblical counselors strive to get counselees to make godly resolutions for change. The Puritans recognized this and encouraged believers to write down their resolutions.
  • Conclude with prayer, thanksgiving, and singing. George Swinnock quipped, “Meditation is the best beginning of prayer, and prayer is the best conclusion of meditation.”

Is Meditation Beneficial?

The answer is yes! The Puritans believed that meditation helps us focus on the triune God, increase our knowledge of truth, grow in wisdom, enlarge our faith, increase our affections, foster repentance, grow in discipline, aid our prayer life, read the Word, understand the seriousness of sin, and provide relief in afflictions and suffering, among other benefits. These benefits match what biblical counselors seek to instill in their counselees today.

Meditation, like understanding and using God’s promises, are just two counseling lessons today’s biblical counselors can learn from the Puritans.

Join the Conversation

How can you help counselees learn biblical meditation?

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The BCC exists to strengthen churches, para-church organizations, and educational institutions by promoting excellence and unity in biblical counseling as a means to accomplish compassionate outreach and effective discipleship.