Samuel Davies on Meditation

By Joe Harrod

Samuel Davies (1723­–1761) expected Christians to meditate. He included meditation among various “duties of religion” and encouraged his hearers to make meditation a habitual practice.[1] By meditating, believers were following Christ’s own practice of devotion.[2] Davies never defined “meditation” or offered specific details on its mechanics, nor did he describe his own practice of this discipline; rather he expected that his hearers were acquainted with this practice. For him, meditation was an act of the mind that involved sustained, attentive reflection on God, his attributes, works, creation, and word, for the purpose of stirring one’s affections toward God.

Davies proposed several subjects upon which his hearers could affix their thoughts: God’s infinite and saving love[3]; heaven and hell[4]; “the glories of God displayed in a crucified Jesus . . . the scheme of salvation through his blood”[5]; as well as God’s glory and kindness.[6] He also encouraged meditation upon Scripture: “Read, and hear, and meditate upon his word, till you know your danger and remedy.”[7] Davies mentioned his own deliberate, meditative study of Romans.[8] By citing these objects, Davies placed himself within the Puritan tradition of meditation. Yet Davies believed that even unbelievers who were spiritually dead could “meditate upon divine things,” warning his hearers against adherence to spiritual disciplines as a sure indication of genuine faith.[9] Believers ought to meditate before taking the Lord’s Supper.[10] Davies believed that meditation afforded the believer delight and helped one to grow in holiness, which fueled happiness.[11]

[1]Samuel Davies, “Sinners Entreated,” in Sermons by the Rev. Samuel Davies, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, vol. 1 (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1854, repr. 1993), 148. Cited henceforth as Sermons. See also idem., “Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:281, and idem., “A Sermon on the New Year,” in Sermons, 2:207.

[2]Samuel Davies, “The Sacred Import of the Christian Name,” in Sermons, 1:348.

[3]Samuel Davies, “The Method of Salvation through Jesus Christ,” in Sermons, 1:130–31.

[4]Samuel Davies, “The Nature and Process of Spiritual Life,” in Sermons, 1:194. Here Davies suggested subjects upon which believers ought to meditate by mentioning subjects upon which unbelievers may ponder without affect.

[5]Samuel Davies, “The Divine Perfections Illustrated in the Method of Salvation, through the Sufferings of Christ,” in Sermons, 2:273.

[6] Davies, “Nature of Love to God,” in Sermons, 2:480.

[7]Samuel Davies, “The Christian Feast,” in Sermons, 2:167–68.

[8]Samuel Davies, “The Nature of Justification, and the Nature and Concern of Faith in it,” in Sermons, 2:663.

[9]Samuel Davies, “The Nature and Universality of Spiritual Death,” in Sermons, 1:166.

[10]Davies, “The Christian Feast,” in Sermons, 2:167.

[11]Samuel Davies, “Present Holiness and Future Felicity,” in Sermons, 1:278. See also Samuel Davies, “The One Thing Needful,” in Sermons, 1:556.


jch_cropJoe Harrod serves as Director for Institutional Assessment at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is a doctoral candidate in the areas of Biblical Spirituality and Church History. He and his wife, Tracy, have three sons.