Consider first, that these days, between this Sunday and the ascension of our Lord, are days of devotion, and are called rogation-days, because they are set aside by the church for solemn prayers and supplications, joined with abstinence and penance, in order to turn away the wrath of God, provoked by our sins; and to remove far from us his scourges of wars, plagues, famines, &c.; to implore his mercy for ourselves, and for all his people; and to beg his blessing upon the fruits of the earth. As the first institution of the devotion of these days was occasioned by a terrible scene of disasters and visible judgments of God upon the people, to which a stop was put by dedicating these three days to prayer and penance; so the success that attended this first essay has encouraged the church to an annual practice of the like devotion ever since. Hence we may learn, with what dispositions of soul we ought to present ourselves before the throne of grace at this time; with what a lively sense of the guilt of our sins, and of the judgments we deserve for them both here and hereafter; with what desire to return to God from our sins, and to offer him the sacrifice of a contrite and humble heart for them, and to join, as it were in a body, at this time, with the whole people of God, in suing in a proper manner for his mercy, with most humble supplication and fervent prayers. See, my soul, if these be thy dispositions.
Consider 2ndly, that although we do not every day feel the heavy hand of divine justice by the experience of public calamities, or other visible judgments, yet if we consider the guilt of so many crying sins, not only of particular persons, but even of whole nations, which are continually calling to God for vengeance, we shall find too much reason to apprehend that the sword of God’s justice is even now hanging over our heads and that the worst of his judgments will quickly fall upon Christendom in general, if not averted by prayer and penance. This consideration ought to determine all Christians in general (even the most innocent, if they have any concern for the public danger, or true charity for the souls of their neighbours,) gladly to embrace so happy an opportunity as this of joining with all the children of God in humiliations and prayer, in order to prevent the thunder of heaven from suddenly breaking over our heads, and hurrying away thousands into the bottomless pit. And as for every particular sinner, now is the most favourable time for him to sue for mercy, because at this time the whole church joins in a particular manner in praying for all sinners. And if he should neglect this opportunity, what may he not justly fear from his repeated treasons; from the wrath of God above, ready to fall upon him; from the mouth of hell below, gaping to devour him; from the devil, to whom he has sold himself; and from that monster, mortal sin, (which is even worse than the devil,) which he always carries about with him? O sinners, neglect not these days of salvation, lest they never return to you any more. Now is your time - hereafter there may be no time for you.
Consider 3rdly, she encouragement we have both in the Epistle and the Gospel of the Rogations, to look for mercy and for all good, both for ourselves and for our neighbours, from humble and fervent prayer. In the epistle (St. James v.) we are taught the great efficacy of continual prayer, with an exhortation to pray for one another, in order to salvation and a declaration of what the reward will be of them that contribute to the salvation of others. In the gospel (St. Luke xi.) we are exhorted by Christ our Lord to a holy importunity and perseverance in prayer; and we are taught by the example of a friend, and of a father, to look for good gifts from our heavenly Father by the means of earnest prayer. O what a friend indeed, what a parent have we in him! or who is like to him in bounty and mercy? Let us then be encouraged by these divine oracles, ‘To go with confidence at this time to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid.’ Heb. iv. i6.
Conclude to join at this time with the whole church of God in prayer and penance, that thou mayest obtain mercy both for thyself and for thy neighbours. Heaven can never resist a general assault made by the whole people of God by the means of prayer, when joined with a contrite and humble heart.
Consider first, that as the desire of wisdom is the true beginning of wisdom, so the first step to the love of God, (which is true wisdom indeed,) is an earnest desire to love God. ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after this heavenly justice, for they shall be filled,’ Matt. v. This desire makes us pray frequently, seek incessantly, knock earnestly at the gate of divine love. It makes us rise early in quest of the heavenly wisdom; it makes us glad to part with all things else, that we may purchase this precious pearl, that we may acquire this incomparable treasure. He that with this desire aspires after divine love, already begins to possess what he desires; and the more he relishes the sweetness of what he begins to possess, the more he aspires after it. Thus the desire of love begets love, and love begets a stronger desire, which begets a stronger love. So that the great means of learning to love God is, by repeated desires and acts of love to taste and see how sweet God is, and how sweet a thing it is to love.
Consider 2ndly, that divine love will not be found by us, nor come to dwell in our souls, if we take no care to keep our inward house clean and pure for our beloved. ‘Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God,’ Matt. v. So that if we entertain in our interior any irregular company, that is, if our affections are set upon worldly vanities, upon filthy lucre, upon sensual pleasures, upon gratifying our corrupt inclinations, divine love will not come near us; because it cannot endure such unclean company as this is, nor dwell in a soul that is enslaved to worldly desires and disorderly passions. These are to be parted with, or at least brought into order and subjection, if we would learn to love God. This is the meaning of that Gospel lesson of selling all to acquire the precious pearl of the kingdom of God, by his love reigning in our souls. The kingdom of divine love will allow of no rival, no usurper, no rebel in its dominions. The spouse of divine love must belong wholly to her spouse alone, she must be a garden close shut to all others, a ‘fountain sealed up’ for him alone, Cantic. iv. So that another necessary means of attaining divine love is a general mortification of all foreign and irregular affections.
Consider 3rdly, that the sovereign means of acquiring divine love is the daily exercise of mental prayer, which employs all the powers of the soul in waiting upon God. Here the memory represents all the motives we have to love him; here the understanding is taught to know him; here the affections of the will are inflamed by his presence - this then is the true school of love. O my soul, let us daily frequent it, not only by having a regular time fixed for this great exercise of love, but by practising it in some measure at all times, by a spirit of recollection, by a continual sense and remembrance of God’s presence, by frequently calling back the soul to him from all her distractions and evagations, by repeated aspirations and ejaculations of love, &c. This is walking with God indeed, like the ancient saints this is taking God along with us wherever we are going, and whatever we are doing; this is walking in love. O how happy is that life which is thus dedicated to divine love.
Conclude to embrace all the means that may bring thee to this happiness. O begin now from this hour to set out in quest of this fountain of life! Let no opposition of earth or hell discourage thee. Never leave off thy search till thou come to drink of this heavenly water, which will become in thee a fountain springing up to everlasting life.
Consider first, that the love of God is like a fire: its nature is to be always in motion, and always tending upwards towards its heavenly element; it quickly expires and dies if it lies idle. Wherefore if we would keep it alive, we must nourish it, and blow it up by frequent acts of love; and those not mere verbal acts, by telling God that we love him, whilst our heart perhaps is far from him, but by the real exercise of loving God both in our heart and in our works. We exercise the love of God in our heart, by affection; we exercise the love of God in our works, by effects. We love God with a love of chaste concupiscence, when in heart and work we tend to him as our sovereign good, and aspire after the eternal enjoyment of him. We love him with a love of benevolence, that is of sincere and perfect friendship and charity, when both in heart and work we give our whole selves, with all our thoughts, words, and deeds, and all things else to him, as being infinitely good in himself. It is just we should exercise ourselves in acts of the love of God in both these ways, as in both these ways he is infinitely amiable but more especially that we should tend to love him with the love of benevolence, by giving ourselves and all things to him.
Consider 2ndly, that benevolence is a love by which we wish all manner of good to the person beloved; a love by which we earnestly seek and procure whatever may be for his honour, interest, or pleasure; by which we delight in all his advantages, and are concerned at all his losses, &c. Wherefore, if we would make proper acts of the love of benevolence towards God, we must desire, seek, and procure, as much as lies in us, the greater honour and glory of his name, and the propagation of his kingdom, both in our own hearts and throughout the whole world, and pray that all men may know him, love him, and serve him; we must rejoice at every thing that is agreeable to his holy will, and be concerned at every thing that offends him. This is the proper exercise of the love of benevolence; these are far better acts of divine charity than merely telling God that we love him. My soul, what are thy dispositions? Dost thou sincerely desire and heartily pray that all the world may know, love, and serve thy God; that all his creatures in heaven and earth may give perpetual glory to him; that the reign of sin may be abolished; and that the kingdom of God may take possession of all hearts; that none may resist or rebel against his orders; but that all may embrace and bow down, and adore his divine will? If so, there is no doubt but thou lovest God. Such as these are perfect acts of the love of God.
Consider 3rdly, that the exercise of the love of God, which, above all others, is recommended in holy Scriptures, is the loving of his divine law and the keeping of his commandments. 'This is the charity (that is the love) of God that we keep his commandments,’ 1 John v. 3. ‘He that keepeth his word, in him, in very deed, the charity of God is perfected,’ chap. ii. 5. The beloved disciple continually recommends acts of this kind of divine love, and the Psalms are full of aspirations or breathings of a soul that is in love with the holy law and commandments of God. This devotion to the commandments of God is loving God indeed with a true and effectual love, because it is giving up for his sake what is most dear to us, viz., our own will and liberty, and making a present of it to him; it is giving him what he chiefly calls for at our hands; whatsoever else we give him can never content him. He always prefers the sacrifice of obedience before all other sacrifices, because here we sacrifice to him our own clear will, and immolate it, as it were, to his honour and glory. This kind of love is the safest from illusions, for whosoever loves the commandments of God and his divine will, and makes all that is in him submit thereunto, most certainly loves God, and is in the right way that will bring bins safe to God. No other devotion without this can secure any man.
Conclude to exercise thyself daily in all these ways of loving God, and ever remember that loving God and keeping his commandments go always hand-in-hand, because we cannot love God without loving his will, notified to us by his commandments.
Consider first, that divine love is also exercised in the penitential way by souls that, like Magdalene, (of whom our Lord pronounced that many sins were forgiven her because she loved much,) go daily to the feet of Christ, in spirit, to wash them with their tears, flowing from a heart full of a sense of the infinite goodness of God, and of a deep regret for having offended that infinite goodness by their sins. This exercise of penitential love, as we see in the case of Magdalene, is most acceptable to out Lord, and most effectual for obtaining the discharge of all our sins; and, if diligently pursued, is capable of advancing even those that have been the greatest sinners to a high degree of virtue and sanctity. And whosoever has forfeited his baptismal innocence by mortal sin, if he would follow the rules of Christian prudence in choosing the safest way in a case where his all is at stake, should endeavour to pursue this exercise of penitential love, and never end it but with his life. Thus did all those great penitents of old who became afterwards such glorious saints. And this kind of exercise of love will become in a manner natural to all such as have a right sense of what God is and what sin is, and of the dreadful evil they have been guilty of in offending, though it were but once in their life, so great and so good a God.
Consider 2ndly, that there are also other ways of mourning in which we may exercise a love of God, most agreeable to him, and beneficial to ourselves. As when we sit down at the foot of the cross, and there contemplating the extreme anguish and distress, the stripes and wounds, the racking pains and torments of our dear Redeemer, with all that complication of sufferings in all kinds which he endured in his passion for the love of us, we excite in our souls suitable affections of an ardent love in the way of compassion for our crucified Lover, and feed this fire with tears, flowing at the sight of his blood; which, as it shows forth in the most sensible manner his tender affection for us, so it most strongly calls for a return of our love, accompanied with a bitter grief to see our beloved treated with so much cruelty and contempt. Upon the same principle of the concern that every true lover has, to see the outrages offered to his beloved, we may also exercise a love most agreeable to our Lord, in mourning for the innumerable sins that are daily committed against him throughout the whole world; to see his infinite goodness slighted, his sacred laws and ordinances trodden under foot, his mercies continually abused, and his most adorable majesty treated with the utmost contempt, by poor blind mortals, made by him, and for him redeemed by the blood of his Son, and loaded with innumerable favours, to engage them to love him and serve him. Oh! how can any true lover of God endure to see these outrages offered to his infinite majesty without having his heart perfectly broken with grief to see his Love thus abused?
Consider 3rdly, that, besides these exercises of the love of benevolence in the penitential and compassionate way, there is another most perfect exercise of love, and which comes the nearest to the love of the blessed in heaven; and that is, in the way of joy and congratulation - as when we rejoice in God and in his boundless perfections; when we are delighted to think that he is what he is, infinitely good, infinitely holy, infinitely happy, infinitely perfect; that he is the sovereign Lord of all, and that nothing can be added to him, because he is every way infinite. O, what a comfort, what a pleasure, what a joy it is to a true lover of God to think that whatsoever may come to himself, or to any other thing in the world, his Love at least, whom he loves without comparison more than himself and all things else, will always be infinitely glorious, infinitely rich, and infinitely happy! O how like is this love to that of the blessed, even to that love that makes them blessed, which is an eternal joy in God and in all the beauties and perfections they contemplate in him - this is their eternal delight.
Conclude to dedicate thyself for time and eternity to this most perfect love of God. Make it thy employment here, and it will be thy eternal reward hereafter. In the mean time, labour also to promote as much as thou canst, upon every occasion, the praise and glory of thy maker, the interests of his kingdom, the fulfilling of all his wills, as well in thyself as in all others; be concerned at every thing that displeases him, put thy heart continually in his hands, give thyself and all things else to him a hundred times in the day. Such acts as these, frequently repeated in the day, will secure to thee the rich treasure of divine love; by such exercises thou wilt effectually choose the better part, which will never be taken from thee.
Consider first, that our Lord, after having employed forty days upon earth,
to comfort and encourage his disciples, to confirm them in the faith of his
resurrection, and to instruct them in the mysteries of his kingdom, on the
fortieth day taking them out with him to Mount Olivet, lifted up his
hands and gave them his blessing, and so ascended up visibly to heaven before their eyes, till a cloud interposed and took him out of their sight. Bow thyself down, my soul, to receive with joy and gratitude this blessing of thy Saviour ascending now to his Father and to thy Father: follow him in spirit, and contemplate the triumphs and joy of all the heavenly legions that come out to meet him, and attend him to his Father’s throne; see how he brings along with him all the patriarchs, prophets, and spirits of the just, into those regions of eternal bliss, and presents them to his Father as the first fruits of his purchase, which he had made upon earth with his precious blood. See with joy thy human nature, in the person of thy Lord, raised above all the Cherubim and Seraphim, and seated at the right hand of God; and exercise thyself upon this occasion in acts of love, in the way of congratulation and of rejoicing at the exaltation and triumphs of thy Saviour.
Consider 2ndly, that our Lord, by his ascension, has taken possession of the kingdom of heaven, not only for himself but also for us. He purchased this kingdom for us with his own blood, he opened the gates of it by his death, he showed us the way to it by his resurrection; and by his ascension he has given us as it were an earnest of our coming one day there to reign with him. He is our head, we are his members; it is but natural that where the head is there the members should also he; it would be unnatural - it would be keeping them in a state of violence - to keep them separate from their head. What comfort, then, to Christian souls to see their head, by this mystery of his ascension unto heaven, raised to the highest seat in that eternal kingdom, in order to draw them thither after him, and in the mean time preparing a place for them there, that he may in proper time come and 'take them to himself; that where he is they also may be!' - St. John xiv.
Consider 3rdly, what further motives we have for rejoicing in the ascension of our Lord when we reflect that he has entered into heaven in quality of our parent, of our friend, of out advocate and mediator, of our high priest, &c. O what encouragements are here to raise our hopes! We have a tender father in heaven, the true parent of our souls, who has also power in the court of heaven, and takes exceedingly to heart our true interest; we have there, in the person of our redeemer, a most affectionate friend, who loves us with an incomparable love; we have a most faithful mediator and advocate, who ever pleads for us with the powerful eloquence of his sacred wounds, which he continually presents to his Father in our behalf; we have a high priest who, to make atonement for us, has carried into this heavenly sanctuary, not the blood of oxen or of goats, but his own most sacred blood, shed for obtaining for us an everlasting redemption. O see, my soul, upon how many accounts thou oughtest to rejoice on the festival of the ascension of our Lord if thou either lovest him or thyself.
Conclude to consider this festival of the ascension of our Lord as one of the principal solemnities of the year. The church of God considers it as such, and therefore daily commemorates in a particular manner, in the most sacred mysteries, not only the passion and resurrection but also the ascension of our heavenly spouse, as the mystery which put the last seal as it were to the great work of our redemption, and placed this flesh of ours in heaven, even at the right hand of the Father, which, at the fall of our first parents, had been sentenced to return to its original earth.
Consider first, that as we ought to imitate the resurrection of the Lord by a spiritual resurrection from the death of sin to the life of grace, so we must also imitate the ascension of our Lord by a spiritual ascension into heaven, and by dwelling there in spirit with him; that, as we hope one day to ascend thither after him in effect, we may learn the way by ascending after him every day in affection. Our Lord has told us that where our treasure is there our heart shall also be. Our treasure is that which we love the most and the best of all things; now, if this be Christ, as it ought to be, as he is ascended into heaven, our treasure is in heaven; and therefore our heart should follow its treasure by ascending after him in spirit into heaven, and by fixing there its abode with its be loved. O happy ascension of love, which teaches the soul to find in some measure a heaven upon earth, and interiorly to have always her conversation in heaven, whatever occupation or company she may he exteriorly engaged in upon earth.
Consider 2ndly, that in order to he qualified to ascend after Christ our Lord into heaven, we must first get rid of our vices and criminal passions, for none of these can he admitted into that blessed abode; there is no room for them there. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, can have no place in heaven; all their pursuits are earthly - instead of carrying the soul upwards towards heaven, they press her down towards hell. They are all slaves to Satan; they bind the poor soul fast in chains; they will not suffer her to follow after Christ; they are his mortal enemies. See then, my soul, if none of these have dominion over thee; see if pride, avarice, passion, or lust have not more influence on thee, to keep thee afar off from Christ in this region of sin and death, than the love of God has to draw thee up to heaven after him. O beg of thy Lord, through his triumphant ascension, by which 'ascending on high he led captivity captive; he gave gifts to men,’ Eph. iv. 8, that he would break all thy bonds asunder, which keep thee from ascending after him, and by the precious gift of his grace set thee at liberty to fly up wards with the wings of the dove, till thou canst come to repose in him and with him.
Consider 3rdly, that the soul can never be rightly qualified to fly up towards heaven by this spiritual ascension, as long as her wings, that is, her affections, are not disengaged. For as the bird cannot fly if its wings be either entangled or daubed over with bird-lime, so the soul cannot fly if her affections are either entangled in the nets of the world, or defiled with the bird-lime of a misplaced love. So that it is not enough for a soul that desires to ascend to heaven after Christ to be free from downright lust or other scandalous excesses and passions; but she must also be disengaged in her affections from every love of person or thing that ties her down as it were to the earth; that captivates her thoughts with solicitudes and perplexities or otherwise takes off her heart from the love of God. All such love as this disqualifies the soul from flying towards heaven: it keeps her far below, grovelling in the mire. Not let her flatter herself that her affections are innocent, because the object is not of itself criminal; for let the object be what it will, it is a crime to prefer it to God, or to love it so as to forfeit for its sake the love of God.
Conclude to be jealous of thyself; how thou placest thy affections here upon earth, lest thou hinder thy flight towards thy true treasure in heaven: ‘my love is my weight,’ says St. Augustine, ‘that way am I carried, whithersoever I am carried.'
Consider first, that as in consequence of the ascension of our Lord we ought to be daily carried as it were upon the wings of love up to him in his heavenly kingdom, so we ought by this frequent ascending thither to be daily more and more enamoured with that kingdom of love; to conceive the highest ideas of that incomprehensible happiness of the soul’s being there eternally united to her God, and absorbed in him, and with the most ardent desires to long daily more and more for this fountain of life. But what then must the sentiments of the soul be, when after she has begun, by the practice of this devotion, to relish something of the sweetness of the good things of her Lord in the land of the living, she finds herself still a prisoner in this foreign land, in this earthly Babylon? O how does she wish to be delivered from this captivity! to see an end of this long pilgrimage! How does she lament her banishment in this vale of tears, at so great a distance from her true country! How does she despise this miserable world, and even loathe its choicest enjoyments! O my soul, that these were your sentiments.
Consider 2ndly, and give ear to the exhortation of the apostle, Coloss. iii. 1, &c., ‘If thou be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; and the things that are above, not the things that are on the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then shall you also appear with him in glory.’ How happy are those Christians that enter into these sentiments upon occasion of the ascension of our Lord; who consider Christ as the great object of their love and their true life; and, as he is in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God, turn all their intentions and affections towards heaven; who consider this their true life as absent arid as hidden from them here below, and therefore, continually aspire after that happy revolution when they shall cease to die and begin to live. And in the mean time, whilst they remain in this region of death, they seek, as much as they can, to divest themselves of this body of death, by mortifying, as the apostle admonishes, their members that are upon earth, and by crucifying the flesh with its vices and concupiscences.
Consider 3rdly, that as we are informed by church history, our Lord, at his ascension, left the last prints of his feet upon the top of Mount Olivet, in the place from whence he ascended, which no length of time, nor encampments of armies, or other accidents, nor even industry of man, could ever efface or cover over, that we might learn that the true way for all that desire to follow Christ, by ascending after him to heaven, is to have his footsteps always before their eyes, and to walk in them by a diligent imitation of his life and conversation. They that are careful to walk in his footsteps are his disciples indeed; and they that are his disciples indeed, will infallibly, if they persevere, ascend to heaven after him, and be for ever with him.
Conclude to lay up in thy heart all these lessons which Christ desires to teach thee in his ascension and so to adhere to his footsteps, that nothing in life or death may ever separate thee from him.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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