The following is my review for David W. Saxton’s book, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015).
The goal of this book is, “to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. This book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day” (p. 2). He aims to use two primary sources in this study: (1) the Christian Scriptures and (2) the writings of the puritans.
Summary: The book contains 12 chapters and a conclusion. Each chapter is rather short and digestible averaging about 10 pages per chapter. The first five chapters seem to be a bit more foundational in that they establish the need, provide the definition, and biblical teaching on meditation. The first chapter consists of an argument for the resurgence of biblical meditation in the Christian community. He argues that the lack of maturity in the Western church can be traced to a lack of biblical meditation. The second chapter provides a short description of false forms of meditation (Roman Catholic spirituality, mysticism/Eastern religions, etc.). The third chapter defines biblical meditation from a lexical study of both Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) words that communicate this concept. The fourth chapter provides the Puritan practice of “occasional meditation” which is spontaneous meditation throughout daily activities. The fifth chapter focuses on “deliberate meditation” which is the believer’s specific commitment to daily set time aside for meditation.
Beginning with the sixth the chapter the focus shifts towards practical methods of meditation. The sixth chapter provides some practical tips for Christian meditation (i.e., choosing a time of day and a methodology). The seventh chapter indicates that meditation can be most helpful in specific instances in the Christian life (i.e., daily Bible reading, Sunday worship, sermon/study preparation, difficulties in life). Chapter eight focuses on choosing particular subjects to meditate upon. They revolve around basic theological themes (i.e., the attributes of God, the realities of heaven and hell, etc.). Chapter nine provides the reasons or motivations for Christian meditation. Chapter ten provides the benefits of meditation which is ultimately because it heightens the believer’s affections for God. Chapter eleven focuses on the obstacles to practicing meditation (i.e., difficulty, business, guilt, distractions, etc.). Chapter twelve focuses on the practical aspects of starting the discipline of Christian meditation (prayer, preparation, and perseverance). The concluding chapter is a final exhortation to make meditation a discipline because it roots the believer in more of Christ.
Weakness(es): Chapter two, “Unbiblical Forms of Meditation” could have been better developed. While it was not the point of the book to provide an apologetic against each erroneous practice I do think he could have been more specific on identifying, defining, and addressing incorrect practices of meditation. For the purposes of the book the chapter was ok, but could have been a bit more developed.
The book, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, did have one weakness. Not many may agree, but it did feel like there were too many quotes from the Puritans. Before an objection is raised and someone point out the subtitle, “The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation” the quotes from the Puritans may have been two or three too many per section. Perhaps quoting one Puritan in a paragraph to solidify their position would have sufficed, but it did feel like an overwhelmingly large portion of the book was written by the Puritans rather than by Saxton. With that said, when Saxton does write he is excellent in doctrine and the application of doctrine.
Outside of this minor critique (some may not even view this as a critique) the book did not have any glaring or major deficiencies.
Strength(s): One of the greatest strengths of the book is it’s readability. The book is a devotional read that any believer can pick up and find encouragement. While the book is highly devotional it does not mean it is not thought provoking. The book excels at calling out the Christian’s heart and exhorting it to gain more of Christ through the practice of Christian meditation.
On a related note the book is a great mix of theology and application. I understand that theology and practice should never stand at odds with one another, but this work is a great example of how theology must be applied.
The book also is great at providing tips for the implementation and perseverance through the spiritual disciplines. His honesty with our culture’s distractions and spiritual sluggish mentality are all confronted with humility and suggestions for how to overcome such distractions.
Recommendation(s): I do believe that the author accomplished his goal to encourage all believers to embrace the spiritual discipline of meditation. It was biblically convincing, spiritually challenging, and ultimately refreshing to be encouraged to practice a discipline that will only give the believer more of Christ. I recommend that believers, both young and old, read this book. The nature of meditation has been hijacked by society and therefore it does seem to be a widely misunderstood discipline by Christians of all demographics.
Quote(s): The book has several quotable sections, but here are a few that stuck out to me:
“Divine meditation has a multifaceted value. It provides us spiritual discernment; improves our Bible reading and prayer lives; applies the general truths of the Bible personally and specifically; strengthens our hearts by focusing on spiritual truths; and provides lasting benefit from dwelling on the truths we know” (p. 5).
“Why is meditation so neglected when it is so important and delightful? simply put, meditation is difficult work—work that is opposed by the distracting spirit of our age, our adversary the devil, and the carnal raging of our hearts. Since modern Christianity stresses an instant, easy kind of spirituality, it is not difficult to see why the practice of meditation is so often neglected” (p. 12).
“Whether morning or evening, the important principle is to do whatever it takes to develop a consistent habit of meeting with the Lord for Bible reading, meditation, and prayer” (p. 54).
“Some wrongly blame their dark sin on a corrupt society, deficient upbringing, or some other secondary reason. Meditating on sin causes the believer to see that the real problem is his own wicked heart. Thus, meditating on sin convinces sinners that their deliverance is not in themselves. It is in the free, cleansing grace of Christ” (p. 80).
“One of the modern believer’s plaguing sins is possessing only a superficial knowledge of the Bible. He has lost spiritual depth because he has lost meditation. This brings widespread lack of discernment throughout the modern church. Deliberate meditation upon Scripture builds a habit of thinking through decisions in a biblically thoughtful manner” (p. 98).
“Without redeeming the time [Eph 5:16] through godly meditation, one will be overcome with the evil of the age and be left vulnerable to polluted, depraved thoughts that incessantly seek a mind upon which to work their evil. Christians come into the faith with a sandstorm of carnal baggage swirling around in their minds. No believer will overcome the effects of mental pollution without using his time to continually renew himself. Christians who refuse to use their time to meditate upon the Word are as foolish as an army sentry without bullets or a fireman without a water source” (p. 101).
“Many Christians are discouraged because they believe the depressing lies of their fallen hearts rather than actively engaging and controlling their minds with the uplifting truths of God and His great redemption” (p. 112).
“Success no longer is measured by Christian maturity and discernment. Rather, it is judged by the quality of praise music, the comfort of the building, and the increased size of the congregation. Godly meditation is the answer to this superficial religion. Meditation broadens the shoulders and deepens the experience of God’s people. It sobers foolish minds and matures childish reasoning” (p. 113).
“Many believers have not been gifted to be Bible teachers or pastors who prepare weekly lessons. I am thankful for the variety of gifts in the church. Some are able to organize fellowship dinners; some take care of removing clogs in church drains; some care for young children during meetings; and others take care of important financial matters in the local assembly. However, no matter how practically minded the Lord has programmed His people, each believer needs to be strong in the grace of meditation. One reason why practically minded working people struggle with meditation is because they misunderstand its goals. Its purpose is not to promote a life of useless contemplation, but to apply Scripture practically to one’s life” (p. 117).
“Why does a person find time to watch a two-hour movie and yet not find time to read God’s Wor and meditate upon it? It is because he simply does not see the value in it and is unwilling to spare the time for it. Thus, the way to overcome excuses is to admit that the Lord does not retain first place in one’s life” (p. 118).
“Perhaps the best advice I could offer someone who desires to become a stable, godly person of meditation is this: turn off the television [I would add cell phone, mobile device, laptop, etc.] and fight the temptation to be an entertainment-dominated person . . . In meditation, Christ offers His people something that all the movies and websites could never provide: a lasting relationship of love with the Lord of glory and grace, Jesus Christ. More than this, Christ promises to provide the strength we need to seek His face . . . Who would be foolish enough to exchange gold for dirt? Who would neglect knowing the love of Christ for Hollywood filth?” (pp. 134-35).