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In the next two posts, I want to consider a couple other important traits of contemplation: contemplation as (1) revelation grounded and (2) personally purposed. Today’s post will describe contemplation as gazing God in his revelation (which is both external and internal); the next post will suggest that contemplation likewise gazes God through remembering him in his past deeds and seeing him presently in one’s life in a gospel-centered manner.

Contemplation is grounded in revelation. (This point is implicit in previous posts before, such as here and here.) In order to demonstrate further this point, I will use Psalm 119.

Revelation can be understood in both an external and internal sense, reflecting what the Reformers considered to be the principium cognoscendi externum and the principium cognoscendi internum, namely, the Word and Spirit. In other words, revelation is external and internal, whether a revelation occurs objectively to the human person in the form of a disclosure of information (external) or subjectively to the human person in the form of an unveiling of perception (internal). Following Psalms 1 and 19, Psalm 119 beautifully describes the love of the law of the Lord (external) and the necessity of the illumination of the Lord (internal).

While the purpose of this discussion is not to give a detailed account of this psalm, it is important to establish what this psalm has to say or imply about contemplation. Kidner reflects the overall picture of the psalm: “The mood is meditative; the poet’s preoccupations and circumstances come to light in prayers and exclamations, not marshalled in sequence but dispersed throughout the psalm.”[1] As the poet describes in many ways, Scripture (e.g., law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandment, ordinances, word, promise) is the joyful basis of the poet’s reflection. “I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!” (v. 31). He does not simply contemplate God in his being but rather God as he revealed himself. As the poet does so, he acknowledges that, by seeking God in his word, the poet is liberated from sin (v. 133), guided by light (v. 105), given new life (vv. 37, 40), and given hope and stability (vv. 49-50), among other things.[2] To know God is to know God in his revelation. The psalm thus reminds us that gospel contemplation is grounded in Scripture meditation. This notion accounts for why the lectio divina begins by “biting” Scripture (i.e., reading it) and ends by “ingesting” it (i.e., contemplating it). Contemplation is ultimately grounded in God’s revelation.

The psalm also shows that the believer requires a special inner revelation in order to perceive the word. The Mosaic law, no matter how high and wonderful a revelation, is simply not complete. David prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps 119:18). David thus prays that God might “open” his eyes so that he can actually perceive what is in the law. One insightful commentator, Leslie C. Allen, rightly deduces: the text shows that the “Torah represents God” and the “hiding of God’s face in standard psalm usage is replaced . . . by hiding the Torah.”[3] Because the Torah is “hidden,” in other words, the psalmist asks for a personal, internal revelation (i.e., “open my eyes”) to perceive or understand correctly. Reflecting upon the meaning of revelation, Colin Brown concludes, “In this way Samuel [in Sam 3:7] and David [in Ps 119:18] are able to hear God’s instructions and promises.”[4] In some sense, then, God’s revealing activity happens in both an external (covenantal speaking) and internal (covenantal hearing) sense. Contemplation thus requires the special illumination of the Spirit.

Contemplation fundamentally involves gazing God in his revelation, and this requires the work of the Spirit. Contemplation is thus ultimately based upon the revelation of God (in this case, Scripture), and it requires the illumination of God by the Spirit. The next post will use Psalms 77 and 17 to show that “gazing God” is a profoundly personal matter.

[1]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 452. For a most detailed explanation of the setting, tone, and structure of the psalm, see Allen, Psalms 101-50, 180-192.

[2]For a more comprehensive list, see Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 456-457.

[3]Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-50, rev. ed., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 186.

[4]Brown, “Revelation,” 3:311. Regarding the meaning, John Calvin perceptively writes, “Having acknowledged, that power to keep the law is imparted to men by God, he, at the same time, adds, that every man is blind, until he also enlighten the eyes of his understanding.” In other words, God must “remove the veil from our eyes” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms 93-150, trans. James Anderson, The Calvin Translation Society [Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 413).