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I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.—Ver. 113.
THERE are in men two great influencing affections—love and hatred; one serves for choice and pursuit, the other for flight and aversation. The great work of grace is to fix these upon their proper objects. If we could but set our love and hatred right, we should do well enough in the spiritual life. Man fallen is but the anagram of man in innocency; we have the same affections, but they are misplaced; we love where we should hate, and hate where we should love; our affections are like a member out of joint, out of its proper place, as if the arms should hang backward. If men knew how to bestow their love and hatred, they would be other manner of persons than now they are. In the text we are taught what to do in both by David’s example. See how he bestowed his love and hatred: ‘I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.’ Love was made for God, and for all that is of God’s side, his law, his ordinances, his image, &c.; but hatred was made for sin. All sin must be hated, of what kind and degree soever it be. Every drop of water is water, and every spark of fire is fire; so the least degree of sin is sin. Thoughts are but a partial act, a tendency towards an action, and yet thoughts are sin. Of all the operations of the soul, the world thinketh a man should be least troubled about his thoughts; of all actual breaches of the law these are most secret; therefore we think thoughts are free, and subject to no tribunal. Most of the religion that is in the world is but man’s observance, and therefore we let thoughts go without dislike or remorse, because they do not betray us to shame or punishment. 156These are most venial in man’s account, they are but partial or half acts. What! not a thought pass but we must make conscience of it? this is intolerable. Once more, of all thoughts, vain thoughts would escape censure. A thought that hath apparent wickedness in it, a murderous or an unclean thought, a natural conscience will rise up in arms against it; but vain thoughts we think are not to be stood upon. Oh! but David was sensible that these were contrary to the law of God, transgressions as well as other thoughts, and therefore inconsistent with his love, to God: ‘I hate vain thoughts.’ Secondly, He bestows his love on the law. Naturally men hate God as a lawgiver and as a judge; they cannot hate him as a creator and preserver; under that formality they do not hate God, but the ground of our hatred to God is his law: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither in deed can be.’ But now, saith David, ‘I love thy law;’ I do not fear it, but love it. I do not only keep it, but love it. A child of God will bless God for his commands as well as his promises; he owns God in the holiness of his law, and looks upon it as a copy and draught of God’s own perfection; it is a good law; there is a suitableness between it and a renewed heart, and therefore I love thy law. The one of these is inferred out of the other, his love to the law is mentioned as a ground of his hatred against vain thoughts. Love is the great wheel of the soul, that sets all a-going. Therefore sin is hated because the law is loved. He that hath a true respect to the law of God is sensible of the least contrariety to it, for hatred is uniform. The philosopher tells us it is to the whole kind; as Hainan, when he hated Mordecai, sought to destroy all the people of the Jews; and when a man hates sin, he hates all sin, even where he finds it, in thoughts, words, speeches: love will not allow it.
Well, then, I love thy law, therefore do I hate vain thoughts; that is, though I cannot wholly keep them out of my heart, yet I hate them, resist them, watch against them, they are not allowed there. Without further glossing, the point is this:—
Doct. It is a sign of an unfeigned love to the law of God when we hate vain thoughts.
I observe it, because a man never begins to be really serious and strict till he makes conscience of his thoughts, his time, and is sensible of his last account. Of his thoughts, for that is a sign he minds an entire subjection to the law of God, that he may obey it from his very soul. Of his time, that it may not pass away before his great work will be done. Of his account, that is not far off; the Christian that lives in a due sense of his great account is always preparing to reckon with God. The one of these doth enforce the other. A man that is sensible he shall be called to a reckoning will be careful how he spends his time, and he that is careful how he spends his time will make conscience of his thoughts.
1. To give a taste of the vanity of thoughts.
2. Show what sins most occasion vanity of thoughts.
3. The reasons why a godly man will make conscience of his thoughts. First, Some taste of the vanity of thoughts. There are three
solemn words by which the New Testament expresseth thoughts:—(1.) Λογισμοὶ, discourses with its compound διαλογισμοὶ, which we 157render imaginations. (2.) Θυμήσεις, and sometimes ἐνθυμήσεις, musings. (3.) Νοήματα, which we render devices. These three ways the dunghill of corruption reeks out by our thoughts; sometimes in our vain arguings and reasonings, by way of image and representations in our musings, sometimes by way of foolish inventions and devices that are in the heart of man.
1. Λόγισμοι, carnal discourses of the mind, come under the notion of vain thoughts. If our more refined reason came to scan them, how light and vain would they be found! Our reasonings are usually against the sovereignty of God: Rom. ix. 20, ‘Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?’ We cannot see how it is just that by one man’s transgression all should be made sinners, that God should choose some and endow them with grace, and leave others in their corruption; how he should have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and harden whom he will harden. Man would be free from God, but would not have God free; and therefore, contrary to these reasonings and vain discourses, the scriptures plead the sovereignty of God, Mat. xx. 15, to show he may do with his own as pleaseth him. And as against the right and sovereignty of God, so there are strange discourses against the providence of God, many anxious traverses and debates in our minds; and therefore the scripture takes notice how distrust works by our thoughts: Mat. vi. 25, ‘Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink,’ &c.; and ver. 27, ‘Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?’ We are tortured with many suspensive workings and discourses of mind within ourselves, whereas a little trust in God would save many of these vain arguings: Prov. xvi. 3, ‘Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.’ He showeth that want of trust in God, and his word and providence, and committing all to his dispose, is the cause of a great deal of confusion and darkness in our thoughts, and breedeth such perverse reasonings against the providence of God. So against the truth of the gospel. The law is natural, and runneth in by its own light, with evident conviction upon the heart; but the gospel is suspected, looked upon with prejudice, received as a golden dream, and as a well-devised fable. We have reasonings in ourselves against that which is discovered concerning the salvation of sinners by Christ; therefore the apostle saith, 2 Cor. x. 5, ‘Bringing into captivity every thought,’ imaginations, or λόγισμοι, reasonings, those thoughts that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God in Christ. Then disputes against Christian faith, the mysteries of the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ; we are saying, as the Virgin Mary when the angel brought her tidings of it, ‘How can these things be?’ So we have perverse reasonings against positive institutions: 2 Kings v. 12, ‘Are not Abana and Pharpar better than all the rivers of Israel?’ We are apt to say, Why is this? The means of grace seems foolish and weak: 1 Cor. i. 19, ‘It pleaseth God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.’ So our arguings in perverting the truth of the gospel and holy principles of the word to the countenance of our lusts, as Deut. xxix. 19; when we reason thus within ourselves: ‘We shall have peace though we walk in the imagination of our own hearts;’ we need not be so nice and strict; God will be merciful, he will pardon all: Jude 4, ‘Turning 158the grace of God into lasciviousness;’ wresting the truth from its purpose to countenance a laziness. It is good to observe the different arguings in scripture from the same principle. To instance in this principle, our time is short, what doth a holy man argue from it? 1 Cor. vii. 29, ‘Let those that have wives be as those that have none, those that weep as though they wept not,’ &c. Therefore we should be strict, temperate, sober in the use of all these things. Now, let a carnal wretch work upon this principle, and what inference doth he draw? ‘Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die,’ 1 Cor. xv. 32. See this other principle, ‘The grace of God brings salvation ‘to poor sinners, Titus ii. 12. How doth a gracious heart work upon it? ‘Teaching us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ &c. Oh! what shall be done for this God, the grace that offers such salvation by Christ? Let a carnal wretch work upon this principle, and he will take liberty to sin that grace may abound: Rom. vi. 1, ‘Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.’ Such kind of reasonings there are in the hearts of the godly: 2 Sam. vii. 2, saith David, ‘I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.’ God hath fenced me with his providence, what then? Here I may sit down and rest, and take my ease and pleasure, and gratify my sensual lusts? No; he doth not argue so, but what shall I do for God, that hath done so much for me? Now see those ungracious Jews after their return, how they reason: Hag. i. 2, ‘The time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built;’ no matter for God’s house. It is the Lord’s hand, let Eli work upon that: 1 Sam. iii. 18, ‘Let him do what seemeth him good;’ he draws from it a submissive patience. Oh! the sovereign God will take his own way, and the creature must not murmur, repine, and set up an anti-providence against him. But now saith that carnal wretch, 2 Kings vi. 33, ‘Behold, this evil is of the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?’ He murmurs, and frets, and grows impatient. Solomon tells us, Prov. xxvi. 9, ‘As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.’ A thorn was their instrument of sewing; now when a drunkard should manage his needle, he wounds and gores himself; so is a parable in a fool’s mouth: a carnal heart wounds and gores himself with the most holy principle of religion.
2. The second sort of vain thoughts are ἐνθυμήσεις, musings; and here take notice the vanity of our thoughts appears—
[1.] In the slipperiness and inconstancy of them. We run from object to object in a moment, and our thoughts look like strangers one upon another, wandering like those ‘vagabond Jews,’ Acts xix. 13; so they are called because of their uncertain station and frequent removes. Eccles. vi. 9. ‘Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire;’ in the original, it is the working out of the soul; Usually we have a straggling soul, roving, wandering here and there, and all in an instant; especially this roving madness may we take notice of when we are employed in holy things, hearing, prayer, meditation. It is strange to see what impertinent, sudden discursions there are from good to lawful, from lawful to sinful, and how far the heart is removed from God when we are before him; when a man hath brought his body to God, his heart is turned back again. These 159vain thoughts pursue and haunt us in duties, so that we mingle sulphur with our incense (it is Gregory’s comparison), even in our prayers and holy addresses to God.
[2.] The unprofitableness and folly of our musings. Our thoughts are set upon trifles and frivolous things, neither tending to our own profit nor the benefit of others: Prov. x. 20, ‘The heart of the wicked is little worth;’ all their debates, conceits, musings are of no value. ‘The tongue of the just is as choice silver;’ but all their thoughts are taken up about childish vanity and foolish conceits: Prov. xxiv. 9, ‘The thought of foolishness is sin;’ not only the thought of wickedness, but foolishness. Thoughts are the first-born of the soul, the immediate issues of the mind, yet we lavish them away upon every trifle. Follow men all the day long, and take an account of their thoughts. Oh! what madness and folly are in all the musings they are conscious to! Ps. xciv. 11, ‘The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vanity.’ If we did judge as God judges, all the thoughts, reasonings, discourses of the mind, if they were set down in a table, we might write at the bottom, Here is the sum and total account of all, nothing but vanity.
[3.] The carnality and fleshliness- of our thoughts: Phil. iii. 19, ‘They mind earthly things.’ How sweet is it to us to be thinking of worldly matters, how to grow great, to advance ourselves here! This carnal mind is very natural to us. We are in our element, and do with a great deal of savour and sweetness think of these things; it makes our heart merry: but when we come to think of that which is good, we are tired presently, and it is very tedious to spend our thoughts upon them. Good things come upon us like a flash of lightning, soon gone, but on carnal things we can spend our thoughts freely. These carnal musings are stirred up by carnal desire or carnal delight; sometimes by a desire of worldly things, so they are forming images and suppositions of those things they hope for; as faith works in a godly man, forming images and suppositions of that happy time when they shall be gathered to God, and all holy ones, and rejoice in his presence. He hath a faith, ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,’ Heb. xi. 1, which represents his hopes to him. So carnal men dream of preferment, riches, honours, vain glorious applause; they are looking out after their hopes, they send their thoughts as messengers of the soul to forestall the contentment of those carnal things which they do expect. Sometimes they are employed by carnal delight, when the thing we muse upon’ is enjoyed. The complacency men take in any carnal enjoyment, it is part of this vanity when we go musing upon our own worth and our own excellency; as that king, Dan. iv. 30, ‘Is not this great Babel that I have built for the honour of my majesty?’ Men take some time every day to worship the idol of self, and dote and gaze upon their own excellencies and achievements, their wisdom and wit: Hab. i. 15, ‘They gather them in their drag, therefore they rejoice and are glad.’ Or else pleasing themselves in their estates, dialogising within themselves, as the word is, Luke xii. 13, ‘Soul, take thine ease; thou hast goods laid up for many years,’ &c.
[4.] By the impiety and apparent filthiness of them. When men 160are taken up with sin so as to act it over in their own minds, delighting themselves in fancying of sin, either by way of revenge or lust, or any other such thing, as an unclean person sets up a stage in his own heart: 2 Peter ii. 14, ‘Eyes full of adultery,’ or the adulteress; their fancy is upon the beauty of women, their soul is set upon it.
3. The third thing is νοήματα, devices. There are many devices and carnal inventions in the hearts of men which the scripture takes notice of; as—
[1.] When men devise, debate in their judgments by carnal means, without complying with God: James iv. 8, ‘Cleanse your hands, ye sinners, and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.’ By vain thoughts they mind carnal projects, how to get from under the judgment without reformation, humiliation, and complying with God, by human means or sinful shifts, without God’s warrant and allowance: Isa. ix. 10, when it was ill with them they hope to mend it: ‘The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.’ The state of our affairs is bad, but we can work it into better.
[2.] When men spend their time wholly to compass their carnal end; as he, Luke xii. 18, ‘I will pull down my barns, and build greater,’ &c. When they sacrifice their precious thoughts to their interest and lusts, and catering and progging how to satisfy carnal nature, making provision for the flesh to fulfil it in the lusts thereof. Or—
[3.] When men’s designs are plainly wicked, and tend to the mischief of others: Prov. xvi. 30, ‘He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things; moving his lips, he bringeth evil to pass.’ Moving the lips and shutting the eyes are gestures and postures of men that are pensive and musing: Micah ii. 1, ‘Woe unto them that devise evil upon their beds;’ when men seek to spin and weave out a web of wickedness, and carry on their sins with the greatest secrecy. This, in short, is some taste of the vanity of our thoughts.
Secondly, What are the sins that do most usually engross and take up our thoughts? I answer—
1. Uncleanness. Speculative wickedness makes way for active: ‘He hath committed adultery in his heart,’ Mat. v. 28. There is polluting ourselves by our thoughts, and this is a sin usually works that way.
2. Revenge. Liquors are soured when long kept; so when we dwell upon discontents they turn to revenge: Prov. xiv. 17, ‘He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly, and a man of wicked devices is hated.’ He that is passionate and soon angry is a fool; but when a man is not only angry but malicious, that puts him upon wicked devices; when he doth concoct his anger, he is a fool to purpose. Purposes of revenge are most sweet and pleasant to carnal nature: Prov. xvi. 14, ‘Frowardness is in his heart; he deviseth mischief continually.’ When men are full of revengeful and spiteful thoughts.
3. Envy. It is a sin that feeds upon the mind, 1 Sam. xviii. 9. Those songs of the women that Saul had slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands, they ran in Saul’s mind, therefore he hated David. Envy is an evil disease, that dwelleth in the heart, and bewrays itself mostly in thoughts.161
4. Pride. Either pride in the desires or pride in the mind, either vainglory or self-conceit; this is entertaining our hearts with whispers of vanity: therefore it is said, Luke i. 51. ‘He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.’ Proud men are full of imaginations.
5. Covetousness, which is nothing but vain musings and exercises of their heart: 2 Peter ii. 14, ‘A heart they have, exercised with covetous practices.’ And it withdraws the heart in the very time of God’s worship: Ezek. xxxiii. 31, ‘Their heart goeth after their covetousness.’
6. Distrust is another thing which usually takes up our thoughts, distracting motions against God’s providence.
Thirdly, Upon what grounds we are to make conscience of our thoughts?
1. Because they are irregularities contrary to the law of God. It is said, Ps. xix. 7, ‘The law of God is pure, converting the soul.’ The law of God differs herein from the laws of men. The commands of the greatest and most mighty potentates upon earth can go no further than the regulating of the conversation, for that is all they can take account of; but the law of God reacheth to the motions of the inward man, and to the reducing of our thoughts to the obedience of God; for God hath a tribunal in the heart and conscience, he searcheth and trieth the reins, knows all our thoughts afar off, and therefore it is proper to him to give laws to our thoughts.
2. God hath declared much of his displeasure against them. The devil’s sin, for which he was cast out of heaven, was a sin of thought, an. aspiring thought, possibly against the imperial dignity of God. And so great were his judgments upon men, that he doth not so much take notice of outward acts as of inward thoughts; therefore, Gen. vi. 5, he threatened the old world for the imagination of the thoughts of their hearts. We look to the stream, but God looks to the fountain. Acts are hateful to men, because liable to their cognisance; so Jer. vi. 19, ‘I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened to my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.’ Nay, in God’s process at the last day, when God comes to judge the world, it is said, ‘The secrets of their hearts shall be made manifest,’ 1 Cor. iv. 5. Men’s inward debates, counsels, reasonings, and thoughts, they shall be brought into the judgment.
3. Make conscience of thoughts, because among all sins thoughts are most considerable, and that in these respects:—
[1.] In respect of the subject. They are the sins of the highest part of man, the mind, which is the leading part of the soul. The errors and irregularities of the lower part of the soul are not so considerable as the counsels, debates, reasonings, principles that we are seasoned and guided by: Rom. viii. 7, ‘The wisdom of the flesh is enmity against God.’ That which should be the guide to man, his wisdom, puts him upon opposition. If sensual appetite were only in the fault, it were not so much.
[2.] From their nature. They are the immediate issues of the soul, the first-born of original corruption. The free acts of the heart do discover more of the temper of it than words and actions that are 162 more remote. A man may be known by his thoughts, but not so much known by his words and actions, for words and actions may be overruled by by-ends and restraints of fear and shame. Men may speak not as they would, do not as they would, but think as they would. To curry favour with others, a man may refrain his tongue, and do some unpleasing actions, or may profess opinions contrary to his own mind; but inward thoughts, being the immediate births of the soul, very much discover the temper of the man. Hereby you may take the best measure of your spirits. A gracious man is full of gracious thoughts, and a wicked man full of wicked thoughts: Prov. xii. 5, ‘The thoughts of the righteous are right, but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.’ Our thoughts we can best judge by, being the purest offspring of the mind, and the freest from restraint: Isa. xxxii. 8, ‘The liberal man deviseth liberal things.’ The unclean man is devising unclean things, the earthly man is always talking with himself about building, planting, trading; these things take up his mind. You cannot judge of a fountain by the current of water at a distance, six or seven miles off; it may receive a tincture from the channel through which it passeth; but just at the fountain where it bubbles up, there you can judge of the quality, whether sweet or bitter water: so you cannot judge of the soul by things that are more remote, and where by-ends may interpose: Mat. xv. 19, ‘Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications,’ &c. Evil thoughts come first; other things come from the heart, but not so immediately; therefore, thoughts being so considerable, we should make conscience of them.
[3.] They are considerable from their kind, here are the roots of all evils. Everything that we do, every deliberate act that is done by a reasonable creature argueth some foregoing thought, every temptation is fastened upon the heart by some intervening thought. Before sin be formed, brought forth, and becomes a complete sin, there are musings, which are, as it were, the incubations of the soul, or sitting a-brood upon the temptation: Isa. lix. 4, ‘They conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.’ The mind sits a-brood upon sin. It is thoughts that bring the heart and object together. First men think, then they love, then they practise. Beating the steel upon the flint makes the sparks fly out; so when the understanding beats and knocks upon the will by pregnant thoughts, by inculcation, that stirs up the affections. These are the bellows which blow up those latent sparks of sin that are in our souls; therefore, if you would make conscience of acts, you should make conscience of thoughts. It is the greatest imprudence that can be to think to do anything in reformation when we do not take care of our thoughts. See, when God adviseth us to return to him, Isa. lv. 7, he saith, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.’ In vain do we lop off the branches and let the root live. If we would forsake our way, we must first forsake our thoughts. When certain fowl pestered a man, he asked how he should be rid of them? The answer was, The nest must be destroyed, and they must be crushed in the egg. So here is the best way of crushing the egg, by dashing Babylon’s brats against the wall. So much is implied in that place, Jer. iv. 14, 163‘Wash thine heart from. wickedness, that thou mayest be saved: how long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?’ Wash thy heart, begin there. Medicines applied to the outward parts will do no good, unless the inwards be cleansed and purged; so until the soul be cleansed and purged from these evil thoughts, outward reformation will be to no purpose.
[4.] They are considerable in regard of their number, they are most numberless acts of the soul, Isa. lvii. 20. The sea is. always working, so the heart of man is always casting forth mire and dirt: Gen. vi. 5, ‘Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually.’ There is a mint in us that is always working towards that which is evil. This is a means to humble us. The Lord knows the best of our thoughts are but vain; this is that which raiseth the account in God’s book of remembrance, which makes us more admire the riches of his grace even to the very last. ‘Let him forsake his thoughts,’ Isa. lv. 7. What then? ‘I will multiply to pardon.’ Certainly, if thoughts be sins, God must not only pardon, but multiply to pardon.
Use 1. To humble us all, the best of us, from first to last. Vanity of heart sticks to us. Oh, how many carnal thoughts haunt us wherever we go! As thou walkest in the streets up and down, whereupon do thy thoughts run? The common vain thoughts should be laid to heart. Have we not a God, a Christ to think of, sweet and precious promises, heaven and glory, and the great concernments of our souls? and yet with what chaff do we fill our minds! We go thinking of every toy and trifle, grinding chaff instead of corn every day. Oh! how do we throw away our thoughts, rather than God should have them, upon every vain thing! It is very irksome a little to retire and recollect ourselves, and think of God, Christ, and heaven; but what a deal of vanity do we take into our minds! If our hearts were turned inside outward, and all our thoughts liable to the notice of men, as they are to the notice of God, what odious creatures should we be! and have we no reverence of the great God? The Lord knows our hearts; he knows we have thoughts enough and to spare, more than we know what to do withal, and he knows we are backward to exercise them upon him, and things that lead to communion with him. These thoughts are aggravated from the time, as upon God’s day, for then we are not to ‘think our own thoughts,’ Isa. lviii. 13; a Christian is then to sequester himself only for God. Nay, our vain heart bewrayeth itself in solemn duties; a man cannot go to prayer but the vanity of his thoughts will trouble him, and run about him when he is hearing the word; how do we course up and down like spaniels hither and thither! Yea, to humble ourselves because of our wicked thoughts, our desperate thoughts against the being of God: Ps. xiv. 1, ‘The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.’ Though we cannot open our eyes but the creature presently doth show us something of God, and call upon us whether we look upward or downward, yet how do we vent this thought? If there were no God, then we could live as we list, without check and restraint. Thoughts which arise within us against the truth of the gospel, as if it were but a well-devised fable; thoughts against the purity of God’s laws, that we need not be so strict, that it is but nice folly, that we shall do well enough without repenting, 164believing, minding the work of our salvation. Yea, we have thoughts against the light of nature, filthy, unclean thoughts, such as defile and stain the heart. Of earthly thoughts, how natural is that, in musing upon that esteem, honour, greatness that we shall have in the world! How do carnal thoughts haunt us, and this not only when we are in our natural condition, but even after grace! And Christians are mistaken that do not think those thoughts evil, though there be no consent of the will. I confess there are thoughts cast into the mind by Satan, but these not resisted, these cherished, fostered, they become ours; though they are children of Satan’s getting, and may be cast in, as the tempting of Christ was, by injection of thought; but then we entertain these things; as weeds thrown over the wall are not to be charged upon the gardener, but the envious man; but if the gardener lets them lie there and root there, then it is his fault.
Use 2. Do we love the law of God? Do we aim at a complete and entire subjection to the will of God? Do we desire to serve him in spirit? Here is the evidence. Do we hate vain thoughts? We cannot be free from them, but are they your burden? A child of God is pestered with them, though he hates them.
1. Do we give them entertainment? Jer. iv. 23, ‘How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?’ They may rush into a gracious heart, but they do not rest there. Wicked men may have good thoughts, but do not give them entertainment; take a snatch and away, but do not make a meal upon any spiritual truth; there is an occasional salute sometimes in wicked men of good things, but their heart doth not dwell upon them.
2. Do you make conscience of them? Do they put you upon remorse, caution, watchfulness, frequent recourse to God for pardon and grace? Acts viii. 22, ‘Pray, if perhaps the thoughts of thine heart may be forgiven thee.’ Are you humbled for them, as well as for other sins, because these grieve the Spirit of God, are conceived there where he hath his residence, chiefly in the heart? Doth this trouble you, that the Spirit should be grieved?
Use 3. It presseth us to take care of our thoughts. Thoughts fall under the judicature of God’s word, Heb. iv. 12. Thoughts are hateful to God: ‘The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,’ Prov. xv. 26. And as they are hated of him, so he knows them all, it is his prerogative to tell man his thoughts; he under stands our thoughts afar off, Ps. cxxxix. 2. What thoughts we have when we are walking, praying, employed in our calling, what comes in, what goes out; there is not a thought but God regards, and God will reckon with us about our thoughts.
1. Look more earnestly after a principle of regeneration, Rom. viii. 5. They that are after the flesh, employ their wisdom about the flesh, they are contriving for the flesh, savouring the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit savour the things of God, savour spiritual things. We must be renewed by the Spirit, The ground brings forth weeds, but not flowers of itself; so our hearts naturally bring forth vain thoughts, but they must be cultivated and dressed. We must be renewed in the spirit of our mind. There is nothing discovers the necessity of regeneration so much as this, that 165we must take care of our thoughts. Moral restraints may prevent the excesses of life, or regulate the outward man. If sin did lie only in words and deeds, human laws and edicts would be enough, and we needed no other discipline to bring us to heaven. There are excel lent laws for bridling man’s speech and practice, for these things man can take notice of; but he that is only good according to the laws of man, his goodness is too narrow, is not broad enough for God. It is the peculiar privilege of that judicature God hath set up to bring the thoughts under. Look that there may be within you a spring of holy thoughts.
2. Get a stock of sound knowledge. The mind of man is always working, and if it be not fed and supplied with good matter, it works upon that which is evil and vain. If there be not a plenty of good matter wherein to exercise yourselves, the soul will necessarily spend itself in vanity of thoughts. Now abundance of knowledge supplies and yields matter. It is a good thing when our reins instruct us in the night season, Ps. vi. 7, in the darkness and silence of the night; when we are taken off from all company, books, worldly employment, and distractions of sense, and the soul is left to itself, to its own operations, then to draw out knowledge, and have our reins instruct us. But men are barren of holy thoughts, and so are forced to give way to vanity: Deut. vi. 6, 7, ‘Bind them upon thy heart.’ What then? ‘When thou awakest it shall talk with thee;’ that is, as soon as you awake, before you have received images from abroad, a man is to parley with his soul about the course of his service that day. Words and thoughts are both fed by abundance in the heart. Thoughts are but verba mentis, words of the mind, and words are but thoughts expressed and languaged. Now if a man would have these things present when he is lying down and sitting up, then these words must be in his heart. A man must have a good treasure within, that he may bring forth out of his treasure things both new and old, Mat. xiii. 52. When the mind is the storehouse of truth, he will ever be drawing forth upon all occasions. He that hath more silver and gold in his pocket than brass farthings, brings forth gold and silver oftener than brass; so he that is stored with divine truths, and full of the knowledge of the Lord, his mind will more run upon these things, and will often out of the treasure of his heart bring forth things that are good.
3. Inure yourselves more to holy meditation. There must be some time to wind up the plummets, and lift up our hearts to God, Ps. xxv. 1. For want of this, no wonder if men’s thoughts are loose and scattered, when they are left at random, when they are never solemnly exercised in consideration of divine truth; ver. 99 of this psalm.
4. Begin with God: Ps. cxxxix. 8, ‘When I awake,’ saith David, ‘I am still with thee.’ As soon as we awake, our hearts should be in heaven; we should leave our hearts with God over-night, that we might find them with God in the morning. We owe God the first-fruits of our reason before we think of other things, for every day is but the lesser circle of our lives. We should begin with God before earthly things encroach upon us. Season your hearts with the thoughts of his holy presence; that is the means to make the fear of God abide upon us all the day after; and it is some recompense for those hours 166spent in sleep, wherein we showed not the least act of thankfulness to God, to exercise our reason again; and when we are awake we should be thinking of God.
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