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constitute our actions. He needeth not to look at the outward appearance, to know what the mind is about. Men may be deceived by mere voice and appearances. But with respect to the all-seeing God, in vain is the eye directed to the sacred page, or the inspired word upon the lips, if the thoughts, the mind, in short, the man himself, be occupied about other things.
But let the man who has subjected his thoughts to a thorough religious control, take the inspired volume. He opens it, and is at once prepared for an audience with the Most High. All the powers of his mind are at rest, save what are needed for the present duty. In solemn silence it listens to the voice of the Lord God, having neither eye, ear, nor perception for any thing else. His mind is not impatient of delay; it dwells with searching, prayerful curiosity upon the important sentences and the emphatic words.
With a mind thus under subjection, and even with no more than an ordinary share of intelligence, it is not necessary to read long portions of Scripture at one time. For instance, if the reading be in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, the first four verses might furnish full employment for an hour, or even a much longer period. Observe what a number of subjects are suggested by the first verse. It is as follows: “ There is, therefore, now, no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Half the words in this verse are emphatic. 1. A"condemnation” is spoken of, and we might inquire into its nature, and how it is merited. 2. There is said to be “no condemnation;" of course, none in this world, none in the next, no falling from grace, and an absolute certainty of life. 3. It is said there is no condemnation " now ;” implying that there once was, and delightfully contrasting the present time with some former period. 4. The word “ therefore" is used; there is said to be “therefore, now, no condemnation;" thus pointing to some previous conclusive reasoning on this point, to which we might refer. 5. The persons are next described, who are no longer under condemnation, namely, such as are “in Christ Jesus ;” and the question arises, What is it to be in Christ Jesus? To this (6thly) there is an answer; viz. “Walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Here you perceive, with the easiest possible analysis, at least six subjects of importance; and it would not be difficult to increase the number. Indeed, such is the richness of God's word, that, as the mind with searching interest dwells upon the sacred new ideas continually break forth ; light gathers upon it; the objects multiply and magnify; until, as when we survey the heavens through a telescope, where, to the unassisted eye, seemed only a few stars, we behold innumerable worlds and suns filling the immensity of the universe. So it is with the word of God, when contemplated through the medium of faith. It is itself a universe, full of glorious objects, among which the soul might expatiate forever.
Again; how important this control in the services of the sanctuary. We all come here professedly to worship God, and get religious bene
the sacred page, fit to our souls. But we must remember that “God is a spirit, and they that worship him," to be acceptable, “must worship him in spirit and in truth;" that is, with the sincere homage of the thoughts and affections. It is certain, also, that our thoughts and affections always go together, and in the nature of things are inseparable. It is impossible to have our thoughts on our worldly business, and our affections, at the same moment, directed towards God. Where the thoughts are, there the affections will be. Therefore, if we would keep our affections on God, while engaged in the services of his house, we must see that he has our thoughts.
Suppose, now, that we had the power of self-control, and could say effectually to our worldly thoughts, as Christ to his disciples, “Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder;" or as Abraham to his servants, “Abide ye here, and I will go yonder and worship.” How holy, how heavenly God's earthly courts would then seem to us!
What a resting place and refuge from worldly cares and labors, and from the bustle, noise and distractions of the world! How would the bands of worldliness which had been gathering around us during the week, be loosed every Sabbath day, and the soul be set free for the love, service and enjoyment of God! Such a power over the attention when in the house of God, though not easily acquired, must be a source of unspeakable pleasure and profit to the possessor.
But no where is the indispensable necessity of control over our thoughts more clearly seen, than in religious meditation. The very nature of such meditations supposes a fixed tendency of thought, a continuous train of reflections, in some one direction, on some one subject. That kind of meditation, indeed, which we have in view in this discourse, and which we would earnestly recommend as being especially serviceable to the soul, is a set and solemn employment, not only of the memory and understanding, but of all the powers of the soul, in contemplating some one spiritual subject. Having this power of meditation, and using it frequently, we shall not fail to acquaint ourselves with God and spiritual things. Our joys will be spiritual and enduring. Though we be destitute of earthly friends, and wealth, and the pleasures of the world; though destitute of books, and deprived of all outward means of enjoyment; though alone, amid some boundless desolation, we shall have strong consolation. Our graces will be active and victorious, and the daily joys of heaven will be ours. Once more.
This control of the thoughts, is the indispensable means of attaining elevated spirituality and holiness. It is the indispensable means. For, what I now refer to is not a mere condition of the outward life. It is rather a state of mind, in which the soul having, through grace, acquired a new moral nature, the tide of its thoughts and feelings sets naturally and steadily heavenward. Now this state of mind is always produced by the agency of the Holy Spirit; but, at the same time, through the instrumentality of the truth, and never, in
any eminent degree, by mere hasty glances, but by fixed and steady contemplations of the truth, and familiar acquaintance with it. În our
sanctification, the Spirit makes no use of truths which are not present in our minds none of truths, of which the mind at the time is unconscious. Unknown truth, forgotten truth, and disregarded truth, are all alike without influence
On the other hand, sudden and strong perceptions of the truth may exert, instrumentally, and often do exert a strong temporary influence upon us. They may produce conviction of sin; nay, conversion; and, after conversion, such hasty, transient, perceptions of the truth may set us forward rapidly for a time, but they will soon leave us to halt, if not to go backward. On the other hand, that steady, permanent influence, which, through the blessing of the Spirit, keeps the mind always spiritual, and sets us forward every day in holiness, leading us continually onward in attainments of divine knowledge and grace, -that influence is secured only by means of the religious subjection of our thoughts, which we are recommending. Such a control over them is not only important to our making elevated attainments in experimental religion, but it is indispensable. In order to this, we must be able to command our thoughts in prayer, and in the reading of the bible, and in our songs of praise to God, and in hearing his word, and in our meditations, and in our daily secular vocations.
The nature and importance of a religious discipline of the thoughts have been made sufficiently evident to permit us to pass to our third and last grand division of the subject, namely, how to acquire a religious control of the thoughts. This is to be done,
I. By bringing our thoughts under the influence of a lively faith. A weak faith will never subdue the thoughts. There must be the “powers of the world to come. The revelations of faith must stand forth to the mind with a realizing certainty, like the objects of sight.
II. By bringing the thoughts under the influence of love. Thought is subject to feeling. The heart governs the understanding. We think most and most easily about that we most love. We must love the truth, if we would come under its controling influence.
III. By bringing the thoughts under the influence of hope. Hope is an anchor of the soul. We are saved by hi pe. It is a powerful principle. Our hopes, if we would get a religious control of our thoughts, must enter within the vail.' Our aspirations must extend beyond the world.
IV. By bringing our thoughts under the influence of a fixed determination. Our thoughts will not be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ by a slight effort, or in a single day. This is that earnest and protracted contest, which is called the christian warfare. Many seem to regard that warfare as a conflict with outward objects, but it is a conflict within the soul. It is one of thoughts and feelings of opposite character, struggling for the ascendency in the soul. External things may be among the occasions and objects of the warfare, but they are not the combatants. In this warfare our nature and our circumstances are adverse to the victory of our faith. The most holy of us are sanctified but in part, and most of us very imperfectly. Our faith is imperfect, and its objects are remote; whereas the objects of sense are all about us. The power of custom too, and of long habit, is against us. He who has given his thoughts for twenty years wholly to the world, will not find it easy to walk by faith. He who has grown old in sensual pleasure, will find it still harder. There is indeed but one course for all
. We must call in the Spirit of Christ to our assistance, and with his help struggle earnestly and daily for the mastery. With a love for the truth, with determined and persevering efforts, and with dependence on the aid of the Holy Spirit, we shall ere long find our rebellious thoughts in the way of being subdued to spiritual obedience. But there must be fixed determination.
V. By taking pains to prepare the mind for the performance of our religious duties, and to guard it against improper influences.
Are you prone to trifling thoughts? Is the time allotted to prayer, or meditation, or any other religious duty, often nearly expired before you can get your mind seriously interested? You may be sure there is something wrong in your treatment of your mind. Either you indulge in vain conversation, or in light reading, or possibly in both. Those are things against which you must guard. Your mind must be subjected to a different treatment, more worthy of its exalted nature and its immortal destiny. Moreover, you should expostulate seriously with yourself before engaging in acts of devotion, and should cherish a more lively sense of the greatness and majesty of Him that speaketh to you when you read the Scriptures, and whom you address in prayer.
Are you prone to a dreamy state of mind,—to have your thoughts wander about without object, build castles in the air, and grieve or rejoice amid fictitious scenes of their own imagining ? Such states of mind are far from being uncommon. They are among the easily besetting sins of the young, the ardent, the imaginative, and the lazy and idle. Indeed, where is the man, or the woman, who knows nothing of them? But they are of pernicious tendency. They are hostile to a sound and healthful state, either of the mind, or heart. Saying nothing of the precious time thus wasted, they enfeeble the mind, especially its power of connected, sober thought. They give the heart a taste and passion for unreal things. There is a sort of mental intoxication in such reveries, and the more they are indulged, the more power do they gain over us; until the creating of unreal scenes, as objects of contemplation, becomes one of the habits of our minds. And this habit, carried into our religion, may make our conceptions of the spiritual world strangely unlike the world revealed in the Bible. Our God may cease, in some important respects, to be the true God, and our heaven to be the real heaven; and our religion, perhaps, in some of its grand influential features, may become the mere offspring of the imagination. Now, if this be your state of mind, it cannot be otherwise than dangerous, and it is a formidable obstacle to the strict religious discipline of thought we are inculcating. You should Jose no time in applying the appropriate remedy, whatever of labor, or pain, or self-denial it may cost you. This, at least, you must do ;-renouncing the works
and the world of fiction, you must come back to sober truth and reality. Your reveries and vain imaginings must be given up, or you will not come under that government of principles, that spiritual subjection of the thinking power of the mind to Christ, which in the text is so emphatically called a “captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
Is your mind prone to wander ? When you would have it look steadily at heaven, does it turn away to earth, in spite of all your efforts ? Here it becomes important to inquire, whether you are careful to avoid all disturbing, distracting influences. We should especially do so on the return of the Sabbath. It may be that your worldly business is continued to a late hour on ihe evening preceding the Sabbath, and after all is left unfinished. It may be that your reading on the morning of the Sabbath is miscellaneous, or unsuitable, and that your morning conversation is not strictly relevant to the objects of the day. With such defects in the preparation, ought you to expect any thing else than wandering thoughts, and an unsatisfactory day? Did we end our worldly cares at a seasonable hour previous to the Sabbathdid we devote some portion of the previous evening to special meditation and prayer to get our minds in a spiritual frame—and did we guard as we ought against every disturbing influence on the morning of the Sabbath, we should rarely have to complain of wandering, unprofitable thoughts in the services of the sanctuary.
VI. The last direction I would give for acquiring a religious control over our thoughts is, to erect mementoes of spiritual things along the path of our daily business. An ancient heathen monarch is said to have had a servant cry out at his door every morning, “Remember that thou art mortal.” This was a memento of an important truth he was prone, in the multitude and pressure of his affairs, to forget. What if the same admonition had been repeated at noon and at night? These would have been so many additional mementoes ;-by which I mean certain appropriate expedients to remind us of heavenly things in the intervals of our daily business. Such expedients we frequently employ to remind ourselves of secular engagements and duties, and the more forgetful we are, the more do we employ them. ploy them to remind ourselves of the objects of faith. And to this end let us study out the analogies, the resemblances between earthly and heavenly things, and thus associate the two in our minds. In this manner we may fill the whole earth with mementoes of the invisible world, and make every object and place vocal of heaven and of God.
Let us em
It only remains for each one to inquire, how far his own thoughts have been brought into this blessed captivity. Are we able to read even the shortest chapter in the Bible, without wandering thoughts ? Can we pray without them? Can we meditate, even for a short time, without them, upon any one religious subject? Have our thoughts an upward tendency during the day? Let us not lose sight of the importance of this subject to ourselves individually. It is not less im