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inordinate affections, which the more I think of, the more I increase the flame? How nearly, therefore, does it concern me to take up this resolution of setting a constant watch and guard at the door of my heart, that nothing may enter in without a strict examination? Not as if I could examine every particular thought that arises in my heart, for by that means I should do nothing else but examine my thoughts without intermission. But this I must do; whensoever I find any thought that bears the face or appearance of sin, I must throw it aside, with the utmost abhorrence: and when it comes in disguise, as the devil under Samuel's mantle, or when it is a thought I never conceived before, and know not but it may be bad, as well as good; then, before I suffer it to settle upon my spirits, I must examine, as well as I can, whether it be sent from heaven or hell, and what message it comes about, and what will be the issue of it. And thus, by the divine assistance, I shall let nothing into my heart, but what will bring me nearer to my God, and set me at a greater distance from the evil and punishment of sin. Neither do I think it my duty only to be so watchful against such thoughts as are in themselves sinful; but,
I am resolved, by the grace of God, to be as fearful to let in vain, as careful to keep out sinful thoughts. I DO not look upon vain thoughts as only tending to sin, but as in themselves sinful; for that which makes sin to be sin, is the want of conformity to the will of God; and that vain thoughts are not conformable and agreeable to the divine will, appears in that God himself, -by the mouth of his royal prophet, expressly saith, I hate vain thoughts, Psalm exix. 113. Again, vain thoughts are therefore sinful, because they have in them
nothing that can denominate them good for as, in a moral sense, there is never a particular individual act, so neither is there any particular thought, but what is either good or bad, in some respect or other. There is not a moment of my life, but it is my duty either to be thinking, or speaking, or doing good; so that whensoever I am not thus employed, I come short of my duty, and, by consequence, am guilty of sin.
But what are these vain thoughts I am thus resolving against? Why, all wanderings and distractions in prayer, or in hearing the word of God; all useless, trifling, and impertinent thoughts, that do not belong to, nor further, the work I am about, the grand affair of my salvation, may properly be called vain thoughts. And, alas! what swarms of these are continually crowding into my heart? How have I thought away whole hours together, about I know not what chimeras, whereof one scarce ever depends upon another: sometimes entertaining myself with the pleasures of sense, as eating and drinking, and such-like earthly enjoyments; sometimes building castles in the air, and clambering up to the pinnacle of wealth and honour, which I am not half way got up to, but down I fall again into a fool's paradise?
Or, if I chance, at any time, to think a good while upon one thing, it is just to as much purpose as the man's thoughts were, which I have sometimes heard of, and smiled at, who having an egg in his hand, by a sort of chimerical climax, improved it into an estate; but while he was thus pleasing himself with these imaginary products, down dropped the egg, and all his hens, and cattle, and house, and land, that he had raised from it, vanished in the fall. These and such like are the vain thoughts that I must, for the future, endeavour to avoid; and though it will be impossible for me wholly to prevent their first entering into my mind, yet I resolve, by the grace of God, not to harbour or dwell upon, or delight myself in them. And then, notwithstanding
they are in some sense sinful, yet they will not be imputed to me as such, provided I use my utmost endeaΙ vours to avoid them. Which that I may be the better able to do,
I am resolved, by the grace of God, to be always exercising my thoughts upon good objects, that the devil may not exercise them upon bad.
THE soul, being a spiritual substance, is always in action, and its proper and immediate act is thinking, which is as natural and proper to the soul, as extension is to the body: it is that upon which all the other actings of the soul are grounded; so that neither our apprehensions of, nor affections to, any object, can be acted without it. And hence it is, that I think the soul is very properly defined, substantia cogitans, a thinking substance; for there is nothing else but a spirit can think, and there is no spirit but always doth think. And this I find, by experience, to be so true and certain, that if at any time I have endeavoured to think of nothing, (as I have sometimes done,) I have spent all the time in thinking upon that very thought.
How much, therefore, doth it concern me to keep my soul in continual exercise upon what is good? for be sure, if I do not set it on work, the devil will; and if it do not work for God, it will work for him: I know, sinful objects are more agreeable to a sinful soul; but I am sure, holy thoughts are more conformable to a holy God. Why therefore should I spend and ravel out my thoughts upon that which will destroy my soul? No, no; I shall henceforth endeavour always to be employing my thoughts upon something that is good, and therefore to have good subjects constantly at hand to think upon; (as the attributes of God, the glory of heaven, the misery of hell, the merits of Christ, the
corruption of my nature, the sinfulness of sin, the beauty of holiness, the vanity of the world, the immortality of the soul, and the like ;) and likewise to take occasion, from the objects I meet or converse with in the world, to make such remarks and reflections, as may be for my advantage and improvement in my spiritual affairs. For there is nothing in the world, though it be never so bad, but what I may exercise good thoughts upon and my neglect, in this kind, has been the real occasion of all those vain thoughts that have hitherto possessed my soul. I have not kept them close to their work, to think upon what is good, and therefore they have run out into those extragavances, which, by the blessing of God, in the performance of these resolutions, I shall endeavour to avoid.
It is indeed, a singular advantage of that high and heavenly calling, in which the Most High, of his wisdom and goodness, has been pleased to place me, that all the objects we converse with, and all the subjects we exercise our thoughts upon, are either God and heaven, or something relating to them. So that we need not go out of our common road to meet with this heavenly company, good thoughts. But then, I do not account every thought of God or heaven, which only swims in my brain, to be a good and holy thought, unless it sinks down into my heart and affections, i. e. unless to my meditations of God and another world, I join a longing for him, a rejoicing in him, and a solacing myself in the hopes of a future enjoyment of him. Neither will this be any hindrance, but a furtherance to my studies; for, as I know no divine truths as I ought, unless I know them practically and experimentally; so I never think I have any clear apprehensions of God, till I find my affections are inflamed towards him; or that I ever understand any divine truth aright, till my heart be brought into subjection to it.
This resolution, therefore, extends itself not only to the subject matter of my thoughts, but also to the
quality of them, with regard to practice, that they may influence my life and conversation, that whether I speak, or write, or eat, or drink, or whatsoever I do, I may still season all, even my commonest actions, with heavenly meditations; there being nothing I can set my hand to, but I may likewise set my heart a working upon it. Which accordingly I shall endeavour, by the blessing of God, to do. And, for the better ordering of my thoughts,
I am resolved, by the grace of God, so to marshal my thoughts, that they may not one justle out another, nor any of them prejudice the business I am about. My soul being by nature swift and nimble, and by corruption inordinate and irregular in its operations, I can never set myself to think upon one thing, but presently another presses in, and another after that, and so on, till by thinking of so many things at once, I can think upon nothing to any purpose. And hence it is, that I throw away thousands of thoughts each day for nothing, which, if well managed, might prove very profitable and advantageous to me. To prevent, therefore, this tumultuous, desultory, and useless working of my thoughts, as I have already resolved to fix and settle my heart upon necessary, and useful, and good objects, so, to prevent my thoughts rolling from one thing to another, or leaping from the top of one to the height of another object, I must now endeavour to rank and digest them into order and method, that they may for the future be more steady and regular in their pursuits. I know, the devil and my own corrupt nature will labour to break the ranks and confound the order of them; what stratagem therefore shall I use, to prevent this confusion? I shall endeavour, by the grace of God, whensoever I