Other evidences of thoughts about spiritual things arising from an internal principle of grace, whereby they are an evidence of our being spiritually minded — The abounding of these thoughts, how far, and wherein, such an evidence.
The SECOND evidence that our thoughts of spiritual things do proceed from an internal fountain of sanctified light and affections, or that they are acts or fruits of our being spiritually minded, is, that they abound in us, that our minds are filled with them.
We may say of them as the apostle doth of other graces, “If these things be in you, and abound, ye shall not be barren.” It is well, indeed, when our minds are like the land of Egypt in the years of plenty, when it “brought forth by handfuls” — when they flow from the well of living water in us with a full stream and current; but there is a measure of abounding which is necessary to evidence our being spiritually minded in them.
There is a double effect ascribed here unto this frame of spirit: first “life,” and then “peace.” The nature and being of this grace depend on the former consideration of it — namely, its procedure from an internal principle of grace, the effect and consequence whereof is “life:” but that it is “peace” also depends on this degree and measure of the actings of this part of it in our spiritual thoughts; and this we must consider.
It is the character of all men in the state of depraved nature and apostasy from God, that “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is only evil continually” (Gen6:5). All persons in that condition are not swearers, blasphemers, drunkards, adulterers, idolaters, or the like; these are the vices of particular persons, the effects of particular constitutions and temptations. But thus it is with them, all and every one of them: all the imaginations of the thoughts of their hearts are evil, and that continually, some as unto the matter of them, some as unto their end, all as unto their principle; for out of the evil treasure of the heart can proceed nothing but what is evil. That infinite multitude of open sins which is in the world doth give a clear prospect or representation of the nature and effects of our apostasy from God; but he that can consider the numberless number of thoughts which pass through the minds of every individual person every day, all evil, and that continually, he will have a farther comprehension of it.
We can therefore have no greater evidence of a change in us from this state and condition, than a change wrought in the course of our thoughts. A relinquishment of this or that particular sin is not an evidence of a translation from this state; for, as was said, such particular sins proceed from particular lusts and temptations, and are not the immediate universal consequence of that depravation of nature which is equal in all. Such alone are the vanity and wickedness of the thoughts and imaginations of the heart. A change herein is a blessed evidence of a change of state.
He who is cured of a dropsy is not immediately healthy, because he may have the prevailing seeds and matter of other diseases in him, and the next day die of a lethargy; but he who, from a state of sickness, is restored, in the temperature of the mass of blood and the animal spirits, and all the principles of life and health, unto a good crisis and temperature, his state of body is changed. The cure of a particular sin may leave behind it the seeds of eternal death, which they may quickly effect; but he who hath obtained a change in this character, which belongs essentially unto the state of depraved nature, is spiritually recovered. And the more the stream of our thoughts is turned, the more our minds are filled by those of a contrary nature, the greater and more firm is our evidence of a translation out of that depraved state and condition.
There is nothing so unaccountable as the multiplicity of thoughts of the minds of men. They fall from them like the leaves of trees when they are shaken with the wind in autumn. To have all these thoughts, all the several figments of the heart, all the conceptions that are framed and agitated in the mind, to be evil, and that continually, what a hell of horror and confusion must it needs be! A deliverance from this loathsome, hateful state is more to be valued than the whole world. Without it neither life, nor peace, nor immortality, nor glory, can ever be attained.
The design of conviction is to put a stop unto these thoughts, to take off from their number, and thereby to lessen their guilt. It deserves not the name of conviction of sin which respects only outward actions, and regards not the inward actings of the mind; and this alone will for a season make a great change in the thoughts, especially it will do so when assisted by superstition, directing them unto other objects. These two in conjunction are the rise of all that devotional religion which is in the Papacy. Conviction labours to put some stop and bounds unto thoughts absolutely evil and corrupt, and superstition suggests other objects for them, which they readily embrace; but it is a vain attempt. The minds and hearts of men are continually minting and coining new thoughts and imaginations; the cogitative faculty is always at work.
As the streams of a mighty river running into the ocean, so are the thoughts of a natural man, and through self they run into hell. It is a fond thing to set a dam before such a river, to curb its streams. For a little space there may be a stop made, but it will quickly break down all obstacles or overflow all its bounds. There is no way to divert its course but only by providing other channels for its waters, and turning them thereinto. The mighty stream of the evil thoughts of men will admit of no bounds or dams to put a stop unto them.
There are but two ways of relief from them, the one respecting their moral evil, the other their natural abundance. The first [is,] by throwing salt into the spring, as Elisha cured the waters of Jericho – that is, to get the heart and mind seasoned with grace; for the tree must be made good before the fruit will be so. The other is, to turn their streams into new channels, putting new aims and ends upon them, fixing them on new objects: so shall we abound in spiritual thoughts; for abound in thoughts we shall, whether we will or no.
To this purpose is the advice of the apostle: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:18,19). When men are drunk with wine unto an excess, they make it quickly evident what vain, foolish, ridiculous imaginations it filleth their minds withal. In opposition hereunto the apostle adviseth believers to be “filled with the Spirit” — to labour for such a participation of him as may fill their minds and hearts, as others fill themselves with wine. To what end, unto what purpose, should they desire such a participation of him, to be so filled with him? It is unto this end, namely, that he by his grace may fill them with holy, spiritual thoughts, as, on the contrary, men drunk unto an excess are filled with those that are foolish, vain, and wicked. So the words of Eph 5:19 do declare; for he adviseth us to express our abounding thoughts in such duties as will give an especial vent unto them.
Wherefore, when we are spiritually minded, we shall abound in spiritual thoughts, or thoughts of spiritual things. That we have such thoughts will not sufficiently evidence that we are so, unless we abound in them. And this leads us unto the principal inquiry on this head, namely, what measure we ought to assign hereof, how we may know when we abound in spiritual thoughts, so as that they may be an evidence of our being spiritually minded.
I answer, in general, among other Scriptures read over Psalm 119 with understanding. Consider therein what David expresseth of himself, as unto his constant delight in and continual thoughts of the law of God; which was the only means of divine revelation at that season. Try yourselves by that pattern; examine yourselves whether you can truly speak the same words with him, at least if not in the same degree of zeal, yet with the same sincerity of grace.
You will say, “That was David. It is not for us, it is not our duty, to be like unto him, at least not to be equal with him.” But as far as I know, we must be like him, if ever we intend to come to the place where he is. It will ruin our souls, if, when we read in the Scripture how the saints of God express their experience in faith, love, delight in God, and constant meditation on him, we grant that it was so with them, that they were good and holy men, but it is not necessary that it should be so with us. These things are not written in the Scripture to show what they were, but what we ought to be.
All things concerning them were “written for our admonition” (1 Cor 10:11). And if we have not the same delight in God as they had, the same spiritual mindedness in thoughts and meditations of heavenly things, we can have no evidence that we please God as they did, or shall go to that place whither they are gone.
Profession of the life of God passeth with many at a very low and easy rate. Their thoughts are for the most part vain and earthly, their communication unsavoury, and sometimes corrupt, their lives at best uneven and uncertain as unto the rule of obedience; yet all is well, all is life and peace! The holy men of old, who obtained this testimony, that they pleased God, did not so walk before him. They meditated continually on the law; thought of God in the night seasons; spake of his ways, his works, his praise; their whole delight was in him, and in all things they “followed hard after him.” It is the example of David in particular that I have proposed; and it is a promise of the grace to be administered by the gospel, that “he that is feeble shall be as David” (Zec 12:8), and if we are not so in his being spiritually minded, it is to be feared we are not partakers of the promise.
But that we may the better judge of ourselves therein, I shall add some few rules unto this direction by [way of] example:
1. Consider what proportion your thoughts of spiritual things bear unto those about other things.
Our principal interest and concern, as we profess, lies in things spiritual, heavenly, and eternal. Is it not, then, a foolish thing to suppose that our thoughts about these things should not hold some proportion with those about other things, nay, that they should not exceed them! No man is so vain, in earthly things, as to pretend that his principal concern lieth in that whereof he thinks very seldom in comparison of other things. It is not so with men in reference unto their families, their trades, their occasions of life.
It is a truth not only consecrated by the testimony of him who is Truth, but evident also in the light of reason, that “where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also;” and the affections of our hearts do act themselves by the thoughts of our minds. Wherefore, if our principal treasure be, as we profess, in things spiritual and heavenly, (and woe onto us if it be not so!) on them will our affections, and consequently our desires and thoughts, be principally fixed.
That we may the better examine ourselves by this rule, we must consider of what sorts men’s other thoughts are; and as unto our present purpose, they may be reduced unto these heads:
(1.) There are such as are exercised about their callings and lawful occasions.
These are numberless and endless, especially among a sort of men who rise early and go to bed late, and eat the bread of carefulness, or are particularly industrious and diligent in their ways. These thoughts men approve themselves in, and judge them their duty, as they are in their proper place and measure. But no heart can conceive the multitude of these thoughts, which partly in contrivances, partly in converse, are engaged and spent about these things; and the more men are immersed in them, the more do themselves and others esteem them diligent and praiseworthy.
And there are some who have neither necessity nor occasion to be engaged much in the duties of any especial calling, who yet by their words and actions declare themselves to be confined almost in their thoughts unto themselves, their relations, their children, and their self-concerns; which, though most of them are very impertinent, yet they justify themselves in them.
All sorts may do well to examine what proportion their thoughts of spiritual things do bear unto those of other things. I fear with most it will he found to be very small — with many next to none at all. What evidence, then, can they have that they are spiritually minded, that their principal interest lies in things above?
It may be, it will be asked, whether it be necessary that men should think as much and as often about things spiritual and heavenly as they do about the lawful affairs of their callings? I say, more, and more often, if we are what we profess ourselves to be. Generally it is the best sort of men, as to the things of God and man, who are busied in their callings, some of one sort, some of another. But even among the best of these, many will continually spend the strength of their minds and vigour of their spirits about their affairs all the day long, and, so they can pray in the morning and evening, with some thoughts sometimes of spiritual things occasionally administered, do suppose they acquit themselves very well; as if a man should pretend that his great design is to prepare himself for a voyage unto a far country, where is his patrimony and his inheritance, but all his thoughts and contrivances are about some few trifles, which, if indeed he intend his voyage, he must leave behind him, and of his main design he scarce thinketh at all. We all profess that we are bound for heaven, immortality, and glory; but is it any evidence we really design it, if all our thoughts are consumed about the trifles of this world, which we must leave behind us, and if we have only occasional thoughts of things above? I shall elsewhere show, if God will, how men may be spiritually minded in their earthly affairs. If some relief may not be thence obtained, I cannot tell what to say or answer for them whose thoughts of spiritual things do not hold proportion with, yea, exceed, them which they lay out about their callings.
This whole rule is grounded on that of our Saviour, “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow” (Matt 6:31,33,34). When we have done all we can, when we have made the best of them we are able, all earthly things, as unto our interest in them, amount to no more but what we eat, what we drink, and wherewith we are clothed.
About these things our Saviour forbids us to take any thought, not absolutely, but with a double limitation; as: First, That we take no such thought about them as should carry along with it a disquietude of mind, through a distrust of the fatherly care and providence of God. This is the design of the context. Secondly, No thought that, for constancy and engagement of spirit, should be like unto those which we ought to have about spiritual things. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness.” Let that be the principal thing in your thoughts and consciences. We may therefore conclude that at least they must hold an exceeding proportion with them.
Let a man industriously engaged in the way of his calling try himself by this rule every evening. Let him consider what have been his thoughts about his earthly occasions and what about spiritual things, and thereon ask of himself whether he be spiritually minded or no. Be not deceived; “as a man thinketh, so is he.” And if we account it a strange thing that our thoughts should be more exercised about spiritual things than about the affairs of our callings, we must not think it strange if, when we come to the trial, we cannot find that we have either “life” or “peace.”
Moreover, it is known how often, when we are engaged in spiritual duties, other thoughts will interpose, and impose themselves on our minds. Those which are about men’s secular concernments will do so. The world will frequently make an inroad on the way to heaven, to disturb the passengers and wayfaring men. There is nothing more frequently complained of by such as are awake unto their duty and sensible of their weakness.
Call to mind, therefore, how often, on the other hand, spiritual thoughts do interpose, and, as it were impose themselves on your minds whilst you are engaged in your earthly affairs. Sometimes no doubt but with all that are true believers it is so. “Or ever I was aware,” saith the spouse, “my soul made me as the chariots of Ammi-nadib” (Song 6:12). Grace in her own soul surprised her into a ready, willing frame unto spiritual communion with Christ, when she was intent on other occasions. But if these thoughts of heavenly things so arising in us bear no proportion with the other sort, it is an evidence what frame and principle is predominant in us.
(2.) There are a multitude of thoughts in the minds of men which are vain, useless, and altogether unprofitable.
These ordinarily, through a dangerous mist looked on as not sinful, because, as it is supposed, the matter of them is not so; and therefore men rather shake them off for their folly than their guilt. But they arise from a corrupt fountain, and wofully pollute both the mind and conscience.
Wherever there are “vain thoughts,” there is sin (Jer 4:14). Such are those numberless imaginations whereby men fancy themselves to be what they are not, to do what they do not, to enjoy what they enjoy not, to dispose of themselves and others at their pleasure. That our nature is liable unto such a pernicious folly, which some of tenacious fancies have turned into madness, we are beholding alone to our cursed apostasy from God, and the vanity that possessed our miuds thereon. Hence the prince of Tyrus thought he was a god, and “sat in the seat of God” (Ezek 28:2). So it hath been with others.
And in those in whom such imaginations are kept unto some better order and bounds, yet, being traced unto their original, they will be found to spring some of them immediately from pride, some from sensual lusts, some from the love of the world, all from self, and the old ambition to be as God, to dispose of all things as we think meet. I know no greater misery or punishment in this world than the debasing of our nature to such vain imaginations, and a perfect freedom from them is a part of the blessedness of heaven.
It is not my present work to show how sinful they are; let them be esteemed only fruitless, foolish, vain, and ludicrous. But let men examine themselves what number of these vain, useless thoughts night and day do rove up and down in their minds. If now it be apprehended too severe, that men’s thoughts of spiritual things should exceed them that are employed about their lawful callings, let them consider what proportion they bear unto those that are vain and useless. Do not many give more time unto them than they do unto holy meditations, without an endeavour to mortify the one or to stir up and enliven the other? are they not more wonted to their seasons than holy thoughts are? And shall we suppose that those with whom it is so are spiritually minded?
(3.) There are thoughts that are formally evil; they are so in their own nature, being corrupt contrivances to fulfil the desires of the flesh in the lusts thereof.
These also will attempt the minds of believers. But they are always looked on as professed enemies to the soul, and are watched against. I shall not, therefore, make any comparison between them and spiritual thoughts, for they abound only in them that are carnally minded.
2. The second rule to this purpose is, That we should consider whether thoughts of spiritual things do constantly take possession of their proper seasons.
There are some times and seasons in the course of men’s lives wherein they retire themselves unto their own thoughts. The most busied men in the world have some times of thinking unto themselves; and those who design no such thing, as being afraid of coming to be wiser and better than they are, do yet spend time therein whether they will or no. But they who are wise will be at home as much as they can, and have as many seasons for such their retirements as is possible for them to attain.
If that man be foolish who busieth himself so much abroad in the concerns of others that he hath no time to consider the state of his own house and family, much more is he so who spendeth all his thoughts about other things, and never makes use of them in an inquiry how it is with himself and his own soul. However, men can hardly avoid but that they must have some seasons, partly stated, partly occasional, wherein they entertain themselves with their own thoughts. The evening and the morning, the times of waking on the bed, those of the necessary cessation of all ordinary affairs, of walking, journeying, and the like, are such seasons.
If we are spiritually minded, if thoughts of spiritual things do abound in us, they will ordinarily, and that with constancy, possess these seasons, look upon them as those which are their due, which belong unto them; for they are expressly assigned unto them in the way of rule, expressed in examples and commands. See Ps 16:7,8; Ps 92:2; Deut 6:7. If they are usually given up unto other ends and occasions, are possessed with thoughts of another nature, it is an open evidence that spiritual thoughts have but little interest in our minds, little prevalency in the conduct of our souls.
It is our duty to afford unto them stated times, taken away from other affairs that call for them; but if, instead thereof, we rob them of what is as it were their own, which no other things or business can lay any just claim unto, how dwelleth the love of spiritual things in us? Most professors are convinced that it is their duty to pray morning and evening, and it is to be wished that they were all found in the practice of it; but if ordinarily they judge themselves in the performance of that duty to be discharged from any farther exercise of spiritual thoughts, applying them unto things worldly, useless, or vain, they can make no pretence to be spiritually minded.
And it must be observed (which will be found to be true), that if the seasons which are as it were due unto such meditations be taken from them, they will be the worst employed of all the minutes of our lives. Vain and foolish thoughts, corrupt imaginations, will make a common haunt unto the minds of men in them, and habituate themselves unto an expectation of entertainment, whence they will grow importunate for admission. Hence, with many, those precious moments of time which might greatly influence their souls unto life and peace, if they were indeed spiritually minded, make the greatest provision for their trouble, sorrow, and confusion; for the vain and evil thoughts which some persons to accustom themselves unto in such seasons are, or ought to be, a burden upon their consciences more than they can bear. That which providence tenders unto their good is turned into a snare; and God doth righteously leave them unto the fruits of their own folly who so despise his gracious provision for their good.
If we cannot afford unto God our spare time, it is evident that indeed we can afford nothing at all. “They devise iniquity upon their beds” (Micah 2:1) — the season proper for holy contemplation they make use of to fill their minds with wicked imaginations; “and when the morning is light they practise it,” walking all day on all occasions suitably unto their devices and imaginations of the night. Many will have cause to complain unto eternity of those leisure times, which might have been improved for their advantage unto eternal blessedness.
If we intend, therefore, to maintain a title unto this grace of being spiritually minded, if we would have any evidence of it in ourselves — without which we can have none of life or peace, and what we pretend thereof is but an effect of security — we must endeavour to preserve the claim and right of spiritual thoughts unto such seasons, and actually put them in possession of them.
3. Consider how we are affected with our disappointments about these seasons.
Have we by negligence, by temptations, have we by occasional diversions or affairs of life, been taken off from thoughts of God, of Christ, of heavenly things, when we ought to have been engaged in them? how are we affected with a view hereof? A carnal mind is well enough satisfied with the omission of any duty, so it have the pretence of a necessary occasion. If it hath lost a temporal advantage through attendance unto a spiritual duty, it will deeply reflect upon itself, and, it may be, like the duty the worse afterward.
But a gracious soul, one that is truly spiritually minded, will mourn under a review of such omissions, and by every one of them is stirred up unto more watchfulness for the future. “Alas,” will it say, “how little have I been with Christ this day! how much time hath passed me without a thought of him! How foolish was I to be wanting to such or such an opportunity! I am in arrears unto myself, and have no rest until I be satisfied.”
I say, if indeed we are spiritually minded, we will duly and carefully call over the consideration of those times and seasons wherein we ought to have exercised ourselves in spiritual thoughts, and if we have lost them, or any of them, mourn over our own negligence. But if we can omit and lose such seasons or opportunities from time to time without regret or self-reflection, it is to be feared that we wax worse and worse. Way will be made hereby for farther omissions, until we grow wholly cold about them.
And, indeed, that woful loss of time that is found amongst many professors is greatly to be bewailed. Some lose it on themselves, by a continual track of fruitless, impertinent thoughts about their own concerns; some in vain converse with others, wherein for the most part they edify one another unto vanity. How much of this time might, nay ought to be redeemed for holy meditation! The good Lord make all professors sensible of their loss of former seasons, that they may be the more watchful for the future in this great concernment of their souls! Little do some think what light, what assurance, what joy, what readiness for the cross or for heaven, they might have attained, had they laid hold on all just seasons of exercising their thoughts about spiritual things which they have enjoyed, who now are at a loss in all, and surprised with every fear or difficulty that doth befall them.
This is the first thing that belongs unto our being spiritually minded: for although it doth not absolutely or essentially consist therein, yet it is inseparable from it, and the most undeceiving indication of it; and thus of abounding and abiding in thoughts about spiritual things, such as arise and spring naturally from a living principle, a spiritual frame and disposition of heart within.