A particular account of the nature of this grace and duty of being spiritually minded – How it is stated in and evidenced by our thoughts.
Having stated the general concernments of that frame of mind which is here recommended unto us, we may proceed to inquire more particularly into the nature of it, according unto the description before given in distinct propositions. And we shall carry on both these intentions together: first, to show what it is, and wherein it doth consist; and then, how it doth evidence itself, so as that we may frame a right judgment whether it be in us or no. And we shall have no regard unto them who either neglect or despise these things on any pretence whatever; for this is the word according unto which we shall all shortly be judged, “To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
Thoughts and meditations as proceeding from spiritual affections are the first things wherein this spiritual mindedness doth consist, and whereby it doth evidence itself. Our thoughts are like the blossoms on a tree in the spring. You may see a tree in the spring all covered with blossoms, so that nothing else of it appears. Multitudes of them fall off and come to nothing. Ofttimes where there are most blossoms there is least fruit. But yet there is no fruit, be it of what sort it will, good or bad, but it comes in and from some of those blossoms. The mind of man is covered with thoughts, as a tree with blossoms. Most of them fall off, vanish, and come to nothing, end in vanity; and sometimes where the mind doth most abound with them there is the least fruit; the sap of the mind is wasted and consumed in them. Howbeit there is no fruit which actually we bring forth, be it good or bad, but it proceeds from some of these thoughts. Wherefore, ordinarily, these give the best and surest measure of the frame of men’s minds. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov 23:7).
In case of strong and violent temptations, the real frame of a man’s heart is not to be judged by the multiplicity of thoughts about any object, for whether they are from Satan’s suggestions, or from inward darkness, trouble, and horror, they will impose such a continual sense of themselves on the mind as shall engage all its thoughts about them; as when a man is in a storm at sea, the current of his thoughts run quite another way than when he is in safety about his occasions. But ordinarily voluntary thoughts are the best measure and indication of the frame of our minds. As the nature of the soil is judged by the grass which it brings forth, so may the disposition of the heart by the predominancy of voluntary thoughts; they are the original actings of the soul, the way whereby the heart puts forth and empties the treasure that is in it, the waters that first rise and flow from that fountain.
Every man’s heart is his treasury, and the treasure that is in it is either good or evil, as our Saviour tells us. There is a good and bad treasure of the heart; but whatever a man hath, be it good or evil, there it is. This treasure is opening, emptying, and spending itself continually, though it can never be exhausted; for it hath a fountain, in nature or grace, which no expense can diminish, yea, it increaseth and getteth strength by it. The more you spend of the treasure of your heart in any kind, the more will you abound in treasure of the same kind. Whether it be good or evil, it grows by expense and exercise; and the principal way whereby it puts forth itself is by the thoughts of the mind. If the heart be evil, they are for the most part vain, filthy, corrupt, wicked, foolish; it it be under the power of a principle of grace, and so have a good treasure in it, it puts forth itself by thoughts suitable unto its nature and compliant with its inclinations.
Wherefore, these thoughts give the best measure of the frame of our minds and hearts. I mean such as are voluntary, such as the mind of its own accord is apt for, inclines and ordinarily betakes itself unto. Men may have a multitude of thoughts about the affairs of their callings and the occasions of life, which yet may give no due measure of the inward frame of their hearts. So men whose calling and work it is to study the Scripture, or the things revealed therein, and to preach them unto others, cannot but have many thoughts about spiritual things, and yet may be, and oftentimes are, most remote from being spiritually minded. They may be forced by their work and calling to think of them early and late, evening and morning, and yet their minds be no way rendered or proved spiritual thereby. It were well if all of us who are preachers would diligently examine ourselves herein. So is it with them who oblige themselves to read the Scriptures, it may be so many chapters every day. Notwithstanding the diligent performance of their task, they may be most remote from being spiritually minded. See Ezek 33:31.
But there is a certain track and course of thoughts that men ordinarily betake themselves unto when not affected with present occasions. If these be vain, foolish, proud, ambitious, sensual, or filthy, such is the mind and its frame; if they be holy, spiritual, and heavenly, such may the frame of the mind be judged to be. But these things must be more fully explained.
It is the great character and description of the frame of men’s minds in an unregenerate condition, or before the renovation of their natures, that “every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). They are continually coining figments and imaginations in their hearts, stamping them into thoughts that are vain, foolish, and wicked. All other thoughts in them are occasional; these are the natural, genuine product of their hearts. Hence the clearest, and sometimes first, discovery of the bottomless evil treasure of filth, folly, and wickedness, that is in the heart of man by nature, is from the innumerable multitude of evil imaginations which are there coined and thrust forth every day. So the wicked are said to be “like the troubled sea when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isa 57:20). There is a fulness of evil in their hearts, like that of water in the sea; this fulness is troubled or put into continual motion by their lusts and impetuous desires; hence the mire and dirt of evil thoughts are continually cast up in them.
It is therefore evident that the predominancy of voluntary thoughts is the best and most sure indication of the inward frame and state of the mind; for if it be so on the one side as unto the carnal mind, it is so on the other as unto the spiritual. Wherefore, to be spiritually minded, in the first place, is to have the course and stream of those thoughts which we ordinarily retreat unto, which we approve of as suited unto our affections, to be about spiritual things. Therein consists the minding of the Spirit.
But because all men, unless horribly profligate, have thoughts about spiritual things, yet we know that all men are not spiritually minded, we must consider what is required unto such thoughts to render them a certain indication of the state of our minds. And there are these three things required hereunto:
First, That they be natural, arising from ourselves, and not from outward occasions.
The psalmist mentions the “inward thought” of men (Ps 49:11, 64:6); but whereas all thoughts are the inward acts of the mind, it should seem that this expression makes no distinction of the especial kind of thoughts intended from those of another sort. But the difference is not in the formal nature of them, but in the causes, springs, and occasions. Inward thoughts are such as arise merely and solely from men’s inward principles, dispositions, and inclinations, that are not suggested or excited by any outward objects. Such in wicked men are those actings of their lusts whereby they entice and seduce themselves (James 1:14). Their lusts stir up thoughts leading and encouraging them to make provision for the flesh. These are their “inward thoughts.” Of the same nature are those thoughts which are the “minding of the Spirit.” They are the first natural egress and genuine acting of the habitual disposition of the mind and soul.
Thus in covetous men there are two sorts of thoughts whereby their covetousness acts itself: First, such as are occasioned by outward objects and opportunities. So it was with Achan (Josh 7:21). “When,” saith he, ” I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, then I coveted them.” His sight of them, with an opportunity of possessing himself of them, excited covetous thoughts and desires in him. So is it with others every day, whose occasions call them to converse with the objects of their lusts. And some by such objects may be surprised into thoughts that their minds are not habitually inclined unto; and therefore when they are known, it is our duty to avoid them.
But the same sort of persons have thoughts of this nature arising from themselves only, their own dispositions and inclinations, without any outward provocations. “The vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity” (Isa 32:6); and this he doth as the “liberal deviseth liberal things” (v8). From his own disposition and inclination, he is contriving in his thoughts how to act according to them.
So the unclean person hath two sorts of thoughts with respect unto the satisfaction of his lust: First, such as are occasioned in his mind by the external objectfs of it. Hereunto stage plays, revellings, dancings, with the society of bold persons, persons of corrupt communication, do contribute their wicked service. For the avoidance of this snare, Job “made a covenant with his eyes” (Job 31:1); and our Saviour gives that holy declaration of the evil of it, Matt 5:28. But he hath an habitual spring of these thoughts in himself, constantly inclining and disposing him thereunto. Hence the apostle Peter tells us that such persons “have eyes full of an adulteress, that cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet 2:14). Their own affections make them restless in their thoughts and contrivances about sin.
So is it with them who are given to excess in wine or strong drink. They have pleasing thoughts raised in them from the object of their lust represented unto them. Hence Solomon gives that advice against the occasion of them, Prov 23:31. But it is their own habitual disposition which carries them unto pleasing thoughts of the satisfaction of their lust; which he describes, Prov 23:33-35. So is it in other cases. The thoughts of this latter sort are men’s inward thoughts; and such must these be of spiritual things, whence we may be esteemed spiritually minded.
Ps 45:1, saith the psalmist, “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the King.” He was meditating on spiritual things, on the things of the person and kingdom of Christ. Hence his heart “bubbled up” (as it is in the original) “a good matter.” It is an allusion taken from a quick spring of living waters: from its own life and fulness it bubbles up the water that runs and flows from it. So is it with these thoughts in them that are spiritually minded. There is a living fulness of spiritual things in their minds and affections that springeth up into holy thoughts about them.
From hence doth our Saviour give us the great description of spiritual life. It is “a well of living water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:10,12). The Spirit, with his graces residing in the heart of a believer, is a well of living water. Nor is it such a well as, content with its own fulness, doth not of its own accord, without any instrument or pains in drawing, send out its refreshing waters, as it is with most wells, though of living water; for this is spoken by our Saviour in answer and opposition unto that objection of the woman, upon his mention of giving living water, John 4:10: “Sir,” saith she, “thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: whence wilt thou have this water?” (John 4:11).
“True,” saith he, “such is the nature of this well and water, dead, earthly things — they are of no use, unless we have instruments, lines and buckets, to draw withal. But the living water which I shall give is of another nature. It is not water to be kept in a pit or cistern without us, whence it must be drawn; but it is within us, and that not dead and useless, but continually springing up unto the use and refreshment of them that have it.”
For so is it with the principle of the new creature, of the new nature, the Spirit and his graces, in the hearts of them that do believe – it doth of itself and from itself, without any external influence on it, incline and dispose the whole soul unto spiritual actings that tend unto eternal life. Such are the thoughts of them that are spiritually minded. They arise from the inward principle, inclination, and disposition of the soul — are the bubblings of this well of living water; they are the mindings of the Spirit.
So our Saviour describes them: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things” (Matt 12:35). First, the man is good; as he said before, “Make the tree good, or the fruit cannot be good” (Matt 12:33). He is made so by grace, in the change and renovation of his nature; for in ourselves we are every way evil. This good man hath a treasure in his heart. So all men have; as the next words are, “The evil man out of the evil treasure of the heart.” And this is the great difference that is between men in this world. Every man hath a treasure in his heart; that is, a prevailing inexhaustible principle of all his actings and operations. But in some this treasure is good, in others it is evil; that is, the prevailing principle in the heart, which carries along with it its dispositions and inclinations, is in some good and gracious, in others it is evil.
Out of his good treasure a good man bringeth forth good things. The first opening of it, the first bringing of it forth, is by these thoughts. The thoughts that arise out of the heart are of the same nature with the treasure that is in it. If the thoughts that naturally arise and spring up in us are for the most part vain, foolish, sensual, earthly, selfish, such is the treasure that is in our hearts, and such are we; but where the thoughts that thus naturally proceed from the treasure that is in the heart are spiritual and holy, it is an argument that we are spiritually minded.
Where it is not thus with our thoughts, they give no such evidence as that inquired after. Men may have thoughts of spiritual things, and that many of them, and that frequently, which do not arise from this principle, but may be resolved into two other causes:
1. Inward force; 2. Outward occasions.
1. Inward force, as it may be called.
This is by convictions. Convictions put a kind of a force upon the mind, or an impression that causeth it to act contrary unto its own habitual disposition and inclination. It is in the nature of water to descend; but apply an instrument unto it that shall make a compression of it and force it unto a vent, it will fly upwards vehemently, as if that were its natural motion. But so soon as the force of the impression ceaseth, it returns immediately unto its own proper tendency, descending towards its centre. So is it with men’s thoughts ofttimes. They are earthly – their natural course and motion is downwards unto the earth and the things thereof; but when any efficacious conviction presseth on the mind, it forceth the egress of its thoughts upwards towards heavenly things. It will think much and frequently of them, as if that were their proper motion and course; but so soon as the power of conviction decays or wears off, that the mind is no more sensible of its force and impression, the thoughts of it return again unto their old course and track, as the water tends downwards.
This state and frame is graphically described in Ps 78:34-37, “When he slew them, then they sought him : and they returned and inquired early after God. And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.” Men in troubles, dangers, sickness, fears of death, or under effectual conviction of sin from the preaching of the word, will endeavour to think and meditate on spiritual things; yea, they will be greatly troubled that they cannot think of them more than they do, and esteem it their folly that they think of any thing else: but as freedom and deliverance do approach, so these thoughts decay and disappear; the mind will not be compelled to give place unto them any more.
The prophet gives the reason of it: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer 13:23). They have had another haunt, been taught another course, the habit and inclination of the mind lies another way, and they will no longer tend towards spiritual things than an impression is on them from their convictions.
And it is an argument of very mean attainments, of a low and weak degree in this frame of heart, or in our being spiritually minded, when our thoughts of spiritual things do rise or fall according unto renewed occasional convictions. If when we are under rebukes from God in our persons or relations, in fears of death and the like, and withal have some renewed convictions of sin in commission, for omission of duties, and thereon do endeavour to be more spiritually minded in the constant exercise of our thoughts on spiritual things, which we fail in, and these thoughts decay as our convictions in the causes of them do wear off or are removed, we have attained a very low degree in this grace, if we have any interest in it at all.
Water that riseth and floweth from a living spring runneth equally and constantly, unless it be obstructed or diverted by some violent opposition; but that which is from thunder-showers runs furiously for a season, but is quickly dried up. So are those spiritual thoughts which arise from a prevalent internal principle of grace in the heart; they are even and constant, unless an interruption be put upon them for a season by temptations. But those which are excited by the thunder of convictions, however their streams may be filled for a season, they quickly dry up and utterly decay.
2. Such thoughts may arise in the minds of men not spiritually minded, from outward means and occasions.
Such I intend as are indeed useful, yea, appointed of God for this end among others, that they may ingenerate and stir up holy thoughts and affections in us. But there is a difference in their use and operation. In some they excite the inward principle of the mind to act in holy thoughts, according unto its own sanctified disposition and prevalent affections. This is their proper end and use. In others they occasionally suggest such thoughts unto the minds of men, which spring only from the notions of the things proposed unto them. With respect unto this end also they are of singular use unto the souls of men. Howbeit such thoughts do not prove men to be spiritually minded.
When you till and manure your land, if it brings forth plentiful crops of corn, it is an evidence that the soil itself is good and fertile; the dressing of it only gives occasion and advantage to put forth its own fruit-bearing virtue. But if in the tilling of land, you lay much dung upon it, and it brings forth here and there a handful where the dung lay, you will say, “The soil is barren; it brings forth nothing of itself.” These means that we shall treat of are as the tilling of a fruitful soil, which helps it in bringing forth its fruit, by exciting its own virtue and power – they stir up holy affections unto holy thoughts and desires. But in others, whose hearts are barren, they only serve, as it were, some of them here and there, to stir up spiritual thoughts, which gives no evidence of a gracious heart or spirit. But because this is a matter of great importance, it shall be handled distinctly by itself.