The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
~ Psalm 94:11
Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.
~ Jeremiah 6:19
I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts upon my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.
~ Daniel 4:5
Therefore do my thoughts cause me to answer, and for this I make haste.
~ Job 20:2
For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
~ Psalm 43:2-5
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
~ Psalm 63:5-6
Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
~ Deuteronomy 11:18
The Objects of Spiritual Thoughts, by John Owen. The following contains an excerpt from Chapter Five of his work, “Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded”.
The objects of spiritual thoughts, or what they are conversant about, evidencing them in whom they are to be spiritually minded — Rules directing unto steadiness in the contemplation of heavenly things — Motives to fix our thoughts with steadiness in them. Before I proceed unto the next general head, and which is the principal thing, the foundation of the grace and duty inquired after, some things must be spoken to render what hath been already insisted on yet more particularly useful; and this is, to inquire what are, or what ought to be, the special objects of those thoughts which, under the qualifications laid down, are the evidences of our being spiritually minded. And, it may be, we may be useful unto many herein, by helping them to fix their minds, which are apt to rove into all uncertainty: for this is befallen us, through the disorder and weakness of the faculties of our souls, that sometimes what the mind guides, leads, and directs unto, in things spiritual and heavenly, our wills and affections, through their depravation and corruption, will not comply withal, and so the good designings of the mind are lost; sometimes what the will and affections are inclined unto and ready for, the mind, through its weakness and inconstancy, cannot lead them to the accomplishment of. So to will is present with us, but how to perform that will we know not. So many are barren in this duty because they know not what to fix upon, nor how to exercise their thoughts when they have chosen a subject for their meditations. Hence they spend their time in fruitless desires that they could use their thoughts unto more purpose, rather than make any progress in the duty itself. They tire themselves, not because they are not willing to go, but because they cannot find their way. Wherefore, both these things shall be spoken unto, both what are the proper objects of our spiritual thoughts, and how we may be steady in our contemplation of them. And I shall unto this purpose first give some general rules, and then some particular instances in way of direction: —
1. Observe the especial calls of providence, and apply your minds unto thoughts of the duties required in them and by them. There is a voice in all signal dispensations of providence:
“The LORD’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it,” Micah 6:9.
There is a call, a cry in every rod of God, in every chastising providence, and therein (he) makes a declaration of his name, his holiness, his power, his greatness. This every wise, substantial man will labor to discern, and so comply with the call. God is greatly provoked when it is otherwise:
“LORD, when thy hand is lifted up, they will not see: but they shall see, and be ashamed,” Isaiah 26:11.
If, therefore, we would apply ourselves unto our present duty, we are wisely to consider what is the voice of God in his present providential dispensations in the world. Hearken not unto any who would give another interpretation of them, but that they are plain declarations of his displeasure and indignation against the sins of men. Is not his wrath in them revealed from heaven against the ungodliness of men, especially such as retain the truth in unrighteousness, or false, hypocritical professors of the gospel? Doth he not also signally declare the uncertainty and instability of earthly enjoyments, from life itself to a shoe-latchet? as also how vain and foolish it is to adhere inordinately unto them? The fingers that appeared writing on the wall the doom of Belshazzar did it in characters that none could read, and words that none could understand, but Daniel; but the present call of God in these things is made plain upon tables, that he may run who readeth it. If the heavens gather blackness with clouds, and it thunder over us, if any that are on their journey will not believe that there is a storm coming, they must bear the severity of it.
Suppose, then, this to be the voice of providence, suppose there be in it these indications of the mind and will of God, what are the duties that we are called unto thereby? They may be referred unto two heads: —
(1.) A diligent search into ourselves, and a holy watch over ourselves, with respect unto those ways and sins which the displeasure of God is declared against. That present providences are indications of God’s anger and displeasure, we take for granted. But when this is done, the most are apt to cast the causes of them on others, and to excuse themselves. So long as they see others more wicked and profligate than themselves, openly guilty of such crimes as they abhor the thoughts of, they cast all the wrath on them, and fear nothing but that they shall suffer with them. But, alas! when the storm came on the ship at sea, wherein there was but one person that feared God, upon an inquiry for whose sake it came, the lot fell on him, Jonah 1:7. The cause of the present storm may as well be the secret sins of professors as the open provocations of ungodly men. God will punish severely those which he hath known, Amos 3:2. It is therefore certainly our duty to search diligently, that nothing be found resting in us against which God is declaring his displeasure. Take heed of negligence and security herein. When our Savior foretold his disciples that “one of them should betray him,” he who alone was guilty was the last that said, “Master, is it I?” Let no ground of hopes you have of your spiritual condition and acceptance with God, no sense of your sincerity in any of your duties, no visible difference between you and others in the world, impose themselves on your minds to divert them from diligence in this duty. “The LORD’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom will see his name.”
(2.) A diligent endeavor to live in a holy resignation of our persons, our lives, our families, all our enjoyments, unto the sovereign will and wisdom of God, so as that we may be in readiness to part with all things upon his call without repining. This, also, is plainly declared in the voice of present providences. God is making wings for men’s riches, he is shaking their habitations, taking away the visible defenses of their lives, proclaiming the instability and uncertainty of all things here below; and if we are not minded to contend with him, we have nothing left to give us rest and peace for a moment but a holy resignation of all unto his sovereign pleasure.
Would you now know what you should fix and exercise your thoughts upon, so as that they may be evidences of your being spiritually minded? I say, be frequently conversant in them about these things. They lie before you, they call upon you, and will find you a just employment. Count them part of your business, allow them some part of your time, cease not until you have the testimony of your consciences that you have in sincerity stated both these duties in your minds; which will never be done without many thoughts about them. Unless it be so with you, God will be greatly displeased at the neglect of his coming and call, now it is so plain and articulate. Fear the woful dooms recorded, Proverbs 1:24-31, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4, to this purpose. And if any calamity, public or private, do overtake you under a neglect of these duties, you will be woefully surprised, and not know which way to turn for relief. This, therefore, is the time and season wherein you may have an especial trial and experiment whether you be spiritually minded or no. It is the wisdom of faith to excite and draw forth grace into exercise, according unto present occasions. If this grace be habitually resident in you, it will put itself forth in many thoughts about these present duties.
But, alas! for the most part, men are apt to walk contrary to God in these things, as the wisdom of the flesh is contrary unto him in all things. A great instance we have with respect unto these duties, especially the latter of them; for, —
(1.) Who almost makes a diligent search into and trial of his heart and ways with respect unto the procuring causes of the displeasure and judgments of God? Generally, when the tokens and evidences of them do most abound, the world is full of outrageous, provoking sins. These visibly proclaim themselves to be the causes of the “coming of the wrath of God on the children of disobedience.” Hence most men are apt to cast the whole reason of present judgments upon them, and to put it wholly from themselves Hence, commonly, there is never less of self- examination than when it is called for in a peculiar manner. But as I will not deny but that the open, daring sins of the world are the procuring cause of the wrath of God against it in temporal judgments, so the wisest course for us is to refer them unto the great judgment of the last day. This the apostle directs us unto, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. Our duty it is to consider on what account “judgment begins at the house of God,” and to examine ourselves with respect thereunto.
(2.) Again, the other part of our present duty, in compliance with the voice of providence, is an humble resignation of ourselves and all our concernments unto the will of God, sitting loose in our affections from all earthly, temporal enjoyments. This we neither do nor can do, let us profess what we will, unless our thoughts are greatly exercised about the reasons for it and motives unto it; for this is the way whereby faith puts forth its efficacy unto the mortification of self and all earthly enjoyments. Wherefore, without this we can make no resignation of ourselves unto the will of God. But, alas! how many at present do openly walk contrary unto God herein! The ways, the countenances, the discourses of men, do give evidence hereunto. Their love unto present things, their contrivances for their increase and continuance, do grow and thrive under the calls of God to the contrary. So it was of old: “They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark.” Can the generality of professors at this day give testimony unto the exercise of their thoughts upon such things as should dispose them unto this holy resignation? that they meditate on the calls of God, and thence make themselves ready to part with all at his time and pleasure? How can persons pretend to be spiritually minded, the current of whose thoughts lies in direct contrariety unto the mind of God ?
Here lies the ground of their self-deceivings: They are professors of the gospel in a peculiar manner, they judge themselves believers, they hope they shall be saved, and have many evidences for it. But one negative evidence will render a hundred that are positive useless. “All these things have I done,” saith the young man. “Yet lackest thou one thing,” saith the Savior. And the want of that one rendered his “all things” of no avail unto him. Many things you have done, many things you do, many grounds of hope abide with you, neither yourselves nor others do doubt of your condition; but are you spiritually minded? If this one thing be wanting, all the rest will not avail you; you have, indeed, neither life nor peace. And what grounds have you to judge that you are so, if the current of your thoughts lies in direct contrariety unto the present calls of God? If, at such a time as this is, your love to the world be such as ever it was, and perhaps increased; if your desires are strong to secure the things of this life unto you and yours; if the daily contrivance of your minds be not how you may attain a constant resignation of yourselves and your all unto the will of God, which will not be clone without much thoughtfulness and meditations on the reasons of it and motives unto it, — I cannot understand how you can judge yourselves to be spiritually minded.
If any, therefore, shall say that they would abound more in spiritual thoughts, only they know not what to fix them upon, I propose this in the first place, as that which will lead them unto the due performance of present duties.
2. The special trials and temptations of men call for the exercise of their thoughts in a peculiar manner with respect unto them. If a man hath a bodily disease, pain, or distemper, it will cause him to think much of it whether he will or no, at least, if he be wise he will so do; nor will he
always be complaining of the smart, but he will inquire into the causes, and seek their removal. Yet are there some distempers, as lethargies, which in their own nature take away all sense and thoughts of themselves; and some are of such a slow, secret progress, as hectic fevers, that they are not taken notice of; — but both these are mortal. And shall men be more negligent about the spiritual distempers of their souls, so as to have multiplied temptations, the cause of all spiritual diseases, and take no thought about them? Is it not to be feared that where it is so, they are such as either in their own nature have deprived them of spiritual sense, or by their deceitfulness are leading on insensibly unto death eternal? Not to have our minds exercised about these things is to be stupidly secure, Proverbs 23:34,35.
There is, I confess, some difficulty in this matter, how to exercise our thoughts aright about our temptations; for the great way of the prevalency of temptations is by stirring up multiplied thoughts about their objects, or what they do lead unto. And this is done or occasioned several ways: —
(1.) From the previous power of lust in the affections. This will fill the mind with thoughts. The heart will coin imaginations in compliance therewith. They are the way and means whereby lust draws away the heart from duty and enticeth unto sin, James 1:14; the means at least whereby men come to have “eyes full of adultery,” 2 Peter 2:14, or to live in constant contemplation of the pleasures of sin.
(2.) They arise and are occasioned by renewed representations of the object of sin. And this is twofold: —
(1.) That which is real, as Achan saw the wedge of gold and coveted it, Joshua 7:21; Proverbs 23:31. Against this is that prayer of the psalmist, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity;” and the covenant of Job, chapter 31:1.
(2.) Imaginary, when the imagination, being tainted or infected by lust, continually represents the pleasure of sin and the actings of it unto the mind. Herein do men “make provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof,” Romans 13:16.
(3.) From the suggestions of Satan, who useth all his wiles and artifices to stir up thoughts about that sin whereunto the temptation leads. And temptation seldom fails of its end, when it can stir up a multitude of unprofitable thoughts about its object; for when temptations do multiply thoughts about sin, proceeding from some or all of these causes, and the mind hath wonted itself to give them entertainment, those in whom they are do want nothing but opportunities and occasions, taking off the power of outward restraints, for the commission of actual sin. When men have so devised mischief, “they practice it” when it is “in the power of their hand,” Micah 2:1. It is no way safe to advise such persons to have many thoughts about their temptations; they will all turn to their disadvantage.
I speak unto them only unto whom their temptations are their affliction and their burden. And such persons also must be very careful how they suffer their thoughts to be exercised about the matter of their temptation, lest it be a snare and be too hard for them. Men may begin their thoughts of any object with abhorrency and detestation, and, if it be a case of temptation, end them in complacency and approbation. The deceitfulness of sin lays hold on something or other that lust in the mind stays upon with delectation, and so corrupts the whole frame of spirit which began the duty. There have been instances wherein persons have entered with a resolution to punish sin, and have been ensnared by the occasion unto the commission of the sin they thought to punish. Wherefore, it is seldom that the mind of any one exercised with an actual temptation is able safely to conflict with it, if it entertain abiding thoughts of the matter of it or of the sin whereunto it leads; for sin hath “mille nocendi artes,” and is able to transfuse its poison into the affections from every thing it hath once made a bait of, especially if it have already defiled the mind with pleasing contemplations of it. Yea, oftentimes a man, that hath some spiritual strength, and therein engageth unto the performance of duties, if in the midst of them the matter of his temptation is so presented unto him as to take hold of his thoughts, in a moment, as if he had seen (as they say) Medusa’s head, is turned into a stone; his spirits are all frozen, his strength is gone, all actings of grace do cease, his armor falls from him, and he gives up himself a prey to his temptation. It must be a new supply of grace that can give him any deliverance. Wherefore, whilst persons are exercised with any temptation, I do not advise them to be conversant in their thoughts about the matter of it; for sometimes remembrances of former satisfaction of their lusts, sometimes present surprisals, with the suitableness of it unto corruption not yet mortified, sometimes the craft of Satan fixing their imagination on it, will be too hard for them, and carry them unto a fresh compliance with that sin which they would be delivered from.
But this season calls in an especial manner for the exercise of the thoughts of men about the ways and means of deliverance from the snare wherein they are taken, or the danger they find themselves exposed unto. Think of the guilt of sin, that you may be humbled. Think of the power of sin, that you may seek strength against it. Think not of the matter of sin, the things that are in the world suited unto “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” lest you be more and more entangled. But the present direction is, Think much of the ways of relief from the power of your own temptation leading unto sin. But this, men, unless they are spiritually minded, are very loath to come unto. I speak not of them that love their shackles, that glory in their yoke, that like their temptations well enough, as those which give the most satisfactory entertainment unto their minds. Such men know not well what to do unless they may in their minds converse with the objects of their lusts, and do multiply thoughts about them continually. The apostle calls it “making provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” Their principal trouble is, that they cannot comply with them to the utmost, by reason of some outward restraints. These dwell near unto those fools who make a mock of sin, and will ere long take up their habitation among them.
But I speak, as I said before, of them only whose temptations are their afflictions, and who groan for deliverance from them. Acquaint such persons with the great, indeed only, way of relief in this distress, as it is expressed, Hebrews 2:17,18, “He is a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining unto God; for in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted;” and chapter 4:15,16, “We have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin; let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need;” — let them know that the only way for their deliverance is by acting faith in thoughts on Christ, his power to succor them that are tempted, with the ways whereby he administereth a sufficiency of grace unto that end, retreating for relief unto him on the urgency of temptations; — they can hardly be brought unto a compliance therewithal. They are ready to say, “‘Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?’ Is it not better to betake ourselves and to trust unto our own promises, resolutions, and endeavors, with such other ways of escape as are in our own power?” I shall speak nothing against any of them in their proper place, so far as they are warranted by Scripture rule. But this I say, none shall ever be delivered from perplexing temptations, unto the glory of God and their own spiritual advantage, but by the acting and exercising of faith on Christ Jesus and the sufficiency of his grace for our deliverance: But when men are not spiritually minded, they cannot fix their thoughts on spiritual things. Therefore do men daily pine away under their temptations; they get ground upon them, until their breach grows great like the sea, and there be no healing of it.
I mention this only to show the weight and necessity of the duty proposed; for when men under the power of conviction are pressed with temptation, they will do any thing rather than betake themselves unto the only efficacious relief. Some will groan and cry out under their vexation from the torture they are put into in the conflict between their temptations and convictions; some will betake themselves unto the pretended relief that any false religion tenders unto them; but to apply themselves in thoughts of faith unto Jesus Christ, whose grace alone is sufficient for all, that they will not be persuaded unto.
We are all of us liable unto temptations. Those who are not sensible of it are under the power of what the temptation leads unto. And they are of two sorts: — First, such as are extraordinary, when the hand of God is in them in a peculiar manner for our rebuke. It is true, God tempts none, as temptation formally leads unto sin; but he orders temptations so far forth as they are afflictive and chastisements. Thus it is when he suffers an especial corruption within to fall in conjunction with an especial temptation without, and to obtain a prevalency thereby. Of these there is no doubt but any man not judicially hardened may know both his disease and the remedy. But that ordinary course of temptations which we are exercised withal needs a diligent attendance for their discovery, as well as for our deliverance from them. And it is to be feared that many are kept in spiritual weakness, useless, and in darkness, all their days, through the power of their temptations, yet never know what they are or wherein they consist. These gray hairs are sprinkled on them, yet they know it not. Some approve themselves in those very things and ways which are their temptations. Yet in the exercise of due watchfulness, diligence, and prudence, men may know both the plague of their own hearts in their prevailing corruptions, and the ways whereby it is excited through temptation, with the occasions it makes use of and the advantages it takes. For instance, one may have an eminency in gifts, and usefulness or success in his labors, which give him great acceptance with others. Such an one shall hardly avoid a double temptation, — first, of spiritual pride and self-exaltation. Hence the apostle will not admit “a novice,” one unexperienced in the ways of grace and deceits of sin, into the office of the ministry, lest he should be “lifted up with pride,” and “fall into the condemnation of the devil,” 1 Timothy 3:6; he himself was not without danger hereof, 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. The best of men can hardly fortify their minds against the secret workings of pride upon successes and applause, unless they keep themselves constantly balanced with thoughts of their own vileness in the sight of God. And, secondly, remissness unto exact, universal mortification, which they countenance themselves against by their acceptance and success above others in the ministry. It were much to be desired that all who are ministers would be careful in these things; for although some of us may not much please others, yet we may so far please ourselves as to expose our souls unto these snares. And the effects of negligence herein do openly appear unto the disadvantage of the gospel. Others are much conversant in the world and the affairs of it. Negligence as unto a spiritual watch, vanity in converse, love of earthly things, with conformity unto the world, will on all occasions impose themselves upon them. If they understand not their temptations herein, spiritual mindedness will be impaired in them continually. Those that are rich have their especial temptations, which for the most part are many, plausible, and effectual; and those that are poor have theirs also. The snares of some lie in their constitutions; of others, in their society; of most, in the various circumstances of life. Those who are upon their watch in any due measure, who exercise any wisdom or observation concerning themselves, may know wherein their temptations do lie, what are the advantages whereby they perplex their minds and endanger their souls.
In these cases, generally, men are taught what are the ways and means of their deliverance and preservation. Wherefore there are three things required unto this duty, and spiritual wisdom unto them all: —
(1.)To know what are the especial temptations from whence you suffer, and whereby the life of God is obstructed in you. If this be neglected, if it be disregarded, no man can maintain either life or peace, or is spiritually minded.
(2.) To know your remedy, your relief, wherein alone it doth consist. Many duties are required of us unto this end, and are useful thereunto; but know assuredly that no one of them, not all of them in conjunction, will bring in relief, unto the glory of God and your own peace, without application by faith unto Him who “is able to succor them that are tempted.” Wherefore,
(3.) Herein lies your great duty with respect unto your temptations, namely, in a constant exercise of your thoughts on the love, care, compassion, and tenderness of Christ, with his ability to help, succor, and save them that do believe, so as to strengthen your faith and trust in him; which will assuredly prove successful and victorious.
The same duty is incumbent on us with respect unto any urgent prevalent general temptation. There are seasons wherein an hour of temptation comes on the earth to try them that dwell therein. What if a man should judge that now it is such an hour, and that the power of darkness is put forth therein? What if he should be persuaded that a general security, coldness, deadness, and decay in grace, especially as to the vigorous actings of zeal, love, and delight in God, with an indifferency unto holy duties, are the effects of this hour of temptation? I do not say determinately that so it is; let others judge as they see cause: but if any one do so judge, undoubtedly it is his duty to be exercised in his thoughts how he may escape in this day of trial, and be counted worthy to stand before the Son of man. He will find it his concernment to be conversant in his mind with the reasons and motives unto watchfulness, and how he may obtain such supplies of grace as may effectually preserve him from such decays.
3. All things in religion, both in faith and practice, are to be the objects of such thoughts. As they are proposed or occur in our minds in great variety, on all sorts of occasions, so we ought to give them entertainment in our meditations. To hear things, to have them proposed unto us, it may be in the way of a divine ordinance, and to let them slip out, or flow from us as water that is poured into a leaking vessel, is the ruin of many souls. I shall therefore choose out some instances, as was before proposed, of those things which I judge that they who would be spiritually minded ought to abide and abound in thoughts concerning.