« AnteriorContinuar »
forceth the egress of its thoughts upwards towards heavenly things. It will think much and frequently of them; as if that were their
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, Psal. lxxviii. 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 but 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, Jer. xiii. 23. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed do to evil.' 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 or 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 ariseth 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 thundershowers 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. Where 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 help 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 iş a matter of great importance, it shall be handled distinctly by itself.
Outward means and occasions of thoughts of such spiritual things, which
do not prove men to be spiritually minded. Preaching of the word. Exercise of gifts. Prayer. How we may know whether our thoughts of spiritual things in prayer are truly spiritual thoughts, proving us to be
spiritually minded. First, Such a means is the preaching of the word itself. It is observed concerning many in the gospel, that they heard it willingly, received it with joy, and did many things gladly, upon the preaching of it. And we see the same thing exemplified in multitudes every day. But none of these things can be without many thoughts in the minds of such persons, about the spiritual things of the word. For they are the effects of such thoughts, and being wrought in the minds of men, will produce more of the same nature. Yet were they all hypocrites, concerning whom these things are spoken, and were never spiritually minded.
The cause of this miscarriage is given us by our Saviour, Matt. xiii. 20, 21. • He that receiveth the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon receiveth it with joy; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while.' The good thoughts they have, proceed not from any principle in themselves. Neither their affections nor their thoughts of these things, have any internal root whereon they should grow. So is it with many who live under the present dispensation of the gospel. They have thoughts of spiritual things continually suggested unto them; and they do abide with them more or less according as they are affected. For I speak not of them who are either despisers of what they hear, or way-side hearers, who understand nothing of what they hear, and immediately lose all sense of it, all thoughts about it. But I speak of them who attend with some diligence, and receive the word with some joy. These insensibly grow in know
ledge and understanding, and therefore cannot be without some thoughts of spiritual things. How beit for the most part they are, as was said, but like unto waters that run after a shower of rain. They pour out themselves as if they proceeded from some strong living spring, whereas indeed they have none at all. When once the waters of the shower are spent, their channel is dry, there is nothing in it but stones and dirt. When the doctrine of the word falls on such persons as showers of rain, it gives a course, sometimes greater sometimes less, unto their thoughts towards spiritual things. But they have not a well of water in them springing up into everlasting life. Wherefore, after awhile their minds are dried up from such thoughts; nothing remains in them but earth, and that perhaps foul and dirty.
It must be observed, that the best of men, the most holy and spiritually minded, may have, nay ought to have, their thoughts of spiritual things excited, multiplied, and confirmed, by the preaching of the word. It is one end of its dispensation, one principal use of it in them by whom it is received. And it hath this effect two ways. 1. As it is the spiritual food of the soul, whereby its principle of life and grace is maintained and strengthened. The more this is done, the more shall we thrive in being spiritually minded. 2. As it administereth occasion unto the exercise of grace. For proposing the proper object of faith, love, fear, trust, reverence unto the soul, it draws forth all those graces into exercise.
Wherefore, although the vigorous actings of spiritual thoughts be occasional from the word, be more under and after the preaching of it, than at other times, it is no more but what ariseth from the nature and use of the ordinance, by God's own appointment, nor is it any evidence that those with whom it is so are not spiritually minded; but on the contrary that they are. Yet where men have no other thoughts of this matter but what are occasioned by the outward dispensation of the word, such thoughts do not prove them to be spiritually minded. Their endeavours in them are like those of men in a dream. Under some oppression of their spirits, their imagination fixeth on some thing or other, that is most earnestly to be desired or avoided. Herein they seem to themselves to
strive with all their might, to endeavour to go, run or contend, but all in vain ; every thing fails them, and they are not relieved until they are awaked. So such persons in impressions they receive from the word, seem to strive and contend in their thoughts and resolutions to comply with what is proposed unto them; but their strength fails, they find no success for want of a principle of spiritual life, and after a time give over their endeavours until they are occasionally renewed again. Now the-thoughts which in the dispensation of the word do proceed from an inward princigrace
excited unto its due exercise, are distinguishable from them which are only occasionally suggested unto the mind by the word outwardly preached. For, 1. They are especial actings of faith and love towards the things themselves that are preached. They belong unto our receiving the truth in the love thereof. And love respects the goodness of the things themselves, and not merely the truth of the propositions wherein they are expressed. The other thoughts are only the sense of the mind as affected with light and truth, without any cordial love unto the things themselves. 2. They are accompanied with complacency of soul arising from love, experience, more or less, of the power of them, and their suitableness unto the new nature or principle of grace in them. For when our minds find that so indeed it is in us, as it is in the word; that this is that which we would be more conformable unto; it gives a secret complacency with satisfaction unto the soul. The other thoughts which are only occasional, have none of these concomitants or effects, but are dry and barren, unless it be in a few words or transient discourse. 3. The former are means of spiritual growth. So some say the natural growth of vegetables is not by insensible motion, but by gusts and sensible eruptions of increase. These are both in spiritual growth, and the latter consists much in those thoughts which the principle of the new nature is excited unto by the word in the latter.
2. The duty of prayer is another means of the like nature. One principal end of it is to excite, stir up, and draw forth the principle of grace, of faith and love in the heart, unto a due exercise in holy thoughts of God and spiritual things, with affections suitable unto them. Those who de