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UNITED SECESSION MAGAZINE,
FOR JANUARY, 1815.
THE THOUGHTS OF THE HEART.
It has often been remarked, that there are few thinking men in the world. And when by thought we understand mental reasoning, the investigation of the soundness of premise or inference, the detention of a subject before the mind, and the examination of it in all its bearings, the statement is sadly true. Those who so think are a small minority of mankind. The multitude imbibe impressions, and embrace conclusions, in a great measure passively. Their minds are like the surface of the pool
, over which the driving clouds cast for a moment the outlines of their shadowy forms, to be succeeded by others equally indistinct and flexting : For thinking naturally is a laborious and tiresome task, and most persons contrive to shun the repulsive employment.
But when we take thought in a wider sense, as comprehending all the various exercises of the mental faculties—all the workings of the restless spirit
, then nothing is more common than thinking. The mind of every man, during his waking hours (and often in sleep too), is continually active, perceiving, or remembering, or comparing, or wishing, or willing, Every second of time, therefore, is evolving throughout the world many millions of thoughts. From every rational soul, indeed, there is silently flowing, with varying degrees of rapidity, in different cases, but with equal continuousness in all, a stream of perceptions, imaginations, emo. tions. Could we suppose these currents blended into one the thoughts of mankind mingled and pouring forth together, like ten thousand rills in some mighty river—who could describe the vast, strange, tumultuous
Yet every one of these millions, past reckoning, of human thoughts, has imperishable record in the book of God's omniscience. Before the eye of him who counts the sands, and distinguishes each grain from its fellows—who traces every rain-drop in the thunder shower from cloud to sea—they all remain unforgotten and indelible. What is more, every imagination of man's heart has a moral character—is pleasing or offen-sive to a holy God. A melancholy view it is which this remark opens
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up. For, in the mass of human thoughts and feelings, the vile and vain inconceivably predominate ; and the good are as the particles of golddust which sparkle amid the sands of some rivers, precious but rare. If the entire multitude were marshalled according to their respectively engrossing objects, how many millions would rank severally under the banners of sensuality, of pride, of revenge, of vanity, of mammon-how few be found on the Lord's side! O! whither has our world wandered that there should be so vast a proportion of mankind whose character these words describe, “ God is not in all their thoughts?” Were the hierbs and flowers of the field sentient and rational, yet never to think of the sun whose light and heat nourish and adorn them, the forgetfulness would be in every respect less monstrous.
But it would be unwise to lose ourselves in so general a contemplation. Let us narrow the view, and look at home. Let us take a single heart; and to every reader, of course, his own is the best instance, and inquire what proportion of its thoughts and emotions belong to God, and are pleasing in his sight. Among the multitu le that fill up the course of existence, for the space of one day, what a fractionary number, if any, are given, in most cases, to God and good !
This is a subject for the earnest examination of every professing Christian. The believer is bound to glorify God in his spirit, to keep the heart for God, to keep it as a temple; but how often do liis enemies find entrance, and harbour there! To make this evident, let us reflect what unworthy, worldly, vain thoughts interlace themselves with the texture of our religious exercises ; so much so, that, as has been observed, we should blush often to read our prayers, were they written down, interlined with the imaginations which spring up in our minds whilə offering them. Consider how rarely, at other times than the recurring sçasons of morning and evening devotions, leisure is sought for communion in heart with God. And again, what may be the number of spontaneous thoughts of God—thoughts, we mean, which arise without the distinct effort that is implied when we address ourselves to some devotional duty—thoughts which meet us, as will the remembered image of a beloved friend, in the midst of business or amusement, in society, or in solitude. It would be a farther and useful inquiry, what welcome do such thoughts receive; but it may be profitable, in the first instance, to ask, how often do they come?
We are persuaded that an honest and careful investigation of the heart's workings, in order to answer such questions, would disclose a result startling to many professors, and humbling to all. Let Christians faithfully classify their thoughts, assigning to self and the world the share they engross; numbering the thousands absorbed by trifies; the many still more directly and markedly the spawn of sin ; and who may not mourn a heart ill kept, as he observes the proportion left for God? Yet, why should the things of God be so much neglected ? Not, surely, because they are unworthy of daily meditation. No themes are so deserving. The mention of a few of them will be evidence enough. The character of the Three-One-Jehovah; the wonders of creation, as wrought by him; the device of salvation; the glorious person and work of Emmanuel : the ways of providence; resurrection, judgment, immortality. Are not these high argument for thought, not soon to be ex
hausted ? Nor can they suffer neglect, because we have little to remind us of them; for all things speak of God. Neither can it be that such meditation has been tried and found unprofitable. The experience of all genuine believers must mark out those as their happiest hours when their hearts were most warmly fixed on divine things. Hear how David speaks on the subject :-“ My meditation of him shall be sweet. O how love I thy law, it is my meditation all the day. Blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law doth ho meditate day and night." Is this happiness a dream? Is there proposed here a utopian standard of duty and enjoyment never to be reached or aimed at ? Rather as the entire absence of God from men's thoughts proves most satisfactorily the enmity of the carnal heart, may we not judge of the degree of our love to God by the measure of our approach to the experience of David?
For, al though other causes exist, it is not difficult to see that the grand reason why divine things obtain no more of our meditation, is want of sufficient interest in them. It is a hard thing to bridle the restless mind; yet vivid interest in any subject will chain its attention down. Thus some ruling passion will force the great majority of a Inan's thoughts into its own impetuous channel, and levy an indirect tribute from many of the rest. To the miser, for example, gold is every thing but omnipresent, glittering in all he sees, tinkling in all lie hears; every object in nature being linked to his imagination as by a golden thread. What charmed attention will not some stirring tale of fact or romance command ! Or suppose the heart smitten by sudden and stunning calamity, and scarcely for an instant will the sufferer be able to banish the remembrance of his grief. By comparison or contrast, every thing will suggest it; as, in certain cases of visual illusion, the diseased eye sees mingled with every object on which it lights one unvarying image. Now, did the things of God hold the place to which they are entitled in our esteem, ard awaken corresponding interest, they would, much in the manner stated, command our thoughts; tincturing them, even when not directly employed in sacred meditation, with hues of heaven. “ Jesus Christ," said the great Luther, " is the beginning, the middle, and the end of my thoughts."
But there is, besides, too little pains-taking with our hearts, for the express purpose of keeping their thoughts with God. Vagrant as the mind is, many a student of science has got so much the mastery over it
, as to bind it down at will to the pursuit of his favourite branch of knowledge: and may not the student of sacred truth prevail likewise in subduing the restless wanderings of the heart? If, indeed, discouraged by the failure of first attempts, we sit down in indolent despair of bringing the truant thoughts to obedience, the evil will assuredly grow. But persevering endeavours will eventually be in some measure successful, to the unspeakable peace of the soul. Continual dropping wears the rock. The first traveller who takes his way athwart some green meadow leaves no perceptiblu impression on the grassy sward, but the attrition of successive footsteps produces at length the beaten path, which none may miss. So, in the process of mental discipline, the advance attained by any one eifort may be undiscernible; —the distance between successive stages too minute for admeasurement; yet the aggregate result of many resolute attempts will be sufficiently apparent; and assuredly, the issue will repay the toil. There are few more desirable blessings than a well-regulated mind, whose affections and imaginations are subject to wise control. It is like the peaceful, orderly, happy home, in which a man so gladly takes refuge from the turmoil of the world. Its importance, it is to be feared, is often forgotten. Is there no reason to suspect that just because the heart is removed from the inspection of men, the duty of ruling it well is sadly lost sight of? May not heads of families, for example, be found who aim at preserving subordination in their households, but expend little pains in governing their own spirits. Like apartments in some dwellings abandoned to confusion, because shut to the stranger's eye, may we not fear that the hearts of many who pay some regard to their deportment are little attended to, because their fellow-creatures enter not there? But a man's bosom, though closed to other men's inspection, is open to his own eye and to God's; and to make a sluggard's garden of it, is at once to mar his enjoyments, and disregard his obligations. The words of the wise man suggest this farther important consideration, that, by attending to the heart, the conduct also will be most successfully regulated. “Keep thy heart,” he says, “ with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.”
This pains-taking may be the more cheerfully undertaken by the Christian, and ought to be the more sedulously persevered in, that he has access to the throne of grace. Prayerful effort will be powerful effort. Carry then your vagrant hearts, Christians, to the mercy-seat, chastise them in the presence of God in penitent confession; and, as you find that even there they break away in the pursuit of vanities, follow them, bring them back again to own the sin afresh ; plead with your Lord to lay his hand on them, and bind every faculty with cords of his love; and, though the heart be more untameable than the tongue, and this more than beast, or bird, or serpent, defies human subjugation, you shall obtain the victory. The poor wandering spirit, by nature so driven of Satan and its own unholy imaginings, self-torturing, haunting the tombs, will be best subdued to peace by the voice, and at the feet, of Jesus. The inhabitation and influence of the Holy Ghost, as when of old, brooding over chaos, he hushed its turbulent elements to calm, will restrain the roaming fancy, and bid the passions be still. Persevere in taking unruly hearts to the throne of grace, and in due time, so to phrase it, they will take you there. Your affections will anticipate your seasons of prayer, and your spirits be often in the closet when your bodily presence is elsewhere; and it will be useful to shape your casual thoughts of heavenly things into the mould of petition. One devout breathing, upsent from the soul, will obtain the grace that renders many more, and these in turn will beget others. Devout thoughts are precious capital ; devout thoughts formed into prayer are such capital laid out to interest.
A sentence may be needful here to obviate mistaken inference from some of the foregoing remarks. It is not meant that all thoughts are sinful and vain, except those which have for their direct object divine things. Thoughts of secular business, or study, or recreation, may be holy nevertheless, as thoughts about the most sacred subjects may be,