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piness and improvement of our fellow men, we must learn to control our thoughts, restrain our vain and wandering imaginations, and seek to make the proper business of life in our various callings, and the duties of devotion at their
арpointed seasons, fill and occupy our minds.
II. That our thoughts should be brought under discipline, is necessary, in the second place, for our happiness in actual life, and to fit us for its common scenes and duties. A great deal of misery is produced, particularly among those, who have no absorbing occupation, and those in whom the illusions of youth have not been corrected by the experience of actual life, by indulging the imagination in forming schemes and hopes of visionary felicity; or as it is sometimes called, “ building castles in the air.” It is indeed very delightful to give the reins to the thoughts, to send fancy on the wing from this world of imperfection and pain, and sorrow and sin, to scenes where every thing is perfect, happy and fair ; where nature wears an eternal bloom, where the skies are always blue, and the winds always balmy ; where children are always virtuous, friends never faithless, and fortune is never fickle ; where the eye knows no tear, and the heart no pang.
But this is not life as we must expect to find it. This is not the world in which we are to live, and in which we are to act. It is not intended that this state of trial should ever realize such dreams of fancy. And the effects of indulging this luxury of vain imagination are neither salutary nor innocent. If we could descend, indeed, from these airy fabrics of unreal felicity, and return as before to the common duties of life, the harshest epithet which we could apply to this employment would be, that it was useless. But both our happiness and our fitness for our duties are lessened by it. When we awake from these delusions, we feel the full force of the contrast between what we see and what we have imagined. The scenes and duties of common life appear tame and insipid, after gazing on the beautiful creations of fancy. The effects on the mind are precisely similar to those produced by works of fiction, except that in this case we read merely the fiction of another, and in that, we make the romance for ourselves; and are therefore more in danger of mistaking it for reality. The realities of life must always fall far short of the pictures of fancy. When we descend from the lofty regions where in imagination we have been dwelling, and are called on to perform the common place duties of good husbands, and wives, and fathers, and children, and citizens, which of course can very seldom call us to feel much either of rapture or of anguish, we miss the strong stimulus to which our passions have been accustomed. We find that we have been nourishing a sickly and fastidious delicacy, which revolts at the plain and homely, and sometimes coarse and
disgusting employments, to which we are destined. A spirit of discontent and unhappiness is apt to spring up We lose our cheerful acquiescence in the purposes of Providence, and our ready submission to that wisdom which always decides best for
I do not say that this is always the effect of any degree of indulgence of these vain thoughts, but it is the tendency of it, and therefore it is that we must seek to banish them. We must refuse ourselves the luxury of solitary musing, and building castles in the air, and let hope and fancy and memory be regulated by reason and religion. Our expectations from life must become accommodated to its true state. We must be contented with the mixture of good and evil as it has been mingled for us, and not expect that we are born, with a peculiar destiny, to a happiness and perfection which is denied to others. If indeed it were nothing more than an unprofitable waste of time, that alone would be reason enough to confine this dissipation of thought, and restrain its irregularities. Enough surely of life is spent unprofitably, without giving any of the little, which remains, to the delusions of visionary happiness.
III. But the necessity of regulating our thoughts will
appear more serious, when we consider their influence on our moral character. All action has its origin in the mind. The thought is the rudiment of the deed. Meditation produces desire,
and desire leads to practice. If then we would have our actions right, we must make our thoughts pure,
and learn to forbear to think on what we are forbidden to do.
The manner in which evil thoughts are connected with bad actions is obvious. There is no one, who is yet innocent, who is not shocked by the idea of crimes, when they appear in all their magnitude and deformity. No one ever leaped over the limits of virtue into the confines of confirmed vice, at a single bound. On the contrary, the exclamation, “ Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing," is the natural impulse of every man's mind, whose conscience is yet unseared, at the very suggestion of atrocious guilt. But by revolving with pleasure the safety, facility, or advantages, of a wicked deed, he finds his constancy waver, his resolution relax, his detestation soften. The idea of some fraudulent stratagem or scene of guilty pleasure, which at first perhaps was admitted into the mind from curiosity merely, is next regarded with complacency; comes at length to be cherished with fondness; at last assumes the form of desire; and how nearly allied is desire to transgression, there are too many of us, alas, who know! What we allow ourselves to wish, we are soon induced to attempt to gain. He who suffers his thoughts and wishes to dwell too long on the pleasures and advantages which he should derive from what another possesses, will begin to reconcile his mind to
some unlawful measure for procuring it. He, who suffers his imagination to be filled with images of guilty and degrading pleasure, will at length find his desire irresistibly stimulated to gratification. Every moment spent in meditation on sin increases its dangerous power over us, till at length the idea of pleasure overcomes the sense of guilt; the last limit of innocence is, though perhaps timidly and reluctantly, past—we enter into the confines of sin— it may
be, never to return. We are thus irresistibly led to the conclusion, that he who would govern his actions by the laws of virtue, must regulate his thoughts by those of reason and religion. It is not possible that a man should walk outwardly in the law of God, who is constantly feeding his imagination with the pleasures of sin. The passions will at last act. It is difficult to stop when we have inflamed ourselves with every possible incentive to advance; to abstain, when appetite is sharpened to its keenest edge. Of what therefore we are forbidden to do, we must learn to forbid ourselves to think ; and make the propriety of action a test of the
propriety of thought. If it is wrong to gratify revenge, it is wrong to dwell on it in imagination. If we must resist the allurements of pleasure, we must refuse to contemplate them. We must not seek to indemnify ourselves for the restraints which we impose on our actions, by the sinful indulgences of imagination. There must be no discor