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variety of ideas of whatever he may have felt or done in life, will present themselves unbidden to his memory. This involuntary recurrence of our ideas undoubtedly proves so much as this, that the mere entrance of a wicked imagination into the mind is not in itself criminal.
Evil into the mind of God or man
But though we cannot absolutely forbear to think of something, this train of our ideas by no means proceeds in an arbitrary and unconnected manner, and is far from being independent of our control. Though the mind cannot indeed be left wholly vacant of thought, it rests with us to determine what kind of thoughts shall occupy it. We may arrest any idea we choose, in its course through the mind, dwell upon it, expand it, and call up
and arrange a multitude of others related to it. Just so far as this power is lost, reason itself is eclipsed. It is this which enables us to think connectedly and long on any subject that we choose to contemplate, and to determine the class and colouring of the ideas which shall occupy o’r attention. It in effect amounts to a power of excluding from our minds any thought, which we may be unwilling should enter it. For though we cannot by a direct and despotic effort of will banish any idea, which presents itself, we can indirectly exclude it, by giying the mind another direction. That is to say, ,
we may prevent the entrance of wrong ideas into the mind, by always keeping it full of those which are right. No man, perhaps, in this world, we must
power in a perfect degree. But a good man is continually making approaches to it. His efforts are constantly aided by the law of habit, by which the yoke of our duties is made each day more easy, and their burthen more light; the force of temptation diminished, the power sistance increased; till at length, we can conceive of a mind so perfectly governed, that not a thought shall find its way into it, which the God of purity himself might not approve.
I fear, my friends, lest a subject, in itself simple, may have been made obscure by my endeavours to explain it. I mean merely to insist on the fact, which remains a fact whethier we succeed in explaining it or not, that we have the power of determining the direction, which our thoughts shall take; and that if evil thoughts gain a permanent possession of our minds, it is because we voluntarily cherish and invite them, or at least do not use our best efforts to exclude them. On this subject it is safe to make an appeal to experience. Ask of any man, who has been drawn into crimes, and he will tell you how easily he might have at first repelled the temptation ; how readily his mind would have obeyed a call to another object; how weak the allurement became while he was engaged in any regular occupation, till he has permitted his thoughts and wishes again to fix and fasten on it,
and suffered the dangerous eloquence of the senses to rouse his passions into activity.
The fact then, that the government of the thoughts is practicable, may, I think be safely assumed as incontestible; and I shall employ the time which remains, in suggesting some of the means, which will assist us in bringing them under regulation.
The first means which I shall suggest for the regulation of the thoughts, and that indeed without which all others are ineffectual, is a steady and systematic employment of our time; a vigorous exercise of our faculties in some useful occupation. A great part of the wretchedness of human life, we all know, proceeds from the want of something to do. But this is not the worst effect of idleness. It is impossible that we should long be unemployed, and keep our innocence. The mind, at least in its waking hours, can never cease to think ; and if it be not thinking of something useful and good, it will intallibly soon be occupied with what is pernicious and sinful. The demons of temptation always hover round a vacant, listless, and unoccupied mind, and mark it for their prey. In the shape of evil thoughts they tyrannize over the mind like the fabled seducer of our first mother. They fill it with
6 Illusions, as they list, phantoms and dreams
Next in their effects to idleness, are those trifling and insipid occupations, which take no permanent hold on the attention. To do any thing, indeed, that is innocent, is better than absolute sloth, and a free permission of the thoughts to wander where they please. But it is the duty of
Christian man to propose to himself some high and useful object to live for, some end that is worthy of the pursuit of an immortal being. We may always find in the cultivation and enlargement of our moral and intellectual powers; in the duties of our calling ; in the care of those entrusted to us ; in seeking that our fellow men may be made good and wise, that God may be honoured, that the blessings of the gospel may be diffused; the best security for the holiness of our thoughts, and the innocence of our lives. But at all events let us never permit ourselves to be idle while there
any thing, that is not criminal, to be done. At the first approach of evil thoughts, let us force ourselves to toil, and however reluctant the mind may be, still bind it down to its task. By God's grace, nothing that is necessary for us is impracticable, and with every temptation, if we are true to ourselves, he will make a way for our escape.
A second aid to assist us in the regulation of our thoughts, is a constant use of the means of religion, and particularly of prayer. Reading the scriptures, attendance on the ordinances of religion, every thing which increases our belief in the doc
trines and promises of the gospel, must be powerful instruments to assist us in withstanding the temptation of vain thoughts and unholy desires. “ It is faith,” says St. Paul, “ which quenches the fiery darts of the devil;" “ which overcomes the world,” says St. John. It is a breastplate, and a shield. By faith God is pleased; by faith we are sanctified; by faith we are saved ; and faith, we are told, cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. And if we listen to the result of the experience of those, who have longest fought the good fight of faith, they will tell us, that among the most effectual and certain means of resisting the irruption of unholy thoughts into the mind, is humble and hearty prayer. O God, and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” is not only the genuine language of devotion, but the language also of a mind, that had known the power of temptation, and knew also where to fly for refuge. Our security from sin must be always placed in a humble sense of our own weakness, and a consciousness that we need the divine assistance. Let us then live much in communion with God; and from every blessing, suffering, and fall, take occasion to breathe our gratitude, submission, and
penitence. This is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. And we may always have this confidence, that God never deserts the humble