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    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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GRACE

thomasgoodwinThomas Goodwin:

“Grace” is more than mercy and love, it super-adds to them. It denotes, not simply love, but the love of a sovereign, transcendently superior, one that may do what he will, that may wholly choose whether he will love or no. There may be love between equals, and an inferior may love a superior; but love in a superior, and so superior as he may do what he will, in such a one love is called grace: and therefore grace is attributed to princes; they are said to be gracious to their subjects, whereas subjects cannot be gracious to princes. Now God, who is an infinite Sovereign, who might have chosen whether ever He would love us or no, for Him to love us, this is grace.

 

 

Wandering Thoughts

Thought and wisdom are not to be confused. The wisdom that many possess in their later years comes by the Holy Spirit through the power of sanctification. The work of the Spirit in our minds facilitates the gradual dying out of the power of temptation over us. Yet our thoughts are not completely free of temptation. Thomas Goodwin writes:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

We find our minds ready to spend thoughts about anything rather than what God at present calls unto. When we go to a sermon, we find we could then spend our thoughts more willingly about reading, or haply searching our hearts; unto which at another time, when called to it, we should be most unwilling to. We could be content to run wild over the fields of meditations and miscellaneous thoughts, though about good, rather than to be tied to that task, and kept in one set path. . . .

[T]hough indeed the mind of man is nimble and able thus to run from one end of the earth to another, which is its strength and excellence, yet God would not have this strength, and nimbleness, and mettle spirit in curveting and trembling, as I may call it, but in steady directing all our thoughts straight on to his glory, our own salvation, and the good of others; he gave it this nimbleness to turn away from evil, and the first appearance of it. As we are to walk in God’s ways he calls us to, so every thought, as well as every action, is a step, and therefore ought to be steady; ‘Make straight steps to your feet,’ says the Apostle, Heb. xii. 13, turning not to the right hand nor to the left, until we come to the journey’s end of that business we are to think of. But our thoughts at best are as wanton spaniels, who, though indeed they go with and accompany their master, and come to their journey’s end with him in the end, yet do run after every bird, and wildly pursue every flock of sheep they see. This unsteadiness arises from the like curse on the mind of man as was on Cain, that it being ‘driven from the presence of the Lord,’ it proves a vagabond, and so ‘men’s eyes are in the ends of the earth.’ This foolishness is also seen in that independence in our thoughts; they hanging oft together as ropes of sand. . . . This madness and distemper is in the mind since the fall . . . that if notes were taken of our thoughts, we should find thoughts so vagrant, that we know not how they come in, nor whence they come, nor whither they would. . . . And as Seneca says of men’s lives, as of ships that are tossed up and down at sea, it may be said they have been tossed much but sailed nothing; the like in this respect may be said of the thoughts. Or as when men make imperfect dashes, and write nonsense, they are said to scribble, they do not write; so, in these follies and independencies, we . . . lose ourselves, we do not think.

The Sinfulness Of The Mind!

This excerpt from the writings of Thomas Goodwin reminds me of these verses:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:5-7 ESV)

Let us now read what Goodwin has to say on the matter:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in a loathness to enter into holy thoughts, to begin to set itself to think of God, and the things belonging unto our peace; even as loath they are to this as schoolboys are to their books, or to busy their minds about their lessons, their heads being full of play; so loath are our minds to enter into serious considerations, into sad, solemn thoughts of God or death, etc. Men are as loath to think of death as thieves of the execution; or to think of God, as they are of their judge. So to go over their own actions, in a review of them, and read the blurred writing of their hearts, and to ‘commune with them,’ at night in the end of the day, (as David did, Ps. lxxvii. 6,) men are as loath to do this as schoolboys are to parse their lesson; and the false Latins they have made. Job xxi. 14, ‘Depart from us;’ say they in Job unto God; from their thoughts they meant it, for it follow; ‘we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ They would not think of him, or know him, by their good wills. And therefore our mind; like a bad stomach, are nauseated with the very scent of good things, and soon cast them up again: Rom. 1. 28, ‘They like not to retain the knowledge of God.’. . .

The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in the godly, that though they entertain good thoughts, yet the mind is not, will not, be long intent on them. Some things there are which we are and can be intent upon, and accordingly dwell long upon them; and therefore, in Job xvii. 11, the thoughts are called the ‘possessions of the heart,’ – so it is in the original and noted in the margin. Such thoughts as are pleasing, the heart dwells on them; yea, so intent are we often, that they hinder our sleep: as it is said of wicked men, ‘They cannot sleep for multitude of thoughts,’ Eccles. v. 12; so, ‘to devise froward things,’ Solomon says, Prov. xvi. 30, that ‘a man shuts his eyes,’ that is, is exceeding attentive, poreth upon his plots; for so a man doth use to do, to shut his eyes when he would be intent, and therefore it is so expressed. But now let the mind be occupied and busied about good things, and things belonging to our peace, how unsteady is it! Which things should yet draw out the intention of the mind; for the more excellent the object is, the stronger our intention should be. God is the most glorious object our minds can fasten on, the most alluring: the thoughts of whom therefore should swallow up all other, as not worthy to be seen the same day with him. But I appeal to all your experiences, if your thoughts of him be not most unsteady, and are, that I may so compare it, as when we look upon a star through an optic glass, held with a palsy-shaking hand. . . . So when we are hearing the word, how do our minds ever and anon run out of the church, and come in again, and so do not hear half what is said! So when we are at our callings, which God bids us to be conversant about with all our might, Eccles. ix. 10; yet our minds, like idle truants, or negligent servants, though sent about never so serious a business, yet go out of the way to see any sport, run after the hares that cross the way, fellow after butterflies that buzz about us. And so when we come to pray, Christ bids ‘watch to prayer,’ Mark xiii. 33; that is, as if we were at every door to place a guard, that none come in and disturb and knock us off. But how oft doth the heart nod, and fall asleep, and run into another world, as men in dreams do! Yea, so natural are distractions to us, when we are busied about holy duties, that as excrements come from men, when very, weak and sick, ere they are aware of it, so do worldly thoughts from him; and we are carried out of that stream of good our mind was running in, into some by-creek, ere we are aware of it. (“The Vanity of Thoughts”)

Learning From Injuries

The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears the utmost in the ungodly. Yet, they may entertain good thoughts, but their minds will not dwell upon them very long. Thomas Goodwin elaborates:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

A heart sanctified, and in whose affections true grace is en-kindled, out of all God’s dealings with him, out of the things he sees and hears, out of all the objects are put into the thoughts, he distilleth holy, and sweet, and useful meditations; and it naturally doth it, and ordinarily doth it, so far as it is sanctified. So our Savior Christ, all speeches of others which he heard, all accidents and occurrences, did still raise and occasion in him heavenly meditations, as we may see throughout the whole Gospels. When he came by a well, he speaks of the ‘water of life,’ John IV. &c. Many instances might be given. He in his thoughts translated the book of the creatures into the book of grace, and so did Adam’s heart in innocency. His philosophy might be truly termed divinity, because he saw God in all; all raised up his heart to thankfulness and praise. So now, in like manner, our minds, so far as they are sanctified, will do. As the philosopher’s stone turns all metals into gold, as the bee sucks honey out of every flower, and a good stomach sucks out some sweet and wholesome nourishment out of what it takes into itself; so doth a holy heart, so far as sanctified, convert and digest all into spiritual useful thoughts. This you may see, Ps. cvii. 43. That psalm gives many instances of God’s providence, and ‘wonderful works which he doth for the sons of men;’ as deliverances by sea; where men see his wonders; deliverance to captives, &c. : and still the foot of the song is, ‘0 that men would therefore praise the Lord for the wonderful works he doth for the sons of men.’ Now, after all these instances, he concludes, that though others pass over such occurrences with ordinary slight thought; yet says he, ‘The righteous shall see it, and rejoice,’ that is, extract comfortable thoughts out of all, which shall be matter of joy; and ‘whoso is wise will observe these things,’ that is; makes holy observations out of all these, and out of a principle of wisdom he understands God’s goodness in all, and so his heart is raised to thoughts of praise, and thankfulness; and obedience. Now, compare with this the 92d Psalm, made for the Sabbath, when, in imitation of God, who that day viewed his work; we are, on our Lord’s day, still to raise holy praiseful thoughts out of them to his glory, which he that penned that psalm then did, ver. 1, 2, and ver. 5, 6, ‘How great are thy works!’ &c. ‘A brutish man knows not, nor will a fool understand this;’ that is, he being a beast, and having no sanctified principle of wisdom in him, looks no further than a beast into all the works of God and occurrences of things; looks on all blessings as things provided for man’s delight by God; but he extracts seldom holy, spiritual, and useful thoughts out of all, he wants the art of doing it.

If injuries be offered us by others, what do our thoughts distill out of those wrong; but thoughts of revenge? We meditate how to requite it again. But see how naturally David’s mind distills other thoughts of Shimei’s cursing, 2 Sam. xvi. 11, ‘God hath bidden him,’ and it may prove a good sign of God’s favor, ‘God may requite good for it.’ When we see judgments befall other; severe thoughts of censure our minds are apt to raise against our brother, as Job’s friends did. But a godly man, whose mind is much sanctified, raises other thoughts out of it, Prov. xxi. 29, ‘wisely consider.’

So when outward mercies befall us, the next thoughts we are apt to have is to project ease by our wealth, ‘Thou hast goods for many years;’ and when judgments befall us, we are apt to be filled with thoughts of complaint, and fear; and cares how to wind out again. But what were the first thoughts Job had upon the news of the loss of all? God hath given, and the Lord hath taken, blessed be the Lord for all.

Such thoughts as these, which all opportunities hint unto, a good heart is apprehensive of; and doth naturally raise for its own use. So far barren as our thoughts are, so far vain. (“The Vanity of Thoughts”)

Our Thoughts May Also Be Sins

Have you ever considered your thought life? Thomas Goodwin explains how our thoughts become our enemies:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

And because this is the sense I chiefly must insist on in handling the vanity of the thoughts, and also men usually think that thoughts are free, I will therefore prove this to you, which is the only doctrine raised, that thoughts are sins. . . .

They are to be repented of; yea, repentance is expressed as to begin at them: so, Isa. lv. 7, ‘Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts.’ And a man is never truly and thoroughly wrought on, as 2 Cor, x. 4, 6, till ‘every thought be brought into obedience;’ which argues that they are naturally rebellious, and contrary to grace. And this also argues the power of grace, which is able to rule and to subdue so great an army as our thoughts are, and command them all, as one day it will do, when we are perfectly holy.

They defile the man; which nothing defiles but sin: Matt. xv. 18, 19, ‘Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts; these defile the man.’ They are an abomination to the Lord, who hates nothing but sin, and whose ‘pure eyes can endure to behold no iniquity,’ Hab. i. 13. As good meditations are acceptable, Ps. xix. 14, so, by the rule of contrary, bad are abominable.

They hinder all good we should do, and spoil our best performances. Vain thoughts draw the heart away in them, that when a man should draw nigh to God, his heart, by reason of his thoughts, is ‘far off from him,’ Isa. xxix. 13. A man’s heart goes after his covetousness, when he should hear, as the prophet speaks, because his thoughts thus run. Now, nothing else but sin could separate; and what doth estrange us from God is sin, and enmity to him.

Our thoughts are the first motioners of all the evil in us. For they make the motion, and also bring the heart and object together, are panders to our lusts, hold up the object till the heart hath played the adulterer with it, and committed folly: so in speculative uncleanness, and in other lusts, they hold up the images of those gods they create, which the heart falls down and worships; they present credit, riches, beauty, till the heart hath worshipped them, and this when the things themselves are absent.

Thomas Goodwin: The Vanity of Thoughts

From the writings of Thomas Goodwin, we are here treated to an article which helps us to discern what the Bible means by “vain thoughts”:

O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)

My scope in our ordinary course is, to discover the wickedness and vanity of the heart by nature. In the heart, we are yet but in the upper parts of it, the understanding, and the defilements thereof, which are to be washed out of it; and the next defilement which in my broken order I mean to handle is that which is here specified, THE VANITY OF YOUR THOUGHTS. For the discovery’s sake of which only, I chose this text as my ground; that is it, therefore, which I chiefly insist upon; a subject which, I confess, would prove of all else the vastest. . . .

By thoughts the Scriptures do comprehend all the internal acts of the mind of man, of what faculty so ever; all those reasonings, consultations, purposes, resolutions, intents, ends, desires, and cares of the mind of man, as opposed to our external words and actions. . . . I mean not to speak of, generally, all thoughts therein, neither, as not of the reasonings or deliberations in our actions, but those musings only in the speculative part. And so I can no otherwise express them to you than thus: Those same first more simple conceits, apprehensions that arise, those fancies, meditations, which the understanding, by the help of fancy, frames within itself of things; those whereon your minds ponder and pore, and muse upon things; these I mean by thoughts. I mean those talkings of our minds with the things we know, as the Scripture calls it, Prov. vi. 22; those same parleys, interviews, chattings, the mind hath with the things let into it, with the things we fear, with the things we love. For all these things our minds make their companions, and our thoughts hold them discourse, and have a thousand conceits about them; this I mean by thoughts. . . .

Take it in all the acceptations of it; it is true of our thoughts that they are vain. It is taken for unprofitableness. So, Eccles. i. 2, 3, ‘All is vain,’ because there is ‘no profit in them under the sun.’ Such are our thoughts by nature; the wisest of them will not stand as in any stead in time of need, in time of temptation, distress of conscience, day of death or judgment: 1 Cor. ii. 6, ‘All the wisdom of the wise comes to naught;’ Prov. x. 20, ‘The heart of the wicked is little worth,’ not a penny for them all. Whereas the thoughts of a godly man are his treasure ‘Out of the good treasure of his heart he brings them forth.’ He mints them, and they are laid up as his riches. Ps. cxxxix. 17, ‘How precious are they!’ He there speaks of our thoughts of God, as the object of them; ‘Thy thoughts ‘ – that is, of thee, ‘are precious.’

Vanity is taken for lightness. ‘Lighter than vanity’ is a phrase used, Ps. lxii. 9; and whom is it spoken of? Of men; and if anything in them be lighter than other, it is their thoughts, which swim in the upper most parts, float at the top, are as the scum of the heart. When all the best, and wisest, and deepest, and solidest thoughts in Belshazzar, a prince, were weighed, they were found too light, Dan. v. 27.

Vanity is put for folly. So, Prov. xii. 11, ‘vain men’ is made all one with men ‘void of understanding’. Such are our thoughts. Among other evils which are said to ‘come out of the heart, Mark vii 22, is reckoned as one, foolishness, that is, thoughts that are such as madmen have, and fools, nothing to the purpose, of which there can be made no use, which a man knows not whence they should come, nor whither they would, without dependence. . . .

Lastly, they are vain; that is, indeed, wicked and sinful. Vanity in the text here is yoked with wickedness; and vain men and sons of Belial are all one, 2 Chron. xiii. 7. And such are our thoughts by nature: Prov. xxiv. 9, ‘The thought of foolishness is sin.’ And therefore a man is to be humbled for a proud thought, Prov. xxx. 32.

Thomas Goodwin: How Long?

There is much vanity in our thoughts and manner of thinking. Our thoughts are subject to vanity much more than we wish to admit. Thomas Goodwin explains:

How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? (Jeremiah 4:14)

In these words he compares the heart unto some house of common resort, made, as it were, with many and large rooms to entertain and lodge multitudes of guests in; into which, before conversion, all the vain, light, wanton, profane, dissolute thoughts that post up and down the world, as your thoughts do, and run riot all the day, have free, open access, the heart keeps open house to them, gives them willing, cheerful welcome and entertainment; accompanies them, travels over all the world for the daintiest pleasures to feed them with; lodgeth, harbors them; and there they, like unruly gallants and roisters, lodge, and revel it day and night, and defile those rooms they lodge in with their loathsome filth and vomits. ‘How long,’ says the Lord, ‘shall they lodge therein,’ whilst I, with my Spirit, my Son, and train of graces, ‘stand at the door and knock,’ Rev. iii. 20, and cannot find admittance? Of all which filthiness, etc the heart, this house, must be washed: ‘Wash thy heart from wickedness.’ Washed, not swept only of grosser evils, as, Matt. xii. 43, the house the unclean spirit re-enters into is said to be swept of evils that lay loose and uppermost, but washed and cleansed of those defilements which stick more close, and are incorporated and wrought into the spirit. And those vain and unruly guests must be turned out of doors without any warning; they have stayed there long enough, too long: ‘how long?’ And ‘the time past may suffice,’ as the Apostle speaks; they must lodge there no more. The house, the soul, is not in conversion to be pulled down, but only these guests turned out; and though kept out they cannot be, they will still enter whilst we are in these houses of clay, yet lodge they must not. If thoughts of anger and revenge come in the morning or daytime, they must be turned out ere night: ‘Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’ Eph. iv. 26; for so you may come to lodge yet a worse guest in your heart with them. ‘Give not place to the devil,’ for it follows, who will ‘bring seven worse with him.’ If unclean thoughts offer to come to bed to thee when thou lie down, let them not lodge with thee. To conclude, it is not what thoughts are in your hearts, and pass through them, as what lodging they have, that doth difference your repentance. Many good thoughts and motions may pass as strangers through a bad man’s heart; and so likewise multitudes of vain thoughts may make a thoroughfare of a believer’s heart, and disturb him in good duties, by knockings and interruptions, and breakings in upon the heart of a good man; but still they lodge not there – are not fostered, or harbored. (“The Vanity of Thoughts”)

The Undisciplined Mind

Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680)

Thomas Goodwin

The following article is from an essay by Thomas Goodwin which is titled “The Vanity of Thoughts.” Goodwin clearly understands that a few thoughts of faith will save us from dwelling on many unproductive cares and fears:

The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in a loathsomeness to enter into holy thoughts, to begin to set itself to think of God, and the things belonging unto our peace; even as loath they are to this as schoolboys are to their books, or to busy their minds about their lessons, their heads being full of play; so loath are our minds to enter into serious considerations, into sad, solemn thoughts of God or death, etc. Men are as loath to think of death as thieves of the execution; or to think of God, as they are of their judge. So to go over their own actions, in a review of them, and read the blurred writing of their hearts, and to ‘commune with them,’ at night in the end of the day, men are as loath to do this as schoolboys are to parse their lesson. . . . And therefore our mind; like a bad stomach, are nauseated with the very scent of good things, and soon cast them up again. . . . + Let us go and try to wind up our souls, at any time, to holy meditations, to think of what we have heard, or what we have done, or what is our duty to do, and we shall find our minds, like the pegs of an instrument, slip between our fingers, as we are a-winding them up, and to fall down suddenly again, ere we are aware of it; yea, you shall find, will labor to shun what may occasion such thoughts, even as men go out of the way when they see they must meet with one they are loath to speak withal; yea, men dare not be alone, for fear such thoughts should return upon them. The best shall find gladness for an excuse by other occasions to knock off their thoughts from what is good; whereas in thinking of vain earthly things, we think the time passeth too fast, clocks strike too soon, hours pass away ere we are aware of it.

The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in the godly, that though they entertain good thoughts, yet the mind is not, will not, be long intent on them. Some things there are which we are and can be intent upon, and accordingly dwell long upon them. . . . Such thoughts as are pleasing, the heart dwells on them; yea, so intent are we often, that they hinder our sleep. . . . But now let the mind be occupied and busied about good things, and things belonging to our peace, how unsteady is it! Which things should yet draw out the intention of the mind; for the more excellent the object is, the stronger our intention should be. God is the most glorious object our minds can fasten on, the most alluring: the thoughts of whom therefore should swallow up all other, as not worthy to be seen the same day with him. But I appeal to all your experiences, if your thoughts of him be not most unsteady, and are, that I may so compare it, as when we look upon a star through an optic glass, held with a palsy-shaking hand. It is long ere we can bring our minds to have knowledge of him, to place our eyes upon him; and when we have, how do our hands shake, and so lose sight ever and anon! So whilst we are in never so serious talk with him, when all things else should stand without, and not dare to offer entrance till we have, done with him, yet how many chinks are there in the heart at which other thoughts come in! And our minds leave God, and follow them. . . . So when we are hearing the word, how do our minds ever and anon run out of the church, and come in again, and so do not hear half what is said! So when we are at our callings, which God bids us to be conversant about with all our might; yet our minds, like idle truants, or negligent servants, though sent about never so serious a business, yet go out of the way to see any sport, run after the hares that cross the way, follow after butterflies that buzz about us.

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