Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Vanity of thoughts

Thoughts are inconstant, changeable and difficult to control. In the
multitude of words, sin is not wanting and so with the multitude of
thoughts which are a multitude of images as well as words. Thomas
Goodwin's The vanity of thoughts discovered with their danger and cure
(1638) defines thoughts as "all the internal acts of the mind of man,
of what faculty soever; all those reasonings, consultations, purposes,
resolutions, intents, ends, desires, and cares of the mind of man, as
opposed to our external words and actions...those talkings of our
minds with the things we know, as the Scripture calls it, Prov. 6:22.
those same parleys, interviews, chattings, the mind hath with the
things let into it, with the things we fear, with the things we love."

He writes:
"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 ken of him, to place our
eyes upon him, and when we have, how do our hands shake, and so lose
sight ever and anon?… In Adam and Christ no thought was misplaced, but
though they were as many as the Stars, yet they marched in their
courses, and kept their ranks. But ours as meteors, dance up and down
in us. And this disorder is a vanity and sin…"

"We shall find our minds, like the pegs of an Instrument, slip
betweene our fingers, as we are a winding them up, and to fall downe
suddenly again, ere we are aware of it…"

The sermon is on How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?
JER. 4:14. Goodwin says that 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, harbours them; and
there they, like unruly gallants and roysters, 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

He further describes vain thoughts "as wanton boys, when they take
pens in their hands, scribble broken words that have no dependence.
Thus doe our thoughts: and if you would but look over the copies
thereof, which you write continually, you would find as much non-sense
in your thoughts, as you find in mad men's speeches. This madness and
distemper is in the mind since the fall (though it appears not in our
words, because we are wiser) 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 came, nor whither they would."

Goodwin speaks of how there is a theatre of the imagination in which
the heart acts out its desires, "representing or acting over sins, in
our thoughts and imaginations, personating those pleasures by
imagination, which at present we enjoy not really, feigning and
imagining ourselves to act those sinful practises we have not
opportunity outwardly to perform: speculative wickedness divines do
call it, which to be in the power of imagination to doe; is evident to
you by your dreams; when fancy plays its part most…

But corrupt and distempered affections doe cast men into such dreams
in the day, and when they are awake, there are then (to borrow the
Apostles expression) filthy dreams, Jude 8. that defile the flesh,
even when awake: when, their lusts wanting work, their fancy erects to
them a stage, and they set their imaginations and thoughts a work to
entertain their filthy and impure desires, with shows and plays of
their own making, and so reason and the intention of their minds, sit
as spectators all the while to view with pleasure, till their thoughts
inwardly act over their own unclean desires, ambitious projects, or
what ever else they have a mind unto."

This shows the danger in our own day of the moving image - that these
make powerful impressions upon the memory and imagination and may be
recalled involuntarily. They cannot be erased.

"And if their heinousness will nothing move you, consider their
number, for they are continually thus: which makes our sins to be in
number more than the sands: the thoughts of Solomon's heart were as
the sand, and so ours; not a minute, but as many thoughts pass from
us, as in a minute sands doe in an hour-glass. So that suppose, that
taken severally, they be the smallest and least of your sins, yet
their multitude makes them more and heavier than all your other.
Nothing smaller than a grain of sand, but if there be a heap of them,
there is nothing heavier, Job 6:3. My grief is heavier than the sand.
Suppose they be in themselves, but as farthing-tokens, in comparison
of gross defilements: yet because the Mint never lies still, sleeping
nor waking, therefore they make up the greatest part of that treasure
of wrath which we are a laying up: and know that God will reckon every
farthing, and in thy punishment bate thee not one vain thought."