Look To Your
Many suppose that if they can guard themselves against improper words and wicked deeds, they cannot be very guilty on account of thoughts which may revolve in their minds, however corrupt they may be. They look upon their thoughts as things which spring up in the heart by some laws of association which they cannot understand, or which, if understood, they cannot control. As they have not summoned, so neither, in their view, can they dismiss them; but must surrender themselves to their influence for a period, longer or shorter, until some circumstances occurs which gives a new direction to the current of thinking. When they confess their sins, there are often times words and deeds which they admit to be grievously in conflict with demands of the divine Word. But it rarely happens that any unhallowed imaginations in which they have indulged awaken emotions of genuine sorrow. Now the thoughts are the guests we entertain—the company we receive into the innermost privacy of our bosom. And just as a man is censurable who voluntarily and habitually consorts with corrupt company, so is he to be condemned who deliberately entertains depraved thoughts.
Let every one, and especially every young man, remember that God holds us responsible for our thoughts. Man can take cognizance only of the outward appearance. His observation must be limited to those words and actions which can be perceived by the senses. But the scrutiny of Omniscience extends further, penetrating the evil which hides our inner selves from the view of others; it explores the most private recesses of the spirit, and perfectly understands that portion of our character which others cannot scan. Man can only call us good or evil as our words and actions authorize. But He whose glance enters the heart and surveys the emotions which are there cherished, condemns as wicked, every unhallowed thought; and will as surely take those into the account in determining our final retribution as he will consider in that reckoning our outward acts. Guard well your thoughts.” “Your thoughts are heard in heaven,” says a distinguished poet. Never was there a more scriptural sentiment.
But perhaps there may be those to whom this may look like a harsh procedure. If it were true, as some suppose, that we could not control our thoughts—that they rushed uninvited upon our attention, that they detained that attention for a time, longer or shorter, just as they pleased, and that they departed as unceremoniously as they entered our mind—then I grant that it would be hard to make us responsible for such visitors. If we had no power over our own mental operations, it would seem as unjust to punish us for our delinquencies in these particulars as to censure us for the depravity of a resident of Asia or Africa. Can you defend such a position as this? Have you no power to determine what themes shall or what shall not employ your meditation? Are you the mere slave for your thoughts, compelled to follow as they, by some caprice, may direct? No intelligent mind in which the will is ruler is prepared to admit that it has been subjected to such vassalage.
The truth is, I appeal to your own consciences in the support of the declaration, that you are endowed with the power of thinking upon just such subjects as you may prefer. You can, at pleasure, direct your attention to any topic, agreeable or disagreeable, lawful or unlawful, connected with the past, present, or future; you can revolve it in your mind for a longer or shorter period, and then you can dismiss it entirely from your consideration. If this were not true; if your thoughts were not under the control of the will, you would be incompetent to manage your business; you would be disqualified for every pursuit of life involving the exercise of reason. You would in truth be insane.
Now it is because God has given us the power over our own thinking that it assumes a moral complexion in his sight. The man who resigns himself to unholy reveries, or who entertains his own heart purposes which, if acted out, would render him liable to the censure of his fellow men, and to condemnation from God, is as certainly guilty, though it may not be to the same extent, as though he had been openly corrupt and abandoned. “Out of the heart,” say the Saviour, “proceed evil thoughts.” Here observe that our Lord plainly teaches that our thoughts may be evil or sinful, and therefore may expose him who harbors them to punishment. And lest any one be disposed to look upon evil thoughts as an offense too trivial to awaken any concern, mark the company in which this sin is found. Learn from these offenses with which it is classed something of the enormity to which it may rise. “Out of the heart proceedeth evil thought, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.”
One of the most important counsels in the entire volume of Revelation, is the direction of the wise man: “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” This is the fountain which issue the streams which are to fertilize and gladden, or to pollute and destroy. No one was ever wicked in speech or action who was not first wicked in heart. The deeds of atrocity which shock us in execution were first performed in heart—in thought. Had this been “kept,” had the early idea been restrained, the result so fearful in development might have been averted. Young men, look to the springs of action, as you would avoid acts which involve you in ruin and disgrace. Keep the heart as you would secure a conduit, which, with God’s blessing, will make you honorable, lawful, and happy now, and all that you desire hereafter. Look to your thoughts.
“Build a little fence of trust around to-day;
Fill the space with loving thought, and therein stay;
Look not from its sheltering bars upon to-morrow,
God will help thee bear what comes, of joy or sorrow.”