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they are unseasonable. Our worldly employments; for example, are lawful, and at proper times demand our attention ; but they must not be allowed to occupy those hours which are sacred to God.
This people draweth nigh with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” Sometimes things more spiritual and sublime, such as some doctrine of religion, some passage of scripture, or some circumstance of a religious nature or tendency, are means of diverting our minds from our duty. However profitable they are as subjects of meditation on suitable occasions, they are now impertinent and unseasonable; and are often temptations of Satan to deprive us of our comfort and improvement, and God of his glory.
Sometimes the thoughts wander from one object to another, without fixing upon any one in particular. The mind pursues every feather that is blown across, and is attending to a thousand different things, while, it scarcely knows of what it is thinking. At other times, one particular object dwells upon the mind, and so occupies the thoughts, that every thing else is overlooked or forgotten. But I need not further describe what every one among us has too often experienced. I proceed therefore,
II. To consider the causes or occasions of wandering thoughts.
Here I might trace them to the depravity of our nature ; that fountain from which so many polluted streams are continually flowing. The understanding, will, memory, affections, are all corrupted ; and that corruption is especially evident, in their being unfix" ed, fleeting, and wandering in spiritual employments.
Religious duty is a prison to a worldly character; and therefore he will be continually saying, “ When will the prayer or the sermon be ended, that we may return to our employments and pleasures ?” But even when the heart is sincerely devoted to God,
or the sin which dwells in it,” will very frequently indispose the mind for holy employments. Satan also diligently endeavours to promote, by his injections, wandering thoughts in the duties of religion. Thus, when Joshua, the high-priest, stood before the angel of God, ready to engage in some religious exercise, , Satan is described as standing at his right hand, for the purpose of resisting him; and hence an eminently holy person, when he wanted to recollect something which he had forgotten, once said, “ Satan will tell me of it when I am in prayer.”
But as these are some of the causes or occasions of wandering thoughts, so they often occur by God's righteous permission, for trial or for judgment; as he leaves men to the vanity of their own minds, and so punishes them for former neglects. “And he said, Go, and tell this people : Hear ye, indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes ; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert, and be healed.”
But there are certain special causes of wandering thoughts; and of these, allowance of sin is one of the most common. Sin keeps God and the soul at a distance. It stops the mouth, and turns away the heart, and flies in a man's face, so that he cannot look steadily at God. If the concealed iniquity be
dear to us, (and dear it must be, or we should never venture to retain it, when God has so solemnly denounced vengeance against it ;) I say, if it be a beloved sin, our thoughts will be perpetually hankering after it. We shall be thinking what pleasure it has afforded us, or we shall be contriving opportunities for the next gratification : or, perhaps, now and then, a thought may be suggested, that shall bring with it many other gloomy ideas. " What, if it should be true, thinks the sinner, that God will bring every work into judgment; and every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil ?” Where any unhallowed passion, or corrupt affection, prevails, it is impossible to pray, or hear, or read, or meditate, or perform any religious duty with acceptable devotion. The sin will be always uppermost, and, either by enticement or terror, draw off the thoughts as it pleases.
Being over careful, and troubled about many things, is another cause of wandering thoughts. Nothing is a greater enemy to devotion, than a slavish regard to the world. It not only renders hearing unfruitful, but it spoils prayer and meditation, and every other spiritual exercise. Sometimes, when the season for duty returns, it may have interest enough to make us put it entirely off. But if we cannot be prevailed upon to omit the duty, it makes us shorten and hurry it indecently over. Or, if we should be resolute enough to continue during the whole time usually allotted for sacred exercises, yet this worldly temper will make us grudge every hour that is taken from our business : and we shall vent our impatience like those who once said, - When will the new moon be
gone, that we may sell corn ; and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat” We
upon our knees, with our eyes lifted up to heaven, and our lips moving; but our heart is wandering after our covetousness. Could we observe the thoughts of many, even in their most solemn devotions, we should see enough, were we not depraved also ourselves, to fill us with astonishment and horror. Now a devout petition ascends to God; the very next moment they are thinking of some worldly business, which they had left unfinished, or something that they were to do as soon as this duty is over.
Then again we should see a look towards heaven, accompanied with an ejaculation for mercy or grace ; but it is hardly uttered, before the thoughts are gone after some favourite scheme, for buying, or selling, of getting gain. In this manner many a religious duty has been performed by persons who are no better than mere professors : they who are not altogether strangers to communion with God, have offered the torn, the lame, and the sick, for a sacrifice. How astonishing is this ! Nothing is more astonishing; unless it be, that God not only does not strike them dead at his footstool, but often condescends to accept such divided and distracted services.
Slight thoughts of God and his service are another cause of this evil. “ Be not rash with thy mouth; and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.” If we had wisdom and grace to follow this advice, our devotions would be freer from distractions. The majesty of God would strike such an awe upon our spirits, as would keep us
from trifling. The mercy of God would so transport our thoughts, that they would have no inclination to wander. Sensible of his greatness, and the importance of the business which we have to transact with him, we should charge our souls, and all that is within us, to be serious, and it would not be in the power of trifles to draw off our attention. But if we have no fear of God before our eyes ; if we think any temper of mind good enough for his worship; if we rush from worldly business, or idle amusements, immediately into the presence of God, without the least consideration ; what can we expect, but that our thoughts will be dwelling on the business, or the follies, which we have quitted so abruptly? Were we in company with persons greatly our superiors, we should not talk at random of any thing that occurs to our minds. If we were admitted to plead for our lives before the King, we should not frequently forget what we are saying, and oblige bis majesty to repeat his questions to us again and again, and coolly say, “I was thinking of some other business.” That we are often guilty of those reveries, those absences, as we may call them, in the worship of God, is therefore in a great measure to be ascribed to our want of a suitable reverence. We have not awe enough to keep us attentive: we first think meanly of God, and then care not how we serve him; and address the Most High with such an air of indifference and negligence, as we should hardly use when speaking to a beggar.
Our thoughts will also wander in religious duty, if we give them too much licence at other times, and if we allow too much liberty to the senses at that parti