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future evils. In every thing we attempt, we are interrupted with various impressions and distractions of mind. The most laborious student cannot always be so intent on the subjects he endeavours to investigate, nor the man of business on the main object he prosecutes, but that confusion of thought shall sometimes occasion interruption and disappointment. There is nothing, in short, which we do, or which we propose to do, in our different situations and occupations in life, to which this irregularity and distraction of mind
not sometimes be an interruption.
But the interruptions which the psalmist frequently complains of, and which good men in every age have lamented, are those vain and wandering thoughts which distract their minds in their private meditations, and even follow them to the house of God. On this account they have sorrow in their heart daily.—There are many who cannot attend upon any religious duty with that steadiness and alacrity which they discover in their secular employments. If this proceed from themselves, from want of that regard which they ought to have for the instrumental duties of religion; if they savour not the things that be of God, and rather attend upon
them as matters of custom than of conscience and duty, no wonder if they are cold and unaffected when they should be serious and devout. Nor can they expect to reap any saving benefit from them, till, by divine grace, they are brought to a better and more serious disposition of mind. There are others who more deserve our sympathy ;
who both desire and endeavour to have their minds composed when engaged in devotional duties, and to derive that benefit and advantage from them which they are intended to convey ; but who, to their sorrow and regret, generally fall short of their wishes, and fail in their attempts. The best of men are not wholly exempted from these wanderings of the heart. Though they seriously and earnestly set about their duty, are quickened by all proper preparatory motives, and watch and pray against temptation, yet vain, if not wicked, thoughts will unaccountably obtrude themselves upon their minds,and cause them to exclaim, with the psalmist, How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily ? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? As the solitude of a wilderness was no sufficient defence to our Saviour against the temptations of the great enemy of God and man, so neither will the most secret place of retirement be a security to us against temptations from the same quarter.
But it may be asked, How are we to distinguish the suggestions and temptations of Satan from those that arise from the remains of sin and corruption in the renewed heart? We may distinguish them by the welcome reception we give them on the one hand, and by the pain and uneasiness they give us on the other. Every one knows by experience, or he need only examine his own heart for a full conviction of it, that there is a certain train of thought which naturally arises in his mind. When most retired from the world, and without any external
temptations, the thoughts of the sensualist are impure and licentious. Instead of banishing these sinful thoughts, he takes pleasure in them, and only waits for an opportunity of gratifying his depraved appetites and passions. On the other hand, in a truly serious mind, holy, pure, and spiritual thoughts are implanted and cherished by the influences of divine grace. Such a mind takes pleasure in them, and is grieved when any thing occurs to interrupt them. Do you then, let me ask you, abhor those evil suggestions and thoughts which you complain of ? Do you reject them with indignation, and avoid every temptation that might lead to them? And do they, as in the case of the psalmist, send you to God, and to prayer to him for deliverance from them? In this case you have no reason to be cast down or discouraged. His grace will be sufficient for you : his strength will be made perfect in your weakness. One thing is certain, that those who are wholly under the influ, ence of the great adversary of human salvation, feel no such struggle or uneasiness; they are his voluntary slaves, and are led captive by him at his plea
But those of whom we are speaking are of an opposite character. Their mind is merely passive: the consent of the will is withheld; and so long as this is the case, the evil thoughts they complain of may be their grief, but are not their sin. It is the consent of the will that constitutes the criminality of any action whatever; and while it is our daily struggle to withhold this, and we are, by divine grace, enabled to withhold it, we have no reason to be cast down or disquieted. There are no doubt wise and gracious ends to be answered by this, as well as by every other dispensation of divine providence. Among other things, it tends to habituate those who are subjected to it to a stricter examination of themselves than, perhaps, they would otherwise have been inclined to, and to render them more cautious and circumspeet in every part of their conduct. Timorous, and fearful of guilt, they are thereby preserved from wilful and deliberate transgressions, and are taught to shun the company and conversation of the wicked, and to avoid every appearance of evil. And towards the close of their painful warfare, how often do we find those hitherto timid and dejected disciples of Christ triumphing over all their fears, and finishing their course with joy. So that, if we would impartially consider both the cause and the fruits of this dispensation, we should have reason to say with the psalmist, on another and similar occasion, Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted in me ? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and
II. Another source of inward disquietude arises from the defects and imperfections that attend our best services.
That there is not a just man that liveth and sinneth not, is the language of scripture and of universal experience. But this consideration, though it ought to humble, need not discourage us in our Christian warfare. Though we cannot hope wholly to eradicate our sins and corruptions, it is our duty to resist and oppose them by our constant endeavours and fervent prayers. For, though we are not sufficient of ourselves to think or do any thing that is truly good as of ourselves, our sufficiency is of God, and, through Christ strengthening us, we can do all things. Were the best of men to trust to their own righteousness, they would trust in that which would utterly fail them. The petition in the Lord's prayer, Forgive us our debts, or trespasses, is no doubt intended to remind us that we sin, and need forgiveness as often as we need our daily bread. So that those who imagine that they have arrived at sinless perfection, must be unacquainted with the spirituality of the divine law, and with the extent of its obligations. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But this is our encouragement, that if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is himself the propitiation for sin through faith in his blood. Instead, therefore, of having sorrow in your heart daily on account of the imperfection which attends your best services, let this consideration teach you more highly to value, and more unreservedly to rely on, the merits and mediation of your great Intercessor in the heavens; and let this be the anchor of your hope, that we are accepted in the Beloved, and that eternal life is the gift, the free and unmerited gift, of God, through Jesus Christ.