George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Discipline of Thought
Think on these things--Phi 4:8
Two Unseen Worlds
When we speak of unseen things, we commonly refer to things that are eternal. We associate the unseen with the world beyond the veil where the angels of God, innumerable, are around the throne. Now it is true that that is an unseen world though the time is coming when our eyes shall see it, but we must never forget that far nearer to us than that there is another world which also is unseen. We live in a day of very strange discoveries and look on many things that were once invisible. By means of our telescopes we see very distant stars, and we can watch the beating of our hearts. But the world of thought, of feeling, of passion and of desire--that world still baffles the finest powers of vision; as surely as there is an unseen heaven above us, there is an unseen universe within. What a mysterious and strange thing is life--a burning point, and round it what a shadow! How utterly must a man fail who walks by sight and who will not recognize the all-embracing mystery! Deep calleth unto deep wherever man is--the invisible deep within to the unseen depths beyond. It is one distinguishing feature of the Gospel that it never makes light of these great and awful things.
Let us turn to the world within, our thoughts. For I believe that most of us give far too little heed to what I might call the discipline of thought. "If there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things." First, I shall speak on the vital need there is of governing our thoughts. Next, on how the Gospel helps men to this government.
The Government of Our Thoughts
First, then, on the government of our thoughts--and at the outset I would recognize the difficulty of it. I question if there is a harder task in all the world than that of bringing our thoughts into subjection to our will. It is very difficult to regulate our actions, yet there is a social pressure on our actions. It is supremely difficult to order our speech aright, yet speech is restrained and checked by countless barriers. Every time we act and every time we speak we come into direct contact with society, and prudence and self-love and reputation and business interests admonish us instantly to walk with caution. But thought is free--at least we think it is. It is transacted in a world where none can observe it. The law cannot reach us for unclean imaginations. Think how we will of a man, he cannot charge us with libel. All the prudential safeguards which God has set on speech, and all the deterrent motives which surround our deeds, are lacking when we enter the silent halls of thought. It is that--perhaps above all other things--which makes the management of thought so difficult. It is the secrecy--the absence of restraint--the imagined freedom of the world within. And yet there are one or two considerations I can bring before you that will show you how, in the whole circle of self-mastery, there is nothing more vital than the mastery of thought.
Much of Our Happiness Depends on Thought
Think, for example, how much of our happiness--our common happiness--depends on thought. We begin by imagining it depends on outward things, but we all grow to be wiser by and by. "There's nothing either good or bad," says Shakespeare, "but thinking makes it so." Now of course that is only half a truth. There are things that in themselves are forever good, and there are other things that eternally and everywhere are bad--never be juggled out of these moral certainties. But in between these everlasting fixities there lies a whole world of life and of experience, and what it shall mean for us--how we shall regard it--depends almost entirely upon thought. Our happiness does not depend on what we view. Our happiness depends on our point of view. There are men who can think themselves any day into a paradise, and others who think themselves into a fever. Have we not known or met or read of men and women who seemed to have everything this world could give, yet only to look at their faces or their portraits was to read the story of frustration and discontent? But St. Francis of Assisi, the sweetest of all saints, sitting down to dine by the roadside on a few crusts of bread, was so exquisitely and radiantly happy that he could not find words enough for thankfulness. That then is an integral part of happiness--the discipline and the government of our thoughts. Basically, it is not things themselves, it is our thoughts about them, that constitute the gentle art of being happy.
The Unconscious Influence of Our Thoughts
Again I want you to consider this--how much of our unconscious influence lies in our thoughts. Not only by what we do and what we say, but by the kind of thoughts we are cherishing in secret, do we impress ourselves upon our neighbors and help or hinder the little world we move in. That very suggestive and spiritual writer, Mr. Maeterlinck, puts the matter in his own poetic way. He says, "Though you assume the face of a saint, a hero or a martyr, the eye of the passing child will not greet you with the same unapproachable smile, if there lurk within you an evil thought." Now probably there is a little exaggeration there; one thought, flashing and then expelled, may not reveal itself. The totality of saintly character is too great to be overborne by the intrusion of one shadow of the devil. But it is certain that by the thoughts we harbor and let ourselves dwell upon and cherish in the dark, we touch and turn and influence our world when we never dream that we are doing it. There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed--what a depth there is in that one word of Jesus! He is not merely thinking of God's judgment bar tomorrow. He is thinking of the undetected revelation of today. Christ recognized that the kind of thing we brood on, the kind of thought we allow ourselves to think, though it never utter itself in actual words, or clothe itself in the flesh and blood of deeds, encompasses and affects the life of others like a poisonous vapor or like a breath of spring. Your secret is not such a secret as you think. Why are men drawn to you? Why are men repelled by you? Why is it that sometimes we instinctively shrink from people in the very first hour that we meet them? It is because the heart--more powerful than any x-ray--deciphers for itself the secret story, brushes past speech and deed into the hidden place and apprehends the existence that is there. To think base thoughts is a sin against our neighbor as surely as it is a sin against ourselves. To be unclean even in imagination is to make it harder for others to be good. In the interests of our influence then, no less than of our happiness, you see the need of governing our thoughts.
The Power of Thought in Our Temptations
There is only one other consideration that I would mention, and that is the power of thought in our temptations. In the government of thought--in the power to bring thought to heel--lies one of our greatest moral safeguards against sin. You have all read the words of Thomas A Kempis in that immortal book, "The Imitation of Christ." They occur in his thirteenth chapter, Of Resisting Temptation. How does sin reach us? That is his question--and this is his never-to-be-forgotten answer to it: "For first there cometh to the mind a bare thought of evil, then a strong imagination thereof, afterwards delight and evil motion, then consent." First, a bare thought--that is the beginning, and it is then that the government of thought means heaven or hell. For if a man has disciplined himself to crush that thought--which may come to the purest and holiest mind--still better, if he has acquired the power to change the current and to turn his thought instantly into other and nobler channels, temptation is baffled at its very start and the man stands upon his feet victorious. A man will never regulate his passions who has never learned to regulate his thoughts. If we cannot master our besetting thoughts, we shall never master our besetting sins. I think you see, then, that in the interests of morality no less than in the interests of our happiness and influence, it is supremely necessary that we all give heed to the great subject of thought--discipline.
How the Gospel Helps in Governing Our Thoughts
So now in the second place, I wish to ask how the Gospel helps us to that. I wish to ask why a Christian above all other men has powers available for governing his thought. To some of you the mastery of thought may seem impossible--it is never viewed as impossible in Scripture, and the secret of that Gospel-power lies in the three great words--light, love, life.
Think first of light as a power for thought-mastery. We all know how light affects our thoughts. In twilight or darkness what sad thoughts come thronging, which the glory of sunlight instantly dispels. I have a dear friend who is a terrible sufferer and who rarely has any quiet sleep after three in the morning, and the worst of wakening then, he tells me, is that that is just the time when everything seems melancholy, cheerless, hopeless. We need the light if we are to see things truly. We need the light if we are to think aright. And the glory of Christ is that by His life and death He has shed a light where before there was only darkness. What had the old and beautiful religion of the Greeks to say when a man was confronted by sorrow or disease? It was dumb, it turned away its head in silence; it had no light to shed upon the mystery--till men, having no light to think by, lost all thought-control and wandered into a labyrinth of evil. But the sufferings of Christ have shed a light on suffering. The death of Christ has shed a light on death. Faced by the worst now and called to bear the cross, we can think bravely and luminously of it all. The light of Christ, for the man who lives in it, is an untold help in the government of thought.
Then think of love--Is it not one mark of love that our thoughts always follow in its train? A love that never thought about the loved one would be the most heartless and hopeless of all mockeries. A man who is deeply in love with a good woman thinks of her every hour of the day, and there is no such certain sign of love's decay as the dying out of gentle and sweet thoughtfulness. That sign a woman instantly detects--it is the unuttered tragedy of countless lives--and the sorrow of it springs from the intuition that thought is under the mastery of love. Do you see then how the Gospel helps us to thought-control? At the very center of its message it puts love. It shows us a Savior who lived and died for us and who stretches out His pierced hands towards us. It speaks of Gethsemane and Calvary and at its burning heart reveals a love that passes the love of women. "Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me?"--that will determine the current and trend of thought. That master-passion is the power of God for bringing every thought into captivity. If the love of a woman can control and purge our thoughts, how much more the love of Jesus Christ!
Then think of life--are not our thoughts affected by the largeness and abundance of our lives? When life is poor and feeble, base thoughts scent us out as the vultures of the desert scent out the dying traveler. Half of the vile or bitter thoughts we think are the children of our lusterless and unprofitable days. Expand the horizon--get a new breath of life --and they take to themselves wings and fly away. Now what did Christ say about His coming? I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. Life is expanded and filled with undreamed-of fullness when we live in the glad fellowship of Jesus. And that great tide of life, like the tide of the sea that covers up the mudbanks, is the greatest power in the moral world for submerging every base and bitter thought. Do you know anything of that light--that love--that life? What a great deal we miss in ignoring Jesus Christ! The king's daughter is all beautiful within--just because her king is her Redeemer.
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