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PART III. ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DIVINE GUIDANCE, OR THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE SOUL.

CHAPTER TENTH.


RELATION OF FAITH TO WANDERING THOUGHTS IN PRAYER.


Some religious persons more devoted than others. Persons, who are in the exercise of the highest religious feelings, sometimes afflicted with wandering thoughts. Of the remedy, which is found at these times in the exercises of faith. Wandering thoughts to some extent involuntary. Of the spirit in which this trial is to be received. Of its beneficial results.

AMONG the many, who live or rather attempt to live a life of religion, as if it were a thing of secondary importance, with vigor of effort and warmth of affection not at all proportioned to the object, it is pleasing to find some, who are faithful in the highest sense. They give themselves to God, as if he had a claim upon them, which could not be answered with any thing short of all their powers. Like the prophets and apostles, whose commendation is in the Scriptures, they live “as seeing him, who is invisible.” And the consequence is, in accordance with what we are taught in the same Scriptures, that inward condemnation, the result of an evil and unbelieving life, is taken away. “There is now no condemnation,” says the Apostle, “to them, which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Recognizing the truth of the promises, and applying them to their own case, they are the subjects of an inward conviction, which is not more strong than it is consoling, that God is their father and friend.

2.—But there is one thing, which troubles them. Confident as they are of their love to God, and that God loves them, there is still something, which does not appear to be right. We refer to the fact, that they are subject like others, though generally not in an equal degree, to
wandering thoughts. Objects unexpectedly thrust themselves upon their notice, in the most sacred seasons of retirement and of communion with God, and divert the mind’s attention. Sometimes Satan avails himself of these occasions, and makes them seasons of special temptation. And it will readily be seen, that these results are the more distressing in proportion as the heart loves God. We well know, that the most devout persons are exposed to trials of this kind. But we have the consolation of knowing also, that they are not left without assistance. The grace of God is sufficient here, as elsewhere. At these seasons of great trial, faith comes to our aid. It comes promptly and effectually.

3.—The thoughts may be disturbed, and may wander more or less from the central object, when the heart is true. Faith, recognizing the distinction between that in man which perceives and that which feels, teaches the person, who is the subject of these distractions, that God accepts the heart, the affections. Without the friendly offices of faith under these circumstances, the trial of mind would be exceedingly great. But this divine principle, attaching itself to the announcements of the Gospel, avails itself of the great principle of the New Dispensation, that God, without relinquishing his claim to absolute perfection, is willing to accept the
homage of love alone. “Love,” says the Apostle, “is the fulfilling of the law.” If we have an inward conviction, resting upon good grounds, that our hearts are right with God, we are consoled and sustained in the belief, that he will not reject us. We may be the subject of physical imperfections, imperfections resulting either from our own sins or from the sins of those who have gone before us; we may err from time to time in judgment, and may thus indirectly, and without evil intention, be the means of injuring others; we may find it difficult and even impossible steadily to fix our thoughts upon that great Being who most justly claims them; but if at the present moment, whatever may be our physical or intellectual defects, whatever we may have done or whatever we may have failed to do, if at the present moment we love God with all our heart, we are fully and freely accepted. It is very obvious, that we cannot have such a heart without having a heart, which is penitent for all that is wrong. It is equally evident, that we cannot have such a heart without a full and assured faith; and with such a heart and with such a faith to sustain its purified and benevolent affections, we cannot for a moment doubt, especially with the promises of the Gospel plainly written before us, of God’s favor and protection. The past is forgiven, and the present is accepted.

4.—Faith aids the soul, which is the subject of wandering thoughts and of other distractions of that kind, in another way; namely, by calling to its remembrance and by establishing its belief, that these evils, as well as all other evils and all other events, make
a part in God’s providences. We sometimes err by limiting the sphere of providential arrangements. Those arrangements extend to every thing, which does not interfere with the claims of moral agency. They include mind, as well as matter. It is an important truth, though not always recognized, that mental trials, as well as those which are purely physical, may have their origin from God. They may properly be regarded as constituting one part of that allotment of suffering, which divine wisdom has assigned as the portion of our present fallen condition. And accordingly if God sends sickness and other temporal trials for our good, in order that we may know our weakness and dependence on the one hand, and may have opportunity to invigorate our Christian graces on the other, he may also for the same reason permit us to be the subjects of intellectual distractions.

5.—And we may be the more confirmed in this view, when we remember, that no care, no foresight, and no depth of piety, can altogether prevent or remedy this evil in man’s present condition. To be the subject of wandering thoughts, to have the mind unexpectedly called away from its present meditations, is as truly a physical evil, or of the
nature of a physical evil, as sickness or the physical decays of age. This is well understood, I suppose, by those, who are acquainted with the laws of the human mind. It is well known, that wandering thoughts depends in a great degree, if not exclusively, upon the laws of association. Laws, which are not under the control of the will, except indirectly; and which, therefore, lead to results, that can always be borne in a Christian spirit, although they cannot always be prevented.

6.—The true state of mind, under such circumstances, is that of
patience. We should not only endeavor to see the hand of the Lord in our afflictions, but to receive whatever his hand imposes, with right dispositions. The providences of God have each and all of them respectively a more or less distinct relation to a particular exercise of mind, a particular grace. That is to say, they all aim at something definite in experience. And accordingly the appropriate result of merciful providences is the spirit of thankfulness. The appropriate result of trials, (that result which always exists when they are met in a becoming temper,) is the origin and growth of the grace of patience. “We glory in tribulations,” says the Apostle Paul, “knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” [Romans 5:3.] “My brethren,” says the Apostle James, “count it all joy, when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” [James 1:2, 3.] It is said in commendation of the church of Ephesus, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy PATIENCE.” If, therefore, having done all in your power to prevent it, your thoughts wander from God in time of prayer, or at any other time when you might wish it to be otherwise, submit to it patiently. Guard against every emotion of disquietude, as well as against every murmuring expression. This trial, as well as others, has its appointed limits. To be silent and to endure, believing that God will come to our aid in his own time, is to be victorious.

7.—Looking at the Subject rightly in its facts and its relations, we are not to regard distractions and wanderings of mind, trying though they may be, as a wholly unmingled evil. But in making this remark, we mean to have it understood, that we have done all in our power, under the existing circumstances, to prevent them, and to correct them. It is necessary to guard carefully at this point. We are to employ all the means which are appropriate to the prevention of this evil. But if our efforts fail of success, we are to regard it as an allotment of providence rather than a dispensation of our own choice, as an affliction rather than a sin. And afflictions,
all afflictions are good, if we receive them well. It is a good and consoling direction of the Scriptures, “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint, when thou art rebuked of him.” And again it is said, that “no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterwards, it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” He, who patiently sustains himself under the heavy trial, to which our attention has been directed, necessarily grows in grace. Faith, as well as patience, is exercised. And the result is, not only victory for the present, but increased strength against the temptations of the future.