Thoughts And Their Fruit
“The fruit of their thoughts.”
Do you observe here, my Brothers and Sisters, how God declares that He would not only punish Israel for gross overt acts of sin, but that He would also bring upon the nation terrible chastisements for their thoughts? A solemn warning, full of instruction to us.
It has almost passed into a proverb, that “thought is free.” Whether this is true or false, an axiom or a gaffe, must depend on the sphere in which thought moves. It is true in the sense of thought being free before men, since none of us can judge our neighbor’s thoughts, nor have we any right to attempt the task. Religious opinion, for instance, is not a thing of which the law can justly take cognizance. As far as the civil government is concerned, whether a man’s sentiments are those of a Christian or an idolater, a Catholic, a Protestant, or a Mormon, he is entitled to all civil rights. Be he who he may, he is oppressed if he is deprived of his liberty, or of any privilege because of his thoughts! Be he who he may, he is injured if any one sect is rendered dominant, or is supported by a forced taxation drawn from the whole. Thought must be free and it shall be acknowledged, by God’s help, perfectly free as between man and man! Whatever tyrants may decree, they have never yet been able to stop the progress of opinion! When they have used all their prisons and their racks, their dungeons and their blazing stakes, they have never been able to turn a sound man from a truth which he has embraced, nor, I may add, have they been able to confirm a wavering man in the lies which they have tried to thrust upon him. Thought, in that sense, is free by natural right.
Yet there is another side to the same question, by reason of which we are bound to make this solemn protest–thought is not free before God. I have no more authority to think of God as I please than I have to act before Him as I please! In either case, the charge of licentiousness would lie against me, for the God who is supreme over the outward actions of my body is likewise the only Lord and Governor of the inward motions of my spirit. All the provinces of the little isle of man’s soul belong to God, the Great Governor. Over body, soul and spirit He is Legislator and Lord!
That thought in this sense is not free is to be proved very clearly, for some of the Commandments of God containedin the Decalogue particularly relate to thought. Such, for instance, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” and so on. That Commandment is clearly, particularly and peculiarly one relating to
thought. God’s Law, therefore, takes cognizance of thought. Moreover, we know that God has told us, as we read in the 139 th . He knows them before they are known to us–“You understand my thought afar off.” To what end, do you think, does God watch our thoughts but with this view–to bring us into judgment at the Last Great Day for every idle word and for every idle imagination and thought of our hearts? And, my Brothers and Sisters, we have it upon record that God not only puts His Law to work on our thoughts, and watches our thoughts, but that He is also angry on account of evil thoughts. Remember what we read in Genesis 6:5, 6–“God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart.” Do not, therefore, make light of evil thoughts! If your conscience is awakened, truly awakened, you never will. A steeled and seared conscience may look upon them with indifference–those whose hearts are not right toward God may sneer at the idea of any evil consequences coming from what they simply turn over in their minds–but if you have a tender heart, if God has been pleased to takes the callousness from off your conscience, and to make it sensitive, you will say at once, “Oh, save my soul from base and wicked thoughts!”
That thoughts are of the utmost importance may likewise be inferred from the fact that God makes them here theground of punishing His people. He speaks of “the fruit of their thoughts.” The thought in itself may not be a very great thing, but what will it come to? It may even be a very little thing, but what will be the end of it? Thoughts of evil are inthemselves evil thoughts! It is questionable whether we can even read the report of our neighbor’s sin without producing some sinful thoughts in ourselves. It is debatable whether a person can have much to do with speaking or hearing of the offenses of others without in some degree defiling himself, for as pitch sticks, and soot and things black and dirty defile one by the slightest contact, so does sin in any shape passing over the mind! Touched by the hand, it might scarcely leave any discernible mark behind, but there is a distinct impression left upon the mind, so that every picture of evil whichpasses through the soul remains there to do that soul injury. The thought of evil is in itself sin.
And what is more, the thought of evil paralyzes the finer faculties of the soul. The more we think of sin and becomefamiliar with it, the less terrible does it become to our apprehension. I am sure this is the result where men habituate their reveries with any form of evil. Could the minds of men who have become murderers be analyzed, I doubt not it would be found that they had been a long time in schooling themselves to the commission of the horrible crime. They have thought upon it, meditated and deliberated about it until, at last, it has seemed to them but a mere trifle–and then they have gone forth to do it without misgiving. I do not believe that a man becomes a villain all at once. He puts his soul to school–his thoughts are his teachers–or, rather, they are the schoolbooks in which his soul reads and, at last, he becomes capable of transacting the deeds of a scoundrel. If you think long upon any sin, the probability is that as soon as the temptation to that sin comes, you will commit it.
I have known persons produce a pathological obsession by constant brooding. I knew a man, once, who was constantly apprehensive that he was being poisoned by people–and I always stood in trepidation for that man lest he should poison himself! If you will harbor the evil thought–if you will ponder on any sin, turn it over and talk with it on your pillow, your familiarity will disarm your fear and the traitor you have harbored will betray you before your suspicions are awakened! Beware, then, of all thoughts of sin! If you show a thief all the locks, bolts and bars in your house–and tell him how the cellar window could be opened, or the backdoor lock be made to give way–do not be surprised if one of these nights you should find all your goods stolen! If you do this and introduce these evil things into your habitation, you cannot wonder at the consequence, however startled your friends may be at the detection!
It is certain that thoughts are the eggs of sin. These are the embryo out of which sins spring–the spawn from which every form of iniquity is developed. We sometimes hear of fever lairs and of pest dens–evil thoughts are just like these. They are the jungles where the monsters of sin fatten and grow. Thoughts of sin are the dark woods that harbor all sorts of evil–they are the evil birds of prey that destroy all sorts of good!
Therefore, as God takes cognizance of our thoughts, let us be mindful of the responsibility they entail upon us. Let us no longer despise them, but look into the nursery where they are reared and begin to search our hearts–and to judge ourselves as in the sight of Him who searches all hearts.
- BAD THOUGHTS AND THEIR FRUIT EXHIBIT A VERY LARGE VARIETY. I shall, however, but refer you to the 20 th Chapter of the Book of Exodus, where the Ten Commandments will help us to a list of thoughts, all of whichare horribly mischievous.
The First Commandment God gives to us is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” “You shallhave no other god but Me,” since God is everywhere. This precept is easily broken in our thoughts. If I say to myself, “This is God’s Law, but the contrary action will be most to my profit,” then I make myself, or my money, my god. If on any occasion I say within myself, “I clearly perceive that I ought not to indulge in that sin, but then it will give me great pleasure”–should I indulge in it, then I make my pleasure, that is to say, myself, my god–I worship myself instead ofGod! This is a sin, the essence of which must lie in the thoughts, in the judgment, in the affections. You need not make an image of gold, or of wood and bow down before it–you can become a thorough-paced idolater in the temple of your heart by offering homage to your own self-will!
The Second Commandment contains a further prohibition, “You shall not make unto you any graven image,” and soon. That is, “You shall not worship God under any symbol–you shall not worship God through any symbol,” or, inspirit, “You shall not worship God in any way which God has not commanded.” “You shall not invent to yourself methods and modes of worship, but you shall do as God commands you.” Now, we can very easily, in our thoughts, fabricate an image. This is what most of us do. We say and think that God is altogether such an one as we are and, having formed to ourselves an idea of God, we bow down before it and say, “These are your gods, O Israel!” Brothers and Sisters, you may be idolaters as much by worshipping a god whom your fancy has made as by worshipping a block of stone! That Incomprehensible One who has proclaimed Himself in Scripture according to the mysterious attributes of His Being, and has further revealed Himself so sweetly and gloriously in the Person of the Lord Jesus–this is the God we must worship! We must not make a god, but take the God whom the Scripture reveals! We are not to fashion in our thoughts a god such as we should like him to be–a god who is pure benevolence, but who has no justice–but we must take the God of Scripture–grandly stern, severely dreadful in His wrath while He is unbounded in His compassion and is always gracious and full of mercy! We must acknowledge the God of the Bible and not make a deity to ourselves, or else in our thoughts we have broken the Divine Law and the fruit of that thought will be that we shall be idolaters and sin will be laid at our door!
The Third Commandment, as you will clearly perceive, can be broken without saying a word–“You shall not takethe name of the Lord your God in vain.” Light thoughts of God, irreverence of soul towards Him is a violation of the solemn interdict. You have but to think lightly of His name and you have blasphemed it! Before your mouth has been opened to utter the rash expression, the rebellious thought is a profanation of the Most High.
As for the Law of the Sabbath in the Fourth Commandment which binds our race, that is readily enough violated byus all. Do not suppose that you are a keeper of the Sabbath because you do no work with your hands–you are just as guilty if you work with your brain! You are to rest on that day from all your own works. Do as much as you please for God on that day, but your mind should lay aside its care. You must not bring your shop here–you might almost as well stay at home and carry on your trade. You must not bring your burden in here! No, my Brothers and Sisters, leave that at the door and ask God’s Grace that you may rise this day from all these things and give your heart and mind entirely to the worship of Him who has sanctified the day unto Himself. You see, then, that this Commandment may readily be broken without any overt act–and the breach destroys the validity of the Sabbath to you. It yields you no comfortable rest while your mind is toiling, tugging and straining about a thousand troubles and difficulties! But if you kept the Commandment in your spirit, it would be a sweet and blessed rest to you.
We turn now to the second table, the Commandments which relate to men. “ Honor your father and your mother."Ah, when we were children and since then, unkind and unhallowed thoughts of our parents have been quite sufficient to convict us of offenses against the Law. Without a disobedient action, without a rebellious word, the child may in thought be a rebel to his parents.
“You shall not kill.” But Christ tells us that he that is angry with his brother without a cause is virtually a murderer! So that thought can slay and kill and, indeed, it is the angry thought that lays the foundation of the deadly stroke!There would be no murdering and slaying if there were no enmity. Men would not march to slay each other, surely, or waylay their hapless victims and do desperate deeds of violence unless, first of all, their souls were set on the fire of Hell.
“You shall not commit adultery.” Little will I say on this Commandment, but here is our Lord’s own exposition of it, “Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Fornication may thus abound in us to our defilement–and our souls' ruin–even though we may still be kept back by fear, perhaps, from the commission of the evil deed. Beware, then, you who can gloat over evil, you who can suck the forbidden sweet behind the door, you who can roll the sweet morsel under your tongue–beware lest you shall have your portion with those who fall into the sin! I say not that the thought of the sin is as bad as the sin, itself–it cannot be so, certainly, in its result to others–but it is still a sin–and a sin to be answered for in that tremendous Day when the Judge of all the earth shall allot their portions unto men!
“You shall not steal.” Every envious thought of another man, every desire to possess myself of what is not mine. Everything of this sort, in which I would grasp that which does not belong to me, is a constructive theft! The thief does not so much steal when he puts out his hand to take his neighbor’s purse, as in the thought which led him to do it, for the hand may sometimes take the purse without offense–it may be to protect the property of one who is disabled and incapable of guarding it himself. Such a thing is supposable–that one man might legitimately take another’s purse and have a right to do so. It is not the act, but the motive when he deliberately ventures to take that which is not his own and wouldpossess himself of his neighbor’s goods to his neighbor’s injury–this constitutes the very virus and soul of the theft.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” If I think harshly of my neighbor without a cause. If I conceive an unjust prejudice against him. If I look coldly upon him when he really does not deserve it. If I make up my mind out of some whim or fancy that he is a bad fellow, and shrug my shoulders, and I know not what, besides–though I have never said a word–yet still in thought I have injured my neighbor! Above all things, Brothers and Sisters, avoid that shoulder-shrugging–it is an abomination! We sometimes see it in company. Ah, they will not dare to say what it means, the cowards! You might suppose that the man against whom it is directed had killed his mother if you liked, for you are sure to suppose the worst. Be brave enough, if it must be spoken, to speak it! And if it must not be spoken, well then, do not say it in that mysterious language which may ruin a man in the estimation of others. Avoid any false witnessing in your thoughts and you will not bear it in your words.
To the last precept of the catalog I have already referred. It is especially a thought-command–“ You shall not covet.” All greedy desires which make us wish to get our neighbor’s goods to the injury of others, are sins–and the fruits of such thoughts are guilt, punishment and the wrath to come!
Let me now conduct you a step further to another set of evil thoughts which could not be very easily comprised in the Decalogue.
There are self-righteous thoughts–the supposition that we are not as sinful as God says we are! The conceit that wemay, perhaps, work ourselves out of our difficulties and force our way to Heaven! Now, the fruit of such a thought as this will be amazement in the day when God will strip us of our self-righteousness and make us stand naked to our eternal shame! Beware of self-righteous thoughts, my Hearers! They are the Tarpeian Rock from which Satan has hurled thousands of souls! It were better for you that a millstone were fasten about your neck and that you were cast into the midst of the sea, than that you should thank God that you are not as other men when, after all, you are as corrupt as other men and will perish as they do! Self-righteousness keeps you from coming to Christ and certainly it excludes you from eternal life and will close the gates of Heaven against you. God deliver us from the fruit of such thoughts!
Then, again, proud, boastful, vainglorious self-seeking thoughts are, alike, obnoxious. How highly some peoplethink of themselves! You can see it in their gait and their speech betrays them. Yet their wine is all froth and their gold is all counterfeit. Their speech, when they begin to tell of what they have, and what they can do, and what they did do uponsuch-and-such occasion–all this is an abomination to honest men–and their thoughts must be very abominable to God! It is one of the things which He says He hates–a proud look. God grant us Grace to be rid of every proud thought, for we have nothing to be proud of! A proud man is nothing but a windbag and when either the ills of life, or the crisis of death shall put a pin into it, what a collapse there will be! How the haughty one will discover himself to be nothing but emptiness and vanity! Get rid of proud thoughts, for oh, what will they do? Pride dragged an angel from Heaven and made a devil of him–and pride will drag any of us down to the level of the devil if we fall into its snare.
Another still more common set of thoughts, but not much decried, are murmuring thoughts. Ah, me, how full somepeople are of these! They can hardly speak but what they have something to grumble about. Trade with them is always bad. Ever since I have been in London, trade has been bad, but it is even worse now! It never was so bad as it is now, except that it was just as bad last year and, as far as I know, has always been at the worst! Farmers never have, to the best of my recollection, had more than “an average crop.” And most years there has been a failure. If the wheat has been good, the turnips have always gone bad, or something has! I notice murmuring to be a very common thing with many people–and you no sooner sit down in the cottage than, instead of telling you that someone has been there to help them a little, and give them some assistance–they say they have only the parish allowance–a miserable pittance! So it is–but they forget the mercies that they have. Why should I always be telling how often I have rheumatic pains and how many times I find that there is something wrong with my constitution? Why should I make it my constant habit to compel everybody to be miserable wherever I go? “Well,” says one, “but you know we cannot help it!” My dear Friend, if you do not help it, then I will tell you what will be the fruit of it–you will make yourself incorrigibly miserable. You will bring yourselfinto a desperate state in which nothing will comfort you! I believe that in this respect, we are very much our own masters. Not all bounties of Providence can make us happy if we have a thankless, ungrateful heart! You may have all that the world can give you, and yet be wretched–or you may be very, very poor, and yet be cheerful! A thankful heart is the thing we need and, oh, may God be pleased to give us that thankful heart! But what I want you to remember is that murmuring is a great sin. They murmured against God in the wilderness and He sent fiery serpents among them. God thinks much of our complaints against His Providential dealings with us–let us not think so little of the sin of provoking Him with our thoughts.
How prone we are likewise to cherish unbelieving thoughts! Oh, that we were all rid of these! But I suppose if I wentround these galleries, I would find in every pew somebody who has unbelieving thoughts. We fancy that God will forsake us, that Providence will turn against us. We get like old Jacob when he said, “Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and you will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” Whereas everything is working for us, only we cannot see it.Be gone, unbelief, for the fruit of unbelieving thoughts is weakness, sorrow, rebellion against God and I know not what else of rashness and presumption! God save us from these thoughts!
Procrastinating thoughts have been the fruitful source of mischief to full many of you. You have good thoughts and good resolves, but you always put things off and think that better times will come for leaving off your sins and seeking Christ! Even though the least evil would be a fearful waste of time–worse than which you run a perilous risk–it is yet to be dreaded that your souls will be lost at the last.
Others of us have to complain of wandering thoughts when we are worshipping God–and the fruit of these is tospoil the golden seasons which, well used, might yield great profit. Oftentimes, when the service has been fitted enough to minister refreshment and instruction–and others have been nourished by the Word–some poor soul goes out and says, “I have not enjoyed it at all.” Why, of course not, for your thoughts have been elsewhere! These are the birds that come down upon the sacrifice. If, like Abraham, we drive them away, we shall be able to worship in peace. But if not, the fruit of wandering thoughts in the House of God is that the service is spoiled. So, too, in the closet, whether ostensibly engaged in private devotion, or the reading of Scripture–unless the thoughts are centered upon the subject in hand–there can be no spiritual gain in drawing near unto God.
II. For a few minutes, now, let us think of brighter things while I mention A FEW GOOD THOUGHTS AND THEIR FRUIT.
“Of which,” says an Apostle, “we cannot now speak particularly,” when he had a long list and little space, so I must say now. If you would have good faith in your soul, cultivate humble thoughts. No man was ever injured by having toolowly a view of himself. The best definition of humility I ever heard was this–“to think light of ourselves.” To think of ourselves as below the standard is lowliness–to think of ourselves as above the standard is pride. But to form a right estimation of ourselves is true humility! Avoid the counterfeit which is in the world–that is mock humility. Be truly humble. Have low thoughts of yourselves, especially before God! Penitent thoughts of sin, humble views with regard to Divine Grace and a close account of your own responsibility are indispensable–so, you will find that humility will sweep out the chamber of your soul and prepare it for the incoming of the Great Prince.
Cultivate very much forgiving thoughts towards your fellow men. Never be hard to be persuaded to pardon an offense. He that takes his brother by the throat will be sure to be taken by the throat himself. Evil for evil, it is said, is beast-like. Good for good is man-like. Evil for good is devil-like, but good for evil is God-like! Try to do it and if anything can make the bells ring in your heart, it will be to forgive one who has very greatly and wantonly injured you. The worse the offense, if you can overlook it, the greater will be your own joy and the better proof will you have that you are a child of God.
Go to bed each night and wake up each morning with admiring thoughts of God’s goodness and with adoringthoughts towards God’s greatness. You will find these thoughts to be like bees that will come home to you laden with honey. Let your soul be a hive of them! Worship the Lord. Think much of Him. Let every blessing you receive make you think of Him. Do not sit at the table and offer what we call, “Grace,” because it is the custom to do so, but let your soul really see God’s hand in the gift of everything that is on the table! We need not fear worldly thoughts if we were to sanctify those worldly thoughts. Said one, “The road on which I tread makes me think of Christ–the Way. The door through which I pass makes me think of Christ–the Door. I cannot handle money but what I think that I am not my own, but am bought with a price. I do not receipt a bill without recollecting that He has blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against me. I cannot talk to my fellow man and receive his answer without thinking how I talk with God and how He answers me.” In such manner, with many thoughts of God, you will find the fruit of heavenlymindedness in your spirit. Angels will come and go to and fro between you and the courts of the Most High if you have many of these admiring and adoring thoughts of God!
Thankful thoughts are well deserving your high encouragement. Get a cage full of these birds of paradise and let them fly about in the groves of your soul and sing there at all times! Oh, there is no better companion than cheerful gratitude! If a man can but see the mercy of God in everything, instead of looking always at the black side of the picture, you will be happy, indeed! The fruit of thankful thoughts will be summer in your soul even when it is the depth of winter outside! Cultivate thankful thoughts as you cultivate sweet flowers in your garden!
Yet again, dear Friends, get
many and abundant believing thoughts. When you cannot see your way, still trust in
your Lord. Believe in Him. Though everything should give the lie to the promise, still believe the promise to be true.
Abound much in thoughts of submission to God. Every morning exercise such thoughts. Put your soul into God'shands that He may deal with you according to His will all the day. And each night, when you review the day, thank God for it all, whatever it may have been–knowing that it must be good–no, must be best if God has ordered it!
I will finally say, seek, Believer, to have many longing thoughts after Christ. Have longing thoughts to be with Him where He is! Let Christ have the best thoughts–the cream of them. Let Him have the first growth of your spirit. Be with Him in waking. Say to Him in the evening, “Abide with us, for the day is far spent.” And if you lie awake at night, still seek to have some precious thought of Christ, like a wafer made with honey, to put under your tongue. Oh, we can bring Heaven down to earth if we can take our thoughts up to Heaven! If thoughts are the wings and the Spirit is the wind, we will fly away to the celestial Paradise!
Be much, then, in such thoughts as these, and may the fruit of your thoughts be such as God, Himself, may delight in, to Jesus Christ’s praise! Amen.