Sanctification begins with the mind. The carnal mind is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. It dwells and feasts upon carnal thoughts, and is not subject to the law of God. But God looks on the heart or mind, and understands the thoughts of man afar off. He says, “My son, give Me thine heart.” “How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . . For My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Sanctification cleanses the mind from sinful thoughts. It changes the current of the thoughts. It transfers the mind from carnal to spiritual things, from sin to holiness. The mind is the spring of action, the fountain from whence all the words and actions flow. If the fountain is pure the stream that flows from it will also be pure. And if the mind is sanctified, if the thoughts are holy, the works and the actions, the whole life will be holy.
But the mind has faculties and operations which should be sanctified, and some of which we will here examine. And first let us notice
Attention is that faculty of the mind by which we look at ideas. It is, as it were, the eye of the mind. By it we look at the truth. But how often it happens that the attention is diverted from important truths by trifling objects, or by thoughts thrown in by the enemy or by professed friends. No one will fail to see the necessity of setting apart this faculty to see the truth. But as we try to do this, we must ask the Father of lights to open and anoint our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of His law. But to attention we must add,
Attention sees the object; but reflection comes back upon it to examine it with care, so as to preserve distinct ideas about it. Reflection is the faculty of the mind by which it comes back on ideas which had attracted the attention, to acquire an exact knowledge of the same. It is of the utmost importance that this faculty be sanctified. Those who reflect on the truths they have heard or read, will be more apt to retain them. They will also be more apt to take heed to the things which they have heard. But those who do not take pains to come back on what they have heard and seen, are liable to let the truth slip out of their minds, and generally fail to come up to their duty. It is not sufficient to listen to and look at the truth from Sabbath to Sabbath. We should reflect upon it through the week. Oh how many trials we might save ourselves from by being more reflective!
Meditation is “close or continued thought; the turning or revolving of a subject in the mind; serious contemplation.” —Webster. By it we appropriate to ourselves the ideas and truths that the mind has looked at, and penetrate deeper into the knowledge of the truth. Meditation is to the mind what digestion is to the body. By it we digest the truth and turn it, as it were, into a part of our beings. By it we convey the ideas of others to ourselves so as to make them properly our own, and discover new beauties and attractions in the truth.
One day the philosopher Newton was asked how he made so many discoveries in the arts and sciences, and he answered, “By thinking always attentively.” Now if it was necessary for Newton to think always attentively in order to advance in the arts and sciences, is it not necessary for us to meditate on the truth in order to advance in the true science, and make proficiency in sanctification? Many fail to see the glorious attractions of truth because they do not think upon it long enough.
Said Paul to Timothy, “Meditate on these things; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear to all (or in all things, margin.)” 1 Timothy 4:15. Here is a plain injunction to meditate on the things of God. Those who do this will better understand the truth and their duty, and be more useful in the cause of their Master.
But two extremes should here be avoided. One extreme is to meditate much without looking to the Lord for wisdom and help. The other extreme is to expect that the Lord will give us wisdom and help while we neglect to meditate. We must both meditate and look to the Lord. We must dig for wisdom by meditation and prayer, expecting divine aid and heavenly assistance.
He that leans to his own understanding entirely, is unwise, Proverbs 28:26, and is liable to run into wild fancies and erroneous opinions. It is safe to trust in the Lord with all our heart. He can easily give a happy and favorable turn to our thoughts, and cast into our minds some clue or suggestion, that will lead us to rich and useful ideas, if we acknowledge Him and rely upon Him in our meditations. Or He can involve our minds in darkness when we neglect Him, and are filled with a vain conceit of our own light.
David prayed that the meditation of his heart might be acceptable unto the Lord, Psalm 19:14, and loved to meditate in the law of the Lord. He says, “I hate vain thoughts; but Thy law do I love.” “I will meditate in Thy statutes.” “Oh, how love I Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” “I prevented the dawning of the morning and cried. I hoped in Thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in Thy word.” Psalm 119:113, 48, 97, 147, 148. Again he says, “I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands.” “How agreeable are Thy works! And Thy thoughts are very deep. How precious are Thy thoughts to me.” “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” Psalm 143:5; 92:5; 139:17; 104:34.
Let us hear further from the Psalmist: “Thus will I bless Thee while I live. I will lift up my hands in Thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips.” Psalm 63:4–6. What blessedness David here anticipates! But how is it to be realized? The next verse will tell us: “When I remember Thee on my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches.” Here is the condition. Those who remember the Lord and meditate on Him will be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness, and it will be natural and easy for them to bless and praise the Lord with joyful lips, and to lift up their hands in His name. But how often, alas! The mind is suffered to be clogged with meditations of earth, so that it has no room or strength left to meditate on God and His word, and then it is difficult to lift up the hands, praise the Lord, and speak of His goodness.
The Psalmist pronounces that man blessed who meditates day and night in the law of the Lord, Psalm 1:1, 2, and he adds: “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” Verse 4.
Memory is the faculty of the mind by which it retains ideas. This faculty should be set apart to retain useful and holy thoughts. Those whose memories are sanctified can, out of the treasure of the heart, bring forth good things. Their mind is like a storehouse furnished with rich and wholesome provisions. It contains truths upon which they can feast, and of which they can invite others to partake.
Said David, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” Psalm 119:11. David could not do this without the aid of his memory. Those who imitate David in this respect will not be so liable to sin against the Lord. They will remember what He has commanded, and what He has forbidden.
A sanctified memory is like the stream which brings with it the color of the soil through which it passes. Those whose memories are sanctified, remember the lessons they learn in passing through the afflictions the Lord sends them for their good. Many, through neglect and indifference, forget these lessons, and have to learn them over by passing through greater afflictions.
Some will excuse themselves for not learning and retaining the truth, by saying that they have no memory, and that God does not require them to do what they cannot do. But such persons generally remember many things pertaining to their line of business. Some of those who thus excuse themselves will remember every cent their debtors owe them, and when they settle with them, they are very positive that they are right, and would perhaps be offended if they were told they had forgotten some things. Again, some can entertain their friends for hours and days on vain and trifling ideas, that they have learned from unconsecrated persons and from vain and chaffy reading, and can remember every new fashion, and a thousand other things. Can it be said that such have no memory? They have memory, but it is not sanctified.
We do not claim that all are favored with a strong memory. But each individual should set apart the memory that he is favored with to the glory of God, and be continually adding to his store of useful knowledge. The memory, like the rest of the faculties, is strengthened by a proper use, and weakened by disuse. Let all cherish a love for the Word of God, and manifest that interest, earnestness, and care in learning and retaining the truth that consistent persons do in secular matters. And it will not be so difficult to learn and retain the truth, especially those portions of truth that relate to our duty.
When it was difficult to obtain copies of the Bible, Christians were known to commit large portions of the Scriptures to memory. They retained the truth in the love of it, and honored the cause of truth by giving a proper reason of their hope. Now, is less required of those who live in this favored age, when Bibles and other useful books can be so easily obtained, and when an increase of light is shining from the Word of God?
But some will say, I cannot read the Bible, or other good books. Answer. A blessing is pronounced on those who hear, as well as on those who read. Revelation 1:3. And how can persons be blessed for hearing unless they learn and retain what they hear?
If the loins of our minds are girded with truth, we shall be prepared to meet the temptations of the enemy, and the objections of the opposers of truth, as Jesus did when He quoted Scripture to Satan. And if we do what we can on our part to retain and obey the truth, we may expect that the Holy Spirit will bring the truth to our remembrance, and thus make up for our lack of memory.
Imagination is “the power or faculty of the mind by which it perceives and forms ideas of things communicated to it by the organs of sense.” Webster. It is by this faculty that ideal images, or pictures of absent objects and scenes are formed. For instance, when in the silence of the night, reviewing the events of the day, we see the persons that we have visited, the country through which we have passed, and other things which have struck our vision, it is the imagination that pictures these things in our minds.
Imagination was designed to represent real and true objects and scenes; but it sometimes goes farther than this: it creates things that are unreal and untrue. This is seen in mythology, where we read the description of creatures and scenes which have existed only in the imagination. This is also seen in the description of the future state given by Mahomet; also in the doctrine of purgatory, and in many other fanciful doctrines which are the fruit of unsanctified imaginations. Imagination is naturally unruly, and is often used in picturing scenes that encourage the practice of sin, in magnifying the faults of others, and in manufacturing mountains of difficulties out of nothing. To illustrate we will suppose a case: A. and B. meet together. They have always been on good terms. A. moves along toward B. to pass compliments as on other occasions, but observes that B. is sad and rather backward in his remarks. These individuals part. A. looks back to the interview he has had with B. and calls up B. in his imagination, and says, How cold and sour he looked. How he stood off. How little he said. He never treated me so coldly. And the enemy comes in, and adds and adds to the picture, till B. looks ugly, independent and hard, and A. feels that he has been slighted and abused without a cause, and that B. has something against him. Soon A. and B. meet again. But this time B. comes up cheerfully, and A. stands off. Says B. What is the matter, Brother A.? What is the matter, replies A.? You ought to know. You treated me coldly the other day without a just cause, and you have something against me. What makes you think so says B.? I know it is so, answers A. But B. replies, Why, dear Brother, I was examining my own heart and thinking about my imperfections, and since then I have got help,and I now feel free.
This is one case out of many in which we see the wrong use that is made of imagination. If A. had examined his own imperfections and checked his imagination, this trial might have been avoided. With many, an unsanctified imagination takes the lead, and the fruit is evil-surmisings, hatred, envy, lust, evil-speaking, unnecessary trials in families, in neighborhoods, and in the church of God, castles built in the air, fanaticism, etc.
But imagination may be very useful, and a source of much comfort. Would you derive real benefit and comfort from this faculty? Then employ it in picturing useful objects and scenes. Let it represent all that is lovely in the appearance and actions of others, and if you suffer it to represent the evil conduct of others, let it be only that you may help them, and more easily avoid the ways of sin. Let it form images of holy men and women spoken of in the Bible—especially of Jesus, the great example. Follow Him from the manger to the cross.
Behold Him as He goes from place to place on His mission of love, suffering from weariness, hunger and thirst, from persecution and the temptations of Satan. Listen to the rich instructions that fall from His lips. See Him weep over sinners. See Him pray all night alone. Witness His agony in the garden, and the abuses that He receives as He is tried by His enemies. View Him stretched between the heavens and the earth, with His hands and feet pierced, and the crown of thorns mutilating His sacred head. See the precious blood flow freely from His hands and feet. See it fall from His sacred head. Hear Him pray for His enemies, and cry as He bears the sins of the whole world, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Follow Him from earth to the heavenly sanctuary, where He pleads the merits of His blood in behalf of His people, and where His great mediatorial work will soon wind up preparatory to His coming to earth. Behold Him coming in glory and majesty in the clouds of heaven, with all the holy angels. Witness the events connected with His coming. Picture in your minds the right and glorious reward of the just, and the awful punishment of the unjust. And all these scenes will have a tendency to strengthen your faith, and encourage you to love the Lord, and imitate His virtues, to shun the ways of sin, and walk in the path of holiness.
The will is the faculty of choosing or determining. This faculty is the mainspring of the mind. It holds the operations of the mind and the motions of the body at its command. In this respect, it is to the rest of the faculties what a king is to his subjects. A king says to his subjects, Do this, and they obey him; and the will controls, to a great degree, the thoughts and actions of men. How necessary, then, it is for this faculty to be sanctified.
Men do not choose and determine without causes. There are always motives which lead men to choose and decide to act. These motives are either just or unjust, reasonable or unreasonable. The decisions of a sanctified will are based on just and reasonable motives, on reason, sound judgment, and the Word of God.
In the language of another, “Commendable decision implies two things—a knowledge of what is truth and duty, and a fixed determination to conform to them in practice without a compromise.” The mind should first be enlightened. It should first analyze what is held out as truth, and then judge and decide, choose or refuse.
When Joshua had refreshed the minds of the Israelites on God’s dealings with them, and called in exercise their reason and judgment, he said, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve,” Joshua 24:15. Said the Lord to His back-slidden people, “Come now and let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured by the sword.” Isaiah 1:18–20. Jesus and Paul instructed their hearers, reasoning with them from the Scriptures, and then called upon them to judge and decide with regard to the truth. Matthew 12:24–30; John 7, 8; Acts 17:2, 18:4, 19; 24:25, etc. Reason and judgment are not laid aside in the Scriptures; on the contrary, they are made use of and appealed to, that men may be persuaded to choose the truth.
But too often, alas! reason, judgment, and the Word of God are neglected, and the will is used in deciding against the truth.
A. has a strong will, but decides against certain Bible doctrines before he has carefully examined them, and thus shuts the truth out of his mind. If he goes where the present truth is preached, he decides in his own mind what he will believe and what he will not believe, before he really understands what is to be presented. If he decides to read what is held out as truth, he determines before hand to believe only what agrees with his ideas of right, and makes his opinions the rule with which to compare what others say. And if he finally sees his unreasonable and injudicious course, how difficult it is for him to alter his decision, especially if he has a proud heart. But it is wiser to revoke an unsanctified decision than to abide by it, that it may appear that we are firm and unchangeable.
B. is reluctant to decide in favor of the truth because a few ideas connected with it are not clear to his mind. But is it consistent to let a few seeming objections obscure clear and well-established principles, and prevent us from deciding in favor of what we know to be truth? Would it be reasonable for a schoolboy to decide against the science of arithmetic because he has come to a problem that he cannot solve? Reason and consistency require that we pronounce ourselves for what we understand to be truth, and those do violence to their reason and judgment who refuse to do this. By deciding in favor of the truth as far as we see it, we may be enabled to understand those points that are not clear. This has been the experience of thousands. But, although there should remain a few points unexplainable to our minds, we should not suffer these points to shake our confidence in plain and unmistakable evidences. It has been ascertained that the sun has spots which do not emit light, but it would be unwise to conclude that for this reason we should shut our eyes against the sun, and say that it does not shine. It is our duty and privilege to settle on the truth as far as we understand it, and to be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed.
C. understands the truth, but determines to reject it because he does not have the feeling he should like to have. But feeling varies with circumstances, and is not, if separately considered, a safe guide. One of my relatives once urged me with much feeling and tears to become a Roman Catholic. I respected this relative’s honesty, but did not consider her feeling and tears as sufficient evidence to prove the Roman Catholic religion genuine. But bad feeling sometimes grows out of an inward conflict between right and wrong. Let wrong be overcome by sanctified decision and a holy practice, and good feeling may be restored. But, though good feeling should not be restored, we ought not to reject the truth, but rather settle on the merits of the truth.
When seedtime comes, the consistent farmer does not wait for feeling to know whether he had better prepare his ground and scatter his seed; and when the time of harvest comes, he does not wait for feeling to know whether he should harvest his grain. And shall any professing to love Bible truth, dishonor the cause of truth, and disgust the candid, by waiting for feeling, while they see their duty in God’s Word? Consistent persons are willing to trust honest individuals, and labor hard before receiving their wages, and shall Christians fear to trust God? Will they refuse to decide to serve Him till they have a good feeling, or till they receive that blessing which God bestows on those who yield to His truth? Those who leave plain Bible truth to run after feeling, grieve the Spirit of truth, and are in danger of being led by another spirit.
The Christian often feels very bad while in the way of duty. It is then that the enemy comes in with power to discourage and destroy him. No one will claim that Christ had very buoyant and joyous feelings when the sins of the whole world rested upon Him. Yet He was doing the most important work connected with His earthly mission.
D. concludes to reject the truth because of the trials and afflictions connected with it, and perhaps does not realize that those trials and afflictions connected with the truth are very prominent means of sanctification; that they make us know ourselves, and will, if rightly improved, enable us to advance in the attainment of every excellence. Says Job, “When He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10. Says Isaiah, “By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged.” Isaiah 27:9. See, also verses 7 and 9. Says Paul, “They (our earthly parents) verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure, but He for our profit, that we might be made partakers of His holiness . . .” “We glory in tribulation also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Hebrews 12:10, 11; Romans 5:3–5. And James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience; but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:2–4.
God’s people have ever been a tried people, and the Scriptures plainly declare that, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22. Christ, the great Pattern of the church, was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. He was tried in all points; and for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame. When the bitter cup of suffering was presented to Him, He showed that His will was sanctified by using the following language: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Luke 22:42.
In the above cases, we see some of the unreasonable and unscriptural motives that lead many to refuse the truth, and choose the way of sin and death. It often happens that the will is not checked, and runs impetuously in its course, without regard to consequences. This we see in persons called willful, self-willed, headstrong, who are a source of grief to those who would reason with them. Children are often so; if let alone their stubborn will would lead them to rush on headlong to destruction.
It is a true saying that “yielding pacifieth great offenses.” Ecclesiastes 10:4. It saves many trials and troubles. Most of those trials and difficulties that arise in families, in neighborhoods, and among brethren, can be traced to an unwillingness to yield. But some will say, Must I give up my rights? We answer, It often becomes a duty for individuals to give up, or yield in, what they call their rights. There are many instances in which we can yield or submit to others without sacrificing the truth. We are exhorted in the Scriptures to submit one to another, and we should in many things submit to all. If this principle were followed, many unhappy families and neighborhoods would be made happy, and thousands of grievous trials would be avoided.
Some have not learned to yield their will to their superiors, and how hard it is for such to bow to their Maker. They manifest the same stubborness toward the Lord that they do toward their fellow creatures. How many mighty men and women have fallen because they have rebelled against the Lord? Many have run well till their wills were crossed, and they would not yield to God and His truth. Doubtless, they were blinded to the fact that they were rebelling against God. Perhaps their minds were not raised higher than those who ministered to them in word and doctrine. This was the case with ancient Israel in the days of Moses, the servant of God. This was also the case with Israel at subsequent periods in their history.
David’s advice to his son Solomon was to “serve the Lord with a willing mind.” 1 Chronicles 28:9. Said Hezekiah to the Jews, “Now, be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 30:8. The consequences of stubbornness are awful. Many will yield when it is too late. Says the prophet Amos, “They shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.” Amos 8:12. To such, wisdom says, “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all My counsel, and would none of My reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me; for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord; they would none of My counsel; they despised all My reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way.” Proverbs 1:24–30.
The language of each heart should be, Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth. I will choose thy truth, and do what Thou requirest at my hand. I will follow Thee through evil as well as through good report.
Though it is an exaggeration to say that men can of themselves do what they will, yet it is certain that many fail to gain their object, because they do not enlist their will on their side, and move from a fixed determination. This is true in religion as well as in worldly matters. The will can be a great help to Christians in overcoming their besetments. Said a dying man to his son, “Only have strength to say, No.” If we would have strength to say, No, in our conflicts with the powers of darkness in the time of trouble (Revelation 13:15–17; 14:9–11), we must have strength and decision to say, No, to the temptations that we now have to encounter. Our wills must be wholly swallowed up in the will of God. We read that “Thy people shall be willing in the days of Thy power.” Psalm 110:3. And in the language of Jesus, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Revelation 22:17.