Examined in the Light of Scripture.
L. C. Hocking.
The subject of “thinking” has wide ramifications, and it is difficult to decide at which point to draw the boundary of what can be usefully considered under this heading.
We should recognise at the outset that the mind is a member of the body, the whole of whose members work together, so that it is scarcely possible to isolate the mind's activities from say those of the heart or will.
Our subject is thoughts themselves and though we shall necessarily have much to say about the mind as the thinking organ, we must not forget that the ultimate control lies deeper still. “Out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts. . . .” (Mark 7:21) said the Lord Jesus. The word of God is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
The mind often appears to do its work without any conscious control so that the tendency is to neglect its possibilities and to let it produce whatever it will, with the consequence that thinking is often regarded as synonymous with idle dreaming and is despised accordingly. The scriptural viewpoint is far different, for one of the first exhortations to the Christian pilgrim is: “Gird up the loins of your minds.” (1 Peter 1:13) This vivid Eastern image shows us the importance of properly braced minds as we set out on the Christian journey.
We must go back to Genesis for the beginning of our subject. “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth,” God said, “and subdue it, and have dominion. . . .” (Gen. 1:28) What equipment was given to man to enable him to fulfil this latter part of the divine counsel? Not superior physical attainments, such as strength and speed, but a mind — and what a marvellous endowment that was! Neglected, misused, often yielded to the service of Satan, yet how stupendous have been the mental achievements of mankind! In an undefiled world, what might not man have become!
But quite apart from the efforts of the great thinkers, when we consider the mental accomplishments of the humblest of us, we are compelled to exclaim, O Lord how excellent are Thy works! Just think of how many facts you know, how many words you understand, of how many things you know their shape and size and colour; how many memories and opinions are stored away in your brain.
The most efficient card index that is made today, for a mere 25,000 facts occupies a space one hundred times as great as the human brain. To get a fact from such an index would at the best take many seconds, but our minds work at speeds which baffle comprehension.
We may sometimes be embarrassed by difficulty in recalling some fact we ought to know but next time that happens let us remember how many marvellous things that self-effacing servant, the mind, is doing for us all day long. Think, for instance, of what is always going on. Our minds are receiving a constant flow of impressions from eyes and ears and are busily sorting out what is worthy of being stored in our memories. But even so, each individual's recollections will differ, and what is recorded will often depend upon his prior knowledge and opinions. We might liken the mind to an editor of a newspaper. Each editor may receive the same news but the emphasis and order in which he records it will depend upon the particular opinion supported by his paper. These sorting and editing functions of the mind are clearly of the greatest importance, but they are, of course, only some of the many ways in which our minds serve us. We cannot consider them all now, our present purpose being only to call attention to the marvels of this gift of God to His creature, man.
God then having endowed man with this unique gift of being a thinker, we shall expect to find that He has something to say about its use. The Lord Jesus said that part of the first and great commandment on which hang all the law and the prophets is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind.” (Matt. 22:37) In the use of the powers of his mind to subdue the world it was to be as illuminated and directed by love for God. Alas! what a poor representative for God man has been on the earth. He has used his powers instead to minister to his own pleasure and pride, and has often revealed the ways of Satan rather than the ways of God.
If God has first claim on all our mind, it must be within our power to give this to Him. Yet it is an almost universal complaint that thoughts come unasked and are as uncontrollable as the birds that fly in the heavens. We shall have to look for the solution of the problem of unwanted thoughts, in what we might call the quality of the mind — the soil from which springs such a varied crop. It is invaluable to have the light of God's Word on this subject, for it saves us from the errors of the popular modern pseudo-science of psychology, which attempts to account for everything, while ignoring both God and Satan. Its exponents have no standards of measurement except the human mind itself and like those of whom the apostle wrote, “measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12)
The scriptures show unmistakably the sad disorder into which man's natural mind has fallen. Far from loving God with all his mind, man did not even think good to retain God in his knowledge, and light wilfully shut out breeds its own punishment. “God gave them over to a reprobate mind,” (Rom. 1:28) and a terrible catalogue follows of the fruit of lives directed by such a mind. God is not in all their thoughts (Ps. 10:4) is at once the cause and condition of the wicked.
Nor are other scriptures any more flattering. Those to whom Paul wrote at Ephesus had before their conversion been dead in trespasses and sins, which spiritual death was evidenced by their fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Eph. 2:1-3) under the influence of Satan.
In Colossians we read of the fleshly mind (Col. 2:18) intruding even among believers. We also find that our natural minds are enemies of God, (Col. 1:21) blinded by the god of this world. ( 2 Cor. 3:13) The Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind having the understanding darkened. (Eph. 4:17, 18)
We read of 'corrupt minds' (1 Tim. 6:5) and defiled minds. (Titus 1:15) Could anything less than the power of God remedy such desperate conditions asthese?
One of the many beautiful promises for restored Israel is: “I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” (Heb. 8:10) And God has not done less for those who in this day of His grace bring in repentance and faith their deceitful hearts, their corrupt minds and sinful lives to the One Saviour of the lost. Such are born again into a new life they are made partakers of the divine nature, they are renewed in the spirit of their mind; (Eph. 4:23) the eyes of their understanding are enlightened. (Eph. 1:18)
Is there not a parable for us all in the picture of Legion clothed and in his right (or sound) mind” (Mark 5:15, 18) anxious to use that priceless boon in the service of the One Who had given it back to him?
Scripture shows that there may be a bitter conflict between the mind of the flesh (Rom. 7:23, 25) and the mind of the Spirit (Rom. 8:5, 7) within us, but only to make it clear that God has, through the finished work of Christ and the power of the indwelling Spirit, given the means of victory to every believer.
The renewed mind does not shun the presence of God: it delights to retain God in its knowledge, saying, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts.” (Ps. 139:23) It will only want to have such thoughts as it can share with God, and will find delight in God's thoughts. “How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them.” (Ps. 139:17)
The renewed mind needs proper food and exercise. It will have an entirely new outlook, based not on the desires of the world around, but on the will of God. “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) Nourishment comes by the careful study of the scriptures, which can fully equip the man of God for every good word and work (2 Tim. 3:17). In so far as we let our renewed mind be formed and strengthened by the irrigation of the Word and the sunshine of the love of God, the wiser shall we become in every way. We have referred to the mind acting like an editor of the impressions we receive and storing up only such as are worth recording for future use. How blessed to have as the guardian of the very gates of the mind, an editor who is informed with divine wisdom and who can, when necessary, act as a ruthless censor!
It is a mistake of course to suppose that the renewed mind must never occupy itself with any other book than the Bible. Ignorance is not a virtue nor does scripture call it “bliss.” The renewed mind will not be content with idleness, and even reading for instruction will take on a new interest as we look at all subjects against the background of our knowledge of God's word and will. As for reading for recreation, one would only say, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” (Rom. 14:5) But whatever we read, or indeed listen to or look at, let us not forget that the great enemy is on the watch to find an opportunity to break down our loyalty to Christ. Satan will try to educate us along a path that leads to doubt and unbelief; and will turn a means of recreation into one of desecration if he can. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (John 5:21)
We exercise our minds when we use them for reflection and meditation. Of this the Psalms are full, speaking of meditation on God Himself, on His word and His works. (Ps. 63:6; Ps. 119:148, Ps. 77:12) It is often a valuable thing to go over again in our minds the scriptures we have recently read, the substance of an address we have heard, or some experience we have passed through to make sure that we have absorbed its special message. We do not often think of Peter as a man given to reflection, yet twice we find him so engaged at critical moments in his life. “Peter called to mind the word Jesus said unto him . . . and when he thought thereon he wept.” (Mark 14:72) “While Peter thought (or pondered) on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee.” (Acts 10:19)
A New Testament scripture which gives the ideal diet for a healthy mind is: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report . . . think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Here is the divine test of the character of the things we should choose to think about — how different from the odd, frivolous or even malicious things the natural mind delights in!
But perhaps we have comforted ourselves by the idea that so long as the objectionable things we should not like others to hear remain as thoughts only, no great harm is done. But is not this argument a delusion? Scripture says “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7) And how often is the Lord's knowledge of men's thoughts recorded! Would He have answered them if they did not matter because they were never expressed? (Luke 2:35, Luke 5:22, Luke 6:8, Luke 9:47, Luke 11:17) The word of God, too, is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
The disciples on one occasion disputed among themselves by the way who should be the greatest. The Lord Himself had just given them a worthy theme for their thoughts — His approaching crucifixion; (Mark 9:31-34) but not understanding Him they had chosen for themselves a more congenial subject. When He asked them what it was, they held their peace for they knew it would not pass His scrutiny. We are not using His priceless gift of a renewed mind as we ought, unless we are ready to meet the challenge of His question as to the subjects we choose to think or talk about. “I hate vain thoughts, but Thy law do I love.” (Ps. 119:113)
In this connection it is a remarkable fact that nowhere in the New Testament do we read of the Lord's thoughts. With us, we have to own that sometimes our hearts prompt us to do what is checked by the suggestions of the mind; or we give utterance to pious expressions which our hearts have not really felt. But with the Lord Jesus, the Perfect Man, there was complete and perfect correspondence between the motives of His heart and what was expressed in His words and ways. When the apostle Paul was led to urge the Philippians to let the mind which was in Christ Jesus be in them, (Phil. 2:5-8) he does not venture to describe what that mind was it was fully expressed in the seven-fold stoop of grace he describes instead. So, too, we know that the Lord Jesus, in all He did and said was the perfect revelation of the Father: He is the Word, (John 1:1) the express image of His Person. (Heb. 1:3)
We have also a remarkable verse which is enlightening on the subject of thoughts which lead nowhere. Paul wrote of the manner of his service that in it he brought every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5) The picture this suggests is of a number of horses roaming at will, but captured one by one and all harnessed together into obedience to the driver of a chariot. All that energy which had been dissipated in aimless wanderings about the field is now co-ordinated under the guidance of one hand. How much mental energy will run to waste unless it is yielded in obedience to Christ!
With these examples before us, we cannot excuse idle or unkind thoughts. We can train ourselves to think connectedly if we try and we are not likely to exhaust all the subjects covered by Philippians 4:8 in our lifetime.
Finally, there are three exhortations which are important as they deal with the very foundations of a Christian's mental outlook. They show us how definitely we have our part to do, and they should help us to set our course aright.
(1) “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on (literally, have your mind on) things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col. 3:1, 2) The more we rise to the grandeur of our blessings in Christ, the more will a holy and heavenly character permeate all the activities of our minds. How different, too, is the outlook of a citizen of heaven from that of a dweller on the earth without a clue to the labyrinth of the world's problems! Minds that find their satisfaction in heavenly things will hear with holy joy the next exhortation.
(2) “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) Can it be true that in me there may be revealed that same lowliness of mind which so shone in Him? There it stands in the scriptures for the obedience of faith, and that in connection with such a familiar problem as brothers and sisters in the Lord who cannot agree among themselves. What a battery of scriptures can be brought to bear on the desire of the Lord that we should be of one mind, or likeminded. (Phil. 2:2; Phil. 4:2; Rom. 12:16; Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 13:11, etc.) This does not mean, of course, that everyone must think alike on every subject, but if all let that self-effacing mind be in them which was also in Christ Jesus, what perfect harmony would result! Shall we put it to the test?
Christ then is to be the Object before the renewed minds as He is the pattern of our proper attitude of mind towards our brethren. But another way in which His mind should be in us, is brought before us in our third exhortation:—
(3) “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves, likewise with the same mind, for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1, 2) Lowliness of mind does not involve indifference to evil. “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” (Heb. 12:3) Opposition to sin may involve suffering, but armed with Christ's mind, and fortified by the remembrance of His sufferings for us, we shall not spare to use a sharp knife against ourselves or fail to be resolute in the face of persecution. “God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7)
May the consideration of these scriptures help us all to use rightly this precious but often neglected gift of God.