I have been just wondering and wondering whatever I should say to you on this occasion. And as I was pondering over one subject and another, I suddenly found a landscape unfolding itself to my gaze, just as perhaps you have seen a grey mist rolling back from some hillside, revealing the green pastures and yellow cornfields and waving woodlands. So now a wide vista of trees and fields and homesteads is stretching away for miles before me, while upon the far horizon a streak as of burnished silver proclaims the wondrous sea.
No doubt you are saying to yourself that there is nothing particularly striking in my landscape. Nor should I be surprised if you still failed to think so were I to spend some time in describing what appear to me to be its beauties. I only mention the circumstance here because it is a great puzzle to me how this scene came up before me just now. It is years since I really looked at the place and I am at this moment almost twenty score miles away. And while I am trying to think of some suitable theme for my letter to you, up starts this view — a mental snap-shot come to light out of hundreds of others automatically taken long ago by that most marvellous duplex photographic apparatus which I (and you) received gratis, but which we cannot renew for millions of money. But why did this picture come to light at this particular moment?
I was with some friends the other evening, and the subject of our thoughts was engrossing, and as far removed as the poles from money. But suddenly without warning, like the lightning's flash, some columns of accounts which I had to do with during the day, but which had completely vanished from my memory for some hours, appeared before my mind's eye. It was but a moment before they disappeared, yet in that brief interval I discovered that I had placed a figure in the right column instead of in the left, thus producing a wrong result. Do you wish me to explain this phenomenon? I am not ashamed to confess myself an ignoramus again. I certainly have read that those who profess to know have decided that such automatic actions of the mental organization are to be designated as "unconscious cerebration." This high-sounding phrase, however, like many another of its kind, has not helped me very much. Still, had I wished to conceal my ignorance on the point, I might have used it. I should then have written with all the dignity that self-satisfaction and pride could muster, "Here we have another instance of what is known as 'unconscious cerebration.'" This would have made you about as wise on the point as I am myself, — not a very lofty attainment truly.
No, my young friends; the truth is we are all very ignorant of the movement of our own thoughts. And this is the very point I have been aiming at all the while; so that I hope you will not consider that what has gone before has been altogether in the nature of idle gossip. Hence at this juncture I cannot avoid raising the question, Is there anyone who understands thoughts? And as our thoughts have the unhappy tendency to dart in all sorts of directions unexpectedly and inexplicably, it would be a great comfort to know that someone understands them. Have you ever been left alone a few moments with a great steam engine (say) a hundred horse-power? and have you not felt how powerless you would be to stop the mighty monster in the event of an accident? There were the levers and steam-cocks before you, but you were utterly ignorant how to use them. A person caught in the machinery might be torn to pieces before you could shut off steam. But if the engine-driver is there, a shout from you is sufficient. In a moment the ponderous wheels are at rest. He understands the machine, though you do not. Thank God, I know a Man Who understands our thoughts (don't you?); and a call from us to Him is enough. When the machinery goes wrong, He can control it though we cannot.
The Lord Jesus when upon the earth displayed His knowledge of the thoughts of men's hearts (Matt. 9:4; Matt. 12:25; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; Luke 9:47; Luke 11:17); for He is the One Who "searcheth all hearts and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 94:11; Isa. 66:18; 1 Cor. 3:20). And the psalmist in the sense of this knowledge throws open his heart for divine inspection, saying, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23, 24).
But while the Lord always answers the cry to Him for help and will give you the victory over your fitful self, a responsibility rests on your own shoulders. If you treat the matter lightly and make no efforts of your own, you will find that evil thoughts are more frequently present with you, and that their presence is not distasteful to you. The apostle Paul speaks of "bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). He no doubt refers to the thoughts of the Corinthian saints, and He seeks to restrain their fleshly imagination by presenting to them the pure truth of God.
This supplies us with the secret of success. It is just in proportion as the mind is filled with the holy instruction of God's word that our thoughts are trained to flow in proper channels and to be engaged upon wholesome subjects. The apostle makes this point a subject of exhortation in writing to the Philippians, saying, "Whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things (Phil. 4:8). Again, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col. 3:2). The very words of the apostle imply an effort on your part. You are to provide good subjects for your thoughts. If you do not, the devil will soon provide you with evil ones.
Encourage the mind to dwell upon what is good. "Abstain from all appearance of evil." And thus cultivate a pure and holy mind. Learn to say with the Psalmist, "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul."
If we are in constant intercourse with the word of God, the truth acts at once as a guide and a check. As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, "The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). In the scriptures you will find the workings of your mind anticipated and displayed in their true character so that you may not be deceived.