DEVICE 7: By casting in a multitude of vain thoughts (distractions I guess-JK), while the soul is in seeking of God, and by this device he cooled some men’s spirits in heavenly services, and taken off, at least for a time, many precious souls from religious performances.
“I have no heart to hear, nor no heart to pray, nor no delight in reading, nor in the society of the saints. Satan does so dog and follow my soul, and is still a-casting in such a multitude of vain thoughts concerning God, the world, and my own soul, that I even tremble to think of waiting upon God in any religious service. Oh! the vain thoughts that Satan casts in, do so distaste my soul, and so grieve, vex, perplex, and distract my soul, that they even make me weary of holy duties, yes, of my very life. ”
Remedy (1). The first remedy against this device of Satan is, To have your hearts strongly affected with the greatness, holiness, majesty, and glory of that God before whom you stand, and with whom your souls converse in religious services. Oh! let your souls be greatly affected with the presence, purity, and majesty of that God before whom you stand.There is nothing that will contribute so much to the keeping out of vain thoughts, as to look upon God as an omniscient God, an omnipresent God, an omnipotent God, a God full of all glorious perfections, a God whose majesty, purity, and glory will not allow him to behold the least iniquity. The reason why the blessed saints and glorious angels in heaven have not so much as one vain thought is, because they are greatly affected with the greatness, holiness, majesty, purity, and glory of God.
Remedy (2). The second remedy against this device of Satan is, To be faithful in religious services, notwithstanding all those wandering thoughts the soul is troubled with. When all those trifling vain thoughts that he casts into the soul do but vex the soul into greater diligence, carefulness, watchfulness, and steadfastness in holy and heavenly services, and that the soul loses nothing of his zeal, piety, and devotion—but doubles his care, diligence, and earnestness, he often ceases to interpose his trifles and vain thoughts, as he ceased to tempt Christ, when Christ was steadfast in resisting his temptations.
Remedy (3). The third remedy against this device of Satan is, to consider this, That those vain and trifling thoughts that are cast into our souls, when we are waiting upon God in this or that religious service, if they be not cherished and indulged—but abhorred, resisted, and disclaimed; they are not sins upon our souls, though they may be troubles to our minds; they shall not be put upon our accounts, nor keep mercies and blessings from being enjoyed by us. Oh, do justice upon these, free me from these, that I may serve you with more zeal. It is not Satan casting in of vain thoughts that can keep mercy from the soul, or undo the soul—but the lodging and cherishing of vain thoughts: ‘O Jerusalem, how long shall vain thoughts lodge within you?’ (Jer.4:14) Vain thoughts pass through the best hearts; they are lodged and cherished only in the worst hearts.
Remedy (4). The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is, solemnly to consider, That resisting sinful thoughts, lamenting and weeping over sinful thoughts, carries with it the sweetest and strongest evidence of the truth and power of grace, and of the sincerity of your hearts, and is the readiest and the surest way to be rid of them (Psalm 139:23). Many low and carnal considerations may cause men to watch their words, their lives, their actions; as hope of gain, or to please friends, or to get a name in the world, and many other such like considerations. Oh! but to watch our thoughts, to weep and lament over them—this must needs be from some noble, spiritual, and internal principle—such as love to God, a holy fear of God, a holy care and delight to please the Lord. Thoughts are the first-born, the blossoms of the soul, the beginning of our strength—whether for good or evil; and they are the greatest evidences for or against a man, that can be.
A thorough work of grace is having your thoughts to be ‘brought into obedience,’ as the apostle speaks, 2 Cor. 10:4, 5 the subduing of those vain thoughts that walk up and down in the soul. (Psalm 139:23; Is. 59:7; 66:18; Matt. 9:4; 12:25.) Christ knew Herod’s bloody thoughts, and Judas’s betraying thoughts, and the Pharisees’ cruel and blasphemous thoughts afar off. (Matt. 15:15-18).
Oh! think thus: All these sinful thoughts, they defile and pollute the soul, they deface and spoil much of the inward beauty and glory of the soul. If I commit this or that sin, to which my thoughts incline me, then either I must repent or not repent; if I repent, it will cost me more grief, sorrow, shame, heart-breaking, and soul-bleeding, before my conscience will be quieted, divine justice pacified, my comfort and joy restored, my evidences cleared, and my pardon in the court of conscience sealed—than the imagined profit or seeming sensual pleasure can be worth. ‘What fruit had you in those things whereof you are now ashamed’ (Rom. 6:21). Inward bleeding kills many a man; so will sinful thoughts, if not repented of.
Remedy (5). Take it for an experienced truth, the more the soul is filled with the fullness of God and enriched with spiritual and heavenly things—the less room there is in that soul for vain thoughts. Oh, then, lay up much of God, of Christ, of precious promises, and choice experiences in your hearts—and then you will be less troubled with vain thoughts. ‘A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good things’ (Matt. 12:35).
Remedy (6). Keep up holy and spiritual affections; for such as your affections are, such will be your thoughts. ‘Oh how I love your law! it is my meditation all the day’ (Psalm 119:97). What we love most, we most muse upon. ‘When I awake, I am still with you’ (Psalm 139:18). That which we much like—we shall much mind. Those who are frequent in their love to God and his law, will be frequent in thinking of God and his law—a child will not forget his mother.
Remedy (7). The seventh remedy against this device of Satan is, To avoid multiplicity of worldly business. Oh, let not the world take up your hearts and thoughts. Souls which are torn in pieces with the cares of the world will be always vexed and tormented with vain thoughts in all their approaches to God. Vain thoughts will be still crowding in upon him that lives in a crowd of business. The stars which have least circuit are nearest the pole; and men that are least perplexed with business are commonly nearest to God.
2 Tim. 2:4, ‘No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer.’ This is a comparison which Paul borrows from the custom of the Roman empire, wherein soldiers were forbidden to take up private businesses.