And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth…
1. Of the subject, "every man."
2. Of the act, "every thought."
3. Of the qualification of the act, "only evil"
4. Of the time, "continually."The words thus opened afford us this proposition: That the thoughts, and inward operations of the souls of men, are naturally universally evil, and highly provoking. In this discourse, let us first see what kind of thoughts are sins.
1. Negatively. A simple apprehension of sin is not sinful. Thoughts receive not a sinfulness barely from the object. That may be unlawful to be acted which is not unlawful to be thought of.
2. Positively. Our thoughts may be branched into first motions, or such that are more voluntary.
(1) First motions: those unfledged thoughts and single threads, before a multitude of them come to be twisted and woven into a discourse; such as skip up from our natural corruptions, and sink down again, as fish in a river. These are sins, though we consent not to them, because, though they are without our will, they are not against our nature, but spring from an inordinate frame, of a different hue from what God implanted in us. How can the first sprouts be good, if the root be evil? Not only the thought formed, but the very formation, or first imagination, is evil.
(2) Voluntary thoughts, which are the blossoms of these motions: such that have no lawful object, no right end, not governed by reason, eccentric, disorderly in their motions, and like the jarring strings of an untuned instrument. These may be reduced to three heads.
I. In regard of God.
II. Of ourselves.
III. Of others.
I. In regard of God.
1. Cold thoughts of God. When no affection is raised in us by them.
2. Debasing conceptions, unworthy of God. Such are called in the heathen "vain imaginations" (Romans 1:21). Such an imagination Adam seemed to have, conceiting God to be so mean a being, that he, a creature not of a day's standing, could mount to an equality of knowledge with Him.
3. Accusing thoughts of God, either of His mercy, as in despair; or of His justice, as too severe, as in Cain (Genesis 4:13).
4. Curious thoughts about things too high for us. It is the frequent business of men's minds to flutter about things without the bounds of God's revelation (Genesis 3:5). "God knows that your eyes shall be opened." Yet how do all Adam's posterity long after this forbidden fruit!
II. In regard of ourselves. Our thoughts are proud, self-confident, self-applauding, foolish, covetous, anxious, unclean, and what not?
1. Ambitious. The aspiring thoughts of the first man run in the veins of his posterity.
2. Self-confident. Edom's thoughts swelled him into a vain confidence of a perpetual prosperity; and David sometimes said, in the like state, that he should never be moved.
3. Self-applauding. Either in the vain remembrances of our former prosperity, or ascribing our present happiness to the dexterity of our own wit.
4. Ungrounded imaginations of the events of things, either present or future. Such wild conceits, like meteors bred of a few vapours, do often frisk in our minds.
(1) Of things present. It is likely Eve foolishly imagined she had brought forth the Messiah when she brought forth a murderer (Genesis 4:1).
(2) Of things to come, either in bespeaking false hopes, or antedating improbable griefs. Such are the jolly thoughts we have of a happy estate in reversion, which yet we may fall short of.
5. Immoderate thoughts about lawful things. When we exercise our minds too thick, and with a fierceness of affection above their merit; not in subserviency to God, or mixing our cares with dependencies on Him. Worldly concerns may quarter in our thoughts, but they must not possess all the room, and thrust Christ into a manger; neither must they be of that value with us as the law was with David, sweeter than the honey or the honeycomb.
III. In regard of others. All thoughts of our neighbour against the rule of charity: "Such that imagine evil in their hearts, God hates" (Zechariah 8:17). These principally are —
1. Envious, when we torment ourselves with other's fortunes.
2. Censorious, stigmatizing every freckle in our brother's conversation (1 Timothy 6:4).
3. Jealous and evil surmisings, contrary to charity, which "thinks no evil" (1 Corinthians 13:5).
4. Revengeful; such made Haman take little content in his preferments, as long as Mordecai refused to court him (Esther 5:13); and Esau thought of the days of mourning for his father, that he might be revenged for his brother's deceits: "Esau said in his heart," etc. (Genesis 27:41). In all these thoughts there is a further guilt in three respects, viz. —
1. Delight in them. The very tickling of our fancy by a sinful motion, though without a formal consent, is a sin, because it is a degree of complacency in an unlawful object.
2. Contrivance. When the delight in the thought grows up to the contrivance of the act (which is still the work of the thinking faculty). When men's wits play the devils in their souls, in inventing sophistical reasons for the commission and justification of their crimes, with a mighty jollity at their own craft, such plots are the trade of a wicked man's heart. A covetous man will be working in his inward shop from morning till night to study new methods for gain; and voluptuous and ambitious persons will draw schemes and models in their fancy of what they would outwardly accomplish.
3. Reacting sin after it is outwardly committed. Though the individual action be transient, and cannot be committed again, yet the idea and image of it remaining in the memory may, by the help of an apish fancy, be repeated a thousand times over with a rarefied pleasure, as both the features of our friends, and the agreeable conversations we have had with them, may with a fresh relish be represented in our fancies, though the persons were rotten many years ago. Having thus declared the nature of our thoughts, and the degrees of their guilt, the next thing is to prove that they are sins.There are three reasons for the proof of this, that they are sins.
1. They are contrary to the law, which doth forbid the first foamings and belchings of the heart, because they arise from an habitual corruption, and testify a defect of something which the law requires to be in us, to correct the excursions of our minds (Romans 7:7).
2. They are contrary to the order of nature, and the design of our creation. Whatsoever is a swerving from our primitive nature is sin, or at least a consequent of it. But all inclinations to sin are contrary to that righteousness wherewith man was first endued.
3. We are accountable to God, and punishable for thoughts. Nothing is the meritorious cause of God's wrath but sin. Having proved that there is a sinfulness in our thoughts, let us now see what provocation there is in them, which in some respects is greater than that of our actions.Now, thoughts are greater in respect —
1. Of fruitfulness. The wickedness that God saw great in the earth was the fruit of imaginations. They are the immediate causes of all sin. No cockatrice but was first an egg.
2. In respect of quantity. Imaginations are said to be continually evil. There is an infinite variety of conceptions, as the Psalmist speaks of the sea, "wherein are all things creeping innumerable, both small and great," and a constant generation of whole shoals of them; that you may as well number the fish in the sea, or the atoms in the sunbeams, as recount them.
3. In respect of strength. Imaginations of the heart are only, i.e., purely evil. The nearer anything is in union with the root, the more radical strength it hath.
4. In respect of alliance. In these we have the nearest communion with the devil. The understanding of man is so tainted, that his wisdom, the chiefest flower in it, is not only earthly and sensual (it were well if it were no worse), but devilish too (James 3:15). If the flower be so rank, what are the weeds?
5. In respect of contrariety and odiousness to God. Imaginations were only evil, and so most directly contrary to God, who is only good. Our natural enmity against God (Romans 8:7), is seated in the mind.
6. In respect of connaturalness and voluntariness. They are the imaginations of the thoughts of the heart, and they are continually evil. They are as natural as the estuations of the sea, the bubblings of a fountain, or the twinkling of the stars.The uses shall be two, though many inferences might be drawn from the point.
1. Reproof. What a mass of vanity should we find in our minds, if we could bring our thoughts, in the space of one day, yea, but one hour, to an account! How many foolish thoughts with our wisdom, ignorant with our knowledge, worldly with our heavenliness, hypocritical with our religion, and proud with our humiliations!
2. Exhortation. We must take care for the suppression of them. All vice doth arise from imagination. Upon what stock doth ambition and revenge grow but upon a false conceit of the nature of honour? What engenders covetousness but a mistaken fancy of the excellency of wealth? Thoughts must be forsaken as well as our way (Isaiah 4:7). That we may do this, let us consider these following directions, which may be branched into these heads:
1. For the raising good thoughts.
2. Preventing bad.
3. Ordering bad when they do intrude.
4. Ordering good when they appear in us.
1. For raising good thoughts.
(1) Get renewed hearts. The fountain must be cleansed which breeds the vermin. Pure vapours can never ascend from a filthy quagmire. What issue can there be of a vain heart but vain imaginations?
(2) Study Scripture. Original corruption stuffs us with bad thoughts, and Scripture-knowledge would stock us with good ones; for it proposeth things in such terms as exceedingly suit out imaginative faculty, as well as strengthen our understanding. Judicious knowledge would make us "approve things that are excellent" (Philippians 1:9, 10); and where such things are approved, toys cannot be welcome. Fulness is the cause of steadfastness.
(3) Reflect often upon the frame of your mind at your first conversion. None have more settled and more pleasant thoughts of Divine things than new converts when they first clasp about Christ, partly because of the novelty of their state, and partly because God puts a full stock into them; and diligent tradesmen at their first setting up, have their minds intent upon improving their stock. Endeavour to put your mind in the same posture it was then.
(4) Ballast your heart with a love to God. David thought all the day of God's law, as other men do of their lusts, because he inexpressibly loved it: "Oh, how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). "I hate the habit of faith is attended with habitual sanctification, so the acts of faith are accompanied with a progress in the degrees of it. That faith which brings Christ to dwell in our souls will make us often think of our Inmate.
(6) Accustom yourself to a serious meditation every morning. Fresh-airing our souls in heaven will engender in us a purer spirit and nobler thoughts. A morning seasoning would secure us for all the day. In this meditation, look both to the matter and manner. First, Look to the matter of your meditation. Let it be some truth which will assist you in reviving some languishing grace, or fortify you against some triumphing corruption; for it is our darling sin which doth most envenom our thoughts: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Secondly, Look to the manner of it. First the glances of the eye, soon on and soon off; they make no clear discovery, and consequently raise no sprightly affections. Secondly, Let it be affectionate and practical. Meditation should excite a spiritual delight in God, as it did in the Psalmist: "My meditation of Him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord" (Psalm 104:34); and a Divine delight would keep up good thoughts, and keep out impertinencies.
(7) Draw spiritual inferences from occasional objects. David did but wisely consider the heavens, and he breaks out into self-abasement and humble admirations of God (Psalm 8:3, 4). Glean matter of instruction to yourselves, and praise to your Maker, from everything you see; it will be a degree of restoration to a state of innocency, since this was Adam's task in paradise.
2. The second sort of directions are for the preventing bad thoughts. And to this purpose —
(1) Exercise frequent humiliations. Pride exposeth us to impatient and disquieting thoughts, whereas humility clears up a calm and serenity in the soul.
(2) Avoid entangling yourselves with the world. This clay will clog our minds, and a dirty happiness will engender but dirty thoughts.
(3) Avoid idleness. Serious callings do naturally compose men's spirits, but too much recreation makes them blaze out in vanity. Idle souls as well as idle spirits will be ranging.
(4) Awe your hearts with the thoughts of God's omniscience, especially the discovery of it at the last judgment.
(5) Keep a constant watch over your hearts. David desires God to "set a watch before the door of his lips" (Psalm 141:3): much more should we desire that God would keep the door of our hearts.
3. The third sort of directions are for the ordering of evil thoughts, when they do intrude; and —
(1) Examine them. Look often into your heart to see what it is doing; and what thoughts you find dabbling in it call to an account; inquire what business they have, what their errand and design is, whence they come, and whither they tend.
(2) Check them at the first appearance. If they bear upon them a palpable mark of sin, bestow not upon them the honour of an examination.
(3) Improve them. Poisons may be made medicinable. Let the thoughts of old sins stir up a commotion of anger and hatred.
(4) Continue your resistance if they still importune thee, and lay not down thy weapons till they wholly shrink from thee.
(5) Join supplication with your opposition. "Watch and pray" are sometimes linked together (Matthew 26:41). The diligence and multitude of our enemies should urge us to watch, that we be not surprised; and our own weakness and proneness to presumption should make us pray that we may be powerfully assisted.
4. A fourth sort of directions is concerning good motions; whether they spring naturally from a gracious principle, or are peculiarly breathed in by the Spirit. There are ordinary bubblings of grace in a renewed mind, as there are of sins in an unregenerate heart; for grace is as active a principle as any, because it is a participation of the Divine nature. But there are other thoughts darted in beyond the ordinary strain of thinking, which, like the beams of the sun, evidence both themselves and their original. And as concerning these motions joined together, take these directions in short —
(1) Welcome and entertain them. As it is our happiness, as well as our duty, to stifle evil motions, so it is our misery, as well as our sin, to extinguish heavenly.
(2) Improve them for those ends to which they naturally tend. It is not enough to give them a bare reception, and forbear the smothering of them; but we must consider what affections are proper to be raised by them, either in the search of some truth, or performance of some duty.
(3) Refer them, if possible, to assist your morning meditation; that, like little brooks arising from several springs, they may meet in one channel, and compose a more useful stream.
(4) Record the choicer of them. We may have occasion to look back upon them another time, either as grounds of comfort in some hour of temptation, or directions in some sudden emergency; but constantly as persuasive engagements to our necessary duty. Thus they may lie by us for further use, as money in our purse.
(5) Pack them with ejaculations. Let our hearts be ready to attend every injection from heaven with a motion to it, since it is ingratitude to receive a present without returning an acknowledgment to the benefactor. As God turns His thoughts of us into promises, so let us turn our thoughts of Him into prayers.
Parallel VersesKJV: And 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.