RULES FOR THE REFORMATION OF OUR EVIL THOUGHTS: Showing His Natural Evil Thoughts, His Want of God Thoughts, and the Way to Reform Them.

Taken and adapted from, A TREATISE OF MAN’S IMAGINATIONS
Written by William Perkins


1.   Our thoughts must be brought into obedience to God. For the reformation of our thoughts, different rules must be observed:

We bring all our thoughts into the obedience of God. Every man will grant that words and actions, must be in subjection, but I say further, every thought in the mind must be conceived in obedience to God, and in no other way: Solomon says, Prov. 20. 18. Establish your thoughts by  counsel, which may include this meaning, that a man must not conceive a thought in his mind, unless he has counsel and direction from the word of God so to think: And S. Paul says, 2. Cor. 10. 5. The weapons of our warfare (speaking of the preaching of the Gospel) are not carnal, but mighty through God to throw down strongholds, casting down the imaginations, and everything that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ: giving us to understand, that those who submit themselves to the ministry of the word, must be of this mind, not only to be comfortable thereunto in word and action, but in every thought of their mind, even those must bow the knee to Christ: howsoever with men we  say thought is free, yet with God it is not so. And indeed he which hath effectually received the grace of Christ, will endeavor to yield obedience as well in thought, as in word and action: Whatsoever things are true, (says Paul) Phil. 4. 8. Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, pure, and pertain to love, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, (he says not  only do (a) these things, but (think on these things, where the commandment is plain, that a man’s thoughts must be holy, pure, just, and of such things as are praise-worthy and of good report, that so they may be conceived in obedience to God.

2.    Of the guarding of our hearts.

The rule for the reformation of our thoughts, is given by Salomon keep or counter-guard your heart above all watch and ward: that is, guard and keep your heart more than anything that is watched or guarded, whether city, house, treasure, or such like: and the reason adjoined shows the necessity of the rule for out of it come the issues of life.

In the right guarding of the heart, three duties must be performed:

First, we must covenant with our outward senses, resolving fully with our selves by God’s grace that none of them shall be the instruments, the beginning or occasion of any sin in heart, or life. This covenant Job made with his eyes, not to look upon a maid, to lust after her: And David prayed the Lord to direct and keep his eyes from beholding vanities: Psalm 119. 37. Now look how these holy men dealt with their eyes, so must we proportionally deal for all the outward senses of our body, binding them all, after their example, from being the means of provocation to any sin. This duty is most necessary, for the outward senses be the doors windows of the soul, and unless good care be had thereto, the devil will enter in by them and fill the soul with all corruption.

Secondly, we must observe our evil thoughts, and at their first arising, stop and restrain them, not suffering them to take any place in our hearts: this is a special means to preserve and guard the heart, for from the thoughts proceed all bad desires, corrupt affections, evil words actions: the mind must first conceive before the will can desire, or the affections be delighted, or the members of the body practice anything, so that whosoever is of a loose life, and bad behavior, it comes from the profaneness of his heart in evil thoughts: neither can it be hoped that any man should reform his life, that will not guard his heart, and keep his mind from wicked imaginations: the devil cannot work his will upon man’s affections, or prevail over mans will, but by thoughts, and therefore it is necessary, that the first motions of evil in the mind be restrained at the beginning.

Thirdly, we must with all care cherish and maintained every good motion of Gods Spirit that is caused in us by the ministry of the word, or by the advice of Gods children: for these are the sparks and flames of grace, which Paul means, when he says, 1. Thess. 5. 19. Quench not the spirit.

3.     Of the elevation of the heart to God.

For the reformation of our thoughts we must often elevate the mind/heart to heaven, where Christ sits at the right hand of his Father. Thus did David, Psalm 25: 1. Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: And Paul, saying of himself and other Christians, Phil. 3:20. That they had their conversation in heaven, signifies thus much, that not only their studies and meditations, but also their dealings in the world were heavenly. Saint James bids us, draw near to God, Jam. 4. 8. Now which way should a poor wretch here below, draw near to God, but by lifting up his heart to the throne of grace in heaven, that so God in mercy may draw near unto him by grace? The Lord hath instituted in his Church the use of his last Supper, wherein  the giving and receiving of bread and wine doth represent and seal up unto us our communion and participation of the body and blood of Christ given for our redemption: Now the principal action on our behalf therein required, is this Elevation of the hear unto God, as well for the contemplation of Gods infinite mercy in Christ and of Christ’s endless love to us, as for the application of his merits to our own souls by the hand of faith, as also for the spiritual resignation of ourselves in souls and bodies, by way of thankfulness, to him that hath redeemed us. Further touching this Elevation we must remember, that it ought to be our continual and ordinary action unto God: for as it is with him that keeps a clock, unless he do every day wind up the weights, which are always going downward, the clock will stand; so it fares with us, our hearts are ever drawing towards the earth, and the things here below, by reason of that body of sin, which hangs on so fast, and presses down; Hebr. 12:1. And therefore we must endeavor by God’s grace continually to lift them up to heaven: The Apostle bids us, Pray continually, 1. Thess. 5:17. Not that we should do nothing else but pray, but his meaning is, that we should every day so oft as occasion is offered, lift up our hearts unto God.

But of all other there be three especial times wherein we must use this heavenly Elevation:

First, in the morning by prayer, thanksgiving, or both, before the cogitations of any earthly affairs come into our minds, that so we may give unto God the first fruits of our thoughts every day.

Second, in the evening before we lay down our bodies to rest, for who knows when he lays down himself to sleep, whether ever he shall rise again alive?

Third, at any other time of the day, wherein we receive any blessing from God temporal, or spiritual, or do feel ourselves to stand in need of any of his gifts, or graces; for seeing every good gift comes from him, is it not reason we should give this glory to his name; to lift up our hearts to his throne of grace, whenever we receive or expect the same from his bountiful hand?

4.     Of the assurance of our particular reconciliation with God.

For the reformation of our thoughts, we must labor to be assured in our hearts by Gods spirit, of our particular reconciliation with God in Christ. This is that knowledge of the love of God which passes knowledge, for which Paul, Eph. 3. 14. 19. Bowed his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the behalf of the Ephesians: in regard here of Paul esteemed all things loss, yea to be dross and dung. Phillip. 3. 8. Now when this assurance is settled in our hearts, it will purify not only the affections, but also the first motions and thoughts of our minds: He that hath in himself this hope (says John) purges himself as God is pure. For when a man shall be truly persuaded in his heart, that of a vile sinner, even the child of wrath, he is made the child of God, and a vessel of honor acceptable to God, enjoying his love, and favor in Christ, then will he reason thus with himself; hath God of his endless mercy vouchsafed to receive me into his grace and favor, that otherwise should have been a firebrand of hell for evermore? oh then, how should I suffer my mind, my will, and affections, to be any longer the instruments of sin, whereby I shall displease so gracious a God, and cast myself out of his love and favor? Nay, but I will employ my soul which he hath redeemed with all the powers and faculties thereof, as weapons of righteousness for the advancement of his glory.

5.      Of spiritual consideration.

If we would reform our thoughts, we must give ourselves to spiritual consideration or meditation. By Spiritual consideration. I mean any action of the mind renewed and sanctified, whereby it doth seriously think on those things which may further salvation. This consideration I call spiritual, to distinguish it from earthly plotting care, whereby natural men show themselves wise and provident for the things of this life, though in the matters of God which concern salvation, they be blind and ignorant. Also I add, it must be an action of a mind renewed and sanctified, because the natural man perceives not the things of the spirit of God, 1. Cor. 2: 14. They seem foolishness unto him, and therefore he cannot give his mind unto them.

Now the excellent use of this rule will plainly appear by the fruitful practice of it in the prophet David: for what was more usual with him then spiritual and heavenly meditation? Sometime upon God himself; sometime on the works of God; sometime on his own ways: and continually on God’s word. Now sanctifying this duty by prayer, as it is plain he did continually, Psalm 19:14. let the meditation of my heart, oh Lord, be acceptable in your sight: hence it came to pass, that he professed, Psalm 119:113. A hatred unto vain inventions, which are the proper effects of an unreformed mind: and on the contrary, by this godly, practice, Psalm 119: 99. He got more understanding then his teachers; yea he attained to this excellent state of a renewed mind, that his reign, whereby he means the most secret part of his soul, taught him in the night season, Psalm 16:7. And in reason we may perceive the truth hereof: for seeing contraries do mutually expel one another, what can be more effectual to purge the mind of evil thoughts, then to exercise the same with spiritual considerations?  For when through the blessing of God, these shall take place, the other must needs be gone: in regard whereof it shall not be amiss somewhat to insist in the handling of them.