Our Natural Propensities
Charles Naylor, 1918
We are twofold beings. The real man, the man who will live forever, the man who is made in the image of God, is not the man that our eyes gaze upon. For a little while we are dwellers in a body of clay. In regard to our physical body, we have no preeminence over the beasts: it is made of clay, and it will return to the dust from which it came. Our bodies correspond very closely to those of the animal creation: theirs and ours have practically the same function; they are subject to the same physical laws. So far as his physical being is concerned, man differs from the animal only in being more highly organized.
The Mental Constitution
Mentally man is a trinity, composed of reason, will, and the sensibilities. We might compare him to a steamship.
His body is the hull and the power-plant.
Reason or intellect is, or should be, the navigator.
The will is the engineer and pilot.
The sensibilities or feelings are the heating and refrigerating plants.
It is in reason and will that man rises farthest Godward. These are the really important things in his constitution; everything else is secondary. It is through these that he knows God and obeys him. It is through these that we are made moral creatures and are subject to moral law and can know and understand moral problems and principles. When God illuminates the intellect and controls the will, he has a man for his service. These are the citadels of man's soul, and it is to them that God's appeal is made and through them that man becomes godlike.
The place of REASON is in the chart-house of our vessel. God has given us a chart—his precious Word. Reason must study this chart and from it lay life's course. It must choose the port to which we shall sail, and the course over which we shall sail. It must watch for the dangers that lie in the way. It must know the hidden rocks; it must know the shoals, the currents, and the various other dangers of navigation. It must read the weather-signs, so that we may know when the storms are coming and how to prepare for them and how best to weather them when they come. It must take the observations and locate our position on the voyage of life. It must decide all the problems of navigation. It must find the way out of all difficulties and dangers. Reason, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is our only safe navigator. If we trust to anything else, we shall run upon the rocks and be lost.
The WILL must steer our vessel upon its course. Our lives must not be left to chance, but must be guided by a steady hand. Many dangerous rocks lie hidden in the in the sea of life. Unless a strong hand holds the wheel and obeys the voice of the navigator, we may make shipwreck. We dare not let every current carry us where it will. We dare not let ourselves drift wherever the wind would blow us. We must keep straight upon our course.
Knowing this, God has given us our wills to be the helmsmen of our vessels and to steer them in the straight and safe course that leads to the port of everlasting glory. The will must have the directing control of all the energies of our vessel. It must keep its hand upon the throttle of our lives. It must direct all our energies in the proper way. If any of our energies are not subject to our will, there is certain to be disorder in our lives. The will must be absolute master of our abilities.
We need never expect to come to the place where our abilities will always work good automatically. There is no such thing as an automatic Christian. Doing right is a matter of willing to do right and bringing the forces of our being into subjection to our will so that they work what the will has decreed that they shall work. We must often use our wills to compel ourselves to do that which is right, against our natural inclination.
The Bible takes no account of our feelings. It points out duty. It says, "Do this" or "Do not do this." It says, "Be this" and "Do not be that." It does not say, "Feel patient"; it says, "Be patient." It does not say that we shall not feel tempted; it says that we must not yield to temptation. When it points out any duty, it does not say, "Feel inclined to do this duty"; it says, "Do this." It lays upon the will, the whole responsibility for the conduct. We are never judged by our feelings—but are judged by our wills. If reason and will are on the side of right—then the individual is judged as being right, and his conduct is approved.
The will must be subject to the orders of reason, and resolutely carry them out. The cause why so many people are evil-doers, is not because they have not enough intelligence to know the right, but because their wills do not act in harmony with their intelligence. They know what is right, but they do not will to act according to their knowledge. In many things they go contrary to their judgment; they do things that they know are unwise. They deliberately set aside their reason, and do that which they know will bring the condemnation of God upon them and will be ruinous to their lives here and hereafter.
When the will chooses its own course regardless of the reason, it always makes shipwreck of the life. It is imperative, therefore, that you make your will subject to the dictates of your reason. If you do not, only disaster awaits you.
Our Sensibilities and Emotions
I have likened our sensibilities and emotions to the heating and refrigerating plants of a steamer. All the warmth in life comes through our feelings; all the joy, peace, gladness, mirth, contentment, brightness, happiness, and other similar things—come to us through our feelings. Without emotions, life would be a cold, bleak wasteland. Emotions are the things that make life worth while. They are as needful in their sphere, as reason and will in their spheres. Not only does the warmth and charm of life come through our sensibilities, but also all that chills in life. Sorrow, pain, sadness, gloom, discouragement, despondency, remorse—all these have their seat in our sensibilities. From these come both the sunshine and the clouds of life. They bring to us both the bitter and the sweet.
Our emotions are always active, or at least rarely in a state of rest, during our waking hours. They are in a great measure independent of control. They work as they will. The will can influence them, but its control is limited. We cannot feel any certain way, just because we will to do so. We cannot feel pleased or happy or contented, just because we desire to do so. Our feelings are creatures of influence and circumstances. Whatever acts upon our feelings, will produce results—no matter what it is that acts nor in what manner it acts.
The feelings have no power of judgment, no discretion; they respond to whatever influence works upon them. They have no power of choice. They are like the strings of musical instruments, which respond to every touch and likewise to the quality of the touch. Circumstances may strike sweet melodies and rich harmonies of rejoicing—or they may strike discords of pain and sorrow. The chords that sound out depend more upon the player than upon the instrument; for the same instrument is capable of sounding forth many differing chords.
I said that the will could influence our feelings, but not rule them. The extent to which it may affect them, depends upon the strength of the will. It may affect them in different ways. It may repress them for a time. It may put a brake upon them and prevent their free action. It may often set bounds to limit them, even though it has not perfect control over them. It may also set up a contrary influence through some other emotion by bringing some influence to bear upon it, and thus make one emotion balance or restrict the other.
This is something that every Christian needs very much to learn. We may turn the attention away from that which is exciting some emotion, to the contemplation of something that will either quiet the emotion or set up another kind. If we are sad or discouraged or despondent, and we let our minds run in the channel of our feelings—then we shall only feel worse and worse.
We should deliberately turn our minds from the dark side of the picture, to that which is bright and uplifting. Look upon God and the beautiful things of his character. Look at the promises of his Word—look at the things that are in our favor. Look at hopeful things. Look away from the gloom and darkness, and you will soon find that the things at which you look, react upon your feelings and that the gloomy feelings pass away. Giving your thought and attention to these brighter things, will set up an emotion contrary to that which has been working, and it will balance or restrict the former, or possibly entirely overcome it.
Have you ever seen a person who had some physical trouble, and who seemed to delight in telling his trouble to everybody he met? It was a favorite topic of conversation with him. Of course, the more he would talk about it, the more he would feel it and the more conscious of it he would be. Probably if he had quit talking about it and forgotten it, he would soon have felt all right.
It is the same with our spiritual feelings: the more we think about our troubles, and the more we tell them—the greater they become. Never let bad feelings hold your attention. Turn your mind resolutely away from them. As often as it comes back to them, turn it away to something else, until you form the habit of thinking of that which is good and uplifting and encouraging. In such things as these—we are what we make of ourselves.
Gloominess is a habit—so is cheerfulness. We cannot prevent bad feelings from coming sometimes, but we need not give them place or pet them when they do come. There are too many good and too many beautiful things in life, too many things enjoyable, for us to allow our minds to run on the dark side of things very much. Whatever occupies our attention—shuts out other things. Therefore if we let the dark side of the picture occupy our attention—then we cannot see the bright side. But if we will turn out eyes away from the dark side—then we shall find that there is a bright side at which we may look. As we look at the bright side—it will react upon our emotions, and we shall be joyful instead of being in heaviness. We may be glad, instead of being in mourning. We may be encouraged, instead of being discouraged. Say to your emotions resolutely, "Thus far shall you go, and no farther!" Set a bound for them beyond which they may not pass, and repress all bad feelings, and so make way for good ones.
The sensibilities are active and very often try to usurp the place of reason and the will. There is danger in permitting this. If we decide by our feelings what is right and what we ought to do—then our feelings may soon change, and we shall think something else is right, or that we ought to do some other way, and so we shall be unsettled. One time we shall feel as if we should do a thing, and shortly afterwards we may find that we feel as if we should not do it. At one time we may feel that a thing is right, and soon come to question it when we feel some other way.
Reason must be the master. Reason is the one that is to lay out our course. Reason should decide for us what is right and what is wrong. Do not let your feelings usurp reason's place. Try to understand the principles which are involved. Decide the rightness or wrongness of the thing by these principles—not by your feelings. This is the only safe way. It is only by doing this, that you can ever be settled in any course of conduct very long at a time.
The feelings are blind. They cannot observe the compass; they cannot see the chart; they cannot see where the dangers lie. Hence they cannot lay out a safe course.
Suppose the captain of a vessel should place a blind man in the pilot-house, and this blind man should trust to his feelings to mark out the course and steer away from the rocks. Would you trust your safety to such a pilot?
This is exactly what you do when you trust your feelings to be your pilot on the sea of life. Whenever we let feelings usurp the place of reason—we have a blind pilot. That is why so many people make shipwreck, and why so many get into trouble. If the feelings give the will orders how to steer and how to use our energies—only disaster can come; but this is just what thousands are doing. They give more heed to their feelings than to anything else. With them, the Word of God counts less than feelings. No matter what the Word says, if their feelings do not agree with it, they cannot trust it.
Too many people let feelings make the observations in their lives. When they want to know where they are, they consult their feelings. They feel that they are so and so, and they conclude that feeling knows. They must be as they feel, they think, or they would not feel so.
Suppose you were on a ship when you knew that the captain was running the vessel according to his feelings. He would suppose himself to be where he felt he was. He might have ever so much confidence in his feelings, but would you feel really safe? Could you make yourself believe that his feelings were a safe guide for the ship?
If our feelings are not safe guides in natural things—then are they safe guides in spiritual things?
Notwithstanding the folly of such a course, many people judge themselves almost exclusively by their feelings and emotions. When they feel all right—then they think that they are all right. When they do not feel so well—then they do not have such confidence in themselves.
Reason has its chart and compass, its sextant and its astronomical tables, and all other things necessary to make observations with accuracy and certainty.
Feeling only guesses. Shall we take the ready and impulsive answer of our feelings—or shall we wait for reason by its more sure means to tell us the facts? When reason speaks and feeling contradicts it—which is the safer to believe? Which is the safer guide?
Sometimes people know from the standpoint of their reason and the Word of God, that they are doing what is their duty to do as Christians—but at the same time their feelings are not what they suppose they ought to be. In fact, they may not feel as they desire to at all. Their feelings may be exactly opposite to the testimony of their understanding. Such people are often prone to accept the testimony of their feelings, rather than that of their reason. This is always an unwise course.
Our sensibilities are blind—they have no power to discriminate between fact and falsehood. If I believe my friend is dead—then I shall have the same feelings as though he were dead, no matter if he is in perfect health. If we think that we are wrong in something, we shall feel that we are wrong, whether we are or are not.
Do not be a creature of your feelings! Do not be ruled by them. Do not let them mar your peace. Settle your condition from some other standpoint. Take the Word of God. It will not deceive you—but your feelings may deceive you, if you trust in them.
Evidence of Feelings Unreliable
We may feel safe—when we are in grave danger.
Two men were recently walking across a piece of ground. They felt very much at ease. There appeared to be no danger whatever, but just in front of them was a heavy charge of dynamite with a burning fuse attached. Only the earnest cries of a man who knew the danger saved them from walking right upon it and being killed.
On the other hand, we may feel that we are in danger—when we are perfectly safe. The lost sinner often feels very safe in his sins—when, in truth, he is in the very greatest danger. Some Christians feel themselves in grave danger, but they are perfectly safe if they will but trust God.
Sometimes people feel very bad—when they do not know of their having done anything amiss. Again, some feel condemned—when they have done something that they know was not wrong. Their reason tells them that it was not wrong. The Bible does not condemn it—and yet someway, somehow, they feel condemned over it. The adversary delights to take advantage of us at such times. If we do anything that is wrong—then the Spirit of God will show us what we have done that is wrong, and why it is wrong. He will not leave us to wonder and question. He will put his finger on the thing and say, "There it is—there is the trouble." God makes things plain to us.
The adversary brings confusion. He generally leaves us in uncertainty. He cannot point out anything amiss, or usually does not. The most he can usually say is, "You have done something wrong. There is something wrong." Your feelings are ready to join right in with him and echo the strain. Yes, you have done something, but what?
You may argue, "If I were saved—then I would not feel this way." How do you know that you would not? The question is not, "How do you feel—but, How are you?" Feelings must give place to reason. Whenever you judge your condition and spiritual standing by your feelings, whether those feelings are good or bad, whether they are in your favor or against you—then you are doing a very unwise thing.
Base your salvation upon something more substantial than feelings. I have seen more than one lost sinner so enthused, that he could leap and shout and praise the Lord. I have seen more than one godly saint crushed down, until he could not raise his head.
We cannot tell conditions by feelings. Some very dangerous diseases produce practically no suffering. I have known cases where the danger was very grave and where the patients could not be prevailed upon to think that there was anything seriously wrong with them. Some things that are very painful, are not dangerous, and in fact represent disorder of a very minor character.
In the same way, true Christians sometimes have bad feelings, when these feelings are no index whatever to their spiritual condition. Read the life of John Bunyan. See the things that he suffered through his sensitive feelings. Sometimes he would feel that he was a great sinner, and just ready to drop into Hell. He was not such—he was a pious and holy man. Thousands of others have had similar experiences, and the writer is one.
We have always a surer test than feelings.
Paul says, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). He does not say that we know Christ is in us when we feel all right. What is the underlying purpose of your life? Is it to have your own way—or to please the Lord? Is it to do evil—or to obey God? Let us judge ourselves with a righteous judgment.
The reader must not suppose that because I say so much
about bad feelings, that these are the normal and usual feelings of a
Christian. The Christian life is, on the whole, a joyous and victorious
life. People are not troubled over their good feelings. The more they have
of them—the better they like it. It is the other kind of feelings which
trouble them; therefore it is the bad feelings of which I speak, that I may
be helpful to those who need help.
The Sequence of Emotions
Different emotions may follow each other in rapid succession. Joy may follow sorrow, or rejoicing may almost instantly be changed into heaviness. Our feelings often swing to and fro from one extreme to another, like the pendulum of a clock.
When we children used to grow enthusiastic and hilarious in our play, our folks would remark, "Now look out for a cry next." I observed that the tears usually came before the play was finished.
There is nothing stable about our emotions. Like the tumble-weed of the Western prairies, they roll whichever way the wind blows. This play of emotions we see even in Christ. Sometimes he rejoiced in spirit; at another time he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38). In Paul's life we find this same alternation of joy and sorrow, or rejoicing and of heaviness. Peter speaks of it thus: "Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations" (1 Peter 1:6). He knew from his own experience, that there were times when Christians would greatly rejoice and other times, or seasons, as he calls them—when they would be in heaviness. He implies that these seasons of heaviness are a "need be"; he nowhere says the same of the seasons of joy. The "need be" seasons must come; the other seasons may come. The fact that we enjoy the joy more than the heaviness, does not mean that the former is of more value to us or that it is more needful to us.
If children have too much candy, it spoils their digestion and appetite. Some people are blessing-hunters. Their chief prayer is, "O Lord, bless me!" They count nothing a blessing, but joyful emotions. Such emotions stand in the same relations to the soul, that candy does to the body. We can easily get along without candy, but our lives depend upon good nourishing food. We could get along very well without blessings, but we must have those needful afflictions which develop the soul. We could serve God all our days and reach Heaven safely in the end, even if we never in all our lives had a single emotion of joy. Our service could be just as faithful and just as acceptable.
Our good feelings do not recommend us to God—and they are often a source of weakness to us. Joyful emotions are delightful—but they do not strengthen. They do not give a finer quality to faith. Sometimes emotions run very high. The soul seems carried out of itself. It rejoices with "joy unspeakable and full of glory," but right at the end of this rejoicing, comes faith's critical period. Very often we come down off the mountaintop of transfiguration, only to find a devil to be cast out! Very often after a period of rejoicing, comes a period of serious testing. The reaction is inevitable. The farther our feelings swing to the one extreme, the farther they will swing to the other when the reaction comes. I have seen people so happy that they could almost imagine themselves in Heaven—and a few hours later have seen them in the greatest distress. The reaction had to come. Their good feelings were gone—and they did not know how to meet the situation.
Almost always, a testing time comes just after the emotions have been wrought up. It is just at such a juncture that things take hold most upon us, and it is just at such times that we have the greatest difficulty in preserving our equilibrium. Such emotions are not an unmixed blessing. We need to learn this certain reaction, and to be prepared to meet it; otherwise our faith is likely to be greatly shaken.
Sometimes we have conflicting emotions. We may have two opposite emotions at the same time, or rapidly changing emotions. We may seem to glide from one to another and have several different sets of them in a single day's time. If we try to test our standing before God by emotions—we are thrown into confusion. Form the habit of judging yourself, not by your emotions—but by your purposes and intentions. Do not be swerved from that. Feelings will be a source of weakness to you if you do not.
The Powerful Influence of Our Emotions
Our emotions seem so clearly to be the true indication of existing facts, that we often have much difficulty in discrediting them, no matter what may be the evidence to the contrary. We can sometimes overlook the most positive evidence, easier than we can set aside the testimony of our feelings—especially when we are used to relying upon our feelings.
Some people become the creatures of their emotions. They never know that they are right, except when they have joyous emotions. Just as soon as these subside, such people begin to question themselves. While they feel all right—then they know they are all right; but if the voice of emotion is stilled, they no longer have any evidence of their salvation. As a result, they are often in confusion and are never certain of themselves for more than a short period.
They are the slaves of a hard master. When their
master smiles, they are elated and confident. When he frowns, they are in
despair. Some people seem to live in a dark, deep pit of bad feelings. They
manage to climb up now and then so that they can see the sunshine and
rejoice in its rays for a time; but soon they lose their hold and fall down
into their pit again, there to sit in melancholy shadows and to brood over
their sad fate. They could get out of their pit and stay out, if they would
trust God and his Word instead of their feelings—but they cannot persuade
themselves that anything is true, which contradicts their feelings. O soul,
break away from this bondage and get out in God's sunshine and base your
hope on a surer foundation!
Emotions No Basis for a Settled Experience
If our experience is founded on our feelings, it is like a house-boat floating on the water. We are tossed to and fro by every wave and every wind, and drifted by every current or tide. A house built on a good foundation stands firm. It is not moved. God provides a good foundation for everybody. If we will build on that, we may stand, and not be tossed about. That foundation is faith. It is a sure foundation. No one can ever have repose of soul long, who judges himself by his feelings. Emotions can never be the basis of a settled experience. The soul who trusts in them, will never be sure of himself for more than a short period. He is like a man trying to balance himself on a floating log which rolls now this way, now that way, and which is whirled about by every eddy and turn of the current.
We do not have to be spiritual acrobats to serve God. Settled peace, comes only from a settled faith. I have seen many souls in trouble who when asked what was the matter could only answer, "Oh, I do not know, only I do not feel right." The more they looked at their feelings—the worse they felt.
One of the greatest evils that can come to any Christian, is for him to set up an ideal standard for his feelings—and condemn himself or question himself whenever they fall short of his expectations. He soon develops a morbid sensitiveness that leads him into a maze of uncertainties and brings him into distress whenever his emotions fall below the point that he has marked as zero on his spiritual thermometer. Your thermometer of feelings, may register only the influences that surround you, and be no true test whatever of you spiritual state.
Throw away your home-made thermometers! Take God's tester, which is his Word, and measure your life by it. When you trust in your old feeling-thermometer, if it goes down below your zero-mark—then you are almost sure to think that you are frozen to death spiritually. You desire a settled experience. Very well. You may have it, provided you will go about getting it in the only possible way that it may be attained. It must be based on something more substantial than your feelings and emotions. God has a sure foundation. If you will build on that, you may stand secure.
Learn to value your emotions at their true worth. At the very best, joyful emotions are only the foam on the waters of salvation. Do not suppose there is no water, if there is no foam. Do not judge the depth of the water, by the amount of foam. It is usually the case, that the more foam there is—the shallower the water is. Enjoy your pleasant emotions when they come; but when they are gone, do not suppose that it is because of a change in your spiritual condition. There will be seasons of joyfulness, and seasons of heaviness—but remember that a few bad feelings do not frighten the Holy Spirit away from our hearts.
Reaction and Interaction
Man is a trinity of the physical, the mental, and the moral, or spiritual. These are not three separate, distinct, and independent parts. They are united into a mutually dependent whole. Each part is related to, and affected by, each other part. What affects one part, affects the whole. Anything that throws one part out of balance, reacts upon the others. Any abnormal state of one part, has its reaction on the others and hinders or prevents their normal functioning. Lack of understanding this, has led many people to judge wrongly themselves or others—for things which, though they were manifested in the moral, did not have their origin in the moral realm at all, but were only reactions from the physical or mental realms.
We can never understand either ourselves or others, until we learn the facts involved in these relations of the various parts of our being. Everyone who would be a spiritual teacher should carefully inform himself regarding these principles. Without this knowledge, he will be at a disadvantage in dealing with souls. He will often judge from appearance, instead of judging righteous judgment. We all owe it to ourselves to study ourselves, until we are able to tell the forces that are producing the spiritual and mental effects by which we usually judge our religious standing. We should study ourselves, until we know the causes that produce the effects which trouble us. If we merely guess at them, we shall often guess wrong. There is always an underlying cause for every effect, but that cause may sometimes be considerably removed from the effect or from the manifestations that it produces.
Effects of the PHYSICAL upon the mental and spiritual
Our physical being very strongly affects our mental and religious organization. When the physical powers are buoyant and we are full of vitality and animal spirits—the stimulus of this reacts upon the mind and soul, so that we may easily be care-free and joyous. At such times we may meet and overcome with ease, things that at other times might prove very hard for us. On the contrary, when the physical forces are at a low ebb and the vital energies are tested to overcome disease or weakness, there is an opposite reaction and both mind and spirit feel the effect.
Many times people are mentally dull and inactive, wholly on account of some physical derangement. The same thing affects them spiritually. Chronic diseases, especially of certain kinds, often react to produce gloom, discouragement, and unrest. Any disease that constantly draws upon the vitality of the system, is likely to produce such an effect. Such things naturally discourage and render us despondent.
A man once went to a minister and told him a long tale of woe concerning his spiritual troubles. The minister listened patiently, as ministers must listen to such things, and when he had heard the story, he said, "Oh, brother, I'll tell you what's the matter with you—your liver is out of order." That preacher knew the secret of many people's spiritual trouble.
I suppose the majority of the bad feelings that Christians have come from livers or kidneys which do not function properly; indigestion, or some other disorder of the physical functions or organs. Dyspepsia almost always reacts upon the mental and spiritual. A dyspeptic does not feel much like smiling, neither does a bilious person.
A great many troubles which seem to be spiritual troubles, do not indicate anything wrong in the spiritual nature whatever. They are merely reactions from the physical. Many women have their spiritual skies obscured and suffer much from doubts and discouragements—simply as a result of reaction from special diseases or weaknesses with which they are afflicted. Do not be too ready to suppose that bad feelings come from a bad condition of the heart.
If we are doing what we know to do, and serving the Lord to the best of our understanding—then we need not suppose that our bad feelings come from our hearts' being wrong. We may look somewhere else for the cause.
We are all aware of the effect of a heavy cold or of a toothache or something else which causes severe suffering or acute derangement of any part of the body. It is often very difficult to pray or to have faith, when we are suffering. Many times we cannot think with clearness. The mental and the spiritual are both strongly affected by their reaction to the physical. The reaction from chronic diseases is no less certain, though it may manifest itself in a somewhat different way. Whatever affects the physical, whether it be disease or something else—affects also, by its reaction, the mental and the spiritual.
A striking example of such reactions, is the experience of an old-time New England circuit-rider, who made the following entries in his diary:
"Wed. eve. Arrived at the home of Brother Brown late this evening, hungry and tired after a long day in the saddle. Had a bountiful supper of cold pork and beans, warm bread, bacon and eggs, coffee and rich pastry. I go to rest feeling that my witness is clear; the future is bright; I feel called to a great and glorious work at this place. Brother Brown's family are godly people."
The next entry was as follows:
"Thurs. morn. Awakened late this morning after a troubled night. I am very much depressed in soul; the way looks dark; far from feeling called to work among this people—I am beginning to doubt the safety of my own soul. I am afraid the desires of Brother Brown and his family are set too much on carnal things."
His whole outlook was changed, and, not understanding his trouble—he, like many another, thought his trouble was in his heart, whereas it was really in his stomach!
Overeating often renders us dull, so that we find it very difficult to concentrate our minds on anything. At such times we cannot pray with the same earnestness and grasp of faith, as at other times. We cannot feel the same interest in spiritual or mental things.
Overwork often produces similar results. After a hard day's work, we cannot read with the same mental grasp or attention that we can at other times, and we cannot pray as we are used to doing at other times. The man who comes in after a hard day's work and picks up his Bible and tries to read it, often finds his mind wandering to other things, or he finds himself sleeping and unable to get any satisfaction out of what he reads. He may find little delight in family worship. His prayers may seem dull and dry and meaningless, and he may become greatly tried because of this. The trouble is, that he has used up his energy in the day's work. He is weary in soul and in mind, as well as in body.
What he needs to restore him, is a good rest. When the physical forces are restored, he will find that his spiritual and mental tone is also restored. A generally worn-out physical state, is bound to react on the spiritual. That is why many people find themselves seemingly so much less spiritual in the summer-time than in the winter. It is because their energies are used up in physical labors—and, having only so much energy to expend, they find themselves subnormal spiritually. If we want to prosper spiritually, therefore, we must not overwork, but leave ourselves with sufficient energy for our spiritual duties. If we seem compelled to overwork, we should arrange circumstances so that we shall not be, if that is at all possible; but if we cannot, we ought to take this into consideration and not blame ourselves for not being as spiritual as we ought to be, when it is merely a lack of the necessary energy.
People who are in a highly nervous state, will often have more spiritual trouble on account of it. They will have many trials that others do not have. They are likely to be filled with apprehensions and melancholy. They are apt to be tried when in such a state, by things that would not trouble them at all, if they were in a normal condition. We ought to take all these reactions into consideration, and, in judging our spiritual condition, we must do this, or else we shall have continual trouble.
When excited, any functional desire of the body—has a corresponding mental effect. When we are hungry, we naturally think of food and of meal-time. How slow the time seems to go when we are waiting for a meal! And the hungrier we are, the slower it seems to go. All our functional desires act in the same way, directing our thoughts to the means of their gratification. We may turn our minds away from them, but the tendency is for our thoughts to come right back to the same subject again. People are sometimes very much troubled about this, in regard to certain functions. They need not be, however; it is the natural physical results. It is only nature's way of looking out for herself.
Effect of the MENTAL upon the physical and spiritual
The effect of the mind upon the body is often very powerful. This is illustrated in the cases of stigmata which are on record. People of certain temperaments have thought about the wounds of Christ until there have appeared upon their own bodies marks in the places where they suppose the marks were upon his body. There are several such cases upon record.
Not long ago there was reported in the press, the case of a man who attempted to commit suicide, but failed without doing himself any physical injury. Two hours later he died. The coroner's verdict was "mental suicide." The reaction of the unfortunate man's thoughts upon his physical being, was such as to destroy his physical life.
Many physical derangements, come from worry and fear. On the other hand, opposite emotions produce opposite effects upon the physical. The Wise Man said, "A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a broken spirit tries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22). This is why doctors always want their patients encouraged. A gloomy face or a gloomy voice in the sick-room, is a great hindrance to the sick person. The effect of the mental reacting upon the spiritual, is just as real and powerful as upon the physical.
Effect of Conscious Mental Action
We may say that the human mind is divided into two different parts—that of conscious mind and that of subconscious mind. We are conscious of the working of the first, but the second works without our knowledge, and we become conscious of its action only through the finished results.
Life has its bright side and its dark side. We may look upon whichever side we will. If we let our minds look upon dark and gloomy things, if we let ourselves be harassed by worry and fear—we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we give our minds over to such things, we may discourage ourselves, and in that discouragement only be reaping what we have sown. If we burn our fingers—then we must endure the pain. In the same way, if we let our minds run on gloomy things—then we must bear the soul-pain that follows.
The greater part of our troubles are home-made, and this is true of spiritual troubles as well as of any other kind. They are only the reaction of our wrong mental habits. If you wish to be joyful and victorious—then keep your mind upon the things that will tend to make you so. Look away from that which is dark and gloomy. Look to that which will arouse different emotions.
Never harbor gloomy thoughts—banish them from your mind. You can be cheerful if you will. You may not be able to correct bad mental habits at once; but if you set yourself resolutely to the task, you can break yourself of them and establish right habits of thought, and this will go far toward bringing spiritual serenity. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things!" (Philippians 4:8)
Sometimes people are troubled over bad dreams. They dream of things that are evil, and sometimes take this as an indication that they are not right in their souls. They think that if they were pure, then they would not have dreams of impure or evil things. Such dreams are no indication of the soul's condition, any more than a good dream is an indication that one is saved. Many dreams come from physical causes, and we should not count them as having any moral quality.
Although we have no control over our dreams, we do have control over our waking thoughts, at least to a great extent; and we can turn them into right channels, until by habit they run there naturally.
Sometimes there come to the mind thoughts that are undesirable. We put them away from us, but they return almost immediately. They persist in doing this notwithstanding all our efforts to banish them. The only thing that we can do in such a case is to keep banishing them from our minds as much as possible until they run their course and we can thus get entirely rid of them. We ought not to condemn ourselves for our inability to shut out such thoughts from our minds, for the ability to shut them out does not always depend upon our will. They come and go—and we hardly know why nor whence. It is only when we welcome them and indulge them—that they work evil with the soul.
Subconscious Mental Effect
The subconscious mind is that part of the mind that works without our knowing it, or being conscious of its activity. It is the subconscious mind that works out most of the problems of life for us. Our minds may be likened to a factory of two rooms. In one we stand and look about and see what is going on—but we know nothing of what is going on in the other, until a truckload of finished product is run out into our sight.
Many of the thoughts that seem to come to our minds from nowhere in particular—come from the subconscious mind. They are projected into the conscious mind from it, and it seems as though they just struck our minds someway, and we know not their source—unless we know of the subconscious action of our minds.
Sometimes we get to thinking over a subject, and then our attention is called away, and we forget it. A few days later the thought all worked out to a conclusion presents itself to our minds. The subconscious mind has seized upon the thought which was in the conscious mind, and has kept working on it until it has solved it to its satisfaction, and then it presents the result of its action to the conscious mind.
Sometimes our minds are suddenly filled with thoughts that bring joy and an uplift to the soul. These often result from something that has been taken into the subconscious mind and there wrought upon and finally turned back suddenly into the conscious mind.
The opposite also is true. Oftentimes gloomy thoughts and feelings suddenly come upon us and we have no idea whence they come—when, in reality, some thought that was in our mind days or weeks before went into the subconscious mind and there worked, and now it comes out in a flood of gloom.
Many seasons of gloominess and trial have their development in the subconscious mind, and the spiritual effect is only the reaction from the subconscious mind. Every time you allow yourself to think over dark and discouraging things, you are in danger of the thoughts sinking into your subconscious mind—and coming out later on in a flood of discouragement.
It is probable that the greater part of our spiritual trouble comes from either physical or spiritual reaction—Satan having nothing whatever to do with it. If we know of these reactions and treat them as reactions—then we shall not feel that there is something wrong in our souls when we feel bad spiritually.
We are often strongly influenced by the people around us. We may be either encouraged or discouraged by them. We sometimes come into contact with those who are melancholy or under deep trial or discouragement—and their feelings react on us to produce unpleasant results. We feel ourselves depressed in spirit, or we may become deeply tried by partaking of the influence resting on them, in just the same way as we become uplifted and encouraged by a person who is full of sunshine and good cheer. We need to recognize the probability of this influence of others, working upon us. We need to guard ourselves against yielding to such influence, except where the influence is good, any more than it is possible to avoid.
Natural conditions, such as the weather, climate, scenery, etc., often affect our feelings very strongly. Bright, sunny weather often reacts upon us to make us cheerful and happy. Dark, gloomy weather has a tendency to depress our spirits. Unpleasant surroundings or uncongenial employment often affects us for ill, causing depression, gloominess, and the like feelings.
Besides those influences already mentioned, there are direct spiritual influences that work upon us. God, by his Spirit, often strongly influences us. His influence is always for good; it always uplifts and helps and brightens. He often manifests himself to us when we are not expecting it. Sometimes during physical suffering or other distress, he comes to us with such sweetness and blessedness that we are quite lifted above our affliction. He can make us joyful in all our tribulations. Just in our time of need, his Spirit is with us. He comforts and helps and cheers; in fact, he is all and in all to us.
We are also subject to other spiritual influences. Evil spirits abound. Sometimes heavy depressions suddenly settle down upon us; heavy clouds obscure our sky, and we know no reason why they should. Fiery and unexpected temptations come upon us. Sometimes we are conscious that such are the direct influence of evil agents. These experiences are not indications that we are not right in our souls, and we should not question ourselves wrongly at such times. We may feel these influences very keenly. We may sometimes be hard pressed. At such times we should resist steadfastly in the faith. We should hold fast our confidence in God, and expect to have power from God to overcome. Satan has power to affect our feelings very strongly—and he often takes advantage of this power.
Sometimes we realize that we have two kinds of feelings simultaneously, one superficial and the other deeper—and that there is a conflict between these feelings. Sometimes profane or impure thoughts will be impressed upon our minds, and if we do not understand their source, we may be greatly troubled over them. There may sometimes be feelings of resentment toward God, or a feeling of purposes that are quite out of harmony with the Christian life or experience. Sometimes souls having this experience are horrified and think themselves in a deplorable condition; when, in reality, these things come directly from Satan, and not from themselves at all. They do not spring from the heart, but are from an external influence.
Underneath these feelings are the true feelings and purposes of the soul. These deeper and better feelings show the real state and condition of the heart. We should not condemn ourselves because Satan imposes such feelings or thoughts upon us. If we will simply resist them in God's strength—we may overcome them and be none the worse for them, although the experience may be rather trying to our souls while we are passing through it.
Being subject, as we are, to all these influences—we ought not to suppose that all our difficulties are soul difficulties. The thing to do is to keep our hearts open before God; to keep our purposes and lives pure; to live by faith, not by our feelings; to judge ourselves, not by our emotions or the influences brought to bear upon us—but by the inmost purposes of our hearts. If the reader will carefully study the facts already enumerated and get hold of them until he understands them for himself—they will be of the greatest value to him in the Christian life!