By John Angell James, 1846


"For to be carnally-minded is death; but to be
is life and peace." Romans 8:6

My dear friends,
The subject of this address is "Spirituality of Mind"—a most blessed condition of the soul, much spoken of in conversation and in sermons; often discussed in books; frequently prayed for; yet little understood, and too rarely, at least in any high degree, possessed. It is a branch of holiness, but refers rather to the state of the mind, as the expression imports, than to the conduct. "To be spiritually-minded," says the apostle, "is life and peace." Rom. 8:6. Or, as the words may be rendered, "the minding of the Spirit," that is, the things of the Spirit, "is life and peace." In the preceding verse it is said, "those who are after the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit." The word rendered "they mind," expresses primarily the exercise of the intellect, they attend to, they employ their thoughts; but secondarily, and by implication, the exercise of the affections. Hence, in Col. 3:2, it is thus rendered—"Set your affections on things above." Spirituality of mind, then, means the habitual and godly employment of the thoughts and affections on divine subjects. It is something more than morality of conduct, however pure and exemplary; more than attendance on the means of grace, however punctual; more than liberality, however diffusive; more than zeal, however active—it means, in addition to all this, a habitual devotional state of mind.

It is the same state of mind toward God and Christ, and divine things in general, as an affectionate husband and father has toward his wife and children, who, not only upon the whole, truly regards them, and avoids whatever is grossly inconsistent with such a profession, but whose heart, when he is absent from them, instinctively, spontaneously, and habitually, turns toward them; who needs no prompter to remind him of them; whose thoughts are confined to no time or place, and as often as they occur, and that is perpetually, kindle his affections, and make him love to talk of them, and long to be with them. Here is more than decorous conduct, here is a minding of them.

Something like this is spirituality of mind, only the object is divine, and not human. It is such a minding of spiritual things as arises from a strong interest and delight in them; such a proneness to meditate upon them as is produced by a strong attachment to them. The true indication of this state of mind, then, is to be found in the prevailing character and complexion of the thoughts. "As a man thinks in his heart," says the Proverb, "so is he." Thoughts are the springs of feeling, the elements of action, and of character. The object of our thoughts in this state of mind is not merely future glory, for that we characterize heavenly-mindedness; it is not a mere looking up into heaven, a longing and craving, amid the sorrows of life, after immortality and eternal repose, but a devout and habitual reflection on the whole range of divine truth; the glorious character of God; the person and offices of Christ; the wise and gracious care of a superintending Providence; the covenant of grace; the exceeding great and precious promises of the divine word; the millennial state of the world; and the second coming of Christ, with all the other varieties of spiritual subjects.

Now if there be a spiritual mind, our thoughts of these subjects will be voluntary and spontaneous; they will rise up in the soul, not only when it is appealed to by sermons, books, and events, which in some sense compel it to think, but in the absence of the minister; when at a distance from the sanctuary; and when neither volume nor dispensation of providence speaks to us. In retirement, in solitude, on journeys, in the sleepless hours of night, and during the intervals of business, we shall turn to some topic of piety, to the glory of God, the work of Christ, or the privileges of believers, and find our comfort and joy in such meditations. We shall muse until the fire burns within us. We shall court such seasons of holy thoughtfulness, and strive to lengthen them when they occur.

Such thoughts will be frequent and habitual. They will occur not only at long intervals, nor be looked upon, when they do, as strangers entering into the mind, surprising it by their novelty, and almost alarming it, as the vision of an angel did the Jews, under supposition that they are the harbinger of death; but they are the stated residents of the mind, necessarily going abroad for various purposes, but still returning home, as soon as that business is done, to dwell there. They are the daily, almost hourly occupants of the soul.

These thoughts are as agreeable to the mind as they are habitual. The Christian loves to think on divine things; they suit his taste, are congenial with his desires, and are productive of his happiness. They are as welcome as beloved friends, who are received with joy, entertained with pleasure, and parted from with reluctance.

Godly thoughts are readily suggested by the occurrences of life to the spiritually-minded Christian. His comforts lead him to think of the goodness of God; his afflictions of their divine source. In public judgments, his mind goes up to the Supreme Governor; in national mercies, to the Author of fruitful seasons and public tranquility. Where others talk of nature, he thinks of God; and where they speak of fortune, he dwells on Providence. Recollecting the beautiful imagery of Scripture, which has associated the offices, and work, and benefits of Christ, with all the objects of nature; he sees the glories of the Savior figuratively set forth before him in the splendor of the sun, the brilliancy of the morning-star, the clustered vine, the waving corn, the tender shepherd, and the affectionate bridegroom. Without allowing his spirituality to degenerate into an allegorizing, rhapsodical, or mystic piety—he loves to follow in the track of the sacred writers, and read his Savior's name in those objects on which they have imprinted it.

And I may remark that among all the objects to which the thoughts and affections of the spiritually-minded are directed, the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ stand preeminent. They do not stop in the contemplation of God, and Providence, and heaven—but contemplate all in Christ, and Christ in all. His divinity, atonement, and intercession; his perfect righteousness for justification, and his spotless example as the rule of their sanctification; his offices of prophet, priest, and king—are all themes which have irresistible attractions for their thoughts. Nothing more decidedly indicates spirituality, than this habitual tendency of the thoughts to Christ. It is not heaven, merely, nor chiefly, I again repeat, that this disposition leads the believer to dwell upon, but Christ; for what is heaven but the presence of Christ? Provided he could see the glory, and feel the grace of the Savior, it is all one to the man of strong faith, the advanced Christian, whether he is in heaven or upon earth, or at any rate, his desire to depart is founded on the hope and desire of a more perfect vision and enjoyment of Christ. The degree to which our thoughts and feelings are drawn to the Redeemer, is the precise amount we possess of true spirituality of mind. There may be, and doubtless is, much serious reflection of a certain kind, compelled by sorrow, or produced by a sentimental turn of mind, on various generalities of religion, and especially upon Providence and heaven, even where there is no evangelical piety. But to those who believe, Christ is precious! Jesus is the specific object and center of their devotional reflections.

The thoughts of the truly spiritually-minded always kindle religious affections and lead to corresponding actions. Spirituality of mind is not mere silent contemplation, inactive sentimentality, passionless quietism. No! it is habitual and delightful thinking, producing habitual and delightful feeling, and ending in habitual holy actions. "It is of little consequence what are our musings, and meditations, and heart-stirring feelings, and elevated thoughts; unless there is connected with all these excitements, what is the only legitimate proof of their genuineness and sincerity, conformity to the will of God, and actual fitness for heaven, in our temper, disposition, and character." It is a spurious spirituality, and one of the artifices by which Satan deceives and destroys unwary souls—to indulge in godly thoughts, and luxuriate in devotional feeling, while the temper is unsubdued, the corruptions of the heart unmortified, and the actions of the life are in little conformity with the word of God.

Such is spirituality of mind; not a mere religious talkativeness, which confines itself to a set of current phrases, and which is ever forward to obtrude them upon all people and on all occasions; not pretended pious countenance, and fawning religiosity; nothing of the sort. True it is, that the person enjoying this holy state of soul, will be ever willing, yes, ready to converse with others, like-minded, on the subjects nearest and dearest to their hearts, and it is one of the marks of their character to solicit as companions, and to associate habitually with those who are qualified by their experience and prepared by their disposition, to engage in such discourse as befits the redeemed of the Lord, and the travelers to immortality. Shunning the worldly-minded, the political, and the controversial, they will unite with those who fear the Lord, and speak often to one another on theie common salvation; but they will not indulge in what may be denominated 'mere religious cant'—words which proceed from no conviction or emotion, and which end in no action.

This, my dear flock, is the state of mind which I am anxious to promote in you, and to set you an example of it in myself. It is not enough that we be outwardly correct in our conduct, and that we maintain all the forms of godliness; but we must seek to maintain the vitality of all this in the state of our minds and hearts. True spirituality is a living principle in the soul; yes, a divine life, a holy taste, whose seat and center is in the mind. Conduct is but the body of character, and however symmetrical it may be, and however fair to look upon—it is godly thoughts and feeling that give it intellect and heart, and constitute its soul, without which there is but the picture or the statue—but not the living Christian.

It is the object of the present address to promote the exercise of such thoughts and such affections, as may be supposed to dwell in a soul renewed by the Spirit of God, sanctified by the truth, which loves God supremely, and is under the constraining influence of the love of Christ; and is hoping, waiting, and preparing for eternal glory. And do, my dear friends, reflect what spontaneous, numerous, delightful, and practical thoughts such a state of soul might be supposed to call forth. Can a soul be redeemed, regenerated, and going to glory everlasting, and not think much, and feel much, and talk much about it? Can such prospects be before us, such hopes in us, such brightness beaming upon us, and yet there be no habitual minding of such matters?

It may be useful to mention some PROOFS OF A LACK OF SPIRITUALITY, that those who are destitute of it, may take warning, and seek to have the defect supplied. When there is no disposition or tendency to indulge in holy thoughts, but the whole character and complexion of the mind are worldly—when there is a disinclination to attend the weekday services of religion—when the domestic and private duties of devotion are little better than heartless forms—when the taste in regard to sermons is rather for talent and elegance than for sound evangelical truth—when the society of worldly and political men is preferred to the company of the godly, and their discourse is more relished than that of the eminently godly—when cheerfulness degenerates into levity, and there is no pleasure in spiritual conversation—when there is a disposition to decry as 'hypocrisy and cant' all spiritual taste and conversation—in all these cases there is a sad indication of a lack of that spirituality of mind, which it is the object of this address to promote.

But I will now enumerate some of the principal MEANS by which spirituality of mind may be promoted. It will not grow in the soul without culture; nor come to us at the careless beckoning of indolent wishing. "This kind goes not forth but by fasting and prayer."

We must set our hearts upon it, or we shall never have it, and consider it both as a rich privilege to be enjoyed, and an incumbent duty to be performed.

The most direct and certain means of obtaining it are, a clear scriptural knowledge of divine truth, and a strong faith in its glorious and eternal realities. We cannot expect spiritual thoughts and affections from truths which are but imperfectly understood, or doubtfully and feebly believed. How fervently should we PRAY for it, how ardently should we long for it, how laboriously should we seek for it, how confidently expect it, and how perseveringly and patiently wait for it. The prayer of faith and fervor must go up to the treasury of heaven—and fetch the blessing from the inexhaustible stores of divine grace! It is in the closet of private devotion where we commune with our Father in secret, that this godly state of mind must be cultivated, and much time for prayer must be redeemed from the world, to obtain it. If you will not always pray and not faint; if you will not give yourselves to prayer, if you will not watch unto prayer, you cannot attain to this delightful state of soul. It is the Spirit's richest gift, which he bestows only on the soul that lays hold on his strength, and seems to say, "I will not let you go except you bless me."

Then there must be much devout reading of the Holy Scriptures. It is not enough not only to neglect the Bible for the newspaper, but it must not be displaced by godly uninspired books. The best books of men can be no substitute for the book of God. No fuel is so fit to feed the flame of devotion as the promises, precepts, and consolations of the word of God—a single text has sometimes kept it burning with intense brightness for hours, and supplied a source of holy thoughts for a whole sleepless night or anxious day.

Meditation is of great power to promote this devout frame. We must pause and think upon the word of God until its truths expand before us and we feel its power upon the heart. Some of its minuter beauties, hidden from the hasty and superficial reader, come out to the admiring mind of him who looks attentively for them. It would be well to fix upon a passage of Scripture in the morning, and make it the subject of meditation, to fill up the intervals of business during the day, and be a topic always at hand for the mind to turn to in moments of leisure, and which should thus gather up for a holy purpose, these fragments of time which would otherwise be wasted on trifles—or spent on something worse.

When Christians meet they should endeavor to introduce some topic of conversation of a holy nature, and a common interest, and not allow the time to be lost, or their influence upon each other be at best negative. Large groups are unfriendly to this, as it is impossible or difficult to maintain a conversation in such circumstances, where all shall take a part. The parties even of Christians are not always favorable to spiritual-mindedness. Where the time is spent in music, singing, or mere gossip, it is but little calculated to promote spirituality of mind.

Self-examination and self-inspection must be added. We should look into our minds, and keep a constant eye upon the state of our soul—as to the thoughts and feelings that habitually dwell there, or even come as visitors. Evil thoughts keep out good ones; and even worldly ones may so crowd the mind as to leave no room for better reflections. It would be well sometimes at the close of the day, when alone in our closet, to ask the question, "What have I been thinking about today? How many thoughts have I given to Christ, and heaven?"

It should be a matter of special importance with us, not only to be regular and diligent in attending upon the ordinances of religion, but to be spiritual in the use of them. Nothing tends more to hinder devotional feeling, than an undevout attendance on religious exercises.

Short, spontaneous prayer maintained throughout the day has a blessed effect. It would keep the heart in a sweet and holy temper all the day long, and have an excellent influence on all our ordinary actions and common duties. This were to "walk with God" indeed, to hold continually by our Father's hand; whereas, without this, our morning and evening prayers are but as a 'formal visit', not delighting in that constant converse, which is yet our happiness and honor, and makes all conditions to be pleasant, all places to be sacred, and all occupations profitable. "This would refresh us in the hardest labor, as those who carry away the spices from Arabia, are refreshed by the scent of them in their journey, and some observe that it keeps their strength, and prevents them from fainting."

And as we should be less worldly in our spiritual matters—so we should be more spiritual in our worldly ones. "Not only strive," says godly Leighton, "to keep your mind spiritual in itself, but also put a spiritual stamp even upon your temporal employments; and so you shall live to God, not only without harm to your employment, but even in it, and shall converse with God in your shop, or in the field, or in your journey—doing all in obedience to him, and offering all, and yourself therewith, as a sacrifice to him—you still with him, and he still with you, in all. This is to live to the will of God indeed, to follow his direction, and intend his glory in all. Thus the wife in the very oversight of her house, and the husband in his affairs abroad, may be living to God, raising their low employments to a high quality of spirituality in this way!" "Lord, even this mundane work I do for you, complying with your will, who has put me in this station, and given me this task. Lord, I offer up even this work to you. Accept of me, and of my desire to obey you in all."

And as in their work, so in their refreshments and rest, Christians do all for him. "Whether you eat or drink," says the apostle, 1 Cor. 10:31, "or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God;" doing all for this reason, because it is his will, and for this end, that he may have glory; bending the use of all our strength and all his mercies that way; setting this mark on all our designs and way. This for the glory of my God, and this farther for his glory, and so from one thing to another throughout our whole life. This is the art of keeping the heart spiritual in all affairs; yes, spiritualizing the affairs themselves in their use, that in themselves are earthly. This is the elixir that turns baser metal into gold, the ordinary actions of this life, in a Christian's hands, into obedience and holy offerings unto God.

How many MOTIVES urge you to the cultivation of this divine temper. Some degree of it is essentially necessary to the very existence of personal religion. "To be carnally-minded is death, but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace." The soul that has no degree of this holy heavenly temper, is dead in trespasses and sins. No tendency to godly thoughts and affections, is the characteristic of a soul, in which no spark of the divine life is yet kindled. But I am not now urging the necessity of regeneration—but of higher degrees of sanctification, and a larger measure of spirituality, as an essential part of it.

Think of the happiness accompanying a large share of spirituality. "To be spiritually-minded is life and peace." That is—a living peace; a peaceful life. It is life; just as much as we have of this and no more, we have of the life of God, of heaven, of holiness in our souls. All life in sentient beings is delightful in proportion to its vigor and healthfulness; the sensations of physical life are agreeable; the exercises of intellectual life still more so; but the actings and aspirations of spiritual life, are the most sublime felicity the human soul can know! This is the life of spirits made perfect—of the blessed angels; of our Lord Jesus Christ; and of the great God himself, who is pure spirit.

In the exercises of this life, we therefore have fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. This is the life whose spring is hidden with Christ in God. Let us rise higher, my dear friends, into this lofty and holy existence. As rational creatures, it is a dignified employment to use our noble faculties in the contemplation of the works of creation; but as spiritual beings, it is still more dignified, to use them in contemplating and enjoying the things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. This is indeed peace, a word that signifies not only tranquility and repose of mind, but all the kinds and parts of substantial happiness. There is no real felicity outside of the region of divine realities, and it is Christian spirituality which brings us within this hallowed circle, and enables us to drink the crystal waters of these blessed springs!

If you would enjoy religion, then, or at any rate, if you would have a rich and powerful enjoyment of it, you must attain to high degrees of this devout temper of spiritual-mindedness. Think of the felicity which a current of holy thoughts flowing through the soul, and directing its course ever toward God, and Christ, and heaven—must bring with it. How richly must such a stream be impregnated with all the elements of a paradisaic life. How would such a state of mind lighten your cares, alleviate your sorrows, sweeten your comforts, sanctify your trials, elevate your devotions, and anticipate heaven! How many otherwise cheerless scenes would it enliven, and how many gloomy seasons would it irradiate! What a source of perennial delight would it open, where all else beside, is a desert of the soul. Blessed state, day and night to be conversant with holy, heavenly, peaceful thoughts.

Perhaps some of you have not lost this spirituality, because you have never attained to any high degrees of it. "What is the source of your most poignant regrets—what most powerfully awakens the bitter feelings of self-reproach—renders the means of grace unproductive of joy, and exposes you to the most dangerous invasions of your spiritual foes? Is it not when you are 'minding the things of the flesh,' and not 'minding the things of the Spirit?' It is the lack of spirituality that beclouds your prospects—causes darkness, and doubt, and fear, to surround your path—obscures the evidences of your saving interest in the divine favor—gives power to your invisible enemies, and leads either to the experience of painful and morbid dejection, or the more dangerous feeling of unholy presumption." ("On Spirituality of Mind," by Fletcher. An admirable little pocket-companion which I most earnestly recommend to my friends.)

Think of what importance spirituality of mind is to give life, and beauty, and attractive force to your example. It is this which, when added to outward consistency of conduct, presents religion to the world as it really is—a divine and heavenly thing upon earth! For though the foundation of godliness is in the soul, yet by the intensity and brightness of an inward flame, it sends out a luster over the whole character, and exhibits the beauties of holiness in a state of illumination. Or, to change the metaphor, though the principle of life be within, it presents the outer man of piety as a vital reality—and not a dead form.

You may be useful I admit, without much, or even without any spirituality; for God can glorify himself by the instrumentality of unconverted men; but how much more useful may you be if all the offerings of your liberality are salted with this grace, and the flame of your zeal be fed with the oil of this personal piety! What a prevalence will it give to your prayers, what an impulse to your liberality, and what a constancy as well as steadfastness to your energies and efforts.

And is it not thus you are to become fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light? Yes! Is it not the beginning of heaven upon earth? What is heaven, but the absence of all that is carnal, and the presence and perfection of all that is spiritual? It is by the habitual recurrence of holy thoughts that the lineaments of a heavenly character are impressed upon the soul, and by the ardor of holy affections, that they acquire an unfading beauty and an enduring form!

"For to be carnally-minded is death; but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6.