THE MOTIVES OF OUR THOUGHTS
Reading: Matthew ch. 12
Today in our reading from the New Testament Scriptures isillustrated the penetrating power of the eyes of the Deity as manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In describing the controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees the record simply states: “Jesus knew their thoughts.” In another place it is recorded: “He necjjed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” None of uihas the power to do that. In our judgments of one
another we must necessarily be governed by the sight of our eyes and the hearing of our ears. Such judgments may be, and often are, quite faulty and misleading, because of the human limitation to judge accurately motives and purposes. Probably our nearest and dearest relatives, who know us so well, through and through as they would think, at many times cannot appreciate those devious, complex influences, those antecedent causes and original motives which start a channel of thought in our mind resulting in actions and words. Hence the need for constant self-examination, to be sure that our motives are pure and strictly in harmony with the principles of the Truth.
So important is this that we cannot afford, any of us, to drift through life, or to be smugly complacent about our motives and intentions. The Scriptures have some very unpleasant things to say about the human heart. Left to itself it produces thoughts which tend towards evil. And so of the antediluvians it is written that God saw that “every imagination (the word means purposes, desires) of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually.” And Jesus said, as we shall be reading in a day or two, God willing, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thouhts, murders, adulteries, fomications, thefts, fa!se witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.”
Were it not that the speaker is our beloved Master, whose words we implicitly trust and accept, we should say that that description was an exaggeration: it was unfair to the majority of decent men and women. But the Lord is the speaker, and he tells us with perfect candour what we are without those right influences to guide and control us in what we say and do, the products of our thoughts. The Truth alone can prove the regulator; that will turn us in the direction of godliness. Where this influence exists there is a change of heart, a complete change of heart, and the evil traits of which we have just spoken can be eradicated.
Now, not all the passages of Scripture referring to the heart are derogatory. Far from it. There are probably just as many which speak in the most commendatory terms. There are over a thousand references to the human heart in the Scriptures, columns of them in Young’s Analytical Concordance. There are Scriptures which speak of the upright in heart, the pure in heart, the wise in heart. Hezekiah “walked before God with a perfect heart.” Daniel was “perfect in his heart.” David declared: “My heart is inditing a good matter.” In these and many other places the all-seeing eye of the Almighty looked upon good hearts.
The righteous can rejoice that they are in the hands of a righteous Judge who knows all their motives and purposes, whatever men may say or think about them. God knows. And so the Psalmist expresses the thought when he says: “Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. My defence is of God, which saveth the upright in heart.” The fact that God knows and sees all, that all our purposes and motives are understood and known by Him, is a source of comfort to the righteous, though it may be a cause of dread to the wicked.
Now these reflections on the human heart, as the mainspring of thought in leading to actions and words, are prompted by the profound teaching of the Master in the chapter read this morning; so now for a few moments we will go back to our chapter and analyse it a little more closely. Matthew 12.25. We have read already how in this controversy the record states simply in this verse: “And Jesus knew their thoughts,” the thoughts of the Pharisees. This power which Christ had, enabling him to read their thoughts, exposed in the Pharisees a facade which in reality was hypocrisy. Outwardly they were very religious, very pious, very punctilious in their observance of the Law, but inwardly they were intensely wicked. Their motives were bad, they were insincere. They were proud and self-righteous, and bitterly resentful of the rival claims of Christ to teach the people the gospel. Even his miracles, as we have read—miracles of mercy, of goodness, of healing,—even those they attributed to the work of Beelzebub, which in itself was the greatest indignity of the times that one man could speak to another—the work of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. And their rancour moved them, in consequence, even to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. Hence Jesus reproved them in the words recorded in verse 31: “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.” At that time, after all, he was but a man, the proclaimer of glad tidings. “But whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt:
for the tree is known by his fruit. 0 generation of vipers, how can ye being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Now we stop to grasp the underlying lesson of these words. Here we have, as it were, a lesson in cause and effect. Good fruit is produced by a good tree. In the context of the passage the good fruit was the work of Christ, works of mercy and healing performed in the acts of miracle. To say that this was the work of Beelzebub, the prince of devils, was thoroughly illogical, it just did not make sense. On the other hand the Pharisees, by their wicked assertion that Beelzebub was the worker of the miracles, spoke evil words. That was their fruit. The fruit exposed what manner of men they were, notwithstanding their professions of holiness and piety and strict observance of the Law. They were the disciples of Beelzebub. A corrupt tree brings forth corrupt fruit, and the corrupt fruit was the evidence of the tree. “The tree is known by his fruit” said Jesus.
The Pharisees as a corrupt tree could not speak good things. That was not appreciated by their contemporaries, who no doubt held them in the highest esteem; but Jesus knew their thoughts, their heart; and an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit. So he said to them: “Ye cannot speak good things” because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Now from this specific reference to the Pharisees Jesus draws a lesson of general application to all who come within the sound of his voice. Verse 35: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.” Here, then, is a figure. The heart in the natural is the mainspring, the vital force governing all physical activity, and so in a figurative sense it stands for the thoughts, which are the mainspring of actions and words. We humans hear the words, we observe the actions, but the penetrating eye of God knows the thoughts which produce the actions and words. God sees the real man. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” whatever appearances to the contrary may be. There may be a veneer which misleads our fellows, by which we even deceive ourselves—that is possible—but we cannot deceive God. How important then that we get right back to the antecedent causes, that is, the thoughts of our hearts, in making sure that we are genuine and not hypocritical.
You see, how often we should stop to think: Why am I doing this? Why do I speak like this? Why do I say that7 There is always a motive in everything we do. Only, in fact, when we are asleep do we function automatically and spontaneously; but otherwise, something—it may be good, it may be bad—moves us into action and words, and the lesson of the chapter is: Stop and think, be careful that it is right and good and proper. Check the motives and make sure the purposes are good. “Keep thy heart with all diligence”—that is the inspired way of saying the same thing—”for out of the heart are the issues of life.”
The emphasis is laid on the heart, which in the figure stands for the sensorium, as it is called, that undefinable part of the brain which conceives and develops the thoughts. Let this be like a good tree and it will bring forth good fruit. Let this be filled with good treasure and the good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, will bring forth good things.
Now that is not difficult to illustrate scripturally in many ways. Let us go right back to the beginning of our spiritual life. At our baptism we “obeyed from the heart” those things which were delivered to us. Surely none of us then had any ulterior motives! God forbid! And yet it could be so. It might be a desire to please father or mother or sweetheart, or a secret thought that there was something to be got out of it; for you know that in Christ’s day there were many who followed him just for the loaves and fishes. God forbid that any hypocritical intention ever moved us to accept the faith. No, it was genuine, it was from the heart. We purposed doing it with the full intention of carrying out the obligations that we were willing voluntarily to assume.
Very well, that was an excellent start, that was the good heart beginning to operate in the good man or the good woman. Having believed and obeyed the gospel in baptism, then, in all sincerity, we found ourselves next under an over-riding commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Well, do we? Love, primarily, is a mental attitude. Love is born of appreciation, admiration, affinity, confidence, trust. Those are the things that germinate love in a man or a woman.
Now we are speaking of the love of God. If we love God, then, with all our heart, surely we shall be all day and every thy conscious of the fact. We shall be keenly conscious of and aware that it is the paramount influence in our lives, prompting us in what we say and do: the love of God from the heart. This is just one of the things that a good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth as good things. His love of God, independent of anything else, moves him, therefore, to fervent and constant and regular and meaningful prayer. It moves him to a conscious desire to please God as an expression of gratitude, first to thank God for His blessings: not to take them for granted, accepting them without a word of thanks, but first to express our thanksgiving and then to act upon it, as we do even in human relations—we are grateful for what people do for us and we feel we must do so met g for them. That is love out of the heart.
The love of in a man’s heart, therefore, impels him to keep His commandments and to be deeply conscious of a desire, not just a duty, but a desire to please God. That is love from the heart: holy thoughts of God leading to actions and words.
Just to emphasise this, let us look at it from the opposite point of view. Just to come to the meeting here Sunday by Sunday through force of habit, or because it is the accepted thing to do, or because we like the social associations, or even to palliate our conscience in other matters, that is no more good treasure from a good man’s heart in the relation of the love of God than the piety and the punctilious observances of the Pharisees. In our judgments one of another, even in our judgments of ourselves, we go too often by appearances; but “the Lord looketh upon the heart.” He knows the thoughts which lead to the actions: why we are here this morning, just exactly what moved us. What we see here, our attendance with each other in company is, shall we say, the end product of which God knew the beginning. That applies to everything.
Certainly it applies as much to our words as to our actions. This is the emphasis that Jesus places upon this matter in the context of our verse: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” That was said primarily, of course, in denunciation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” We have read how they came to Christ with uplifted hands, in horror, holy horror: “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.” And a little later they asked the Lord in all ‘sweet innocence’ the question: “Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days?” Their sanctimonious keeping of the sabbath was just a mere show. The motives behind their questions were wicked. They asked, the record says, “that they might accuse him.” They did not want to know the real answer to the question one way or the other. So far as they were concerned, at this particular juncture of their affairs, they were not all that concerned about the sabbath and keeping it.
Yet they were commanded to keep the sabbath, of course. If only they had been sincere in their motives and in their questions Christ would have been pleased with their interrogation, he would have been glad of the opportunity to expound to them the beauty of the sabbath. The sabbath was made for man, a time of rest, spiritual uplift, concentration of the thoughts upon God and upon all the things related to the spiritual life of man, when for the time being the temporal distractions of present existence could be laid on one side. That is the sort of thing which undoubtedly Jesus would have said to them in answer to their questions if they had been genuine enquirers, but they were nothing of the kind. They asked that they might accuse him. Their evil, spiteful, envious heart moved hem in their utterances. Out of the abundance of their heart th spoke.
Now that is true, in principle, of us all. If we carefully analyse what we say and why we say it, as I have said already, there is a motive. Even in ordinary conversation, what we might almost call small talk, just the ordinary day to day things we say, to the milkman if you like, or to anybody, we have a motive in what we have said. It is not just mechanical. It may be that we are trying to express a friendly atmosphere. In a way we are thankful for the postman and the milkman: they do little tasks for us, personal services, they bring us our goods and we like them to know we are friendly disposed toward them, and so we wish them good morning and hope they are well, or whatever it may be; however trivial, it has a purpose in it, that is what I am trying to say. And that applies to everything in our conversation. It is motivated by some desire. It may be a good purpose like that, to be friendly and sociable. We want to be on good terms with people, we should live at peace with all men as we have opportunity and that is why we do it. We try to give friendly gestures quite often in what we say, because we can say things better than we can do them under many conditions.
But there might be an evil motive. It might not necessarily be evil, but an unworthy motive. Some people like to speak because they like to be heard. It flatters their ego. Others like to speak because they imagine that the people who hear them speak will think they have superior knowledge. It may even be an excuse to talk about ourselves. A lot of people are like that: they love to talk about themselves, and the moment you talk about something different they are not interested in the conversation any more. It may be they want to tell you about their accomplishments, their cleverness, their generosity, their good works. You see, there is a purpose in what is being said. The conversation is brought round to something that they want to say, because they think it will create an impression. That is right, is it not, in human life generally? We are all in some way affected by these conditions of life.
Other forms of conversation, of course, may be more sinister, really evil. Evil speaking: that may have its roots in real bitterness, in spite, in a desire to destroy another’s reputation, in a subtle way of showing, by contrast, that we are more righteous than they are. We speak evil of them, which by contrast makes us look the better. What we say about another may even be true, but if in saying it we have a bad motive we are the greater sinner.
On the other hand, we may earnestly desire to encourage and to help, and I believe that is true of earnest brethren and sisters; even when we fail, that is really what we want to do, we would like to help, we would like to encourage. And so in that case we have motive in what we say. We look for things to say that will uplift and ennoble and cheer, to find something to say that will do that. That is the motive, and the cheerful word is the end product. Even in warning, the motive can be pure. We have the best interests of the recipient at heart. That is certainly true when we are preaching the Truth to strangers. We tell them that we are trying to save them from falling over the precipice. ‘Come this way, listen to us, and follow the Scriptures.’ And if we have the interests of our brethren and sisters at heart we may have to say to one or another now and again, ‘Now, don’t walk in that way. You are turning to the left, or turning to the right, and it will mislead you and lead you to a dangerous precipice. Don’t do it; keep in the strait and narrow way.’ That is speaking with a motive, but a good motive and in the best interests of the hearer. That is, out of the good treasure of a good man’s heart good things come.
So to illustrate that, we have Paul writing about Titus: “. . . his inward affection (that is it, it was really there, in the heart)”.
his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all That is pure love out of the heart, and fervent. “See that ye love one anotherwith a pure heart fervently.” And “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” to the praise and the credit of the believers, and in the case of Titus it was to the comfort of the beloved apostle Paul.
So then, that is the significance of these words of Christ: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things.” How can we be sure, then, that that applies to us? Well, firstly, the
good things of the heart must be put there. They are provided by the Word. Hence it is said of the righteous man: “The law of his God is in his heart.” By contrast, he keeps out, excludes deliberately, all the
contaminating influences. So with the Psalmist he says: “I hate vain thoughts.” He dislikes them, has no taste for them, and wants
nothing to do with them, whoever expresses them. “But thy law do I love.”
Good thoughts are created by the proper feeding of the mind. The mind grows on what it feeds upon. So Paul says: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true . . . honest . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely • . of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” It is a ease of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” When Paul said that, he had in mind the Roman custom. You know how the conqueror chained his victims—those he had conquered—chained them and led them in chains through the city, to his own glory and triumph; and we have got to, as it were, be the conqueror and chain those thoughts until they can be liberated because they have been brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ. That is it. That is what it means.
And when that is done, what then of those words? They are “fitly spoken.” “Apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Peace of mind, happiness and contentment develop. “In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul.” And we all then can unite in calling upon the Lord out of a pure heart. That is what we must try to do, everyone of us. Christ is the supreme example. “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.” True of Christ, true of all his followers. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
That is our God, and with that comforting assurance we can plead, with the Psalmist: “Search me, 0 God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”—H. T. Atkinson