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Vain Imaginations

Speculative Ideas and Enthusiastic Visionary Ramblings
J.C. Philpot
“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13.)
“Be sober,” adds the Apostle, or, as the word might be translated, be “watchful.” Sobriety in religion is a blessed gift and grace. In our most holy faith there is no room for lightness. The things which concern our peace are solemn, weighty matters, and if they lie with any degree of weight and power on our spirit, they will subdue that levity which is the very breath of the carnal mind. 
Some men are naturally light, and as a man’s natural make and disposition will sometimes, in spite of his better feelings and judgment, discover itself, some good men and acceptable preachers have fallen into the snare of dropping light expressions in the pulpit. But it is much to be lamented that they have set such an example, for many have imitated their lightness who do not possess their grace, and have availed themselves of that very circumstance as a recommendation which in those good men was but an infirmity. How different was the testimony which Burnet gives of Leighton—”I can say with truth, that in a free and frequent conversation with him for above two-and-twenty years, I never knew him speak an idle word, or one that had not a direct tendency to edification; and I never once saw him in any other temper but that which I wished to be in the last minutes of my life.”

But sobriety implies not merely the absence of all unbecoming levity in speech and conduct, but the absence also of all wild, visionary imaginations in the things of God. It denotes, therefore, that “spirit of a sound mind” which the Apostle says is the gift of God. (2 Tim. 1:7.) Few things are more opposed to that wisdom which is from above (James 3:17), and to that anointing which teaches all things, and is truth, and is no lie (1 John 2:27), or to the work of faith, the labor of love, and the patience of hope—than those wild flights of imagination, and those visionary ideas and feelings which so many substitute for the solid realities of the life of God. These are some of the strongholds of which Paul speaks and which he had to pull down. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5.)

These vain “imaginations,” these speculative ideas and enthusiastic visionary ramblings, often the fruit of a disordered mind, or produced by Satan as an angel of light, which some seem to think so much of, Paul would pull down as strongholds of delusion. 

Hart seems at one time to have been nearly caught in this snare—”But, after many a gloomy, doleful hour spent in solitude and sorrow, not without strong and frequent cries and tears to God, and beseeching him to reveal himself to me in a clearer manner, I thought he asked me, in the midst of one of my prayers, whether I rather chose the visionary revelations, of which I had formed some wild idea, or to be content with trusting to the low, despised mystery of a crucified man?”—Hart’s “Experience.”…

…Vital godliness, it is true, has its mysteries, its revelations, and manifestations, its spiritual and supernatural discoveries and operations; but all these come through the Word of Truth, which is simple, weighty, and solid, and as far removed from everything visionary or imaginative, wild or flighty, as light is from darkness; and therefore every act of faith, or of hope, or of love, will be as simple, solid, and weighty as the Word of Truth itself, through the medium of which, by the power of the Spirit, they are produced and called forth. If any doubt this, let them read in some solemn moment the last discourses of our blessed Lord with his disciples. How simple, how solid, how weighty are these discourses. 

Must not, then, the faith which receives, believes, and is mixed with these words of grace and truth, the hope which anchors in the promises there spoken, the love which embraces the gracious and glorious Person of him who spoke them, be simple and solid too? What room is there in such a faith, hope, and love for visionary ideas, wild speculations, and false spiritualizations of Scripture, any more than there is in the words of the Lord himself?

But to be “sober” means also to be wakeful and watchful, as we find the word used by the great Apostle—“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess. 5:6, 7, 8.) Here sobriety is opposed to sleepiness, and is connected with walking in the light and in the day, as sleepiness and its frequent cause, drunkenness, are connected with darkness and night.

One of the greatest curses God can send on a people and its rulers, its prophets and seers, is a spirit of deep sleep, as the prophet speaks—“For the Lord has poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes; the prophets and your rulers, the seers has he covered.” (Isa. 29:10.) But to be sober is to be awaked out of this sleep, and, as a consequence, to walk not only wakefully but watchfully. It implies, therefore, that careful, circumspect walking, that daily living, moving, speaking, and acting in the fear of God whereby alone we can be kept from the snares spread for our foot at every step of the way. 

How many have fallen into outward evil and open disgrace from lack of walking watchfully and circumspectly and taking heed to their steps. Instead of watching the first movements of sin and against, as the Lord speaks, “the entering into temptation” (Luke 22:40), they rather dally with it until they are drawn away and enticed of their own lust, which as unchecked goes on to conceive and bring forth sin, which, when it is finished or carried out and accomplished in positive action, brings forth death. (James 2:14, 15.)
Excerpted from J.C. Philpot, “Meditations on First Peter Chapter One, Part VII,” 1869, posted at: http://www.gracegems.org/19/Philpot_pet7.htm. Adapted for blog posting.