by Nathanael Vincent
This text has been initially updated from EEBO-TCP by Project Puritas (Logan West, David Jonescue, Alex Sarrouf) www.puritansearch.org. Further revision and editing done by Monergism. Copyright Monergism via universal text usage permission from the above.
"When thou saidst, seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, thy face, Lord, will I seek." Psal. 27.8.
It is a Subject of the highest consequence, and in which all are concerned, that I Discourse of in this Treatise; and I design some relief against that which is the general Complaint of serious Christians, who would fain offer to God more Spiritual and well pleasing Sacrifices, but are hindered by the remaining Sin and Vanity of their own Minds. They are called indeed the Habitations of God through the Spirit; but these Habitations are haunted with distracting Thoughts, and vain Imaginations, to their great grief and disturbance. The Work and Service of the God of Heaven, is the principal business everyone has to do in this World; and though no Duties are to be slightly done to Man, which are done for the Lord's sake; yet in attendance upon himself, and in those Duties which more immediately we perform to him, an holy Awe becomes us; our Hearts should be immovably fixed, and we should exert the utmost Vigor of our Spirits. To trifle with a Jealous God, whose All-seeing Eye strictly observes the whole we do, and wherein soever we fail, is to despise him to his Face, and to act to the great peril of our own Souls.
Our God, says the Apostle, is a consuming fire; and Nadab and Abihu, the Sons of Aaron, sound him so, to their cost and sorrow, when they offered strange fire, such as he commanded, them not. We must do what God commands, and as he commands, else what we call our Religious Duties, will be looked upon by him as acts of Disobedience.
The Mind of Man ever since the first Man parted from God, is notoriously fickle and wavering, being unsettled by Sin, it roves up and down the Earth from one Vanity to another; but how hardly is it brought back to God! And though it is engaged to approach near to him, yet if it be not narrowly watched, in the twinkling of an Eye, it starts back and is gone away from him. To keep our Hearts with all diligence, is our Duty, but they will not be held in from wandering by our most careful Custody. It is the Hand of that God alone, by which the whole Universe consists, and is kept from dissolution, that can fix the Mind of Man, and hinder its being distracted in his Service.
There is a great deal of Pains taken in the World to little purpose: All things, says Solomon, are full of labor, Man cannot utter it; and yet he affirms that there is no profit under the Sun. But 'tis lamentable to think that in the Church, there should be so much labor in vain. Distraction of Mind keeps the Heart away from God and from the Duty that seems to be performed to him; it hinders the stirring of holy Affections, the acting of saving Grace; and turns Religion into a mere Bodily Exercise: and how can that be profitable to the Soul, which is a great way off, and so little regards what is done? How can it be acceptable to God, who is a Spirit, and will be worshipped in Spirit and in Truth?
The Church of Rome is for implicit Faith, for blind Obedience, and for Worship in an unknown Tongue. How distracted must that Worship needs be? How can the Peoples Thoughts be intent upon what they do not understand? Too many Protestants in their Devotions mind what themselves say, as little, as if they did not understand the words they spake; and truly the latter sin with greater aggravation, because having means of better instruction, their Duties are no better performed.
The Cure of Distraction in Religious Services, is very difficult; some think light of the Disease, and imagine the Cure needless; others are discouraged from striving against Distraction, as if it were impossible to overcome them, but nothing is too hard for the great Physician, he can heal the Mind's Vanity, bring the Heart into God's Presence; he is able to cast down Imaginations, and to hinder them from rising again, and to bring Thoughts into Captivity and Obedience.
A Sense of my own Wanderings in those Ordinances I administer, and engage in, has put me upon a more serious study how to prevent them. And I would be the first and best Follower myself, of that Counsel, which I give to others. And if the Lord is served with greater Attention and Spirituality; and if the Hearts of those who shall read this Treatise, are more than ever in the Work of God, and more benefited by doing it, the great End is obtained, which is designed by
Table of Contents
To the Truly Honorable
To the Reader
The Cure of Distractions in Attending Upon God.
Doctrine. I. - The Children of Men ought to attend upon God
Doctrine. II. In Attending upon God, we should look upon him as the Lord and serve him accordingly
Doctrine. III. Attendance upon the Lord should be without distraction
Several Cases of Conscience answered, relating to Distraction in Attending on God.
-- CASE I. Whether the Thoughts cannot be off from God in the least when we attend upon him, but there must be a culpable and sinful Distraction?
-- CASE II. Whether it be Distraction and withdrawing from God, to think at all of our worldly business and affairs?
-- CASE III. Whether the best of Men while in this World, can be totally free from Distraction in holy Duties?
-- CASE IV. Whether a true Believer may not sometimes perform Duties so distractedly, as to reap no benefit at all by them?
-- CASE V. What Distractions are they which are mercifully overlooked, and that hinder not the success of our Duties, nor the benefit of them?
-- CASE VI. What course are Melancholic Persons to take in their Attendance on God, when Distractions arise from the prevalency of that Distemper?
-- CASE VII. What are those Distractions that make our attendance upon God altogether unacceptable to him, and unavailable to ourselves?
-- USE I. Shall be of Caution against the Causes of Distraction.
-- USE II. By way of expostulation. I shall expostulate the matter with you about these distractions in your Religious Performances.
-- USE III. Shall be of Direction, I am to direct you to proper Remedies against distraction in Religious Performances.
-- USE IV. Shall be of Counsel as to some particular Duties, which I shall insist on, and show you how they may with less distraction, be performed
-- USE V. Shall be terror unto Sinners and Hypocrites, all whose attendance upon God, is void of care, and full of allowed distraction.
-- USE VI. Shall be of encouragement and comfort to Believers, who would fain do more and better than they do, and with less distraction serve the Lord.