Essay / Theology

Hating Vain Thoughts

Just a quick note here on the blog, to hold a link to a helpful sermon from Richard Chenevix Trench, “On the Duty of Hating Vain Thoughts.” It’s from an 1886 collection of sermons freely available at various places online, but I excerpted the sermon itself and am sharing it (along with my own highlighting) here in pdf form.

Trench is especially good, I think, at pointing out how our minds can dwell on things that are good in themselves, but become vain when we allow them to become our uninterrupted focus of attention. This is in the section of the sermon about the effect on our thoughts of “the world,” which is followed by sections on “the flesh, and the devil.” Trench skips lightly over the section on the flesh, just “glancing,” he notes, at the impurity we might now call a pornographized imagination. But he leans in for closer analysis of pride, drawing out the imaginary, inner worlds we construct for ourselves in which we make ourselves the heroes of all stories. These fantasies of pride, Trench says, are the thoughts the devil is especially eager to help us cultivate.

What makes the sermon especially valuable, in spite of its fairly obviously dated character, is the lively sense Trench has of how the private life going on in your thoughts is in its own way an actual life, full of mental events, and of actions that determine character. These mental actions, as the Bible specifically states in several places (which Trench cites), are actions that God will judge, because he has an opinion about them: He hates them, and so should we.

The striking, concise sermon text, by the way, is Psalm 119:113 in the KJV, “I hate vain thoughts.” Trench draws his doctrinal and practical points from all over Scripture, so the sermon is not, in my opinion, undermined by the fact that the underlying text is more oblique and somewhat difficult to construe. Trench knew a thing or two about linguistic complexity, having written the book (three or four books, actually) on the subject. But readers who want to know how the text goes (good for you!) may want to consult Psalm 119:113 in the original Hebrew and in some alternate translations. Here’s a peek at it from STEPBible:

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