The Sinfulness of the Imagination

Sinfulness of the Imagination

Anthony Burgess
Treatise on Original Sin
Part 3, Chapter 6, Sections 1-20.

And God saw that every imagination of the thoughts of mans heart was only evil, and that continually.” (Genesis 6:5).


This Text explained and vindicated against D. J. Taylor, Grotius, the Papists and Socinians.

We have at large discovered the universal pollution of the affections, which we have by nature, and handled them in this order (though the doctrine about the sinfulness of the imaginative power should have preceded) because they have such an immediate connection with the will, belonging to the appetitive part of a man.

The next seat of Original Sin in man I shall consider of is the fancy, which we shall find to be instrumental to great iniquities because in itself it is polluted sinfully. To which truth this Text will give in a full and pregnant testimony.

To open which you must understand that we have here related the cause of that universal and dreadful judgment which God brought upon the whole world. The cause was that universal and desperate wickedness whereby all flesh had corrupted their ways. The long-suffering of God would bear no longer, especially they being so often admonished by Noah the preacher of righteousness. Thus the general actual impieties everywhere abounding on the face of the earth is the proximate and immediate cause of drowning of the world.

Secondly, we have the remote and mediate cause, which is internal, and that is, the universal sinfulness of every man’s heart by nature, which is always emptying itself into sinful thoughts and lusts, so that it is never quiet, or like a fountain sealed up, but diffusing itself into poisonous streams. There are always sparks flying out of this furnace.

Now this natural pollution is described in the most emphatic manner that can be.

There are some who complain that we are too tragic in explaining the nature of Original Sin, that we aggravate it too much; but if we consider the scope of the Holy Ghost in this place, we will easily be persuaded that none can say enough in this particular.

1. Here is the “heart” said to be evil, that which is the very life of man, and is the fountain of all actions and motions. Not the eyes or the tongue, but the heart, which is the whole of man, which implieth also that he sinneth not by example and outward temptation only, but from an inward principle.

2. In this heart that is said to be “evil,” which we would think is not capable of sin, at least of very little, the thoughts, not only the affections, or the will, the appetitive parts of the soul, but the sublime and apprehensive.

3. He doth not only say the thoughts, but the “imagination,” the very first rising and framing of them. It is a metaphor from the potter who doth frame his vessels upon a wheel in what shape he pleaseth. Thus the heart of man is continually shaping and effigiating some thoughts or other. Now these are not only sinful when formed, and it may be consented unto, but the very first fashioning of them, even as they rise immediately from the heart are sinful. If we explain it as others do, who observe this word signifieth to frame a thing with curious art and industry, then it aggravateth likewise, informing of us that those thoughts which are polished by us in the most accurate manner are altogether evil.

4. Here is the universality, “every imagination.” In those millions and millions of thoughts which arise in a man, like the motes in the air, there is not one good thought, all and every imagination.

5. Here is not only the extension of this sin to every thought, but the intention likewise. It is “only evil,” there is no good at all in it. Godly men in their best actions have some sinfulness adhering to them. There is some water in their best wine, but here is all dross and no gold at all, only evil.

6. Lastly, here is the aggravation of it from the perpetuity: it is thus only evil, and that “continually.” Thus the Holy Ghost, which is truth itself represents our Blackmore natures to humble and debase man, as also to justify God under any effects of his wrath and vengeance that he may bring upon us. How wretched then are the attempts of some writers who lay out the utmost of their power and wit to make this sin nothing at all (as Doctor Taylor, and as Papists), or to have very little guilt in it? If you say this Text speaketh of actual sins, of evil imaginations, I grant it, but as flowing from original pollution, it speaketh of bitter fruit, but as flowing from that bitter root within. And […] the Scripture uses to speak of this sin commonly, as putting itself […] immediate evil motions; because though Original Sin be not peccatum actuale yet it is peccatum actuosum (as hath been said), it is an acting and an active sin, though not actual. Pererius would evade this Text by having it to be an hyperbole, or else to be true only of some particular wicked men, the giants in those days. As for the hyperbole, which both Papists and Socinians so often fly unto, when the Scripture doth intend to exaggerate this sin, we shall easily in time convince of the falsehood and vanity of such an exception.

And as for the second particular, we will readily grant that the actual impiety of all men generally was exceedingly heightened, so that this gave the occasion to mention that internal corruption which is upon all mankind. Yet we must necessarily say that besides those actual impieties, Original Sin is also aimed at as being the cause of them. For the scope of Moses is to give a universal cause of that universal judgment. Seeing therefore the Deluge drowned infants as well as grown persons, and they could not be guilty of actual impieties, it remaineth that the native pollution they were born in was the cause of their destruction [Rom. 5:14]. Indeed Original Sin did greatly aggravate those actual wickedness, for hereby was demonstrated the incurableness of their natures. No patience, no mercy would do them any good, for they are not only evil, but their hearts, the fountain of all, were evil likewise. How could grapes ever grow from such thorns? Neither may we limit it (as some would) to particular great sinners who then lived, because Gen. 8:21 we have the same sentence in effect repeated, when yet the wicked men of the world were destroyed, when those eight persons only were alive and preserved, God giveth this character of man’s nature. Besides, it is spoken indefinitely, the imagination of man’s heart, not of those men, or of such particular men.

Why this very reason should be used (Gen. 8:21), that God would not destroy the world anymore, which is in this Text brought for the destruction of it, is to be shewed when we come to treat of the effects of Original Sin.

Dr. Taylor’s Arguments Refuted.

In the meantime, let us consider what a late writer (Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Repentance, ch. 6) who useth to sharpen his weapons at the Philistine’s forges, the Papists, and commonly the worst of them, as also the Socinians, with whom we reckon Grotius, from these (I say) he delivereth his poisonous assertions:

1. First, it is pretended that the Scripture maketh this their own fault, and not Adam’s because Genesis 6:12 it is said, “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”

This is very feeble and weak, for it is willingly acknowledged that the increase of actual wickedness was the immediate and proximate cause of this general judgment. Had not their iniquities in that age risen higher and cried louder for vengeance than ordinarily sin did, we may conceive God would not have proceeded to such an unheard of and extraordinary judgment. Therefore verse 5 it is said, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” The Hebrew word comprehends both the greatness in quantity, it was exceedingly multiplied, as also in quality. They were enormous sins, all this the Text is clear for, but this is not all. The Text goeth higher, to aggravate these impieties from the fountain, which is a corrupt nature, even as David (Psalm 51) doth heighten his actual wickedness from the sinful nature he was born in. Therefore both actual sins, as the fruit, and Original Sin as the root, is here made the cause of that universal judgment.

2. The second exception, to which the third may be adjoined, is that this corruption is supposed by those who hold it to be natural and unavoidable, and therefore God could no more punish mankind for that, than for sleeping or being hungry. Because why were eight persons excepted, when all were alike? Is not this a respect of persons?

Answer. This here is either gross ignorance or else a willful mistake about the word natural and unavoidable. We grant it to be natural and unavoidable in some sense, but not in that which he taketh it, as if it were natural like sleep or hunger, which are not culpable, or have any guilt in them. But of this largely in its time, because the adversaries do usually in an odious manner represent this inevitableness of sinning unto their reader, though we say voluntarily contracted at first, and seem much to triumph in it.

As for the other addition [eight persons were excepted], it is answered that those who were godly then, and escaped that judgment, were delivered from the dominion and guilt of this Original Sin. Therefore it being pardoned to them, though the remnants in some measure continued in them, they were not involved in this judgment.

Lastly, what ignorance is manifested in saying [It must be respect of persons], if God amongst those that were equally guilty spared some, and rejected others? For he may learn out of Aquinas and his followers that respect of persons cannot be in matters of liberality and munificence, for where that is, there is some justice and debt supposed. Now if God had not saved any one man more than any apostate Angel, I suppose he would not have charged God with in justice.

3. Thirdly, it is questioned if it were the natural corruption God complained of, why did he do it but thus, as if it were a new thing?

It is answered, the though original corruption was in all mankind, as soon as ever the Image of God was lost, and therefore Seth is said to beget his son after his own likeness, sinful and mortal. Yet because it did not break out into those violent torrents of iniquity before, as it did at this time, hence it was that God did more severely take notice of it, as putting itself forth in such bitter effects.

4. Fourthly, it is objected that Noah the preacher of righteousness was sent to draw the world off from that which was likely to destroy it, but no man can think he would dehort [dissuade] them from being guilty of Original Sin.

To this we also answer, that as for being guilty of Original Sin in our birth, and how that can be our sin then, when we were not capable of a precept, I have at large treated of, and so shall not actum agere [do what has already been done], as also how far Original Sin is to be repented of. Only to the present objection we say that though the Ministry be not to hinder us from being born in sin, yet it is to be instrumental in working our regeneration (which great gift of God those that deny Original Sin must also necessarily deny) which is a subduing and mortifying of Original Sin in some degree, and is a renovation of all those parts which Original Sin had corrupted. For regeneration (John 3) is proved necessary from the supposition of Original Sin, “Whatsoever is born of the flesh is flesh.”

The Text then thus vindicated from corrupt glosses, for the imagination and devices of many men, though learned, have been very evil, and that continually in the interpretation of it. I shall only add this: Although by the imagination of the thoughts be chiefly meant the working of the mind and the understanding, yet because the imaginative power or fantasy in a man is immediately subservient to the understanding in its operations, and is therefore called ratio imperfecta, imperfect reason, and cogitativa facultas, the cogitative faculty in the soul, I shall therefore treat of it only from this verse, for the original pollution of the understanding hath been abundantly discovered. From the Text then observe:

That power of the soul, whereby we imagine or fancy anything, is universally corrupted. It imagineth only evil, and that continually. We have sinful fancies as well as sinful affections.


Of the Nature of the Imagination in a man.

Before we insist on the particular pollutions thereof, let us briefly take notice of the nature of this imagination in man.

First, it is taken two ways. For either by imagination we mean the power itself, whereby we do imagine, or the acting thereof, even as the word Wib is sometimes taken for the power, and sometimes for the act, so is fancy and imagination.

Secondly, consider that Philosophers do affirm that besides the rational and immaterial faculties of the soul, as also besides the external senses, there are internal material senses, about the number whereof they greatly dissent. Some make five, the Common Sense, the Fancy, the Imaginative Power, the Estimative, and the Memory. Others three, others four, some but one, only it may seem many because of the several manners of operation. It is not worth the while to contest herein.

It is enough to know that there is in man such a power whereby he doth imagine and fancy things, witness those dreams which usually rise in our sleep. The use of this imagination is to preserve the species suggested to order them, and judge of them, and thereby is necessary to our understanding, according to that rule, Oportet intelligentem phantasmata speculari [speculative notions are necessary for understanding]. And certainly the power of God is admirably seen in this imaginative faculty, whether in men or beasts. For how do birds come so artificially to make their nests, and the ants and bees to be such admirable provident creatures in their kind, but from that natural instinct in them, whereby their fancies are determined to such things? So it is from this imagination that the sheep is afraid of a wolf, though it never saw one before. Especially in man, his imagination being perfect, there are many admirable things about the nature of it, which, when learned men have said all they can, they must confess their ignorance of. Only you must know that as the affections are very potent in a man, to turn him this way or that way, so also is the imagination and fancy of a man. Insomuch that it is a great happiness to have a sanctified fancy that is commonly in men, the womb wherein much iniquity is conceived.

It is greatly disputed in Philosophy what the power and strength of imagination is. Some have gone so far as to attribute all miracles, whether divine or diabolical to the strength of imagination. Yea Abelard’s position was that fides was estimatio, faith was nothing but a strong fancy, but these are absurd. Only it is granted that some strong impressions it may make on the party himself, as also on the fruit of the womb in conception. As for Jacob’s art of laying particular colored sticks before sheep, when they came to be watered, that in the time of engendering they might bring such colored lambs [Gen. 30], though imagination might be something conducive thereunto, yet rather ascribe this (with some learned men) to a miracle, and the peculiar blessing and power of God towards Jacob. But I shall not hold you any longer here, let us proceed to the discovery of the natural sinfulness thereof.


The Natural sinfulness of the Imagination appears in making Idols, daily Supports, and vain Conceits, whereby it pleaseth itself.

First, the metaphorical expression in the Text doth fully declare it. For as the potter doth make vessels upon the wheel daily, or as some explain it, as the artificer doth of his wood and other materials make idols, which he worshipeth as gods, though they be vanities. Thus the imagination of man doth daily fabricate such fancies and idols to itself, making gods of them, and putting confidence therein. And if you observe what riseth daily in the heart of a man devoid of grace, you shall find that it is a continual idol maker, it maketh daily puppets and vain conceits, whereby it pleaseth itself, and accounteth itself happy therein. Thus we see what shops (as it were) our hearts are. The imagination having that sinful artifice as to make and erect idols all the day long. Even as children naturally delight to make babies, and then to play with them, so do all men by nature. How many vain idols do the ambitious men, the unclean men of the world daily build up in their fancies? Hence it is that the glorious things, the pleasant things they please themselves with, are more in the imagination than in any real possession, as is more to be dilated upon.

In the meanwhile let us sadly mourn under this horrible corruption of the imaginative part of a man, that it should be daily making new gods, continually erecting idols, in which we are apt to put our confidence. Lapide on Genesis 8:21 (where we have the like expression and metaphor) doth offer intolerable violence to the sacred Text. For whereas it saith the imagination is only set to evil, he would make two shops (as it were) wherein this imagination doth work: a shop of sin wherein it only fabricateth evil, and a shop of virtue wherein it imagineth good things. But what can be directly to confront a Text, and to put the lie upon it, if this be not? Let us then be willing to be found out in all this evil. Let us acknowledge that our imagination doth continually set up vanities, idols. We make to ourselves gods, and so leave the only true God.

We have made some entrance already upon the discovery of that wound and deadly blow the imaginative power of man hath received by Original Sin. Wonder not if in the managing of this point, we often mention thoughts, discourse, invention, and apprehensions, attributing these to the imagination. For although the understanding be properly the power of the soul, from whence these operations do proceed, yet because the imaginative faculty is so near to the intellectual, that in all is operations it hath some dependence on it, so that it is hard to know or perceive when some internal parts of the soul are the operations of the fancy, or of the mind. Though indeed sometimes reason doth correct our imaginations, even as they do sense.

Yea Divines and Philosophers do commonly attribute some kind of opinion and judgment, yea imperfect discourse unto it. This difference is given between the common internal sense and the imagination. The common sense doth receive the simple impressions of things, as of a stone, of bread, as the wax receiving the impression of a seal, not the seal itself, but the image of it. Thus doth the common sense receives the species of things and retaineth them. But the fancy doth go higher, it doth compound these single species together, witness those many dreams, and also Chimeras which many do imagine, that never had any existence in the world. Therefore by this office it hath, we see how near it is to the understanding.

Yea Suidas saith that Aristotle calleth it […] (viz.) […], because it hath in it, […], and […], because it is with forms and species that it doth apprehend things, and therefore saith Suidas, it is called […] quasi […], because it doth […], make those forms and appearances to consist. However this be, due to the immediate subservience to the understanding and conjunction with it, we may without any absurdity say the thoughts, the opinion, the judgment thereof. And so I proceed to the further manifestation of its pollution.


In respect of its Defect from that end and use which God did intend in the Creation of man, by making him with this Imaginative Power.

Secondly, in respect of its defect from that end and use, which God did intend in the creation of man by making him with this imaginative power. We must readily yield that as God did shew his wonderful wisdom and power in making of man, which the Scripture often observeth, comparing the workmanship of our body to the curious needle work of some skillful woman (Psalm 139:15), so all these powers and parts of the soul were made for singular and admirable use, and therefore the imagination as well as the rest. Yea we are to know that in all those visions and dreams by which God did appear to the Prophets and others, it was by exciting and working upon their imagination; so that God hath exceedingly honored that part of the soul in this way.

Natural Imagination vs. the Moral Imagination.

The use of this imaginative power is two-fold, as of the other senses. The one proximate and immediate, which is to perform their operations for which they were given to men. The other remote and more general, which is to be instrumental to the salvation of the soul, and also to the glorifying of God. For by the imagination we are to glorify God, as well as by other parts of soul and body. The former end of the imagination I may call natural, the latter, moral.

I shall not speak of the former, because whatsoever defect is now upon the fancy in that way, not being able to do its office, as at first creation, it is merely penal, a punishment, and not so much our sin. Thus, that men are subject to madness in their fancy, that the imagination by any distemper in the organ where it is fixed may be wholly perverted, as we see in fevers, and in frenzies, and sometimes in dying men. This is not so much a sin in the fancy, as a punishment, even as death is inflicted upon us because of Adam’s transgression. It is true that Adam, though created with full and perfect knowledge in naturals and supernaturals that was necessarily required to his blessedness, yet as Suarez well determineth (De Creatione homines lib. 3. cap. 9), in the use of his knowledge he had recourse to phantasms in the imagination, because that is a natural way to the soul while joined to the body. Only in that state, as the organ was not subject to any bodily distempers, so neither could his imagination any way err.

But the sin of Adam hath not only brought on that part an obnoxiousness to many bodily distempers, but filled it also with sinfulness, which is eminently seen in its aberration from that two-fold main end it was at first bestowed on us for. The one whereof is the salvation of our souls. For if the sense of hearing the Word of of God, and of seeing the wonderful works which God hath wrought, be so greatly instrumental to our sanctification, why should not the imagination much more? But who may not complain what an impediment and hindrance his fancy is to his soul’s good? It imagines evil and vanity, it is wholly pleased with empty and vain things, neglecting the true solid good so that there is no man that is acquainted with the frame of his soul, but may groan under the sinful unruliness of his imagination, especially (as is to be shewed) in holy and religious approaches to God. When all the powers should be united in one way, then what swarms of roaring imaginations? What importunate and impertinent fancies are ready to fill thy soul, as flies sometimes did Egypt? Was it thus in the state of Creation? Did God create us with such fickle confused and erratic imaginations? How greatly would it dishonor God to affirm so? Affect thy heart therefore greatly with this, to think that that which was so exceedingly conducive to thy soul’s happiness is now such an impediment and enemy thereunto.

It is a corrupt licentious opinion which Speranza (though a Papist) attributeth to several famous Schoolmen, viz. That a man is not bound to repel an evil thought if there be not danger of consent to it, but may suffer it to be in his mind, as some natural thing, even with advertence that it is there. But this is justly called by the aforesaid author, (Spiranza scrip. sel. dig. de cong. punct. 11) Offendiculum animarum, an opinion that is a stumbling block and scandal to souls, neither may our sinful imaginations greatly humble us if this were true.

Idolatry in the Imagination.

As for the other end, which is to glorify God. Wherein hath God been more dishonored than by the imaginations of men? Whence hath that idolatry filled the whole world? How come superstitious magical divinations but by the sin of imagination? These phantasmata on […], in the brain make these idols which men fall down and worship, so that they may well have the same name. The Apostle (Rom. 1) speaking of the Heathens, and that in their high profession of wisdom, yet saith they “became vain in their imaginations,” and why so? Because of their idolatry, turning the glory of God into birds, and beasts, insomuch that the sinfulness of the imagination of man hath caused all the idolatry of the world. They have not gone to God as revealing himself in the Word by faith, but according to their natural light, by carnal and gross imaginations. Whereas therefore images were brought into the Church at first, that they might be (as Gregory said) ignorant men’s books. The truth is, they did teach, and confirm in erroneous imaginations, for from such pictures do ignorant people still conceive of God, as an old man, and of the Holy Ghost as a dove, they imagining such things, as these images do represent. The imagination then of man doth arise unto an high degree of impiety when it will fancy or conceive of God without the guide of the Scripture. If so be the understanding cannot comprehend this infinite Essence, how much less can our imagination? If he said Quinquid de Deo dici potest, eo ipso est indignum, quia dici potest; and, Tunc Deum digne estimamus, cum inestimabil indicimus. If I say he be thus above the highest contemplations of our minds, no wonder if he infinitely transcend our imaginations.

Objection: We cannot apprehend God but by mental images.

It is an evasion that some Papist hath (as I have read, though I cannot remember where for the present), when pressed with this argument, that it is a great dishonor to God, and full of reproach to his majesty, to represent him under such external forms and shapes, he would (I say) evade by instancing in the imagination, as a natural faculty in the soul. The understanding cannot apprehend of God but by the imagination, and the imagination doth necessarily receive images and representeth species about God. Otherwise we cannot at all think of him, and yet this is no idolatry. But


First it may be answered: These forms and representations in the fancy, when we think of God, arise from the natural constitution of man, so that it cannot be avoided. It doth arise from our finite and corporeal nature, whereby nothing can come into the understanding before it hath been in the sense and the imagination, but their images and idols are external, gross, and voluntarily set up to worship God by. And

Again, howsoever such shapes and forms may come into the imagination of man about God, yet it’s the duty of the understanding to expel them, and to conceive of God without any corporeal form, as a Spirit of infinite majesty. Therefore the imagination must not guide the understanding, but the understanding lead the imagination, that so we may not have the least thought about God, but what becometh his glorious being. But of this more in a particular by itself, because of its great concernment.

Thus we see how the imagination is wonderfully defective from its main end, both in reference to God’s glory, and man’s own salvation and happiness.


The Pollution of the Imagination is manifest by the Restlessness of it.

Thirdly, the imaginative power of man is greatly polluted in the restlessness of it, in the perpetual constant workings thereof. Insomuch that thereby the sinfulness of it is continual, as the eye is always twinkling. Is there a moment wherein thy fancy is not busied about some object or other? And whereas other parts of the soul are subject to sin while we are awake only, the will, the mind, they only sin at that time, this fancy is many times very sinful in the night time. How many polluted and wicked dreams do men fall into at such a time, at which they tremble and abhor themselves when awakened? Thus though all sleep, yet sin doth not, but liveth and acteth in the imagination. But of the sinfulness of dreams by the corrupt imagination, more afterwards. Only for the present let us humble ourselves under the perpetual and incessant motion of our sinful fancy, there being no hour or moment wherein we are free from the corrupt stirrings thereof.

If there could be a breathing time or a respite from sin, this would at least lessen the damnable guilt thereof. But to be daily minting and fashioning corrupt imaginations without any intermission, how heavily should it press us down, and make us to judge ourselves worse than beasts, yea equal to the apostate Angels in perpetuity of sinning? For whereas it is said that in this particular man’s wickedness is not so great as the Devils, because the Devils sin continually, they neither slumber or sleep, as God who keepeth Israel doth not, so neither they who oppose Israel. The Devil doth vent his enmity, and never hath any stop therein by any natural impediment.

Now whereas in man by reason of sleep, there is to be a natural intermission and interruption of evil, the imagination being corrupted, doth thereby keep the fire of sin, like that of Hell, from going out. Cry out then unto God, because of this daily oppression that is upon thy soul. Yea how happy would it be if thou couldst judge it to be an oppression and a slavery? But these sinful imaginations are matter of delight and titillation to thee, thou art pleased and ravished (as it were) with them all the day long.


The Universality, Multitude, and Disorder of them.

Fourthly, as the perpetual sinful actings of them may humble us, so the universality and multitude of them. They do extend themselves to ens and non-ens [being and non-being], to everything, and to nothing. Insomuch that the multitude of thy imaginations do even overwhelm thee, for this being the difference between the external senses and the imagination, that the outward senses are never moved or excited, but by the present objects. The imagination is constantly working about absent objects. Hence it is that your fancies are many times roving and wandering about those objects that are many hundred miles distant from thee. As God complained of the people of Israel, that they drew nigh with their lips, but their heart was afar off. They shewed much love, but their heart went after their covetousness, Ezek. 33:31. Thus it is with us continually, when we pray, when we hear, our imaginations are running many miles off. They are like Cain, vagabonds, and have no settled abode. Which brings in the next instance of their sinfulness.


Their roving and wandering up and down without any fixed way.

Fifthly, their roving and wandering up and down without any fixed and settled way. They fly up and down, and frisk here and there, so that although they were a multitude, yet if in a settled ordered way, there might be some spiritual advantage made of them. As a great army, if well marshaled may be useful, but now here is nothing but confusion and disorders in thy imagination. So that sometimes many fancies come into thy head at the same time, that thy head and heart is all in uproar, which breedeth another particular of sinfulness. And that is the hurry and continual noise that a man hath daily within him, as if a swarm of bees were in his soul.

Christ told Martha she was troubled about many things, but one thing was necessary, Luke 10:41. The word signifieth, she was in a crowd (as it were), there was a great noise within her, as men make in a market, or some common meeting. As those in a mill have such a noise within that they cannot hear any speaking to them without. Thus it is here, the imagination fills thy soul with cumbersome thoughts, with confused noises, so that thou canst seldom make quiet and calm approaches unto God in any holy duty. If so be the ground tilled and dressed, doth bring forth such briars and thorns, is it any wonder that the wilderness doth? If in a godly man, there be nothing so much annoyeth him, which is so constant a burden and complaint to him, as these tumultuous imaginations, these roving fancies, flying up and down like so many feathers in a stormy wind, what can we think is continually in the imagination of a natural man?


The Impertinence and Unseasonableness of the Imaginations.

Sixthly, the impertinence and unseasonableness of thy imagination is also to be bewailed. Indeed the unregenerate man findeth no load or burden here, therefore if these weeds choke up all the corn, if sinful imaginations fill his heart full all the while that religious duties are performing, he never mattereth it, he had rather his heart should be full of dung and earth than of pearls, he is more desirous that his soul should be fraught with pleasing imaginations than attentive to those things that are spiritual and heavenly. But oh the sad complaints the people of God make in this particular.

The unseasonableness of their fancy in heavenly approaches to God, commonly in religious duties more than at any other time do roving imaginations obtrude themselves, which even the children of God can no more hinder than the birds flying in the air. This is the sad temptation that you have most of God’s people exercised with, and for redemption out of this bondage they do earnestly pray to God, but as long as the soul, though sanctified, is thus joined to the body, and acts dependently upon the organs thereof, it cannot be otherwise, but as when a stone cast into the water maketh one circle, and that maketh another. Thus it is in man’s imagination, one fancy causeth another, and that another, whereby the soul is scarce ever quiet in any duty, but these phantasms lie knocking at the door, and do breed great disturbance. And which is saddest of all, the Devil (as is to be shewed) doth usually at such times cast in his fiery darts, his blasphemous injections do oftentimes violate the soul, so that instead of drawing nigh to God, it is filled with doleful and terrifying imaginations.


It eclipseth and, for the most part, keeps out the Understanding.

Sixthly, herein doth the sinfulness of it appear, that it doth eclipse, yea for the most part exclude and keep out, the understanding, which is the more noble light, and to which it ought to be subservient. So that men (whether in religions or civil affairs) are more led by fancy than by reason, there imagination is more predominant than the understanding. It is with man the little world, as the great world, God made in this two great lights, the Sun and Moon, one to rule in the day, the other in the night. Thus man hath two lights created in him, which are to direct him in all his operations: the Sun that is the understanding, the Moon is like the imagination, which giveth a glimmering light, and that only in particular and corporeal things. Now as it would be an horrible confusion in the world, if the Moon should shut out the Sun, and take upon it to rule in the day time all the light the Moon hath (let it be supposed it hath some of its own) would not suffice to make a day. Thus it is in man, his fancy which hath not light enough to guide him in his actions to his true end, yet that usurpeth upon the understanding, and doth in effect command all. Thus the inferior light prevaileth over the superior.

Oh what groaning should the new creature be in, till it be delivered from this bondage! See then to thyself, and examine all things that pass through thy soul more narrowly and exactly. It may be thy imagination is the cause of all thy religion, of all thy opinions. It may be it is not faith but fancy. It may be it is not conscience, but imagination that instigateth thee. Those expressions me thinks, and I imagine so, are not high enough, or becoming those glorious actings of faith in the soul, which the Apostle calleth ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, “the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). Aristotle opposeth ὑπόστασις to those apparitions that are made in the air, as the rainbow, which hath no real subsistence; and truly such are the conceits and apprehensions many have in religion and piety. They are not of a solid, true, and well-grounded knowledge, but are like meteors in the air. Thus do their opinions fly up and down in their head.

We may observe it a very ordinary thing in controversies and polemical writings, that both parties will often charge one another with their fancies and their imaginations, that there is no such thing in Scripture or in reason, but a figment in the brain. Yea the Pelagians and Socinians call this very doctrine of Original Sin, Augustini figmentum, Austin’s fancy, as if it were an evil imagination to hold that the thoughts and imaginations of the heart are only evil, and that continually. Thus you see in what confusion we are in when sometimes the solid doctrine of the Scripture is traduced for a mere imagination. And again, mere fancies applauded and earnestly contended for, as fundamental pillars of religion and piety.

Seeing then our imaginations are so apt to get into the chair of the understanding, and as Athaliah destroyed the seed royal, that she might reign, so fancy bolteth out all solid reasons and arguments that it alone may do all, it behoveth us the more to watch over our hearts in this respect. To be sure they are the solid works of faith, and not the fickle motions of the fancy that do guide thee, and the rather, because it is the perpetual custom of wicked and ungodly men, to brand and stigmatize both the true faith and all solid piety with the reproach of a mere fancy. Do not Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and the like, exclaim against the Protestant doctrine, as if it were but an idol of Calvin’s and Luther’s making, when they condemned the blessed martyrs to burn at the stake, they concluded such suffered but for their fancies and their humours.

It being therefore the constant charge by all enemies to truth, that it is not thy faith thou pleadest for, thou sufferest for, but thy mere fancy, it behoveth thee to be the more diligent in Scripture knowledge, and to pray that the Spirit of God may thereby quicken thee up to a sound and sure faith. Thus also it is in practicals. Let a man set himself to the power of godliness, walk strictly in opposition to the looseness and profaneness of the world. Let his soul mourn for sin, and his heart grieve for his evil ways. What do carnal people presently say? This is your fancy, these are your melancholy conceits, they judge it to be some distemper in your imagination, that it is a kind of a madness. Now that we may withstand such accusations, it behoveth us to seek after, and pray for such a thorough work of sanctification, that we may be assured it is no more fancy than that we live or have our being. That if to be godly, if to be converted be a fancy only, then to be a man, or to be a wicked man is only a fancy also.

Well, though we must take heed of calling faith a fancy, and the work of grace a melancholy conceit (for that is a kind of blaspheming the Holy Ghost) yet experience doth evidence that many have not faith, have not true piety, but mere empty shadows and imaginations in religion. Witness the skepticism of many in these days who are of no faith and no religion, who change it often, as they do their garments. Who have no rooting or immovable foundation, but are as the water which receiveth every impression, but retaineth none. That are reeds shaken with every wind, and are clean contrary to Christ, for they are not the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Can you say this is the work of God’s Spirit? Can we say, this is the Scripture-truth? No, you read the character of such who have true faith, and that in a sanctified manner, if it were possible to deceive the very elect (Mat. 24:24). Certainly the prevalence of the imagination above the understanding in religious things is one of the sore evils which Original Sin hath brought upon all mankind.


In the Imagination are conceived for the most part all Actual Impieties.

Seventh, this also doth greatly manifest the sinfulness of the imagination: That as in the affections, so likewise in it are conceived for the most part all actual impieties. The imagination and the affections joined together are commonly that dunghill wherein these serpents lay their eggs. Yea sin many times lieth a long while breeding in the imagination, before it be brought forth into action, yea many times it is never brought forth, but the womb of sin is also the tomb, it lived and died in the imagination.

We may observe the Scripture attributing the greatest works of impiety to the imagination, as the cause of it, Ps. 2:1. “Why do the people imagine a vain thing?” All the opposition of wicked men, and their carnal policy to overthrow the ways of Christ flow from this imagining. Thus Ps. 38:12, They “imagine deceits all the day long.” All the injustice, oppression and fraud that may be used to other men is attributed to this, “Let none of you imagine evil against his brother in his heart” (Zech 7:10). It is true, this imagination spoken of in the Text, comprehends also acts of the mind, yet because (as you heard) the mind acteth dependently upon the imagination, therefore we conjoin them together.

How polluted then must that fountain be, which sends forth so many polluted streams? Sin (as we told you) may be a long while breeding here, before it be completely formed and actuated. Yea and God beholdeth and taketh notice of thy sins thus prepared in thy imagination long before the commission of them. We have a notable instance for this, where Moses in the name of God testifying against the people of Israel, that when they come into Canaan, they do not fall off from God, useth this expression, “For I know their imagination, which they go about even now, before I have brought them into the land which I swear” unto them (Deut. 31:21). God did before they come into Egypt, see what was working in their imaginations, what they were making and fashioning in their hearts. In which sense some expound that place of the Psalmist, “Thou knowest my thoughts afar off” (Ps. 139:2). And this is good and profitable for us to consider, we many times wonder to see how such gross and loathsome sins can come even from the godly themselves.

Alas, marvel not at it, these serpents and toads were a long while breeding in the imagination. The pleasure or profit of such a sin was often fancied before. It was again and again committed in thy thoughts before it was expressed in thy life, so that a man can never live unblameably in his life that doth not keep his imagination pure and clean. Hence you have so often evil thoughts complained of as the root of all bitterness, Jer. 4:14. “How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee?” Mat. 15:19. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts.” As exhalations and vapors ascending from the earth, which are scarce perceptible, yet at last are congealed into thick and dismal clouds, so those sins which while in the thoughts and imagination were scarce taken notice of, do at last grow into soul and enormous transgressions.


Many times sin is acted by the Imagination with delight and content, without any relation at all to the external acts of sin.

Thirdly, the sinfulness of the imagination is further to be amplified in that many times sin is acted with delight and content there, without any relation at all to the external acts of sin. So that a man while unblameable in his life, may yet have his imagination like a cage of unclean birds. And this is commonly done when there are external impediments, or some hindrances of committing the sin outwardly. The fear of men’s laws, outward reproach and shame, want of opportunity, may keep men off from the outward committing of some lust, when yet at the same time their imaginations have the strong impressions of sin upon them, and so in their souls become guilty before God. The adulterous man, is not his imagination full of uncleanness? The proud man, is not his fancy lifted with high and towering conceits? As the Apostle Peter speaketh of some whose eyes were full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin (2 Pet. 2:14), or as some read it according to the original [adulteress] imagination made them have her in their eyes continually, though absent, for if their eyes were, their imaginations also must necessarily be, because of the immediate natural connection between them.

So then when there are no outward sores or ulcers to be seen upon a man’s life, yet his imagination may be a noisome dunghill, what uncleanness fancied, what high honours imagined, that whereas thou art restrained from the acts of sin, yet thy heart burneth like an oven with lusts inwardly. It is the emphatic similitude that the Holy Ghost useth, “They have made ready their heart like an oven” (Hosea 7:6). The meaning is that as the oven heated is ready to bake anything put therein, so was the heart of those evil men prepared for any kind of naughtiness. Some understand it of the adultery of the body only, as if that were the sin intended by the Prophet. Others, of the spiritual adultery of the soul, by which name idolatry is often called in Scripture. Others refer it to both. We may take it to be a proverbial expression, denoting the readiness of a man’s heart to commit any sin, that it lieth in the heart and the imagination day and night, men highly sinning against God inwardly, when outwardly they are restrained.

Know then that when the grace of sanctification shall renew thy spirit, soul and body, thou wilt then be very careful to look to thy very imagination, that no tickling fancies or conceits of any lust do defile thee. Thou wilt keep thy imagination as a precious cabinet wherein precious pearls shall be treasured up, not dirt and filth. As we fitly use an expression concerning delight in sin, that it is the rolling of honey under the tongue, so there is a rolling of sin in the imagination with great titillation and pleasure. When sin cannot be committed in action, we do it in our imagination. Hence it is that by the imagination old men become guilty of their youthful lusts, when they have not bodies to be as instrumental to filthiness as they have been, yet in their imaginations they can revive their by-past sins many years ago committed. Thus men became (as it were) perpetual sinners in their imaginations. Consider of this more seriously, and pray for an holy, chaste, and pure imagination. Knowing thou hast to do with an omniscient God that knoweth what is working therein, though it be hid from the world besides. Think not sinful imaginations will escape the vengeance of God, though no suitable operations of impiety do accompany them.


Its Propensity to all evil, both towards God, and towards man.

Ninth, our imagination is naturally corrupted because of its propensity to all evil, both towards God, and towards man. And

First, Towards God.

Let us take up that which was but glanced at before, and that is how prone we are to provoke God in his worship, declining from the true rule, and merely because of our imaginations. The pleasing of them hath been the cause of all that displeasure which God ever had in his Church concerning the worshiping of him. No sin doth more provoke God than the corrupting of his worship, to adulterate this is to meddle with the apple of his eye. God beareth other sins a long while till his worship become to be corrupted, and then he will endure no longer. Now the original of all sinfulness in this kind hath been our imagination, we have not attended to what God hath commanded. We regard not his institutions, but our own fancies, the pleasing of them.

Hence when God promiseth a restoration to the people of Israel, and a reformation from their former idolatries, he saith, “neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart” (Jer. 3:17). It was this imagination carried them out to idolatry, whence came those goodly images, those glorious altars, and many other superstitious ways of worship. But because the fancy was pleased herein, what is pleasing to the senses is also carried with delight to the imagination. Insomuch that those Heathens, Numa and others, who would have no images to adore their gods by, thinking it unbecoming their greatness, were carried by reason and did not give way to the imagination [c.f. The Second Commandment and the Light of Nature]. And this is a very necessary truth, for all such who are so difficulty taken off from their idolatries and superstitions, for what is it but thy fancy thou wouldst have satisfied, thou doest not look upon ordinances and the worship of God as spiritual means to quicken thy faith, and to make thee more spiritual, but as that whereby thou wouldst have thy imagination take some corporeal refreshment and satisfaction. Even Aristotle saw the vanity of this, and therefore would not have any musical delights in the worship of their Heathenish gods. And Aquinas following him herein, is against musical instruments in the service of God. What God appointed in the Old Testament cannot be brought as an argument for any such custom in the New.

Secondly, Towards man.

Here the imagination is as full of evil as the sea of water. One of the seven things that are there said to be an abomination unto the Lord, “an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” (Prov. 6:18). How crafty and subtle is the imagination of man to devise wicked and malicious purposes? This is the forge of all those malicious bloody and crafty designs that ever have been acted in the world. Read over profane and sacred histories, and there you will admire what subtle foxes men have been sometimes, what cruel lions they have been at other times. All which doth arise from this sinful imagination, which is prone to find out all manner of ways to vent the wickedness that is bound up in the heart. So that we need not exclaim on the Devil, as if he put this into their hearts, for though no doubt sometimes he doth, as in Judas, yet the heart of itself is ready for any evil.


It continually invents new sins, or occasions of sins.

Although much hath been said concerning the original pollution of man’s imagination, yet still more is to be discovered. There is a resemblance between man’s imagination and those chambers of imagery which Ezekiel beheld in a vision, upon the walls thereof were portrayed the form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel (Ezek. 8:9-12). Thus is every man’s imagination a table (as it were) whereon are pictured all the forms and shapes of all kind of evil. It may well be called the chamber of man’s imagery where are images of jealousy daily created, such forms received that do provoke God to wrath and jealously. Let us therefore proceed.

Tenthly, in this we have an open field wherein man’s imagination doth act numberless evils, because of its invention it is continually inventing new sins or occasions of sins. As if the old sins and trespasses which had filled the world were not enough. What new ways of impiety are invented, new fancies in evil ways? For although invention be indeed principally an act of the understanding, yet because (as you heard) the understanding in its operations hath recourse to the imagination, and that is subservient and under-agent to it, therefore we may attribute the same things to both, especially the things of invention, because a man’s imagination hath a peculiar influence therein. Now in this respect, if there were no other, the sins of the imagination will increase like the sands upon the seashore. It were possible to shew, by going over every particular commandment, that the imagination of man doth constantly invent new sins against them.

The apostasy of man from his first rectitude is emphatically described by Scripture in this, as the general and sum of all, that he “sought out many inventions” (Ecc. 7:29). Where the wise man having declared that amongst men and women, though less amongst women, one not so much as good in an ethical and moral sense could be found. For in a spiritual sense there is not one man amongst a thousand, no not in all mankind, that is good, but he speaketh of external and moral, inquiring then after the cause, why such an universal corruption should overflow all mankind. Insomuch that there is not one amongst a thousand that deserveth the name of a man, not such an one as the primitive righteousness did require, but not so much as reason judging rightly by ethical rules would commend, he doth clear God from being the author of this.

And because this truth is of such great consequence, he useth a word of attention Ecce [Lo], consider it diligently. And secondly, he telleth you how he came to the knowledge of it, I have found it (viz.) in the Word of God, where you see this doctrine concerning original corruption is not to be investigated by human reason, as it is discovered by divine revelation. I have found it after much and diligent study. Oh that those corrupt teachers, who deny this original pravity, could with Solomon say they have at last after much study found out this truth also! Now the doctrine found out is that God made man right, full of righteousness and holiness, not only negatively without sin, but positively, full of righteousness.

But they,” that is Adam and Eve, which are called the man Adam in the words preceding, not being contented with that measure of knowledge and happiness God created them in, affecting to be like God. “Sought out many inventions,” that is, found out many ways of sinning, when they once forsook the strait rule, they diverted and wandered into many crooked paths. The Hebrew word chishbonoth [inventions] is very emphatic, it is used but once more in the Old Testament, and that is 2 Chron. 26:15, where it is said Uzziah used engines invented by cunning men, to shoot arrows and great stones withal. So that by this word is denoted that subtlety and great artifice which is in man’s imagination to invent any evil way, sins that never were acted before are found out. Every age almost hath new sins, and whence is this but from the subtlety of man’s imagination to find out new ways of sinning?

Hence Rom. 1:30, one character in the catalog of those sins attributed to the Heathens, is to be “inventors of evil things.” And certainly here the imagination of man is very prone, that whereas to learn trades or the Arts, they must have teachers, and much time must be allowed them to learn. In the invention of evil things there men are taught of their own corrupt hearts to do so. We might instance in divers things, wherein the sinful imagination of man is discovered about inventing of evil, new sins, new oaths, new blasphemies, new ways of cheating and dishonesty, especially in those new ways for nourishing pride, and wantonness. Which is the ridiculous, absurd, and uncivil fashions in apparel and deportments of body, which are truly and properly the genuine issue of the sinful fancies of men.

The ape being a creature of strong imagination, but wanting reason doth strive to imitate more than any other creature. And thus it is an argument that that man’s imagination and fancy are far greater than their wisdom and prudence, who are ambitiously ready to imitate every foolish and childish fashion that men’s corrupt imaginations have produced. Look upon all the several fashions, all the changes and mutabilities, which are in men’s and women’s apparel, and you will presently be persuaded that their imaginations are corrupted. From this also ariseth the use of auxiliary beauty, painting, spotting, etc. and which is the highest aggravation of our sinfulness. Herein we do not only conform to such foolish and indecent fashions, but we plead for the lawfulness thereof. But remember to let Scriptural gravity, modesty, and chastity be more powerful in thy heart, and manifested in thy garments and gestures, than the sinful impressions of unjustifiable fashions upon thy imagination. To how many transforming themselves into the new guises and modes of the times they live in, if the gravity of the minister would permit it as well, as the vanity of the subject deserve it, may you apply Martial’s verse, “Si mihi cauda foret, Cercopithermeram.” Bassianus the Emperor did so greatly degenerate into effeminateness, that he would not only conform to women’s attire, but would also make his name feminine, he would be called Bassiana not Bassianus.

By this you see how corrupt fancies will make men degenerate from the gravity and prudence of a man, much more the holy deportment of a Christian, this is to shew that all the sinful fashions and ridiculous ones which are in apparel, gesture, and otherwise come from the imaginations of men defiled. To this head also is to be referred all those new amorous songs, all sinful comedies and plays, with a world of such kind of impiety, that the imagination of man hath the greatest share therein, so careful are we how we please that, how we walk according to that in everything.


The Sinfulness of the Imagination manifests itself in reference to the Word of God, and the Ministerial Preaching thereof.

Eleventh, the sinful imagination of a man doth in a great measure manifest itself in reference to the Word of God, and the ministerial preaching thereof. Here it discovers much enmity and contrariety to what is godly. For the Word itself, how greatly is the imagination offended thereat, both in respect of the style and the matter? The language is not so embellished and polished that the fancy should delight therein. This hath been a rock of offense to many great but unsanctified wits. They have disdained the simplicity of the style, and affected a more gaudy oratory. This is the sin of the fancy chiefly. Augustine in his Confessions doth much bewail his pride and tumor [bombast in language] in this particular. He disdained to become like a little child and to lay aside the admiration of human eloquence by which he was so much puffed up. What profaneness and the love to their filthy lusts do to some in making them opposite to Scripture ways.

The same doth an unmortified fancy, especially where there are learning and parts in others. Even as we see Christ became a stumbling block to many, because he came not in that external dignity and pomp of a King which they desired. Thus also it is with the Scriptures, because they are not in such pleasing words, such florid expressions as their imagination would have. Hence it is they take no delight in the reading of them, or in meditating therein, whereas they are never satisfied in reading of Comedies, Histories that are full of delight and exact language, in reading of Poetry and Romances, thou readest (it may be) not one chapter in the Bible to many of these. Oh do thou humble thyself under that vain and proud fancy, it is a great enemy to thy conversion! If ever God open thy eyes, thou wilt with Augustine bewail thy folly herein, and at last regard fruit more than leaves, substances more than shadows.

This was also Jerome’s temptation to be much enamored with human oratory, and therefore speaks of himself, what terrors, yea bodily smart he was in, hearing a voice at the same time, saying, Ciceronianus es non Christianus [Cicero is not Christian]. I do not speak this as if human oratory and eloquence were not lawful, yea where it is well used it is an excellent gift of God. Cyprian and others carried this Egyptian gold out of Egypt to Canaan. Chrysostom, Nazianzen, Basil, were so many divine [Orpheus‘s?] to change the natures of beastly men. Therefore it may lawfully be used where God giveth it. Hence in the Scripture we have metaphors and similitudes, yea Christ is full of parables, which do in their nature please the fancy representing spiritual things by sensible. But then we must be sure that we stay not in this eloquence, that it be not like music affecting the ear for a while, having no operation at all, as Ezekiel’s preaching was to his hearers, but it is to be like the sugar that maketh us swallow down the bitter pills more willingly. To admire the artifice of a cup, and never drink of the liquor within, is a childish vanity. To be affected with the words and language of a minister, and not to consider what wholesome food it is to thee, whether it be the bread of life to thee or no, is absurd impiety.

As the proud fancy of a man is thus offended at the Word of God, so also it is at the preaching thereof in a solid and substantial manner in a soul-saving way. This is not according to a man’s fancy, which looketh for pleasure not profit. Augustine confessed this also in himself, that he did with great delight go to hear Ambrose preach, not that he regarded the spiritual matter and heavenly truths delivered, but because of the eloquence and pleasing elocution which Ambrose had. Though it is true, such was the goodness of God to Augustine, that though hearing Ambrose only for eloquence sake, yet secretly some power of truth was instilled in him, which made to his conversion. So that from looking to the art in the sermon, he came at last to mind the grace of God in it. Even as it is said of Apelles, that by his often beholding and looking on the woman, whose picture he was drawing, though at first he minded his art only, yet secretly love did creep into his affections at the same time, which made him languish away, till Alexander helped her to him as his wife.

But though admiration of gifts and oratory may sometimes thus be blessed, yet commonly it is otherwise, and the inclination of such a fancy is to reject with scorn and contempt the powerful preaching of the Gospel without words of man’s wisdom, as a most low and despicable thing. Thus the preaching of Christ crucified was foolishness to the Gentiles, who gloried in human literature, 1 Cor. 1:23. Though it is true, God will by these weak things bring to naught the great admired things of the world. Thus 2 Cor. 10:5, the ministerial weapons of the Gospel are mighty through God, to pull down strong holds, and to cast down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself, as cannon-shot doth strong Castles. By this of the Apostle you see the imaginations of men raise up strong and mighty opposition against the Word preached, though the Word of God set home by his own power overcometh everything that doth withstand it. It is good then, especially for men of quick parts and raised fancies to suspect themselves, to fear lest from them arise all their destruction, lest these be the bolts and bars that keep Christ out from possessing of their hearts.


It is more affected with Appearances then Realities.

Twelfth, the sinfulness of the imagination is seen in that it is more affected with the appearance of things than the reality, yea we do wholly satisfy ourselves with things as they are in our fancy only, and never attain to what is really good or happy. Our comforts are but imaginary comforts, our delights but imaginary delight, yea our wealth, our honours are but in imagination only. It’s usual with the Scripture to speak of the nations of the world comparatively to God as a drop, as a little dust. How often is a man’s life compared to a shadow? Insomuch that neither our life and delight are worthy of the name. All the things of this world are but in imagination. What seemeth to be more substantial than wealth, which is said to answer all things? Yet Solomon saith, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?” (Prov. 23:5). Wilt thou cause thine eyes to fly upon it?, is in the original. It sheweth our ardent desires after that thing which is not.

Hence a wicked man in his greatest triumph and glory is compared but to a dream, “He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found” (Job 20:8). All the while we pursue riches, honours, all the while our hearts are hastening after the creatures, we are but in a dream. What is true riches? What is true food? What is true glory? We miss and embrace only a shadow. This is notably represented by the Prophet, Isa. 29:8. The enemies of the Church that had in their hopes and expectations devoured Zion, are compared to an hungry man that dreameth he eateth, but when he is awakened his soul is empty. Thus it is in all these worldly enjoyments, this life is but a dream, we are not awoken till we come within the borders of eternity. Oh that this were truly considered, how greatly would it mortify that inordinateness in us to these fading things? When the child rejoiceth in his bauble, it is but his imagination that is pleased, his counters he taketh for money, it is but his fancy that contents him. And truly no more are all the great things of the world in respect of God and eternal things.


The sinfulness of the Imagination in respect of fear, and the workings of Conscience.

13. As the imagination makes us rejoice and account ourselves happy when there is no solid foundation for it, so on the other side: When the conscience is awakened for sin, many times the imagination doth work so terribly, and filleth us with such sad apprehensions, that we fear where no fear is, we flee when none pursueth. So that a disturbed imagination doth many times work with the troubles of conscience, hindering both the working of our judgment, and of faith, representing God and Christ to us far otherwise then they are. Job complaineth that God did scare him with dreams (7:14). Oh it is very sad, and a grievous condition, when God shall turn a man’s fancy against his own self. To have our conscience against us, and our imaginations against us is an Hell upon earth, and it is just with God to fill these imaginations that once received nothing but lustful and pleasant impressions with terrible and dreadful ones, and both these ways draw from God, both joyful delights, and terrible apprehensions! That great change which we read made upon Nebuchadnezzar, who from a great monarch of the world is become like a beast living amongst them, his hairs being grown like eagle’s feathers, and his nails like bird’s claws, was nothing else (as many expositors judge) but a judgment brought upon his reason and imagination by a deep melancholy. So that the terrors of a troubled imagination (especially when joined with troubles of conscience) do drive from Christ, oppose the comfortable way of the Gospel, as well as proud and unclean motions do the pure and holy way thereof.


Of the Acts of the Imagination in Dreams.

In the fourteenth place, herein the pollution of it doth manifest itself: When the senses and the rational part are bound up, so that they cease from operation, even then that is acting, and most commonly in a sinful manner by dreams. Dreams are the proper work of the imagination, and divines do make three sorts of them, natural dreams, which arise from natural causes, and these commonly either have much sinfulness in them, or great troublesomeness. Diabolical, such as are cast into the imagination by the Devil. Or Divine, such as are caused by God, for the Spirit of God hath used the imagination in some operations thereof. Thus Joseph and others were warned by God in a dream. In Joel 2 the promise is that their young men should dream dreams. These Divine dreams Tertullian (Lib. 3. de animâ) doth divide into Prophetica, such as are merely fore-telling things to come; Revelatoria, such as reveal something to be done, as Peter’s vision concerning Cornelius; Edificatoria, such as build up to any holy duty; And Vocatoria, that call to some spiritual service, as that vision of Paul inviting him to come into Macedonia. Concerning diabolical dreams they are not a man’s sins but afflictions, unless a man doth directly or indirectly consent thereunto, or walk so that he deserveth God should leave him to such unclean or polluted apprehensions.

But we speak of natural dreams, and not such as are merely natural, that arise from some natural cause, but such as have had some voluntariness antecedent thereunto, while waking. Such now are proud dreams, malicious dreams, unclean and unjust dreams. All these do either expressly or virtually come from a polluted imagination while we are awake, though happily we cannot remember any such thoughts we had. The sinfulness then of our dreams we are to be humbled under, as coming from sin the cause, and being also sins in themselves. No doubt but Adam would have dreamed, (it being common to all mankind, only it is said of Nero, that he seldom or never dreamed till after the murder of Agrippina, after which he was afrighted with terrible ones; As also of the Atalantes, that none dream amongst them. Though Tertullian saith, Perhaps same did deceive Aristotle in that report), yet his dreams had been merely natural, not having the least connection of any sin, or any disquieting with them.

But how greatly is confusion brought upon us in this very respect? Insomuch that what the Devil cannot tempt to, while waking, he doth allure unto, while dreaming. Indeed it is folly and superstition (as many people do) to regard dreams so as to make conjectures and prophesies thereby, but so to observe them as to take notice of the filthiness and sinfulness of them, that is a duty, for although the reason and the will do not operate at that time, yet there is sin in our dreams, because they are the effects of the sinful motions of thy soul sometimes or other. Let it then be thy care to have pure and sanctified imaginations both dreaming and waking, and do nothing that may provoke the Spirit of God to leave thee to the defilements thereof.


It is not in that orderly Subordination to the rational part of man, as it was in the Primitive Condition.

15. The imagination is hereby deprived that it is not now in that orderly subordination to the rational part of man, as it was in its primitive condition. Everything in Adam was harmonious, he was not infested with needless and wandering imaginations. Even the birds of the air, as well as the beasts of the field God brought to Adam, that he should give names to them. The birds though flying in the air, yet come and submit to him, so it was in his soul. Those volatile imaginations and flying thoughts which might arise in Adam’s soul were all within his power and command, neither did any troublesomely interpose in his holy meditation. But now how predominant is thy imagination over thee? How are good thoughts and bad thoughts conjoined, as there were clean and unclean beasts at the same time in the Ark? Especially doest thou not labor and groan under thy wandering imaginations, even in thy best duties, and when thy heart is in the best frame? Is not this the great question thou propoundest to thyself: How may I be freed from wandering thoughts and roving imaginations in my addresses to God? Oh that I were directed how to clip the wings of these birds, for they are my burden and my heavy load all the day long?

Surely the experience of this in thyself may teach thee what a deep and mortal wound Original Sin hath given every part of thee. Hadst thou the Image of God in the full perfection of it, as Adam once had, as Christ’s human nature had, and as we shall have when glorified in Heaven, then there would not be one wandering thought, one roving imagination left as a thorn in thy side to offend and grieve thee? This imagination being of such a subtle and quick motion, doth presently fly from one thing to another, runneth from one object to another, so that hereby a great deal of sin is committed in the very twinkling of an eye. The soul indeed being finite in his essence, cannot think of all things together, but not to consider that which it ought to do, or to rove to one object, when it should be fastened on another. This is not a natural, but a sinful infirmity thereof.


It is according to Augustine’s judgment the great Instrument of conveying Original Sin to the child.

16. The imagination is so greatly polluted, that according to Augustine’s judgment, it is the great instrument of conveying Original Sin to the child. For when he is pressed to shew how Original Sin cometh to be propagated, how the soul can be infected from the flesh, though this be not his chief answer, yet he doth in part run to this (viz.) the powerful effect of the imagination. The vehement affection and lust in the parent is according to him the cause of a libidinous disposition in the child. Hereupon he instanceth in the fact of Jacob, who by working upon the imagination of the females, did by the parti-coloured sticks produce such a color in their young ones [Gen. 30]. Yea one thinketh, that this instance was by a special providence of God, chiefly to represent how Original Sin might be propagated from parents to children. And it cannot be denied but that many solid Philosophers and Physicians do grant that the imagination hath a special influence upon the body, and the child in the womb to make great immutation and change. Augustine instanceth (lib 5. contra Julian. cap. 9) in the King of Cyrus, who would have a curious picture of exquisite beauty in his chamber for his wife to look upon in the time of her conception. Yea histories report strange, and it may be very fabulous things herein, therefore we are not to run to this of the imagination when we would explain the traduction of this sin. It is true, some inbred qualities are many times transfused from parents to children, parents subject to the gout and stone have children also subject to such diseases, and blackmores do always beget blackmores, and so no doubt but in the conveying of Original Sin there is a seminal influence, but how and in what manner it is hard to discover. But though the corrupt imagination cannot be the cause, yet it may in some sense dispose for the propagating of it.


How prone it is to receive the Devil’s Impressions and Suggestions.

Lastly, the imagination is greatly polluted in that it is so ready and prone to receive the Devil’s impressions and suggestions. When we lost original righteousness, which is the Image of God, not only Original Sin like an universal leprosy did succeed in the room thereof, but the Devil also did thereupon seize upon us as his own. Our souls and all the parts and powers thereof are his habitation. He reigneth in the hearts of all by nature, we are all his captives. So that as a man is said to dwell in his own house, it is his home, he may do what he will, such a right and claim hath the Devil to a man’s soul by nature, he dwells in it, he moveth and reigneth in it. Now the imagination is that room of the soul wherein he doth often appear.

Indeed (to speak exactly) the Devil hath no efficient power over the rational part of a man, he cannot change the will, he cannot alter the heart of a man, neither doth he know the thoughts of a man, so that the utmost he can do in tempting of a man to sin, is by suasion and suggestion only. But then how doth the Devil do this? Even by working upon the imagination. Learned men make this his method, that he observeth the temper and bodily constitution of a man, and thereupon suggests to his fancy, and injects his fiery darts there-into, by which the mind and will come to be wrought upon. For it is Aristotle’s rule that Phantasmata movent intellectum, sicut sensila sensum, as the object of sense being present, doth presently move the sense, so do phantasms and imaginations move the understanding. The Devil then, though he hath no imperious efficacy over thy will, yet because he can thus stir and move thy imagination, and thou being naturally destitute of grace canst not withstand these suggestions; hence it is that any sin in thy imagination, though but in the outward works of the soul, yet doth quickly lay hold on all.

And indeed by this means do arise those horrible delusions that are in many erroneous ways of religion, all is because their imaginations are corrupted. Yea, how often are these diabolical illusions of the imagination taken for the gracious operations of God’s Spirit? Divines give many excellent rules, how we may discern between those delusions of the imagination by Satan, and the savory workings of God’s Spirits in illumination, and consolations. It is not my purpose to enter on that subject, only bewail and humble thyself under this, that the Devil hath such command over thy fancy, that he can so quickly dart in like so much lightning so many unclean or blasphemous imaginations. It is from hence that many have pretended to Enthusiasms, that regard dreams, that they leave the Scripture, and wholly attend to what they perceive and feel within them. And thus much for the opening of this noisome dunghill also.


Some Corollaries from the Premises.

Now from the corruption which you have heard of all the parts of the soul both the rational and sensitive part of a man conjoined together, we may see the unspeakable misery of man in these particulars. Oh that every auditor would smite upon his breast and say, O Lord I am the man thus polluted! O Lord all this poison and pollution lieth here! For:

First, in having all the powers of the soul thus defiled, both superior and inferior, hereby man hath lost all liberty, and is become a miserable slave and vassal to sin and Satan. For whereas man was made only to serve God, and by love to cleave to him, the creature is come in his room, and thereby man is enslaved in his affections to these temporal things only. So that we do very improperly say that a man is the Master or the Lord of such an estate, of such an house, for indeed he is a slave to them, Fiunt servi, dum domini esse desiderant, as Augustine, while thou dost so earnestly desire to be master of such an estate, thou art indeed made a servant to it. But remember thou canst not serve God and the creature, these are two contrary masters.

Secondly, he hath by this pollution lost all true judgment to discern of things, he doth not know what are the best things, yea he doth grossly misjudge, he prefereth earth before gold, dross before pearls. The natural man cannot discern spiritual things, because he wants a spiritual eye. He mistaketh about God, he misjudgeth about true blessedness, he is deceived about the true nature of godliness, so that he can no more judge of these things, than a worm can of Angelic actions. The Apostle speaketh fully to this, 1 Cor. 2:14-15. Thus we are become like children, yea natural fools as to spiritual things. When we are invited to this feast, we pretend excuses; when Christ is tendered to us, we had rather keep our swine; when exhorted to labor for everlasting bread and riches and an eternal crown of glory, we had rather have our barley-corn than all these. Thus we have lost all spiritual judgment and will not part with our Babels, though for an inheritance in Heaven.

Thirdly, a man being thus in his intellectual and affectionate parts of his soul carried out only to these earthly things, and from God, hence is it that he is (as it were) made one with them. We may say, earth thou art not only in respect of thy body, but also of thy soul. For if the Apostle say (1 Cor. 6:17), “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” may we not also say, he that is joined to sin, to creatures, is made (as it were) the same with them. Although (saith Augustine) the mind when it inclineth to these bodily things is not made corpus, a body, yet by these appetites and desires quodammodo corporascit, it doth (as it were) become bodily. It is as if a mighty prince should come from his throne of glory, and wallow in the mire like a swine. This is our state comparatively to that primitive happiness and holiness. We are now no better than those lusts and those creatures that we do adhere unto. Junge cor tuun aternitati Dei, & cum ille aeternus eris; and again, Si terram amas terra es; Thou art in God’s account that which thy heart is set upon. Oh then, God cannot look upon thee as his primitive creature, he seeth his image and superscription defaced, and another brought in the stead thereof very loathsome and deformed. Even as they that worshiped idols are said to be like them, to become as abominable, yea and as senseless, and as stupid as they are, so it is in this case [Ps. 115:8].

Fourthly, from hence also ariseth that impossibility of loosing ourselves from the creature to return again to God from whom we fell. Had not the Lord shewed mercy to some of mankind, none of them could ever have recovered out of their lost estate, no more than the Devils can to that habitation which they forsook. All these creatures are the bird-lime that now hinder the wings of the soul from flying to Heaven. Oh that we could say “the snare is broken, and we are escaped” [Ps. 124:7]. Who will give me wings that I may fly as a dove, and my soul find rest with God!

Yea as a man hath no power to break these bonds of sin, so neither hath he any desire, for he is kept thus fast joined to sin by delight and by pleasure, so that the more sin and the creatures delight him, the more strongly is he possessed. Samson was as much under Delilah’s power, though it was by his delight and consent, as when under the Philistines by force and constraint. The will and affections of man are hereby so glued to sin and the creature that nothing is more offensive and troublesome to them, than to be divided from these things. So that whereas David having experience of the sweetness of God’s favor, saith, “It is good for me to draw near to God” (Ps. 73:28). They (on the contrary) judge it their greatest good to draw nigh to, and possess the creature. Hence

In the fifth place, there is that difficulty in man to bear the want of the pleasures of sin, and the delight of the creatures, yea the exceeding great sorrow under the losing of them. Were not man fallen from that glorious state of holiness and enjoyment of God, he could not so sadly deplore and bewail the loss of any creature, no more than a man should be troubled to have the Moon taken away when the Sun is in the room thereof. But because, when fallen from God, we center upon these earthly things, therefore it is that as we have inordinate delight in the possessing of them, so immoderate sorrow in the losing of them. For that is a true rule about all these things, Non est earendo difficultas, nisi cum in habendo est cupiditas. Now all this trouble and perplexing grief ariseth from the pollution of the soul being destitute of that glorious Image.

Sixthly, man having lost the Image of God thus in his soul, hence it is that he liveth a wretched unstable and unquiet life. For being off in his heart from God, he therefore is tossed up and down according to the mutability of every creature. Hence no man having no more than what he hath by Adam, can live any quiet, secure, and peaceable life, but is tossed up and down with contrary winds, sometimes fears, sometimes hope, sometimes joy, sometimes sorrow, so that he is never in the haven, but always floating upon the waters. Thus miserable is a man’s life till the Image of God be repaired in him.

Lastly, from this universal pollution upon a man, it followeth that he abuseth every good thing he hath, that he sinneth in all things, and by all things. That whether he eateth or drinketh, whether he buyeth or selleth, he cannot refer any one of these to the ultimate end, which is God’s glory, but to inferior and self-respects. Oh wretched and miserable estate, wherein thou hast abused every mercy God hath given thee to his dishonor and thy damnation! Thou hast turned all thy honey into gall and poison. Thou wast never able to fulfill that command, 1 Cor. 7. So to use the world as not to abuse it. Thy meat, thy raiment, thy health, thy wealth, they have all been abused. Neither hath God been glorified, or the salvation of thy soul promoted thereby.


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