Directions Against Sinful Dreams

Directions Against Sinful Dreams

Richard Baxter
Practical Works
vol. 2, pp. 469-472

Directions against Sinful Dreams.

Dreams are neither good nor sinful simply in themselves, because they are not rational and voluntary, nor in our power: but they are often made sinful by some other voluntary act: they may be sinful by participation and consequently. And the acts that make them sinful, are either such as go before, or such as follow after.

1. The antecedent causes are any sinful act which distempereth the body, or any sin which inclineth the fantasy and mind thereto; or the omission of what was necessary to prevent them.

2. The causes which afterwards make them objectively sinful, are the ill uses that men make of them: as when they take their dreams to be divine revelations, and trust to them, or are affrighted by them as ominous, or as prophetical; and make them the ground of their actions, and seduce themselves by the phantasms of their own brains.

Direct. 1. ‘Avoid those bodily distempers as much as you can, which cause sinful dreams, especially fulness of diet.’

A full stomach causeth troublesome dreams, and lustful dreams: and hath its ill effects by night and by day.

Direct. 2. ‘Endeavour the cure of those sinful distempers of the mind which cause sinful dreams.’

The cure of a worldly mind, is the best way to cure worldly, covetous dreams: and the cure of a lustful heart, is the best way to cure lustful dreams: and so of the rest: cleanse the fountain, and the waters will be the sweeter day and night.

Direct. 3. ‘Suffer not your thoughts, or tongue, or actions to run sinfully upon that in the day, which you would not dream sinfully of in the night.’

Common experience telleth us, that our dreams will be apt to follow our foregoing thoughts, and words, and deeds. If you think most frequently and affectionately of that which is good, you will dream of that which is good. If you think of lustful, filthy objects, or speak of them, or meddle with them, you will dream of them: and so of covetous and ambitious dreams. And they that make no conscience to sin waking, are not like much to scruple sinning in their sleep.

Direct. 4. ‘Commend yourselves to God by prayer before you take your rest, and beseech him to set a guard upon your fantasy when you cannot guard it.’

Cast the cure upon him, and fly to him for help by faith and prayer in the sense of your insufficiency.

Direct. 5. ‘Let your last thoughts still before your sleep, be holy, and yet quieting and consolatory thoughts.’

The dreams are apt to follow our last thoughts. If you betake yourselves to sleep with worldliness or vanity in your minds, you cannot expect to be wiser or better when you are asleep, than when you are awake. But if you shut up your day’s thoughts with God, and sleep find them upon any holy subject, it is like to use them as it finds them. Yet if it be distrustful, unbelieving, fearful thoughts which you conclude with, your dreams may savour of the same distemper. Frightful and often sinful dreams do follow sinful doubts and fears. But if you sweeten your last thoughts with the love of Christ, and the remembrance of your former mercies, or the foresight of eternal joys, or can confidently cast them and yourselves upon some promise, it will tend to the quietness of your sleep, and to the savouriness of your dreams: and if you should die before morning, will it not be most desirable, that your last thoughts be holy?

Direct. 6. ‘When you have found any corruption appearing in your dreams, make use of them for the renewing of your repentance, and exciting your endeavours to mortify that corruption.’

A corruption may be perceived in dreams, 1. When such dreams as discover it are frequent: 2. When they are earnest and violent: 3. When they are pleasing and delightful to your fantasies: not that any certain knowledge can be fetched from them, but some conjecture as added to other signs. As if you should frequently, earnestly and delightfully dream of preferments and honours, or the favour of great men, suspect ambition, and do the more to discover and mortify it: if it be of riches, and gain, and money, suspect a covetous mind. If it be of revenge, or hurt to any man that you distaste, suspect some malice, and quickly mortify it: so if it be of lust, or feasting, or drinking, or vain recreations, sports and games, do the like.

Direct. 7. ‘Lay no greater stress upon your dreams than there is just cause.’

As 1. When you have searched, and find no such sin prevailing in you, as your dreams seem to intimate, do not conclude that you have more than your waking evidence discovers. Prefer not your sleeping signs before your waking signs and search. 2. When you are conscious that you indulge no corruption to occasion such a dream, suppose it not to be faulty of itself, and lay not the blame of your bodily temperament, or unknown causes upon your soul, with too heavy and unjust a charge. 3. Abhor the presumptuous folly of those that use to prognosticate by their dreams, and measure their expectations by them, and cast themselves into hopes or fears by them. Saith Diogenes, “What folly is it to be careless of your waking thoughts and actions, and inquisitive about your dreams? A man’s happiness or misery lieth upon what he doth when he is awake, and not upon what he suffereth in his sleep.

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