WE HAVE all seen replicas of the little Japanese monkeys sitting in a row. The first has its paws over its eyes, signifying, See no evil. The second is covering its ears, denoting, Hear no evil. The third has its paws over its mouth, indicating, Speak no evil. The fourth-well, there isn't a fourth. But there ought to be! Someday some enterprising curio maker may add a fourth. It will be sitting beside the others with its paws over its forehead-Think no evil. And that will be the most important monkey of all.
For while it is essential that we see, hear, and speak no evil, evil itself has more to do with the mind than with the three faculties suggested by the curio. When we think no evil there is a good chance indeed that we can avoid seeing, hearing, and speaking evil.
The brain is the focus and center of our input and output. The eyes, ears, tongue, and other sensory organs are linked with the brain. The brain is the thought center. So what enters or leaves by the senses noted, and others, is connected with the mind and in some manner affects our thoughts.
A Link in Sin's Chain
Thought, then, is one of the links in the chain leading to sin. In his book Let Me Assure You, Edward W. H. Vick lists six steps leading from temptation to sin (pages 88-90).
The first is attention. "You see something, you hear something, you feel something, you think something" that tempts you to sin.
The second is considering. The first step, attention, is not sin. Sin may begin with the second link, consideration, or thought, about the matter that attracts attention . 65
It depends on the way the mind deals with the sight, sound, feeling, or thought, that decides whether the individual goes through the remaining steps--desire, decision, plan, and action.
And, of course, one does not have to get all the way through the steps to action before he has sinned, as Vick points out. To permit the third step, wrong desire, to develop is sin-"If a man looks on a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matt. 5:28, N.E.B.).
Thus, the temptation must be nipped in the bud at its very inception in the mind if we are to prevent its becoming sin. 66
It must not be entertained by the mind at all. Every suspicious-looking stimulus knocking at the mind's door must be met warily. And the instant it is recognized for what it is, a temptation to sin in any way, the door must be slammed in its face. There is no safety in being polite under the circumstances. Swift decision in the right direction is essential.
Expel Temptation Immediately
And if temptation arises, like a wraith, in the mind, it must instantly be expelled. 67 "Yielding to temptation begins in permitting the mind to waver, to be inconstant in your trust in God." -Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 92.
"By parleying with the enemy, we give him an advantage:" -The Desire of Ages, p. 121. Satan is the master salesman. Once we give him the opportunity to begin his sales talk we are half sold already. It is always easier to get rid of a salesman outside your door. Once he is inside and begins his sales pitch the task is much more difficult . 68
The thoughts must be bound about, restricted, withdrawn from branching out and contemplating things that only weaken and defile the soul. The thoughts must be pure, the meditations of the heart must be clean. -Review and Herald, June 12, 1888.
It has never been easy for the Christian to distinguish all the deceptive subtleties of Satan and men. He has always needed a perception sharpened by the Holy Spirit to distinguish, in many cases. But the need for this sanctified keenness has never been greater than today, for a hundred insidious voices from within and without the church speak with "cunning craftiness."
One aspect of this craftiness is illustrated by the late C. S. Lewis in his interesting little book The Screw tape Letters. There he points out that not only does Satan endeavor to fill our minds with evil thoughts but he also works to keep good thoughts from occupying them. We are all aware of the first fact, but it is possible that the second scarcely, if ever, enters our minds; for his efforts to keep us from virtuous thoughts will patently have to be more subtle than his attempts to make us think evil ones. We generally have little trouble knowing when someone is trying to force a matter upon us. But we do not always catch on so quickly when the person furtively tries to steal something or keep something from us.
Not a Mental Vacuum
So, maintaining an unsullied mind requires more than merely expelling evil thoughts. For if that were possible the result would be merely a mental vacuum. Obviously, the positive act of thinking good thoughts is also essential. In fact, the thinking of good thoughts is about the only feasible way in which a person can exclude bad thoughts, for just as in the physical world no two material substances can occupy the same space at the same time, so also in the mental sphere no two thoughts can occupy the same mind at the same time.
This idea is implicit in Paul's familiar words of exhortation: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).
If we would permit our minds to dwell more upon Christ and the heavenly world, we should find a powerful stimulus and support in fighting the battles of the Lord. Pride and love of the world will lose their power as we contemplate the glories of that better land so soon to be our home. Beside the loveliness of Christ, all earthly attractions will seem of little worth. -Messages to Young People, p. 113.
In these ideas we find one important reason why it is essential that we read and study our Bibles and the Spirit of Prophecy writings.
Mental discipline, such as is called for here, is not always easy. This is especially so if the thoughts have been permitted or encouraged for years to run in wrong channels, or simply to entertain any idea that happened along. 69
When the mind has been long permitted to dwell only on earthly things, it is a difficult matter to change the habits of thought. That which the eye sees and the ear hears too often attracts the attention and absorbs the interest. -Ibid.
But we need not struggle alone:
If they [men and women] are weak in virtue and purity of thoughts and acts, they can obtain help from the Friend of the helpless. Jesus is acquainted with all the weaknesses of human nature, and, if entreated, will give strength to overcome the most powerful temptations. All can obtain this strength if they seek for it in humility. -Child Guidance, pp. 466, 467.
Excluding Even Good Things
There is another thought that needs to be considered: There are some subjects, good in themselves, that the Christian cannot take time to become involved with.
We must turn away from a thousand topics that invite attention. There are matters that consume time and arouse inquiry, but end in nothing. The highest interests demand the close attention and energy that are so often given to comparatively insignificant things. -The Ministry of Healing, p. 456.
Life is short. Time is fleeting. Probation is brief. We have but a few years at most in which to perfect characters for eternity. Christ is coming. Our whole attention, all our efforts, must be governed by these thoughts. Ellen White says that we ought to live and act wholly with reference to the coming of the Son of man.
In our emphasis on mental discipline, there is one thought we must ever bear in mind.
Christ alone can direct the thoughts aright. He alone can give noble aspirations, and fashion the character after the divine similitude. If we draw near to Him in earnest prayer, He will fill our hearts with high and holy purposes, and with deep longings for purity and righteousness. -Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p.323.
Our major emphasis in this chapter has been on the need of closing the mind to every suggestion of evil. We also need to emphasize the importance of having a mind open to the truths of God found in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy writings.
In these sources we have truths upon which we can depend. We do not have to go to them as to other writings, with minds on guard to watch for possible error. In this respect we can relax.
Closed Minds, Open Minds
In fact, to the same degree that we should close our minds to all sinful thoughts, we should open them to the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy writings.
There will be times when we shall find, in our study of these books, ideas and requirements that will stir feelings of resistance in