From Studies in the Scriptures Publication: November, 1939
"Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity: quicken Thou me in Thy way" (Psa. 119:37). The first request is for the removing of impediments to obedience, the other for addition of new degrees of grace. These two are fitly joined, for they have a natural influence upon one another: unless we turn away our eyes from vanity, we shall soon contract a deadness of heart. When our affections are alive to other things, they are dead to God; therefore the less we let loose our hearts to these things, the more lively and cheerful the work of obedience. On the other side, the more the vigour of grace is renewed and the habits of it quickened into actual exercise, the more is sin mortified and subdued.
1. It therefore concerns those that would walk with God to have their eyes turned away from worldly things. He that would be quickened, carried out with life and vigour in the ways of God, must first be mortified, die unto sin. Speaking of the fruits of Christ's death, the Apostle mentioned death unto sins before life unto righteousness (1 Peter 2:25). If any would live with Christ, first they must learn to die unto sin. It is impossible for sin and grace to thrive in the same subject.
2. One great means of mortification is guarding the senses--eyes and ears, taste and touch--that they may not betray the heart. I put it so general because the man of God that is so solicitous about his eyes would not be careless of his ears and other senses. We must watch on all sides. When an assault is made on a city, if one gate be open it is as good as if all were. The ingress and egress of sin is by the senses, and much of our danger lies there. There are many objects that agree with our distempers, and by them insinuate themselves into the soul, and therefore things long since seemingly dead will soon revive again and recover life and strength. There are no means to keep the heart unless we keep the eye. In every creature Satan has laid a snare for us, to steal away our hearts and affections from God. The senses are so ready to receive these objects from without to wound the heart, for they are as the heart is. If the heart be poisoned with sin, and became a servant to it, so are the senses of our bodies "weapons of unrighteousness" (Rom. 6:13). Objects have an impression upon them answerable to the temper and affections of the soul, and what it desires they pitch upon; and therefore if we let the senses wander, the heart will take fire.
3. Above all senses the eye must be guarded. First, because it is the noblest sense, given us for high uses. There is not only a natural eye to inform us of things profitable and hurtful for the natural man, but a spiritual use to set before us those objects that may stir us and raise our minds to heavenly meditations. By beholding the perfection of the creature we may admire the more eminent perfection of Him that made them: "the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psa. 19:1). "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhood" (Rom. 1:20). The perfections of the creature are to draw us to God, and its defects to drive us from themselves. The eye, as it is used, will either be a help or a snare: either it will let in the sparks of temptation, or enkindle the fire of true devotion. These are the windows which God has placed in the top of the building, that man from there may contemplate God's works and take a prospect of Heaven.
Second, because the eyes have a great influence upon the heart either to good or evil, but chiefly to evil. In this corrupt state of man, by looking we come to liking, and are brought inordinately to affect what we do behold. "Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye used to go a whoring" (Num. 15:39). "If my step hath turned out of the way, and my heart walk after mine eyes" (Job 31:7). These are the spies of the heart--brokers to bring it and the temptation together; the eye sees, and then by gazing the heart lusts, and the body acts the transgression. It is more dangerous to see evil than to hear it.--Thomas Manton, 1660.