GOD WANTS YOUR HEART!
Compiled from the works of A.W. Pink by Michael Jeshurun
The story is told of the little girl who wanted to make her father a present for his birthday. Each evening, instead of spending her usual time with her father, she worked on knitting him a scarf . . . and as a result nearly broke his heart! God may appreciate the little scarf you’re making for Him, but He’d rather have YOU!
And when we say He’d rather have YOU, we mean that He’d rather have your HEART! “My son, give Me thine HEART!” [Prov 23:26]
“Keep thy HEART with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” [Prov. 4:23].
The man is what his heart is. If THIS be dead to God, then nothing in him is alive. If THIS be right with God, all will be right. As the mainspring of a watch sets all its wheels and parts in motion, so as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). If the heart be right, the actions will be. As a man’s heart is, such is his state now and will be hereafter: if it be regenerated and sanctified there will be a life of faith and holiness in this world, and everlasting life will be enjoyed in the world to come. Therefore, “Rather look to the cleansing of thine heart, than to the cleansing of thy well; rather look to the feeding of thine heart, than to the feeding of thy flock; rather look to the defending of thine heart, than to the defending of thine house; rather look to the keeping of thine heart, than to the keeping of thy money” (Peter Moffat, 1570).
Rightly did the Puritan John Favel say, “The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition is the great business of a Christian’s life.” Now to “keep” the heart right implies that it has been SET RIGHT. Thus it was at regeneration, when it was given a new spiritual bent. True conversion is the heart turning from Satan’s control to God’s, from sin to holiness, from the world to Christ. To KEEP the heart right signifies the constant care and diligence of the renewed to preserve his soul in that holy frame to which grace has reduced it and daily strives to hold it. “Hereupon do all events depend: the heart being kept, the whole course of our life here will be according to the mind of God, and the end of it will be the enjoyment of Him hereafter. This being neglected, life will be lost, both here as unto obedience, and hereafter as to glory” (John Owen in ‘CAUSES OF APOSTASY‘).
To “keep” the heart means STRIVING TO SHUT OUT FROM IT ALL THAT IS OPPOSED TO GOD. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). God is a jealous God and will brook no rival; He claims the throne of our hearts, and requires to be loved by us supremely. When we perceive our affections being inordinately drawn out unto any earthly object, we are to fight against it, and “resist the devil.” When Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER of any” (1 Cor. 6:12), he signified that he was keeping his heart diligently, that he was jealous lest THINGS should gain that esteem and place in his soul which was due alone unto the Lord. A very small object placed immediately before the eye is sufficient to shut out the light of the sun, and trifling things taken up by the affections may soon sever communion with the Holy One.
Before regeneration our hearts were deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9): that was because the evil principle, the “flesh,” had complete dominion over them. But inasmuch as “the flesh” remains in us after conversion, and is constantly striving for the mastery over “the spirit,” the Christian needs to exercise a constant watchful jealousy over his heart, mindful of its readiness to be imposed upon, and its proneness unto a compliance with temptations. All the avenues to the heart need to be carefully guarded so that nothing hurtful enters therein, particularly against vain thoughts and imaginations, and especially in those seasons when they are apt to gain an advantage. For if injurious thoughts are suffered to gain an inroad into the mind, if we accustom ourselves to give them entertainment, then in vain shall we hope to be “spiritually minded” (Romans 8:6). All such thoughts are only making provision to fulfill the lusts of the flesh.
Thus, for the Christian to “keep” his heart with all diligence means for him to pay close attention to the direction in which his affections are moving, to discover whether the things of the world are gaining a firmer and fuller hold over him or whether they are increasingly losing their charm for him. God has exhorted us, “Set your affections on things ABOVE, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2), and the heeding of this injunction calls for CONSTANT examination of the heart to discover whether or not it is becoming more and more dead unto this deceitful and perishing world, and whether heavenly things are those in which we find our chief and greatest delight. “Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart” (Deut. 4:9).
To “keep” the heart means STRIVING TO BRING IT INTO CONFORMITY WITH THE WORD. We are not to rest content until an actual image of its pure and holy teachings is stamped upon it. Alas, so many today are just PLAYING with the solemn realities of God, allowing them to flit across their fancy, but never embracing and making them their own.
Why is it, dear reader, that those solemn impressions you had when hearing a searching sermon or reading a searching article so quickly faded away? Why did not those holy feelings and aspirations which were stirred within you last? Why have they borne no fruit? Was it not because you failed to see that your heart was duly affected by them? You failed to “hold fast” that which you had “received and heard” (Rev. 3:3), and in consequence your heart became absorbed again in “the cares of this life” or “the deceitfulness of riches,” and thus the Word was choked!
It is not enough to hear or read a powerful message from one of God’s servants, and to be deeply interested and stirred by it. If there be no diligent effort on your part, then it will be said that “your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” (Hosea 6:4). What, then, is required? THIS: earnest and persevering prayer that God will fasten the message in your soul as a nail in a sure place, so that the Devil himself cannot catch it away. What is required? THIS: “Mary kept all these things, and PONDERED them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Things which are not duly pondered are soon forgotten: meditation stands to reading as mastication does to eating. What is required? This: that you promptly PUT INTO PRACTICE what you have learned, walk according to the light God has given, or it will quickly be taken from you (Luke 8:18).
Not only must the outward actions be regulated by the Word, but THE HEART MUST ALSO BE CONFORMED THERETO. It is not enough to abstain from murder, the causeless anger must be put away. It is not enough to abstain from the act of adultery, the inward lust must be mortified too (Matt. 5:28). God not only takes note of and keeps a record of all our external conduct, but He “weighteth the spirits” (Prov. 16:2). Not only so, He requires US to scrutinize the springs from which our actions proceed, to examine our motives, to ponder THE SPIRIT in which we act. God requires truth — that is sincerity, reality — in “THE INWARD PARTS” (Psalm 51:6). Therefore does He command us, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life!”
To “keep” the heart means TO PRESERVE IT TENDER UNTO SIN. The unregenerate man makes little or no distinction between sin and crime; as long as he keeps within the law of the land, and maintains a reputation for respectability among his fellows, he is, generally speaking, quite satisfied with himself. But it is far otherwise with one who has been born again: he has been awakened to the fact that he has to do with GOD, and must yet render a full account unto Him. He makes conscience of a hundred things which the unconverted never trouble themselves about. When the Holy Spirit first convicted him he was made to feel that his whole life had been one of rebellion against God, of pleasing himself. The consciousness of this pierced him to the quick: his inward anguish far exceeded any pains of body or sorrow occasioned by temporal lapses. He saw himself to be a spiritual leper, and hated himself for it, and mourned bitterly before God. He cried, “Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:9, 10).
Now it is the duty of the Christian, and part of the task which God has set him, to see to it that THIS SENSE OF THE EXCEEDING SINFULNESS OF SIN BE NOT LOST. He is to labour daily that his heart be duly affected by the heinousness of self-will and self-love. He is steadfastly to resist every effort of Satan to make him pity himself, think lightly of wrongdoing, or excuse himself in the same. He is to live in the constant realization that THE EYE OF GOD IS EVER UPON HIM, so that when tempted he will say with Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin AGAINST GOD?” (Gen. 39:9). He is to view sin in the light of the Cross, daily reminding himself that it was HIS iniquities which caused the Lord of glory to be made a curse for him; employing the dying love of Christ as a motive why he must not allow himself in anything that is contrary to the holiness and obedience which the Saviour asks from all His redeemed.
Ah, my Christian reader, it is no child’s play to “keep the heart with all diligence.” The easy-going religion of our day will never take its devotees (or rather its victims!) to heaven. The question has been asked, “WHO shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or WHO shall stand in His Holy place?” and plainly has the question been answered by God Himself: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart,” etc. (Psalm 24:3, 4). Equally plain is the teaching of the New Testament, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for THEY shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). A “pure heart” is one that hates sin, which makes conscience of sin, which grieves over it, which strives against it. A “pure heart” is one that seeks to keep undefiled the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling-place of Christ (Eph. 3:17).
To “keep” the heart means TO LOOK DILIGENTLY AFTER ITS CLEANSING. Perhaps some of our readers often find themselves sorrowfully crying, “Oh, the vileness of my heart!” Thank God if He HAS discovered this to you. But, dear friend, there is no sufficient reason why your “heart” should CONTINUE to be vile. You might lament that your garden was overgrown with weeds and filled with rubbish; but need it remain so? We speak not now of your sinful NATURE, the incurable and unchangeable “flesh” which still indwells you; but of your “HEART,” which God bids you “keep.” You ARE responsible to purge your mind of vain imaginations, your soul of unlawful affections, your conscience of guilt.
But, alas, you say, “I have no control over such things: they come unbidden and I am powerless to prevent them.” So the Devil would have you believe! Revert again to the analogy of your garden. Do not the weeds spring up unbidden? Do not the slugs and other pests seek to prey upon the plants? What, then? Do you merely bewail your helplessness? No, you resist them, and take means to keep them under. Thieves enter houses uninvited, but whose fault is it if the doors and windows be left unfastened? Oh, heed not the seductive lullabies of Satan. God says, “Purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8); that is, one mind for Him, and another for self! One for holiness, and another for the pleasures of sin.
But HOW am I to “purify” my heart? By vomiting up the foul things taken into it, shamefacedly owning them before God, repudiating them, turning from them with loathing; and it is written, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to CLEANSE us from all unrighteousness.” By daily renewing our exercise of repentance, and SUCH repentance as is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11- “for behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” By the daily exercise of faith (Acts 15:9), appropriating afresh the cleansing blood of Christ, bathing every night in that “fountain” which has been opened “for sin and uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). By treading the path of God’s commandments: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:22).
We now point out what is obvious to every Christian reader, namely that such a task calls for Divine aid. Help and grace need to be earnestly and definitely sought of the Holy Spirit each day. We should bow before God, and in all simplicity say, “Lord, Thou requirest me to keep my heart with all diligence, and I feel utterly incompetent for such a task; such a work lies altogether beyond my poor feeble powers; therefore I humbly ask Thee in the name of Christ graciously to grant unto me supernatural strength to do as Thou hast bidden me. Lord, work in me both to will and to do of Thy good pleasure.”
Ah, my reader, true conversion is not only turning away from gross sin, it is the heart forsaking ALL sin. There must be NO RESERVE, for God will not allow any idol, nor must WE. Jehu went so far, but he stopped short of the vital point; he put away evil, but he did not do that which was good. He heeded not the law of the Lord to walk in it “WITH ALL HIS HEART.”
It is greatly to be feared that THOSE WHO ARE HEEDLESS ARE GRACELESS, for where the principle of holiness is planted in the heart it makes its possessor circumspect and desirous of pleasing God IN ALL THINGS — not from servile fear, but from grateful love; not by constraint, but freely; not occasionally, but CONSTANTLY.
“Keep thine heart with all diligence.” Guard it jealously as the dwelling place of Him to whom you have given it. Guard it with the utmost vigilance, for not only is there the enemy without seeking entrance, but THERE IS A TRAITOR WITHIN desirous of dominion. The Hebrew for “with all diligence” literally rendered is “above all”; above all the concerns of our outward life, for, careful as we should be as to that, it is before the eyes of men, whereas the heart is the object of GOD’S holy gaze. Then “keep” or preserve it more sedulously than your reputation, your body, your estate, your money. With all earnestness and prayer, labour that no evil desire prevails or abides there, avoiding all that excites lust, feeds pride, or stirs up anger, crushing the first emotions of such evils as you would the brood of a scorpion.
“But HOW can I get my heart right? Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Answer: you are creating your own difficulty by confounding “heart” with “nature”; they are quite DISTINCT. It is important to recognize this, for many are confused thereon. There has been such an undue emphasis upon the “two natures in the Christian” that often it has been lost sight of that the Christian is A PERSON over and above his two natures. The Scriptures make the distinction clear enough. For example, God does not bid us keep our “nature,” but He does our “hearts.” We do not believe with our “nature,” but we do with our “hearts” (Romans 10:10). God never tells us to “rend” our nature (Joel 2:13), “circumcise” our nature (Deut. 10:6) or “purify” our nature (James 4:8), but He does our “hearts”! The “heart” is the very centre of our responsibility, and to deny that we are to improve and keep it is to repudiate human accountability.
It is the Devil who seeks to persuade people that they are not responsible for the state of their hearts, and may no more change them than they can the stars in their courses. And the “flesh” within finds SUCH A LIE VERY AGREEABLE TO ITS CASE. But he who has been regenerated by the sovereign grace of God cannot, with the Scriptures before him, give heed unto any such delusion. While he has to deplore how sadly neglected is the great task which God has set before him, while he has to bemoan his wretched failure to make his heart what it ought to be, nevertheless he wants to do better; and after his duty has been pressed upon him he will daily seek grace better to discharge his duty, and instead of being totally discouraged by the difficulty and greatness of the work required he will cry the more fervently to the Holy Spirit for His enablement.
The Christian who means business will labour to have a “willing” heart (Exodus 35:5), which acts spontaneously and gladly, not of necessity; a “perfect” heart (1 Chron. 29:9), sincere, genuine, upright; a “tender” heart (2 Chron. 34:26), yielding and pliable, the opposite of hard and stubborn; a “broken” heart (Psalm 34:18), sorrowing over all failure and sin; a “united” heart (Psalm 86:11), all the affections centred on God; an “enlarged” heart (Psalm 119:32), delighting in EVERY part of Scripture and loving all God’s people; a “sound” heart (Prov. 14:30), right in doctrine and practice; a “merry” heart (Prov. 15:15), rejoicing in the Lord always; a “pure” heart (Matt. 5:8), hating all evil; an “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15), free from guile and hypocrisy, willing to be searched through and through by the Word; a “single” heart (Eph. 6:5), desiring only God’s glory; a “true” heart (Heb. 10:22), genuine in all its dealings with God.
This work of keeping the heart is OF SUPREME IMPORTANCE. The total disregard of it means that we are mere formalists. “My son, give Me thine heart!” (Prov 23:26) And until THAT be done, God will accept nothing from us. The prayers and praises of our lips, the labour of our hands, yea, and a correct outward walk, are things of no value in HIS sight while the heart be estranged from Him. As the inspired apostle declared, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not LOVE, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not LOVE, I am nothing: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned, and have not LOVE, it profiteth nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). If the heart be not right with God, we cannot WORSHIP Him, though we may go through the form of it. Watch diligently, then, your love for HIM.
God cannot be imposed upon, and he who takes NO care to order his heart aright before Him IS A HYPOCRITE!
“And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, BUT THEIR HEART goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument” (Ezek. 33:31, 32). Here are a company of formal hypocrites, as is evident from the words “as My people” i.e. LIKE them, but not OF THEM. And what constituted them impostors? Their outside was very fair — high professions, reverent postures, much seeming delight in the means of grace. Ah, but their HEARTS were not set on God, but were commanded by their lusts, and went after their covetousness.
But lest a real Christian should infer from the above that He is a hypocrite too, because many times his heart wanders, and he finds — strive all he may — that he cannot keep his mind stayed upon God when praying, reading His Word, or engaged in public worship, to him we answer that the objection carries its own refutation. You say “strive all I may”; ah, if you HAVE, then the blessing of the upright is yours, even though God sees well to exercise you over the affliction of a wandering mind. There remains still much in the understanding and affections to humble you, but if you are EXERCISED over them, strive against them, and SORROW OVER your very imperfect success, then that is quite enough to clear you of the charge of reigning hypocrisy.
The keeping of the heart is supremely important because “out of it are the issues of life”; it is the source and fountain of all vital actions and operations. The heart is the warehouse, the hand and tongue are but the shops; what is in THESE comes from THENCE — the heart contrives and the members execute. It is in the heart that the principles of the spiritual life are formed: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Luke 6:45). Then let us diligently see to it that the heart be well stored with pious instruction, seeking to increase in grateful love, reverential fear, hatred of sin, and benevolence in all its exercises, that from within these holy springs may flow and fructify our whole conduct and conversation.
This work of keeping the heart is THE HARDEST OF ALL. “To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and heedless spirit will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon Him: THIS will cost something! To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin whilst thou art confessing it, be melted with free grace, whilst thou art blessing God for it, be really ashamed and humbled through the apprehensions of God’s infinite holiness, and to KEEP thy heart in THIS frame, not only IN, but AFTER duty, this will surely cost thee some groans and travailing pain of soul.
To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external acts of thy life in a laudable and comely manner, is no great matter — even carnal persons by the force of common principles can do this; but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thoughts, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, THIS IS NOT EASY” (John Flavel).
Ah, dear reader, it is far, far easier to speak in the open air than to uproot pride from your soul. It calls for much less toil to go out and distribute tracts than it does to cast out of your mind unholy thoughts. One can speak to the unsaved much more readily than he can deny self, take up his cross daily, and follow Christ in the path of obedience. And one can teach a class in the Sunday School with far less trouble than he can teach himself how to strengthen his own spiritual graces. To keep the heart with all diligence calls for frequent examination of its frames and dispositions, the observing of its attitude toward God, and the prevailing directions of its affections; and that is something which no empty professor can be brought to do! Give liberally to religious enterprise he may, but give himself unto the searching, purifying and keeping of his heart he will not.
This work of keeping the heart is A CONSTANT ONE. “The keeping of the heart is such a work as is never done till life be done: THIS LABOUR AND OUR LIFE END TOGETHER!
It is with a Christian in this business, as it is with seamen that have sprung a leak at sea; if they tug not constantly at the pump, the water increases upon them, and will quickly sink them. It is in vain for them to say the work is hard, and we are weary; there is no time or condition in the life of a Christian which will suffer an intermission of this work. It is in the keeping watch over our hearts, as it was in the keeping up of Moses’s hands, while Israel and Amalek were fighting below (Exodus 17:12); no sooner do Moses’ hands grow heavy and sink down, but Amalek prevails. You know it cost David and Peter many a sad day and night for intermitting the watch over their own hearts but a few minutes” (John Flavel).
CONSEQUENCES OF HEART WORK:
Having sought to show that the keeping of the heart is the great work assigned the Christian, in which the very soul and life of true religion consists, and without the performance of which all other duties are unacceptable to God, let us now point out some of the corollaries and consequences which necessarily follow from this fact.
(1) The labours which many have taken in religion are lost. Many great services have been performed, many wonderful works wrought by men, which have been utterly rejected by God, and shall receive no recognition in the day of rewards, WHY? BECAUSE they took no pains to keep their hearts with God in those duties; this is the fatal rock upon which thousands of vain professors have wrecked to their eternal undoing — they were diligent about the EXTERNALS of religion, but regardless of their HEARTS. How many hours have professors spent in hearing, reading, conferring and praying, and yet as to the supreme task God has assigned have done nothing. Tell me, vain professor, when did you spend five minutes in serious effort to keep, purge, improve it? Think you that such an easy religion can save you? If so, we must INVERSEthe words of Christ and say, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto life, and many there be that go in thereat.”
(2) If the keeping of the heart be the great work of the Christian, then how few REAL Christians are there in the world. If everyone who has learned the dialect of Christianity and can talk like a Christian, if everyone who has natural gifts and abilities and who is helped by the common assisting presence of the Spirit and pray and teach like a Christian, if all who associate themselves with the people of God, contribute of their means to His cause, take delight in public ordinances, and pass as Christians were real ones, then the number of the saint would be considerable. But, alas, to what a little flock do they shrink when measured by THIS rule: how few make conscience of keeping their hearts watching their thoughts, judging their motives. Ah, there is no human applause to induce men to engage in this difficult work, and were hypocrites to do so they would quickly discover what they do not care to know. This heart work is left in the hands of a few hidden ones. Reader, are YOU one of them?
(3) Unless real Christians spend more time and pains about their hearts than they have done, they are never likely to grow in grace, be of much use to God or be possessors of much comfort in this world. You say, “But my heart seems so listless and dead.” Do you wonder at it, when you keep it not in daily communion with Him who is the fountain of life? If your body had received no more concern and attention than your soul, what state would it now be in? Oh, my brother, or sister, has not your zeal run in the wrong channels? God may be enjoyed even in the midst of earthly employments: “Enoch walked with God, and begat sons and daughters” (Gen. 5:19) — he did not retire into a monastery, nor is there any need for you to do so.
(4) It is high time the Christian reader set to this heart work in real earnest. Do not you lament, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song of Sol. 1:16)? Then away with fruitless controversies and idle questions; away with empty names and vain shows; away with harsh censuring of others — turn upon YOURSELF. You have been a stranger long enough to this work; you have trifled about the borders of religion too long: the world has deterred you from this vitally necessary work too long. Will you now resolve to look better after your heart? Haste you to your closet.
ADVANTAGES OF HEART WORK
The heart of man is his worst part before it be regenerate, and his best part afterwards; it is the seat of principles and the source of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it. The great difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God. Herein lies the very pinch and stress of religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and the gate of heaven a straight one. To afford some direction and help in this great work, these articles have been presented. We realize their many defects, yet trust that God will be pleased to use them. No other subject can begin to compare with it in practical importance.
The general neglect of the heart is the root cause of the present sad state of Christendom; the remainder of this article might readily be devoted unto the verifying and amplifying of that statement; instead, we merely point out briefly one or two of the more prominent features. Why is it that so many preachers have withheld from their congregations that which was, so obviously, most needed? Why have they “spoken smooth things” instead of wielding the sword of the Spirit? Because their own hearts were not right with God: HIS holy fear was not upon them. An “honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15) will cause a servant of Christ to preach what he sees to be the most essential and profitable truths of the Word, however displeasing they may be unto many of his people. He will faithfully rebuke, exhort, admonish, correct and instruct, whether his hearers like it or not.
Why have so many church members departed from the faith and given heed to seducing spirits? Why have multitudes been led away by the error of the wicked, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness? Why have so many others been attracted to companies of notional professors, which, despite their proud boasts of being the only people gathered together in (or unto) the name of Christ, are, for the most part, people who have only an acquaintance with the letter of Scripture and are strangers to practical godliness? Ah, the answer is not far to seek: it was because they had no HEART acquaintance with the things of God. It is those who are sickly and diseased who fall easy victims unto the quacks; so it is those whose hearts are never rooted and grounded in the Truth who are tossed about with every wind and doctrine. The study and guarding of the heart is the best antidote against the infectious errors of the times. And this leads us to point out some of the ADVANTAGES of keeping the heart. For much of what follows we are indebted to the Puritan, John Flavel.
(1) The pondering and garrisoning of the heart is a great help to the understanding of the deep things of God. An honest and experienced heart is a wonderful aid to a weak head. Such a heart will serve as a commentary upon a great portion of the Scriptures. When such a one reads the Psalms of David or in the Epistles of Paul, he will find there many of his own difficulties stated and solved: he will find them speaking the language of his own heart — recounting HIS experiences, expressing HIS sorrows and joys. By a close and regular study of the heart he will be far better fitted to understand the things of God than graceless rabbis and inexperienced doctors — not only will they be clearer, but far sweeter unto him. A man may discourse orthodoxly and profoundly of the nature and effects of faith, of the preciousness of Christ, and the sweetness of communion with God, who never felt the impressions or efficacy of them upon his own spirit. But how dull and dry will these NOTIONS be unto those who have BEWITCHED THEM.
Ah, my reader, EXPERIENCE is the great schoolmaster. Much in Job and Lamentations will seem dull and uninteresting until you have had DEEPER EXERCISES OF SOUL. The seventh chapter of Romans is not likely to appeal much unto you until you make more conscience of indwelling sin. Many of the later Psalms will appear too extravagant in their language until you enjoy closer and sweeter fellowship with God. But the more you endeavour to keep your heart, and bring it into subjection unto God, to keep it from the evil solicitations of Satan, the more SUITED TO YOUR OWN CASE will you find many chapters of the Bible.
It is not simply that you have to be in the “right mood” to appreciate, but that you have to pass through certain exercises of heart ere you can discover their appropriateness. Then it is that you will have “felt” and “tasted” for yourself the things of which the inspired writers treat. Then it is that you will have the key which unlocks many a verse that is fast closed unto masters of Hebrew and Greek.
(2) Care in keeping the heart supplies one of the best evidences of sincerity. There is no external act which distinguishes the sound from the unsound professor, but before this trial no hypocrite can stand. It is true that when they think death to be very near many will cry out of the wickedness and fear in their hearts, but that signifies nothing more than does the howling of an animal when it is in distress. But if you are tender of your conscience, watchful of your thoughts, and careful each day of the workings and frames of your heart, this strongly argues the sincerity of it; for what but a real hatred of sin, what but a sense of the Divine eye being upon you, could put anyone upon these secret duties which lie out of the observation of all creatures? If, then, it be such a desirable thing to have a fair testimony of your integrity, and to know of a truth that you fear God, then study, watch, keep the heart.
The true comfort of our souls much depends upon this, for he that is negligent in keeping his heart is generally a stranger to spiritual assurance and the sweet comforts flowing from it. God does not usually indulge lazy souls with inward peace, for He will not be the patron of any carelessness. He has united together our diligence and comfort, and they are greatly mistaken who suppose that the beautiful child of assurance can be born without soul pangs. Diligent self-examination is called for: first the looking into the Word, and then the looking into our hearts, to see HOW FAR THEY CORRESPOND. It is true that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, but He cannot be discerned by His essence; IT IS HIS OPERATIONS THAT MANIFEST HIM, and these are known BY THE GRACES HE PRODUCES in the soul; and those can only be perceived by diligent search and honest scrutiny of the heart. It is in the HEART that the Spirit works.
(3) Care in keeping the heart makes blessed and fruitful the means of grace and the discharge of our spiritual duties. What precious communion we have with God when He is approached in a right frame of soul: then we may say with David, “My meditation of Him shall be sweet” (Psalm 104:34). But when the heart be indisposed, full of the things of this life, then we miss the comfort and joy which should be ours. The sermons you hear and the articles you read (if by God’s servants) will appear very different if you bring a PREPARED heart to them! If the heart be right you will not grow drowsy while hearing or reading of the riches of God’s grace, the glories of Christ, the beauty of holiness, or the needs-be for a scripturally ordered walk. It was because the heart was neglected that you got so little from attending to the means of grace!
The same holds good of prayer. What a difference there is between a deeply exercised and spiritually burdened heart pouring out itself before God in fervent supplication and the utterance of verbal petitions by rote! It is the difference between reality and formality. He who is diligent in heart work and perceives the state of his own soul is at no loss in knowing WHAT to ask God for. So he who makes it a practice of walking with God, communing with God, meditating upon God, spontaneously worships Him in spirit and in truth: like David, he will say, “My heart is inditing a good matter” (Psalms 45:1). The Hebrew there is very suggestive: literally it is “my heart is boiling up a good matter”; it is a figurative expression, taken from a living spring, which is bubbling up fresh water. The formalist has to rack his mind and, as it were, laboriously pump up something to say unto God; but he who makes conscience of heart work finds his soul like a bottle of new wine -ready to burst, giving vent to sorrow or joy as his case may be.
(4) Diligence in keeping the heart will make the soul stable in the hour of temptation. The care or neglect of the conscience largely determines our attitude toward and response unto solicitations of evil. The careless heart falls an easy prey to Satan. His main attacks are made upon the heart, for if he gains THAT he gains all, for it commands the whole man! Alas, how easy a conquest is an UNGUARDED heart; it is no more difficult for the Devil to capture it than for a burglar to enter a house whose windows and doors are unfastened. It is the watchful heart that both discovers and suppresses the temptation before it comes in its full strength. It is much like a large stone rolling down a hill — it is easy to stop at first, but very difficult after it has gained full momentum. So, if we cherish the first vain imagination as it enters the mind, it will soon grow into a powerful lust which will not take a nay.
Acts are preceded by desires, and desires by thoughts. A sinful object first presents itself to the imagination, and unless THAT be nipped in the bud the affections will be stirred and enlisted. If the heart does not repel the evil imagination, if instead it dwells on it, encourages it, feeds on it, then it will not be long before the consent of the will is obtained. A very large and important part of heart work lies in observing its first motions, and checking sin THERE. The motions of sin are weakest at the first, and a little watchfulness and care then prevents much trouble and mischief later. But if the first movings of sin in the imagination be not observed and resisted, then the careless heart is quickly brought under the full power of temptation, and Satan is victorious.
(5) The diligent keeping of the heart is a great aid to the improving of our graces. Grace never thrives in a careless soul, for the roots and habits of grace are planted in the heart, and the deeper they are radicated there the more thriving and flourishing grace is. In Ephesians 3:17, we read of being “rooted and grounded in love”: love in the heart is the spring of every gracious word of the mouth and of every holy act of the hand. But is not CHRIST the “root” of the Christian’s graces? Yes, the originating root, but grace is the DERIVATIVE root, planted and nourished by Him, and according as THIS thrives under Divine influences, so the fruits of grace are more healthy and vigorous. But in a heart which is not kept diligently those fructifying influences are choked. Just as in an uncared-for garden the weeds crowd out the flowers, so vain thoughts that are not disallowed, and lusts which are not mortified, devour the strength of the heart. “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and with fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips: WHEN I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches” (Psalm 55:5, 6).
(6) The diligent care of the heart makes Christian fellowship profitable and precious. Why is it that when Christians meet together there are often sad jarrings and contentions? It is because of unmortified passions. Why is their conversation so frothy and worthless? It is because of the vanity and earthiness of their hearts. It is not difficult to discern by the actions and converse of Christians what frames their spirits are under. Take one whose mind is truly stayed upon God; how serious, heavenly and edifying is his conversation: “The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment: the law of his God IS IN HIS HEART” (Psalm 37:30, 31). If each of us was humbled every day before God and under the evils of his own heart, we should be more pitiful and tender toward others (Gal. 6:1).
(7) A heart well kept fits us for any condition God may cast us into, or any service He has to use us in. He who has learnt to keep his heart lowly is fit for prosperity; and he who knows how to apply Scripture promises and supports is fit to pass through any adversity. So he who can deny the pride and selfishness of his heart is fit to be employed in any service for God. Such a man was Paul; he not only ministered to others, but looked well to his own vineyard (see 1 Cor 9:27). And what an eminent instrument he was for God: he knew how to abound and how to suffer loss. Let the people defy him, it moved him not except to indignation; let them stone him, he could bear it.
(8) By keeping our hearts diligently we should the soonest remove the scandal; and stumbling-blocks out of the way of the world. How the worthy name of our Lord is blasphemed because of the wicked conduct of many who bear His name. What prejudice has been created against the Gospel by the inconsistent lives of those who preach it. But if we keep our hearts, we shall not add to the scandals caused by the ways of loose professors. Nay, those with whom we come in contact with will see that we “have been with Jesus.” When the majestic beams of holiness shine from a heavenly walk, the world will be awed and respect will again be commanded by the followers of the Lamb.
Though the keeping of the heart entails such hard labour, do not such blessings supply a sufficient incentive to engage diligently in the same? Look over the eight special benefits we have named, and weigh them in a just balance; the are not trivial things. Then guard well your heart, and watch closely ITS LOVE FOR GOD. Jacob served seven years for Rebekah, and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love that he had unto her. The labour of LOVE is always delightful. If God has your heart, the feet will run swiftly in the way of His commandments duty will be a delight. Then let us earnestly pray, “So teach us to number our days, that we may APPLY OUR HEARTS unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12) — as we “apply our hands unto manual tasks.
Let me now close with a word or two of consolation to all serious Christians who have sought to give themselves faithfully and closely to this heart work, but who are groaning in secret over their apparent lack of success therein, and who are fearful that their experience falls short of a saving one.
First, this argues that our heart IS honest and upright. If you are mourning over heart conditions and sins, THAT is something no hypocrite does. Many a one is now in hell who had a better head than mine; many a one now in heaven complained of as bad a heart as thine.
Second, God would never leave you under so many heart burdens and troubles if He intended not your benefit thereby. You say, Lord, why do I go mourning, all the day having sorrow of heart? For long have I been exercised over its hardness, and not yet it is broken. Many years have I been struggling against vain thoughts, and still I am plagued by them. When shall I get a better heart? Ah, God would thereby show you what your heart by nature is, and have you take notice of how much you are beholden or indebted to free grace! So too, He would keep you humble, and not let you fall in love with yourself!
Third, God will shortly put a blessed end to these cares, watchings and heartaches. The time is coming when your heart shall be as you would have it, when you will be delivered from all fears and sorrows, and never again cry, “O my hard, vain, earthly, filthy heart.” Then shall all darkness be purged from your understanding, all vanity from your affections, all guilt from your conscience, all perversity from your will. Then shall you be everlastingly, delightfully, ravishingly entertained and exercised upon the supreme goodness and infinite excellency of God. Soon shall break that morning without clouds, when all the shadows shall flee away; and then we “shall be LIKE HIM, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Hallelujah!