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First, What the keeping of the heart supposes and imports.
To keep the heart, necessarily supposes a previous work of sanctification, which hath set the heart right, by giving it a new spiritual bent and inclination; for, as long as the heart is not set right by grace, as to its habitual frame, no duties or means can keep it right with God. Self is the poise of the unsanctified heart, which biases and moves it in all its designs and actions; and, as long as it is so, it is impossible that any external means should keep it with God.
Man, by creation, was of one constant, uniform frame and tenor of spirit, held one straight and even course; not one thought or faculty ravelled or disordered: his mind had a perfect illumination to understand and know the will of God; his will a 38perfect compliance therewith; his sensitive appetite, and other inferior powers, stood in a most obedient subordination.
Man, by degeneration, is become a most disordered and rebellious creature, contesting with and opposing his Maker, as the first cause, by self-dependence; as the chiefest good, by self-love; as the highest Lord, by self-will; and as the last end, by self-seeking; and so is quite disordered, and all his acts irregular: his illuminated understanding is clouded with ignorance; his complying will, full of rebellion and stubbornness; his subordinate powers casting off the dominion and government of the superior faculties:
But by regeneration this disordered soul is set right again; sanctification being the rectifying and due framing, or, as the scripture phrases it, the renovation of the soul after the image of God, Eph. iv. 24. in which, self-dependence is removed by faith; self-love, by the love of God; self-will, by subjection 39and obedience to the will of God; and self-seeking by self denial. The darkened understanding is again illuminated, Eph. i. 18. the refractory will sweetly subdued, Psal. cx. 3. the rebellious appetite or concupiscence gradually conquered, Rom. vi. 6, 7. And thus the soul, which sin had universally depraved, is again by grace restored and rectified.
This being presupposed, it will not be difficult to apprehend what it is to keep the heart, which is nothing else but the constant care and diligence of such a renewed man, to preserve his soul in that holy frame to which grace hath reduced it, and daily strives to hold it.
For, though grace hath, in great measure, rectified the soul, and given it an habitual heavenly temper; yet sin often actually discomposes it again; so that even a gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which, though it be ever so exactly tuned, a small matter places out of tune again; 40yea, hang it aside but a little, and it will need setting again, before you can play another lesson on it: even so stands the case with gracious hearts; if they are in frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead and disordered when they come to another! And therefore every duty needs a particular preparation of the heart. If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thy hands towards him, Job xi. 13. Well then, to keep the heart, is carefully to preserve it from sin, which disorders it; and maintain that spiritual and gracious frame, which fits it for a life of communion with God. And this includes these six acts in it;
1. Frequent observation of the frame of the heart, turning in and examining how the case stands with it; this is one part of the work: carnal and formal persons take no heed to this, they cannot be brought to confer with their own hearts; there are some men and women that have lived forty or fifty years in the world, and have scarce had one hour's discourse with their own 41hearts all that while: it is a hard thing to bring a man and himself together upon such an account; but saints know those soliloquies and self-conferences to be of excellent use and advantage. The heathen could say, anima sedendo & quiescendo fit sapiens, the soul is made wise by sitting still in quietness. Though bankrupts care not to look into their books of account, yet upright hearts will know whether they go backward or forward, Psal. lxxvii. 6. I commune with mine own heart. The heart can never be kept, until its case be examined and understood.
2. It includes deep humiliation for heart-evils and disorders; thus Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, 2 Chron. xxxii. 26. Thus the people were ordered to spread forth their hands to God in prayer, in a sense of the plague of their own hearts, 1 Kings viii. 38. Upon this account many an upright heart had been laid low before God: O what an heart have I! They have in their confessions pointed at the heart; the pained place; 42Lord, here is the wound, here is the plague-sore. It is with the heart well kept, as it is with the eye, which is a fit emblem of it, if a small dust get into the eye, it will never leave twinkling and watering till it have wept it out: so the upright heart cannot be at rest till it have wept out its troubles, and poured out its complaints before the Lord.
3. It includes earnest supplications and instant prayer for heart-purifying and rectifying grace, when sin hath defiled and disordered it; so, Psal. xix. 12, cleanse thou me from secret faults; and Psal. lxxxvi. 11, Unite my heart to fear thy name.--Saints have always many such petitions depending before the throne of God's grace; this is the thing which is most pleaded by them with God: when they are praying for outward mercies, haply their spirits may be more remiss, but when it comes to the heart case, then they extend their spirits to the utmost, fill their mouths with arguments, weep and make supplication: oh, for a better heart! of for a heart to love God more! to hate sin more, to walk more evenly with 43God: Lord, deny not to me such a heart, whatever thou deny me; give me a heart to fear thee, love and delight in thee, if I beg my bread in desolate places. It is observed of holy Mr. Bradford, that when he was confessing sin, he would never give over confessing until he had felt some brokenness of heart for that sin; and, when praying for any spiritual mercy, would never give over that suit, till he had got some relish of that mercy; that is the third thing included in keeping the heart.
4. It includes the imposing of strong engagements and bonds upon ourselves to walk more accurately with God, and avoid the occasions whereby the heart may be induced to sin: well composed, advised, and deliberate vows, are, in some cases, of excellent use to guard the heart against some special sin; so Job xxxi. 1, I made a covenant with mine eyes; by this means, holy ones have overawed their souls, and preserved themselves from defilement by some special heart-corruptions.
5. It includes a constant holy jealousy 44over our own hearts; quick-sighted self-jealousy is an excellent preservative from sin; he that will keep his heart, must have the eyes of his soul awake and open upon all the disorderly and tumultuous stirrings of his affections; if the affections break loose, and the passions be stirred, the soul must discover and suppress them before they get to an height: O, my soul, dost thou well in this? My tumultuous thoughts and passions, where is your commission?
State viri, quae causa viae? quive estis in armis?Virg.
Ye men pause, what is the cause of journey? why are ye in arms?
Happy is the man that thus feareth always, Prov. xxviii. 14. By this fear of the Lord it is that men depart from evil, shake off security, and preserve themselves from iniquity; he that will keep his heart must feed with fear, rejoice with fear, and pass the whole time of his sojourning here in fear, and all little enough to keep the heart from sin.
6. And Lastly, to add no more, it includes 45the realising of God's presence with us, and setting the Lord always before us: thus the people of God have found a singular means to keep their hearts upright, and awe them from sin. When the eye of our faith is fixed upon the eye of God's omniscience, we dare not let out our thoughts and affections to vanity: holy Job durst not suffer his heart to yield to an impure, vain thought; and what was it that moved him to so great circumspection? Why, he tells you, doth he not see my ways, and count all my steps? Job xxxi. 4. Walk before me (saith God to Abraham) and be thou perfect, Gen. xvii. 1. Even as parents use to set their children in the congregation before them, knowing that else they will be toying and playing; so would the heart of the best man too, were it not for the eye of God.
In these and such like particulars, do gracious souls express the care they have of their hearts; they are as careful to prevent the breaking loose of their corruptions in 46times of temptation, as seamen are to bind fast the guns, that they break not loose in a storm; as careful to preserve the sweetness and comfort they have got from God in any duty, as one that comes out of a hot bath, or great sweat, is of taking cold, by going forth into the chill air. This is the work, and of all works in religion it is the most difficult, constant, and important work.
1. It is the hardest work; heart-work is hard work indeed: 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 thee 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; melted with free grace, whilst thou art blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled through the apprehensions of God's infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not 47only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and travailing pains of soul: to repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external part 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.
2. It is a constant work. 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 tag 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, whilst 48Israel and Amalek were fighting below, Exod. xvii. 12. No sooner do Moses's 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.
3. It is the most important business of a Christian's life. Without this we are but formalists in religion; all our professions, gifts and duties signify nothing: My son, give me thine heart, Prov. xxiii. 26. God is pleased to call that a gift, which is indeed a debt; he will put this honour upon the creature to receive it from him in the way of a gift: but, if this be not given him, he regards not whatever else you bring to him; there is so much only of worth and value in what we do, as there is of heart in it. Concerning the heart, God seems to say, as Joseph of Benjamin, if you bring not Benjamin with you, you shall not see my face. Among the Heathens, when the beast was cut up for sacrifice, the first thing the priest looked 49upon was the heart; and, if that were unsound and naught, the sacrifice was rejected. God rejects all duties (how glorious soever in other respects) offered him without a heart. He that performs duty without a heart, viz. heedlessly, is no more accepted with God, than he that performs it with a double heart, viz. hypocritically, Isa. lxvi. 3. And thus I have briefly opened the nature of the duty, what is imported in this phrase, Keep thy heart.
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