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Secondly. Next, I shall give you some rational account why Christians should make this the great business of their lives, to keep their hearts.
The importance and necessity of making this our great and main business, will manifestly appear in that, 1. The honour of God; 2. The sincerity of our profession; 3. The beauty of our conversation; 4. The comfort of our souls; 5. The improvement of our graces; and, 6. Our stability in the hour of temptation; are all wrapt up in, and dependent on our sincerity and care in the management in this work.
501. The glory of God is much concerned therein; heart-evils are very provoking evils to the Lord. The schools do well observe, that outward sins are majoris infamae, sins of greater infamy; but heart-sins are majoris reatus, sins of deeper guilt. How severely hath the great God declared his wrath from heaven against heart wickedness; the great crime for which the old world stands indicted, is heart wickedness, Gen. vi. 5, 6, 7. God saw that every imagination (or fiction) of their heart was only evil, and that continually; for which he sent the most dreadful judgment that was ever executed since the world began: And the Lord said I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping things, and the fowls of heaven, for it repenteth me that I have made man, v. 7. We find not their murders, adulteries, blasphemies, (though they were defiled with these) particularly alleged against them; but the evils of their hearts: yea, that which 51God was so provoked by, as to give up his peculiar inheritance into the enemy's hand, was the evil of their hearts, Jer. iv. 14. O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved; how long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? The wickedness and vanity of their thoughts God took special notice of; and, because of this, the Chaldean must come upon them as a lion from his thicket, and tear them to pieces, v. 7. For the very sin of thoughts it was that God threw down the fallen angels from heaven, and keeps them still in everlasting chains to the judgment of the great day; by which expression is not obscurely intimated some extraordinary judgment to which they are reserved, as prisoners that have most irons laid upon them, may be supposed to be the greatest malefactors: and what was their sin? Why only spiritual wickedness. For they having no bodily organs, could act nothing externally against God. Yea, mere heart-evils are so provoking, that for them 52he rejects with indignation all the duties that some men perform unto him, Isa. lxvi. 3. He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. In what words could the abhorrence of a creature's actions be more fully expressed by the holy God? Murder and idolatry are not more vile in his account, than their sacrifices, though materially such as himself appointed: and what made them so? The following words inform us, their soul delighteth in their abomination.
To conclude, such is the vileness of mere heart-sins, that the scriptures sometimes intimate the difficulty of pardon for them. So in the case of Simon Magus, Acts viii. 21, his heart was not right, he had vile thoughts of God and the things of God: the Apostle bids him repent and pray, if perhaps the thoughts of his heart might be forgiven him. O then 53never slight heart-evils! for by these God is highly wronged and provoked; and for this reason let every Christian make it his work to keep his heart with all diligence.
2. The sincerity of our profession much depends upon the care and conscience we have in keeping our hearts; for it is most certain, that a man is but an hypocrite in his profession, how curious soever he be in the externals of religion, that is heedless and careless of the frame of his heart: you have a pregnant instance of this in the case of Jehu, but Jehu took no heed to walk in the ways of the Lord God of Israel with his heart, 2 Kings x. 31. That context gives an account of the great service performed by Jehu against the house of Ahab and Baal, as also of a great temporal reward given him by God for that service, even that his children to the fourth generation, should sit upon the throne of Israel. And yet in these words Jehu is censured for an hypocrite: though God approved, and rewarded the work, yet he 54abhorred and rejected the person that did it as hypocritical: and wherein lay his hypocrisy? but in this, that he took no heed to walk in the ways of the Lord with his heart, i. e. he did all insincerely and for self-ends: and though the work he did was materially good, yet he, not purging his heart from those unworthy self-designs in doing it, was an hypocrite: and Simon, of whom we spake before, tho' he appeared such a person that the Apostle could not regularly refuse him; yet his hypocrisy was quickly discovered: and what discovered it but this, that though he professed and associated himself with the saints, yet he was a stranger to the mortification of heart-sins! Thy heart is not right with God, Acts viii. 21. It is true, there is a great difference among Christians themselves, in their diligence and dexterity about heart-work; some are more conversant and successful in it than others are; but he that takes no heed to his heart, he that is not careful to order it aright before God, is but 55a hypocrite. And they came unto me as the people cometh, and sit before thee (as my people) and hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouths they shew much love, but their heart goes after their covetousness, Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32. Here were a company of formal hypocrites, as is evident by that expression (as my people) like them, but not of them. And what made them so? Their outside was fair; here were reverend postures, high professions, much seeming joy and delight in ordinances; thou art to them as a lovely song; yea, but for all that they kept not their hearts with God in those duties, their hearts were commanded by their lusts, they went after their covetousness; had they kept their hearts with God, all had been well; but not regarding which way their hearts went in duty, there lay the core of their hypocrisy.
Objection. If any upright soul should hence infer that I am an hypocrite too, for many times my heart departs from God in 56duty, do what I can; yet I cannot hold it close with God.
Solution.. To this I answer, the very objection carries in it its own solution. Thou sayest, do what I can, yet I cannot keep my heart with God. Soul, if thou doest what thou canst, thou hast the blessing of an upright, though God sees good to exercise thee under the affliction of a discomposed heart. There remains still some wildness in the thoughts and fancies of the best to humble them; but, if you find a care before to prevent them, and opposition against them when they come, grief and sorrow afterwards; you will find enough to clear you from reigning hypocrisy.
1. This fore-care is seen partly in laying up the word in thine heart to prevent them, Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee, Psal. cxix. 11: partly in our endeavors to engage our hearts to God, Jer. xxx. 21, and partly in begging preventing grace from God in our onsets upon duty, Psal. cxix. 36-37, it is a good sign where this care goes before a duty.
And, 3d, Thy after-grief discovers thy upright heart. If, with Hezekiah, thou art humbled for the evils of thy heart, thou hast no reason, from those disorders, to question the integrity of it; but to suffer sin to lodge quietly in the heart, to let thy heart habitually and uncontrolledly wander from God, is a sad, and dangerous symptom indeed.
3. The beauty of our conversation arises from the heavenly frames and holy order of our spirits; there is a spiritual lustre and beauty in the conversation of saints; The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: they shine as the lights of the world; but whatever lustre and beauty is in their lives, comes from the excellency of their spirits, as the candle within puts a lustre upon the lanthorn in which it shines. It is 58impossible that a disordered and neglected heart should ever produce well ordered conversation: and since (as the text observes) the issues or streams of life flow out of the heart as their fountain, it must needs follow, that such as the heart is, the life will be: hence 1 Pet. ii. 11-12, Abstain from fleshly lusts--having your conversation honest, or beautiful, as the Greek word imports. So, Isa. lv. 7, Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. His way notes the course of his life, his thoughts the frame of his heart; and therefore since the course of his life flows from his thoughts, or the frame of his heart, both or neither will be forsaken: the heart is the womb of all actions: these actions are virtually and seminally contained in our thoughts, and these thoughts being once made up into affections, are quickly made out into suitable actions and practices. If the heart be wicked, then, as Christ saith, Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, &c. Mat. xv. 19. 59Mark the order; first wanton, or revengeful thoughts; then unclean, or murderous practices.
And if the heart be holy and spiritual, then, as David speaks from sweet experience, My heart is (inditing) a good matter, I speak of the things which (I have made) my tongue is as the pen of a ready writer, Psal. xlv. 1. Here is a life richly beautified with good works, some ready made; I will speak of the things which I have made: others upon the wheel making, my heart is inditing, but both proceeding from the heavenly frame of his heart.
Put but the heart in frame, and the life will quickly discover that it is so. I think it is not very difficult to discern, by the duties and conversations of Christians, what frames their spirits are under; take a Christian in a good frame, and how serious, heavenly, and profitable will his conversations and duties be! what a lovely companion is he during the continuance of it! It would 60do any one's heart good to be with him at such a time, The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment, the law of his God is in his heart, Psal. xxxvii. 30 31.
When the heart is right with God, and full of God, how dexterously and ingeniously will it wind in spiritual discourse, improving every occasion and advantage to some heavenly purpose! Few words run then at the waste spout.
And what else can be the reason why the discourses and duties of many Christians are become so frothy and unprofitable, their communion both with God, and one another, become as a dry stalk, but because their hearts are neglected? Surely this must be the reason of it, and verily it is an evil greatly to be bewailed; for want of this Christian-fellowship, it is become a sapless thing; so the attracting beauty that was wont to shine from the conversation of the saints upon the faces and consciences of the 61world, (which if it did not allure, and bring them in love with the ways of God, yet at least left a testimony in their consciences of the excellency of those men and their ways) this is in a great measure lost, to the unspeakable detriment of religion.
Time was, when Christians did carry it at such a rate, that the world stood at a gaze at them. Their life and language were of a different strain from others, their tongues discovered them to be Galileans, wherever they came; but now, since vain speculations, and fruitless controversies have so much obtained, and heart-work, practical godliness, so much neglected among professors, the case is sadly altered, their discourse is become like other men's; if they come among you now, they may (to allude to that Acts 2, 6,) hear every man speak in his own language. And truly I have little hope to see this evil redressed, and the credit of religion again repaired, till Christians fall to their old work, till they ply heart work closer. When the salt of heavenly mindedness 62is again cast into the spring, the streams will run clearer and sweeter.
4. The comfort of our souls doth much depend upon the keeping of our hearts; for he that is negligent in attending his own heart, is (ordinarily) a great stranger to assurance, and the sweet comforts flowing from it.
Indeed, if the Antinomian doctrine were true, which teaches you to reject all marks and signs for the trial of your conditions, telling you, it is only the Spirit that immediately assures you, by witnessing your adoption directly without them; then you might be careless of your hearts, yea, strangers to them, and yet no strangers to comfort: but, since both scripture and experience do confute this dotage, I hope you will never look for comfort in that unscriptural way. I deny not but it is the work and office of the Spirit to assure you, and yet do confidently affirm, that if ever you attain assurance, in the ordinary way wherein God dispenses it, you must take pains with your own hearts; you may expect your comforts upon easier terms, but 63I am mistaken if ever you enjoy them upon any other: Give all diligence, prove yourselves: this is the scripture way. I remember Mr. Roberts, in his treatise of the covenant, tells us, that he knew a Christian who, in the infancy of his Christianity, so vehemently panted after the infallible assurance of God's love, that for a long time together he earnestly desired some voice from heaven, yea, sometimes walking in the solitary fields, earnestly desired some miraculous voice from the trees and stones there: this, after many desires and longings, was denied him; but in time a better was afforded in the ordinary way of searching the word, and his own heart. An instance of the like nature the learned Gerson gives us of one that was driven by temptation upon the very borders of desperation; at last being sweetly settled, and assured, one asked him, how he attained it? He answered, non ex nova aliqua revelatione, &c. Not by any extraordinary revelation, but by subjecting his understanding to the scriptures, and comparing his own heart with them. The spirit, 64indeed, assures by witnessing our adoption; and he witnesseth in two ways,
1st, Objectively, i. e. by working those graces in our souls which are the conditions of the promise; and so the Spirit, and his graces in us, are all one: the Spirit of God dwelling in us, is a mark of our adoption. Now the Spirit cannot be discerned in his essence, but in his operations; and to discern these, is to discern the Spirit; and how these should be discerned, without serious searching and diligent watching of the heart, I cannot imagine.
2d, The other way of the Spirit's witnessing is effectively, i. e. by irradiating the soul with a grace-discovering light, shining upon his own work; and this in order of nature follows the former work: he first infuses the grace, and then opens the eye of the soul to see it. Now since the heart is the subject of that infused grace, even this way of the Spirit's witnessing also includes the necessity of keeping carefully our own hearts: for,
1st, A neglected heart is so confused and 65dark, that the little grace which is in it, is not ordinarily discernible: the most accurate and laborious Christians, that take most pains, and spend most time about their hearts, do yet find it very difficult to discover the pure and genuine workings of the Spirit there: how then shall the Christian which is (comparatively) negligent about heart-work, be ever able to discover it? Sincerity, which is the quaesitum, the thing sought for, lies in the heart like a small piece of gold in the bottom of a river, he that will find it must stay till the water is clear and settled, and then he shall see it sparkling at the bottom. And that the heart may be clear, and settled, how much pains and watching, care and diligence will it cost!
2d, God doth not usually indulge lazy and negligent souls with the comforts of assurance; he will not so much as seem to patronize sloth and carelessness; he will give it, but it shall be in his own way: his command hath united our care and comfort together; they are mistaken that think the 66beautiful child of assurance may be born without pangs: ah how many solitary hours have the people of God spent in heart-examination! how many times have they looked into the word, and then into their hearts; sometimes they thought they discovered sincerity, and were even ready to draw forth the triumphant conclusion of assurance; then comes a doubt they cannot resolve, and dashes all again: many hopes and fears, doubtings and reasonings they have had in their own breasts, before they arrived at a comfortable settlement.
To conclude, suppose it possible for a careless Christian to attain assurance, yet it is impossible he should long retain it; as for those whose hearts are filled with the joys of assurance, if extraordinary care be not used, it is a thousand to one if ever they long enjoy it: for a little pride, vanity and carelessness, will dash to pieces all that for which they have been labouring a long time, in many a weary duty. Since, then, the joy of our life, the comfort of our souls, rises and falls with our diligence in this work, keep your hearts with all diligence.
675. The improvement of our graces depends on the keeping of our hearts; I never knew grace thrive in a negligent and careless soul; the habits and roots of grace are planted in the heart; and the deeper they are radicated there, the more thriving and flourishing grace is. In Eph. iii. 17, we read of being rooted in grace; grace in the heart is the root of every gracious word in the mouth, and of every holy work in the hand, Psal. cxvi. 10, 2 Cor. iv. 13. It is true, Christ is the root of a Christian; but Christ is origo originans, the originating root; and grace origo originata, a root originated, planted, and influenced by Christ; according as this thrives under divine influences, so the acts of grace are more or less fruitful, or vigorous. Now in a heart not kept with care and diligence, these fructifying influences are stopped and cut off: multitudes of vanities break in upon it, and devour its strength; the heart is, as it were the pasture, in which multitudes of thoughts are fed every day; a gracious heart diligently kept, feeds many precious 67thoughts of God in a day. How precious are thy thoughts to me, O God! how great is the sum of them! if I should count them, they are more in number than the sand; and when I awake, I am still with thee, Psal. cxxxix. 17, 18. And as the gracious heart feeds and nourishes them, so they refresh and feast the heart. My soul is filled as with marrow and fatness whilst I think upon thee, &c. Psal. lxiii. 5, 6. But in the disregarded heart, swarms of vain and foolish thoughts are perpetually working, and jostle out those spiritual ideas, and thoughts of God, by which the soul should be refreshed.
Besides, the careless heart makes nothing out of any duty or ordinance it performs or attends on, and yet these are the conduits of heaven, from whence grace is watered and made fruitful: a man may go with an heedless spirit from ordinance to ordinance, abide all his days under the choicest teaching, and yet never be improved by them; for heart-neglect is a leak in the bottom, no heavenly influences, how 68rich soever, abide in that soul, Matth. xiii. 3, 4. The heart that lies open and common, like the highway, free for all passengers; when the seed fell on it, the fowls came and devoured it. Alas! it is not enough to hear, unless we take heed how we hear; a man may pray, and never be the better, unless he watch unto prayer. In a word, all ordinances, means, and duties, are blessed unto the improvement of grace, according to the care and strictness we use in keeping our hearts in them.
6. Lastly, The stability of our souls in the hour of temptation will be much according to the care and conscience we have of keeping our hearts; the careless heart is an easy prey to Satan in the hour of temptation, his main batteries are raised against that fort-royal, the heart; if he wins that, he wins all; for it commands the whole man: and, alas! how easy a conquest is a neglected heart! It is no more difficult to surprise it, than for an enemy to enter that 70city, whose gates are open and unguarded: it is the watchful heart that discovers and suppresses the temptation before it comes to its strength. Divines observe this to be the method in which temptations are ripened and brought to their full strength.
There is, 1st, The irritation of the object, or that power it hath to work upon and provoke our corrupt nature; which is either done by the real presence of the object, or else by speculation, when the object (though absent) is held out by the phantasy before the soul.
2d, Then follows the motion of the sensitive appetite, which is stirred and provoked by the phantasy, representing it as a sensual good, as having profit or pleasure in it.
3d, Then there is a consultation in the mind about it, deliberating about the likeliest means of accomplishing it.
4th, Next follows the election, or choice of the will.
5th, And lastly, the desire, or full engagement of the will to it; all this may be 71done in a few moments, for the debates of the soul are quick, and soon ended: when it comes thus far, then the heart is won: Satan hath entered victoriously, and displayed his colours upon the walls of that royal fort; but had the heart been well guarded at first, it had never come to this height; the temptation had been stopped in the first or second act. And indeed there it is stopped easily; for it is in the motions of a tempted soul to sin, as in the motion of a stone falling from the brow of a hill, it is easily stopped at first, but when once it is set a going, vires acquirit eundo: it acquires strength by the going; and therefore it is the greatest wisdom in the world to observe the first motions of the heart, to check and stop sin there. The motions of sin are weakest at first: a little care and watchfulness may prevent much mischief now, which the careless heart not heeding, is brought within the power of temptation; as the Syrians were brought blindfold into the midst of Samaria, before they knew where they were.
72By this time, reader, I hope thou art fully satisfied how absolutely and necessary a work the keeping of the heart is, it being a duty that wraps up so many dear interests of the soul in it.
Next, according to the method propounded, I proceed to point out those special seasons in the life of a Christian, which require and call for our utmost diligence in keeping the heart; for though (as was observed before) the duty binds ad semper, and there is no time or condition of life in which we may be excused from this work; yet there are some signal seasons, critical hours, requiring more than a common vigilance over the heart.
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