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III. USE OF DIRECTION
CHOICE MEANS TO
KEEP THE HEART
The next use shall be for direction to some special means for the keeping of the heart. And here, besides what hath been hinted in the explication of the duty, at the beginning of this discourse, to which I refer the reader, and all those directions throughout the whole, appropriated to particular cases and seasons; I shall further add several other general means of excellent use to this end. And the first is this,
Means 1. Would you thus keep your hearts as hath been persuaded? then furnish your hearts richly with the word of God, which is their best preservative against sin.
Keep the word and the word will keep you: as the first receiving of the word regenerated your hearts, so the keeping of the word within you, will preserve your 285hearts; Col. iii. 16. Let the word of Christ dwell richly in you; let it dwell, not tarry with you for a night, and let it dwell richly or plentifully, in all that is of it, in its commands, promises, threats; in all that is in you, in your understandings, memories, consciences, affections; and then it will preserve your hearts; Psal. cxix. 11. Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee. It is the slipperiness of our hearts, in reference to the word, that causes so many slips in our lives. Conscience cannot be urged or awed with forgotten truths; but keep it in the heart, and it will keep both heart and life upright; Psal. xxxvii. 31. The law of his God is in his heart, none of his steps shall slide; or if he do, the word will recover the straying heart again; Mat. xxvi. 75. Then Peter remembered the words of Jesus and wept bitterly. We never lose our hearts, till they have first lost the efficacious and powerful impressions of the word.
286Means 2. Call your hearts frequently to account; if ever you mean to keep them with God.
Those that put a stock into the hands of unfaithful or suspicious servants, will be sure to make short reckonings with them; the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, Jer. xvii. 9. O it is as necessary, as sweet, that we and our reins, that is, we and our secret thoughts, should confer together every night, Psal. xvi. 7. We should call our hearts to account every evening, and say, O my heart, where hast thou been today? Where have thy thoughts been wandering to day? What account canst thou give of them? O naughty heart! vain heart! couldst thou not abide by the fountain of delights? Is there better entertainment with the creature than with God? The oftener the heart meets with rebukes and checks for wandering, the less it will wander: if every vain thought were retracted with a sigh, every excursion of the heart from God with 287a severe check, it would not dare so boldly and frequently to digress and step aside; those actions which are committed with reluctance are not committed with frequency.
Means 3. He that will keep his heart, must take heed of plunging himself into such a multiplicity of earthly business, as he cannot manage without neglecting his main business.
It cannot be imagined, he should keep his heart with God, that hath lost himself in a wood of earthly business: take heed you do not pinch your souls, by gratifying the immoderate desires of your flesh. I wish many Christians could truly say, what an Heathen once did, I do not give, but only lend myself to business. It is said Germanicus reigned in the Roman hearts; Tiberius only in their provinces. Though the world be in your hands, let it not justle Christ out of your hearts.
Take heed, Christian, lest thy shop steal away thy heart from thy closet. God never intended earthly employments for a stop, but rather for a step to heavenly ones. O 288let not Aristippus, the Heathen, arise in judgment against thee, who said, He would rather neglect his means than his mind, his farm than his soul. If thy ship be overladen, thou must cast some over-board; more business than thou canst well manage, is like more meat than thou canst well digest, which will quickly make a sickly soul.
Means 4. He that means to keep his heart, must carefully observe its first declinings from God, and stop it there.
He that will find his house in good repair, must stop every chink as soon as discovered; and he that would keep his heart must not let a vain thought be long neglected: the serpent of heart apostasy is best killed in the egg of a small remission. Oh! if many poor decayed Christians had looked to their hearts in time, they had never come to that sad pass they now are! we may say of heart-neglects, as the apostle doth of vain babblings; that they increase to more and more ungodliness. Nemo repente fit turpissimus; Little sins neglected, will quickly become great and masterless; the greatest 289crocodile once lay in an egg, the greatest oak was once but an acorn. The firing of a small train of powder may blow up all, by leading to a greater quantity. Men little think what a proud, vain, wanton, or worldly thought may grow to: behold how great a matter a little fire kindles!
Means 5. Take heed of losing the liveliness and sweetness of your communion with God, lest thereby your hearts be loosed off from God.
The heart is an hungry and restless thing; it will have something to feed upon; if it enjoy nothing from God, it will hunt for something among the creatures, and there it often loses itself, as well as its end. There is nothing more engages the heart to a constancy and evenness in walking with God, than the sweetness which it tastes therein: as the Gauls, when once they tasted the sweet wine of Italy, could never be satisfied till they conquered that country where it grew.
It is true, conscience of duty may keep the heart from neglecting it; but 290when there is no higher motive, it drives on deadly, and is filled with distractions; that which we delight in, we are never weary of, as is evident in the motions of the heart to earthly things, where the wheels, being oiled with delight, run nimbly, and have often need of trigging; the motions of the heart upward would be as free, if its delight in heavenly things were as great.
Means 6. Habituate thy heart to spiritual meditations, if thou wouldst have it freed from those burdensome diversions.
By this means you will get a facility and dexterity in heartwork: it is pity those smaller portions of our time betwixt solemn duties should lie upon our hands, and be rendered useless to us. O learn to save, and be good husbands upon your thoughts. To this purpose, a neat author speaks, "These parentheses, which happen to come between the more solemn passages (whether business or recreation) of human life, are wont to be lost by most men, for want of a due value for them, and even by good men, for want of skill to preserve them; for though they do not properly despise them, 291yet they neglect, or lose them, for want of knowing how to rescue them, or what to do with them: but although grains of sand and ashes be apart but of a despicable smallness, and liable to be scattered and blown away, yet the skilful artificer, by a vehement fire, brings numbers of these to afford him that noble substance, glass, by whose help we may both see ourselves, and our blemishes lively represented, (as in looking-glasses) and discern celestial objects (as with the telescopes) and with sunbeams kindle disposed materials (as with burning-glasses): so when these little fragments, or parcels of time, which if not carefully looked to, would be dissipated and lost, come to be managed by a skilful contemplator, and to be improved by the celestial fire of devotion, they may be so ordered as to afford us both looking-glasses to dress our souls by, and prospectives to discover heavenly wonders, and incentives to inflame our hearts with zeal." Thus far he.
Something of that nature I have under hand, for a public benefit, if God give life to finish, and opportunity to produce it: certainly this is a great advantage for the keeping of the heart with God.
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