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HOME > Library > Books > A Treatise on Keeping the Heart by John Flavel (Puritan Sermon on Proverbs 4:23, 1813 Edition)
Keeping the Heart
Puritan Sermon or Exhortation on Proverbs 4:23: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life."
Rev. John Flavel
(1627-1691, English Puritan Preacher & Minister of the Gospel)
HAIL & FIRE REPRINTS 2009
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"To keep the heart then, 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." - John Flavel
"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 yourself before the Lord and tie up your loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon him; this will cost you something. To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer and put your meaning into apt and decent expressions is easy; but to get your heart broken for sin, while you are confessing it; melted with free grace, while you are blessing God for it; to be really ashamed and humbled through the apprehensions of God's infinite holiness and to keep your heart in this frame, not only in but after duty, will surely cost you some groans and pains of soul. To repress the outward acts of sin and compose the external part of your life in a laudable 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 your thoughts, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy." - John Flavel
"Is it indeed for the saints' advantage, to be weaned from love of and delight in ensnaring earthly vanities; to be quickened and urged forward with more haste to heaven; to have clearer discoveries of their own hearts; to be taught to pray more fervently, frequently, spiritually; to look and long for the rest to come, more ardently? If these be for their advantage, experience teaches us that no condition is ordinarily blessed with such fruits as these, like an afflicted condition. Is it well then to repine and droop because your Father consults the advantage of your soul rather than the gratification of your humors? Because he will bring you to heaven by a nearer way than you are willing to go? Is this a due requital of his love, who is pleased so much to concern himself in your welfare? Who does more for you than he will do for thousands in the world upon whom he will not lay a rod or dispense an affliction to them for their good? (Hosea 4:17). But alas! We judge by sense and reckon things good or evil according to our present taste. Take heed that you overlook not the many precious mercies which the people of God enjoy amidst all their trouble. It is a pity that our tears on account of our troubles, should so blind our eyes, that we should not see our mercies. I will not insist upon the mercy of having your life given you “for a prey,” (Jeremiah 39:18); nor upon the many outward comforts which you enjoy, even above what were enjoyed by Christ and his precious servants, of whom the world was not worthy. But what say you to pardon of sin; interest in Christ; the covenant of promise; and an eternity of happiness in the presence of God, after a few days are over?" - John Flavel
The heart of man is his worst part before it be regenerated, and the best afterwards: it is the seat of principles, and the fountain of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it.
The greatest difficulty in conversion, is, to win the heart to God; and the greatest difficulty after conversion, is, to keep the heart with God. Here lies the very force and stress of religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and the gate of heaven a strait gate. Direction and help in this great work, are the scope and run of the text: wherein we have
In the exhortation I shall consider,
1. The matter of the duty: Keep thy heart. Heart is not here taken properly, for that noble part of the body, which philosophers call "the first that lives, and the last that dies;" but by heart, in a metaphor, the scripture sometimes understands some particular noble faculty of the soul. In Rom 1:21 it is put for the understanding part; their foolish heart, that is, their foolish understanding was darkened. Psalm 119:11, it is put for the memory; "Thy word have I hid in my heart:" and 1 John 3:10, it is put for the conscience, which has in it, both the light of the understanding, and the recognitions of the memory; if our heart condemn us, that is, if our conscience, whose proper office it is to condemn. But here we are to take it more generally, for the whole soul, or inner man. What the heart is to the body, that the soul is to the man; and what health is to the heart, that holiness is to the soul. The state of the whole body depends upon the soundness and vigour of the heart; and the everlasting state of the whole man upon the good or ill condition of the soul.
By keeping the heart, understand the diligent and constant1 use of all holy means to preserve the soul from sin, and maintain its sweet and free communion with
2. The manner of performing it, is, with all diligence. The Hebrew is very emphatical; keep with all keeping, or, keep, keep; set double guards; your hearts will be gone else. This vehemency of expression, with which the duty is urged, plainly implies how difficult it is to keep our hearts, how dangerous to let them go.
The reason or motive quickening to this duty, is very forcible and weighty: "For out of the heart are the issues of life." That is, the heart is the source of all vital operations; it is the spring and original both of good and evil, as the spring in a watch that sets all the wheels in motion. The heart is the treasury, the hand and tongue but the shops; what is in these, comes from that; the hand and tongue always begin where the heart ends. The heart contrives, and the members execute; "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: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45). So then, if the heart err in its work, these must miscarry in theirs; for heart errors are like the errors of the first concoction, which cannot be rectified afterwards: Or like the misplacing and inverting of the stamps and letters in the press, which must cause so many errata in all the copies that are printed. Oh, then how important a duty is that which is contained in the following:
Proposition. The keeping and right managing of the heart in every condition, is the great business of a Christian's life.
What the philosopher says of waters, "is as properly applicable to hearts; it is hard to keep them within any bounds. God has set limits to them, yet how frequently do they transgress not only the bounds of grace and religion, but even of reason and common honesty? This is that which affords the Christian matter of labour, fear and trembling, to his dying day. It is not the cleansing of the hand that makes the Christian, for many a hypocrite can show as fair a hand as he; but the purifying, watching and right ordering of the heart; this is the thing that provokes so many sad complaints, and costs so many deep groans and tears. It was the pride of Hezekiah's heart that made him lie in the dust, mourning before the Lord (2 Chron 32:26). It was the fear of hypocrisy's invading the heart, that made David cry, "Let my heart be sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed" (Psa 119:80). It was the sad experience he had of the divisions and distractions of his own heart, in the service of God, that made him pour out the prayer, "Unite my heart to fear thy name" (Psa 86:11).
The method in which I propose t improve the proposition is this,
First. I am to consider what the keeping of the heart supposes and imports.
To keep the heart necessarily supposes a previous work of sanctification, which has set the heart right, by giving it a new spiritual inclination; for as long as the heart is not set right by grace, as to its habitual frame, no means can keep it right with God. Self is the poise of the unsanctified heart, which biasses 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 of spirit, held one straight and even course; not one thought or faculty was disordered; his mind had a perfect knowledge of the requirements of God, his will a perfect compliance therewith; all his appetites and powers stood in a most obedient subordination. Man, by degeneration, is become a most disordered and rebellious creature, opposing his Maker, as the First Cause, by self-dependence; as the Chief Good, l by self-love; as the Highest Lord, by self-will; and as the Last End, by self-seeking. Thus he is quite disordered, and all his actions are irregular. His once illuminated understanding, is now clouded with ignorance; his once complying will is now full of rebellion and stubbornness; his once subordinate powers, have now cast off the dominion of superior faculties. But by regeneration this disordered soul is set right ...
"Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life." Jude 1:21 KJV
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