Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward: he that doth keep his soul shall be far from them. Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way.
~ Proverbs 22:5, Proverbs 23:19
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered. Only 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 all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;
~ Proverbs 28:26, Deuteronomy 4:9
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
~ Psalm 139:23-24
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
~ Jeremiah 17:9
Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion:
~ Mark 14:38, Hebrews 12:15, Proverbs 4:7, Proverbs 3:21
A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches.
~ Proverbs 11:16
He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.
~ Proverbs 13:3
There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
~ Ecclesiastes 5:1
A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
~ Matthew 12:35, Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:21-23, James 1:14-15
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
~ Mark 4:19
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
~ Revelation 16:15
We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
~ 1 John 5:18
My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
~ Proverbs 23:26
The Spiritual Watch, by Thomas Watson.
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
~ Proverbs 4:23
This book of Proverbs is full of many divine aphorisms. Other parts of Scripture are like a golden chain, the verses linked together by coherence; but this book is like a heap of golden rings: many precious sentences lie scattered up and down in it like so many jewels or sparkling diamonds.
That title which some have given to Peter Lombard, “the master of sentences,” Solomon might justly challenge. Solomon was the wisest of kings. As his kingdom was a map of the world’s glory, his head was the epitome of the world’s wisdom. He was endued with a divine spirit; while he wrote, the Holy Ghost dictated. And surely, among all his golden sentences, none is more weighty and important than this: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”
This text is about matters of life and death. The words are mandatory; for all counsels in Scripture carry in them the force of a command. “Keep thy heart.” Here is God’s solemn charge to every man, like a judge’s charge given from the bench. I shall first explain, and then apply.
“Keep.” The Hebrew word “to keep” has various significances. Sometimes it means “to arm or fence.” A stroke to the heart kills, so fence your heart. Sometimes it means “to take care of something so that it is not lost,” as someone would take care of a piece of precious metal so that it is not taken away. Sometimes it means to keep in safe custody. So keep your heart; lock it up safely so that it is forthcoming when God calls for it.
“Thy heart.” The heart is taken diversely in Scripture. Sometimes it is taken for the vital part (Judges 19:5), sometimes for the soul (Deuteronomy 13:3), sometimes for the mind (Proverbs 10:8), sometimes for the conscience (1 John 3:20), and sometimes for the will and affections (Psalm 119:36). I shall take it in its full latitude, for the whole soul with all its noble faculties and endowments. The heart is the deposit or charge every man is entrusted with.
“With all diligence.” The original word is literally translated “with all keeping.” The Hebrew word signifies to keep with watch and ward; a Christian is to set a continual guard around his heart. Some read the words “above all keeping.” Nothing requires such strict custody; a Christian’s heart must ever be in his eye.
“For out of it are the issues of life.” Since the heart is the fountain of life, if the heart lives, the body lives; if the heart is touched, death follows. So the soul is a spiritual fountain: out of it issues either sin or grace. From this springhead flow the streams either of salvation or damnation.
In these words there is:
A duty: “Keep thy heart.”
The manner: “with all diligence.”
The reason: “for out of it are the issues of life.”
Doctrine: It must be a Christian’s great care to keep his heart with all diligence, with all keeping.
We are to keep our eyes, as Job set a watch there. Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with mine eyes.” We are to keep our lips, as David bridled his tongue. Psalm 39:1: “I will keep my mouth as with a bridle.” But we are especially to look to our hearts. “Keep thy heart with all keeping.” The heart, like Dinah in the Old Testament, will be gadding abroad; and it seldom returns home without being defiled. It was the saying of a heathen writer: “I never come home with such good desires as I went out with.” Christian, your chief work lies with your heart: “Keep thy heart.” When any danger is near, the serpent keeps his head safe, and to preserve his head will expose his whole body to injury. So a wise Christian should especially keep his heart; he should adventure his skin to keep a wound from his heart.
To amplify this, I will show that the heart must be kept with all kinds of keeping, show that it must be kept at all times, and then give the reasons that enforce this idea.
The Duty: “Keep thy heart.” The heart must be kept with all kinds of keeping.
Keep your heart as you would keep a temple. The temple was a hallowed place set apart for God’s worship; so the heart is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). This heart-temple must be kept pure and holy; no filth may lie here; sweep the dust out of the temple. The vessels of the temple were cleansed (2 Chronicles 29:15). Thus the memory, affections, and conscience, these temple vessels, must be cleansed (2 Corinthians 7:1). Christ whipped the buyers and sellers out of the temple in John 2. The cares of the world will be crowding into the heart. Now you must get a whip made of the threatenings of the law and drive these money-changers out of the temple of your heart. Do not let God’s temple be turned into an exchange. The temple had a fire burning on the altar; take heed of strange fire. But keep the fire of zeal and devotion flaming upon the altar of your heart; do temple work and offer up the sacrifice of a broken heart. When the heart is a consecrated place, a holy of holies, then God will walk there. Many a man’s heart is a pest-house, a bedlam, being polluted with sin. This is to put swine into God’s room; this is to let the devil come into God’s temple. David’s heart was a dedicated temple (Psalm 119:38).
Keep your heart as you would keep a treasure. A man who has a great treasure of money and jewels will keep it with lock and bolt so that it is not stolen. Christian, you carry a precious treasure with you, even all that you are worth, a heart; the devil and the world would rob you of this jewel. Oh, keep your heart as you would keep your life. If you are robbed, you are ruined. Few know the value of their hearts. A farmer can set a price on corn, but not on pearls. Men do not know the worth of that treasure they carry around with them; therefore they prefer other things. Keep your heart like a treasure.
Keep your heart as you would keep a garden. Your heart is a garden (Song of Solomon 4:12); weed sin out of your heart. Among the flowers of the spirit, weeds will be growing, the weeds of pride, malice, and covetousness these grow without setting. Therefore be weeding your heart daily by prayer, examination, and repentance.
Weeds hinder the herbs and flowers from growing; the weeds of corruption hinder the growth of grace. Where the weed of unbelief grows, it hinders the flower of faith from growing.
Weeds spoil the walkways. Christ will not walk in a heart overgrown with weeds and briars. Christ was sometimes among the lilies (Song of Solomon 6:3), but never among the thistles. Poor sinner, you complain that you have no communion with God. There was a time when God made Himself known to you, but now He has grown strange and never comes near you. This is the reason: Sin has spoiled Christ’s walks. Your heart lies like the field of the sluggard (Proverbs 20:4). And will Christ walk there? Indeed, we read that Christ was once in the wilderness when He was tempted (Matthew 4:1), but He did not go there for delight, but so that he might duel and skirmish with Satan. It is the garden Christ delights in. Oh, weed your heart daily; do not let it become a thicket for Satan!
Keep your heart as you would keep a garrison. The heart of man is a garrison or a royal fortress. This garrison is besieged; the devil shoots his fiery darts of temptation. So keep your heart as a tower or a castle.
Keep a close sentinel on your heart. Habakkuk 2:1: “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower.” Discover where Satan labours to make a breach, what grace he most shoots at, and there set a double guard and fortify that spot.
Make use of all your spiritual ammunition: meditation and prayer. Prayer is the great ordinance; discharge this cannon, and be sure to put the bullet of faith in it (Matthew 21:22; 1 Peter 5:9). If the devil takes the garrison by storm, it will be sad. Remember how he rent and tore that man in whom he was (Matthew 9:18)? It is easier to let Satan in than it is to get him out. If the devil gets the garrison of your heart, you are his slave; and remember, he gives no quarter.
Keep your heart as you would a prisoner. The heart is guilty, and is ready every now and then to break prison. We need to lay bolts and fetters upon it. A prisoner in the jail may promise that he will not stir, but when he sees an opportunity, if you do not watch him, he will file off his fetters and be gone. So the heart promises that it will keep from such sins, but if you are not careful it will steal out to vanity. Therefore, keep your heart as a prisoner: When you perceive it breaking loose, lay chains and fetters upon it; bind it fast with the terrors of the law; keep it with the flaming sword of a reproof. As John the Baptist said to Herod in Mark 6:18, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife,” so say to your heart, “It is not lawful for you to meddle with for-bidden fruit. You may not be proud, vain, or earthly.” Lay the commands of God upon your heart. A man may be too jealous of his friend, but he cannot be too jealous of his heart. Let it be kept a close prisoner.
Keep your heart as you would keep a watch. The heart will unwind to the earth; therefore wind it up every morning and evening by prayer. The motion of a watch is not constant: sometimes it goes fast, sometimes slower. And so it is with the heart: sometimes it goes faster in vanity and sometimes it goes slower in duty. Therefore set this spiritual watch by the sundial of the Word.
The Manner: “with all diligence.” The heart must be kept at all times.
Keep your heart when you are alone. It was Satan’s subtlety to set upon Eve when she was alone and less able to resist. He is like a cunning suitor who woos the daughter when her parents are away from home. The devil breaks through the hedge commonly where it is weakest. I confess that privacy and retirement is good if a Christian had a fruitful heart, what sweet thoughts he might have of God when he is alone (Psalm 139:17) but, alas, by reason of innate corruption, how many vain, proud, impure thoughts will steal into our hearts when we are most secluded from the world! The fowls will be coming at the sacrifice; the devil will be shooting in his balls of wildfire and, when we least suspect him, will be tempting us to deliver up the castle of our heart to him.
Keep your heart when you are in company. Vain company is the bait by which Satan is angling for the heart. Under the Law, he who touched a dead body was unclean (Numbers 5:2). The heart is apt to be defiled by being among those who are dead in sin; it is easy to catch a disease when in company. Indeed, in innocence the heart might be compared to those plants of paradise which Athanasius said impart an aromatic, sweet savour to the adjoining trees; but, since the fall, our hearts are ready to pollute and infect one another, being like that withered vine the poet speaks of which took away the fresh colour and sap from a neighbouring vine. A good eye, by looking at a watery eye, many times falls to watering itself; so often a good heart, by beholding and conversing with a profane one, gathers corruption. If you mingle bright and rusty metal together, the rusty metal will not be made bright, but the bright will become rusty. So an evil companion who is rusted with sin will always rub some of his unholy rust upon a man who is bright with grace.
Christians, look to your hearts even in good company. Those who may, like Abijah, have some good thing in them (1 Kings 14:13), yet find that good thing to be very small, like a pearl in a heap of stones or like fillings of gold among dust. There may be much levity of discourse among those who are good, and even if there is no filth or scum, yet froth may boil up. These are the most dangerous because they are the least suspicious. Who would suspect the plague in perfumed linen? Though the lungs are sound, the breath may not be savoury. Such as we hope have sound hearts yet may lack some grains of solidity and are not as savoury and heavenly in their speeches as they should be (Colossians 4:6). The devil does harm by a good instrument sometimes which he cannot do by a bad one; he hands over a temptation by such: he tempted Christ by an apostle. The devil once crept into a serpent, and here he crept into a dove; but Christ spied his cloven hoof. “Get thee behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). How watchful, then, we need to be in company!
Keep your heart especially after good duties. When Christ had been praying and fasting, then the devil came and tempted Him (Matthew 4:2-3). When we have been most enlarged in our services, then Satan will tempt us to pride and security. Many Christian’s hearts, like bows, stand unbent after shootings; they are apt to grow more remiss, as if duty were a sufficient spell and anti-dote against temptation. Do we not know that Satan always lies waiting? He is more angry with us after duty; those prayers which appease God incense Satan, and if we lay down our weapons, he will attack us and wound us.
After David’s victory over the Assyrians, he grew lustful and defiled Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:4). After we have gotten a victory over Satan in duty, then let us fear lest our hearts give us the slip. When God had driven Adam out of the garden, He placed a flaming sword at the east of it to guard the Tree of Life (Genesis 3). When we have cast out the devil by prayer and fasting, let us set a strong guard about our hearts to keep them so that the enemy does not make a re-entry.
Keep your heart in times of adversity. The devil makes use of all winds to toss the soul and make it suffer ship-wreck. Adversity has its temptations; no more ships than souls have been cast away in a storm. In adversity the devil tempts to atheism and desperation. Job 2:9: “Dost thou still retain thy integrity?” Satan used Job’s wife as a ladder by which he would have scaled the impregnable tower of Job’s faith. “Dost thou still retain thy integrity?” was a cutting kind of speech, as if the devil had said, “God has pulled down your hedge. He has smitten you in your children. And are you so sense-less as to still serve and worship God? What have you gotten by His service? Where are your earnings? What have you to show but your boils? Throw off religion. Curse God and die!” Satan’s medicines are always poi-sons. Malachi 3:14: “Ye have said it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinances?” They have mourned and fasted and almost fasted away all they had; and they would fast no longer. When a man’s estate is low and his spirit is troubled, then Satan begins to throw in his angles. And oftentimes Satan makes use of poverty to put a man upon indirect courses. Agur feared for his heart in poverty (Proverbs 30:8-9). Oh, keep your heart in adversity; beware of taking the forbidden fruit.
Keep your heart in time of prosperity. The fuller the moon is, the more remote it is from the sun; and oftentimes the more full a man is of the world, the further his heart is from God. Deuteronomy 32:15: “Jesurun waxed fat and kicked.” It is hard to abound in prosperity and not abound in sin. A full cup is hardly carried without spilling; the trees are never more in danger of the wind than when they blossom. Pride, idleness, and luxury are the three daughters which are bred by plenty. Samson fell asleep in Delilah’s lap; millions in the lap of prosperity have slept the sleep of death. Agur prayed, “Give me not riches” (Proverbs 30:8). He knew his heart would be ready to run wild. The world’s golden apple bewitches. When God sets a hedge of prosperity around us, we need to set a hedge of caution and circumspection.
The Reason: “For out of it are the issues of life.” The reasons for keeping the heart are these:
The heart is a slippery piece. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things.” In the Hebrew it is “the heart is a Jacob above all things,” a supplanter. If we are not very cautious and watchful, our hearts will cheat us. There is deceit in coins, in friends, and in books; but the heart has an art of deceiving beyond all these, it is a desperate impostor, said Augustine. The way of the heart is like a serpent upon a rock. Oh, the pleats and folds, the subtleties and labyrinths of a self-deceiving heart! Let us trace a little the heart in its fallacies and strategies, and see if there is not reason to keep a sentinel continually, and to set a strong guard around it. The heart will deceive us about sinful things, lawful things, and religious things.
First, the heart will deceive us about sinful things. The heart will tell us that sin is but small, and, being small, it is venial. The heart will apologise for sin, masking bad transactions over with golden pretences. The heart will tell a man that he may keep his sin and yet keep his religion too. 2 Kings 17:33: “They feared the Lord, and served their own gods.” The heart will secretly suggest to a man that, as long as he goes to church and gives alms, he may secretly indulge corruption, as if duty gave a man a patent and license to sin.
The heart will even quote Scripture to justify sin. 1 Corinthians 9:20, 22: “To the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews. I am made all things to all men.” The heart will bring this text out for sinful compliance. Oh, subtle heart that can find a Scripture to damn yourself with! Though St. Paul would conform to others in things that were indifferent in order that he might save their souls, yet he would not violate a law or deny an article of his creed to gratify them. And if the heart is so treacherous (being always more ready to excuse sin than examine it), what care and circumspection should we use in keeping our hearts so that they do not decoy us into sin before we are aware of it?
Second, the heart will deceive us about lawful things in two cases. The heart will tell us that it is lawful to endeavour to preserve our reputation. A good name is a precious ointment, but under a pretence of preserving our good name, the heart is ready to tempt a man to self-seeking and make him do all to get such a name. John 12:43: “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
The heart will tell us that it is lawful to take comfort in estate and relations (Deuteronomy 26:11). But the heart will be ready here to overshoot. How often the wife and child are put in God’s place. The full stream of the affections runs out to the creature and scarcely a drop of love is left for Christ. This is the deceit of the heart: it makes us offend in lawful things. More are killed with wine than poison; they are afraid of poison, but take wine in excess. Gross sins frighten, but how many surfeit upon lawful things? When we overdo, we undo.
Third, the heart will deceive us about religious things, our duties and graces.
With regard to our duties, the heart will tell us that it is enough to come to the Word and the Sacrament, though the affections are not at all wrought upon. This is like the salamander, which lives in the fire but (as naturalists say) is never the hotter. Will it be any plea at God’s bar to tell the Lord how many sermons you have heard? Surely it will be like bringing Uriah’s letter: it will be evidence against you. How subtle the heart is to plot its own death and bring a man to hell by way of duty!
With regard to our graces, the heart is like a flattering mirror that will make a hypocrite look good. The foolish virgins thought they had oil; many strongly think that they have grace when they have none. The hypocrite’s knowledge is no better than ignorance (1 John 2:4). He has illumination, but not assimilation; he has not been made like Christ. He believes, but his heart is not purified. He pretends to trust God in greater matters, but dares not trust Him in lesser ones. He will trust God with his soul, but not with his estate.
Well, if the heart is this deceitful, see what need we have to keep the heart with all keeping! Do with the heart as you would do with a cheater. We will trust a cheater no further than we can see him. The heart is a grand cheater; it will supplant and cozen; try it, but do not trust it. Proverbs 28:26: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.”
We must keep the heart with watch and ward be-cause it is not only false, but fickle. God complains of Israel that their goodness was as the early dew (Hosea 6:4). The sun rises and the dew vanishes. The heart sometimes seems to be in a good frame, but it soon alters. Set water on a fire and it boils; set it in the open air and it freezes. Those good affections that boil in the church often freeze in the shop. One day a Christian is quick and lively in prayer, another day he is like the disciples, heavy and sleeping (Luke 22:45).
At one time a Christian is like David, when he danced before the ark with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14); at another time he is like Samson when his hair was shaved and his strength left him (Judges 16:19). When the gold has been made pure in the fire, it re-mains pure; but it is not so with the heart. When the heart has been purified in an ordinance, it does not remain pure, but gathers new soil and dross. The heart is humble one day and proud the next; it is meek one day and passionate the next; it is quick in its motions towards heaven one day and the next the clock is set back. It is with the heart as with a sick man’s pulse, which alters almost every quarter of an hour. Since the heart is so full of variation and inconstancy, it is needful to keep the heart with all keeping. Like a violin, the heart will soon be out of order; therefore we must often screw up the strings and keep the instrument in tune so that we may make melody in our heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).
The heart must especially be looked to and watched over because the heart is the fountain of all our actions and purposes. The heart either sweetens or poisons all we do. The heart is the spring which makes the current of our life run either pure or muddy; the heart is the throne of either sin or grace. If the root is sour, no sweet fruit can grow upon it, for if there is a root of bitterness springing up in the heart, it is impossible that our services should give a sweet relish.
In the natural body, the heart is the fountain of life; if the heart lives, the whole body lives; if the heart is tainted and poisoned, the body dies. So it is in a spiritual sense: if the inner man of the heart is holy, then the thoughts and actions are holy; if the soul is earthly and impure, the actions receive a bad tincture. In religion, the heart is all; we judge men’s hearts by their actions. God judges men’s actions by their hearts. The heart distinguishes actions. 2 Chronicles 25:2: “Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.” But of Asa it is said, “His heart was perfect all his days” (2 Chronicles 15:17). It is the heart that gives the denomination to a thing. Now if the heart is the spring which makes our actions good or bad, then the heart is chiefly to be watched over and tended. Keep the spring pure; “keep thy heart with all diligence.”
Use of Information. This shows the difference between the godly and the wicked: the hypocrite looks most to externals. He keeps his actions from blotting; he sets a watch before his lips. But the godly man sets a watch before his heart; his main work lies within doors; he sees the first risings of sin and grieves for them; he labours to set his heart right. The heart is the altar that sanctifies the gift.
Use of Reproof. If we are to keep our hearts with all keeping, then this reproves four kinds of persons. First it reproves such as have no care at all about their hearts. They will have a care to keep their land so that it is not mortgaged, but no care to keep their hearts. Salvation and blessedness depend upon keeping the heart, yet how few mind their hearts; they let the devil get into them. The shepherd keeps his flock; the physician keeps his prescriptions; the lawyer keeps his evidence; the merchant keeps his wares, and the covetous man keeps his gold but few keep their hearts.
Question. Why do men not keep their hearts?
Answer 1. Men do not keep their hearts because they do not study the preciousness of them. What a treasure is the heart? It is divinely ennobled; it is capable of glory but few know the worth of this jewel.
Answer 2. Men do not keep their hearts because they are taken up with keeping other things. Song of Solomon 1:6: “My own vineyard have I not kept.” Many a man may say, “I have been encumbered with the world. I have been keeping my estate and tending my lusts; but my own heart has been neglected. My own vineyard I have not kept.” Judas was keeping the money bag when he should have been keeping his heart.
Answer 3. Men do not keep their hearts because they keep themselves in sloth. To keep the heart re- quires diligence, and how few are willing to put them- selves to the trouble. But should not a merchant keep his account books because he finds some trouble there?
Answer 4. Some think that their hearts are so good that they do not need to spend time keeping them. Many a bold sinner is presumptuously confident of heaven; he thinks that he needs to do nothing but take possession of it. Hence he never looks into his heart or searches for evidence until it is too late.
Second, this reproves those who, when they should be keeping their hearts, fall asleep. Matthew 13:25: “While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares.”
When men are asleep and neglect their spiritual watch, the devil comes and sows poisonous seeds in their hearts, seeds of malice, pride, and lust. It is death for a soldier to fall asleep while on guard.
Third, this reproves them who, instead of keeping their hearts, allow them to be stolen away. The love of the world has stolen away men’s hearts. We may make a hue and cry after hearts. Satan catches men’s hearts with golden bait. This is the reason why preaching the Word does so little good: ministers preach to men’s hearts, but the world has stolen their hearts away.
Fourth, this reproves those who keep half of their heart, but not all; they have affections for good things, but let out some rooms of their heart to sin. Herod did many things, but he let out one room of his heart to the devil: he lived in incest. The true mother would not have the child divided, and God will not endure to have the heart divided. He will have the whole heart kept for Himself.
Use of Exhortation. This exhorts Christians to keep their hearts. Merchants complain of their losses at sea; but whatever we lose, if we can keep our hearts, we shall do well enough. “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” This, I confess, is a hard work. Elijah found it easier to shut heaven by prayer than to shut his heart from evil thoughts. But this is the work every good Christian must set himself upon, keeping his heart.
Question. But if my heart is evil, must I keep it?
Answer. No, cast away the evil of it and keep that which is good. When we candy fruit, we pare off the skin, cut out the core, and preserve that which is best. Do the same with your heart: what is evil in it cast away; what is good preserve. If your heart is hard, cast away the stone and keep it soft; if it is hypocritical, cut out the rotten part and keep that which is sound. Separate between the precious and the vile. Throw the sin in your heart away; keep and cherish the grace. In a word, do with your heart as they did with the fish in the parable in Matthew 13:48: “They gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.”
This is the great exhortation: heart-custody. Sinners, look to your hearts; do not let your hearts be bewitched and stolen away with the pleasures of the world. Hosea 4:11: “Whoredom and wine take away the heart.” Many have drowned their hearts in wine. Clement Alexandrius reports that there is a certain fish that is different from other fishes because it has its heart in its belly. They are like the Epicureans: they have their heart in their belly.
Question. What is the holy frame and posture in which I should keep my heart?
Answer 1. Keep your heart awake. Song of Solomon 5:2: “My heart waketh.” Psalm 108:2: “I myself will awake early.” Though we have been sluggish, yet now it is high time to awake out of our sleep. Take heed of sleeping in ignorance, impenitence, and security; the heart is naturally asleep, and sin may be compared to sleep.
A man who is asleep has his senses tied up; so a sinner whose heart is asleep in sin has his spiritual senses taken away. He is not sensible of sin or wrath (Ephesians 4:9). He is going to hell but does not know it; he laughs in his sleep.
Though the senses are bound in sleep, yet the fancy is let loose and the man dreams he is at a banquet. So when the heart of a sinner is asleep in sin, yet his fancy is still quickened. He fancies that he is an heir of the promise, that God loves him. His fancy is let loose.
Sleep hinders from action. He who is asleep cannot work. So a sinner who has fallen asleep in sin cannot work out his salvation.
A man who is asleep is in danger of being robbed; his money or jewels may be taken away. So while the sinner is asleep, he may be robbed of his soul. Oh, therefore keep your heart awake; let the judgment of God on sinners be as a drum to awaken you. Make David’s prayer from Psalm 13:3 your own: “Lighten mine eyes that I sleep not the sleep of death.”
Answer 2. Keep your heart jealous. Towards others exercise charity; towards yourself exercise jealousy. The better the heart is, the more suspicious it is. Satan has a party within us; the heart is not true to itself, therefore it needs guarding and caution. Little did Hazael think what was in his heart (2 Kings 8:13). Had one come to Noah and said, “Noah, you will be drunk shortly,” he would have been ready to have defied him; there’s all sin seminally in the heart. Where will the heart not run if we do not guard it? It will run to idolatry, atheism, and incest. Be ever jealous. Jealousy breeds vigilance, and vigilance breeds safety. Let your heart be ever in your eye; keep it in with the curb and bit of mortification.
Answer 3. Keep your heart serious. Take heed of a light heart. Zephaniah 3:11: “His prophets are light.” The heart of the wicked is vain, and in this sense is said to be worth little (Proverbs 10:20). If you put a feather on the scale, it weighs nothing; just so “feathery” is the heart of a sinner. Vanity swims on the top and deceit lies at the bottom. Christ said of the sparrows, “Are not two of them sold for a farthing?” (Matthew 10:29). Thousands of the sinner’s thoughts are not worth a far-thing! A light heart is like a ship without a ballast: it soon overturns. A vain heart will be unstable. Light things are blown in every way. A flashy Christian is not broken for sin; sin seldom lies heavy on a light heart. Keep the heart serious; fix it upon God. Psalm 57:7: “O God, my heart is fixed.” Grace consolidates the heart and keeps it from floating in levity. Poise your heart with the thoughts of hell and judgment.
Answer 4. Keep your heart humble (1 Peter 5:5). That is the best frame of heart which fits a man for God’s presence. The humble heart is the valley where God delights to walk, the house where He will take up residence. The humble heart has a low esteem of itself and a high esteem of others (Philippians 4:3). The more humble the heart is, the more fertile in grace it is; those meadows which lie low are the richest grounds. Keep your heart humble; view your own wants and others’ perfections; the abcess of pride kills. The eagle lifts up the tortoise into the air and then throws it down upon a rock and breaks it; so the devil lifts the heart up in pride and so destroys it.
Answer 5. Keep your heart sublime. Colossians 3:12: “Seek those things which are above.” Keep your heart down with the weight of humility, yet mount it up with the wing of heavenly mindedness. When the heart is touched with the lodestone of the Spirit, it ascends. Thus you have seen the holy frame and posture the heart is to be kept in.
Question. What means are to be used to keep the heart?
Answer 1. If you would keep your heart, keep the Word in your heart. Psalm 119:11: “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” The Word is a preservative and antidote to keep the heart from spiritual infection. What are all the golden precepts of the Word of God but various prescriptions for keeping the heart? If a mariner would keep his ship, he must have his eye on the stars and the compass; the best way to keep our heart is to sail by a Scripture compass.
Answer 2. If you would keep your heart, have a care what company you keep; incorporate yourselves into the society of the saints. When the people of God are together, they heat and quicken one another; their counsels are seasonable and their prayers are helpful. That ship is most likely to be preserved from pirates which goes with a convoy. Christian, would you keep your heart safe on your voyage to heaven? Then let the communion of saints be your convoy; take heed of coming near such as are irreligious; they are infectious and will poison your heart. Let your delight be in those who excel in virtue (Psalm 16:3). The saints carry the lantern of the Word along with them, and it is good to walk with those who carry a light.
Answer 3. If you would keep your heart, watch over your passions. The heart is ready to be destroyed by its own passion just as a ship is ready to be overturned by its sail. The heart sometimes sinks in sorrow, swells with anger, and abounds excessively with carnal joy. Diagoras, seeing his three sons crowned conquerors in one day, died for joy. Passion transports beyond the bounds of reason; it is a kind of frenzy that possesses a person. Lay the bit of restraint upon your passions or your heart will run wild in sin; take heed of enflaming your spirits. Cut off all occasions that may awaken this fury; take away the fuel that feeds this fire. When this viper of passion begins to gather heat, pray it down. Luther said that prayer takes down the swelling of the soul and abates the heat of inordinate affections. How dangerous these fiery exhalations are! In a passion, Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips (Psalm 106:33). A man in a rage is like a ship in a tempest who has neither pilot, sails, or oars to help, but is exposed to the waves and the rocks. How many have lost their hearts in such a storm!
Answer 4. If you would keep your heart, keep all the passages to your heart. He who would keep a city keeps the forts and outworks. Especially keep the two portals of the heart safe, the eye and the ear.
Keep your eye. The eye often sets the heart on fire. Job made a covenant with his eyes in Job 31:1. The serpent sometimes creeps in through the window or casement into a room; that old serpent the devil creeps through the casement of the eye into the heart. The eye is the taster for the appetite. First Eve saw the tree was good for food, then she took of the fruit (Genesis 3:6). Look to the eye; some of the heathens have pulled out their eyes because they did not want to be enticed by impure objects. I say do not only pull out the eye, but keep the portal shut. The Romans never let their prisoners go abroad without their keeps going with them; never send your eyes abroad without sending their keepers with them.
Keep your ear. Much sin is conveyed to the heart through the ear. The apostle calls it corrupt communication in Ephesians 4:29 because impure discourse corrupts and poisons the heart. Keep your ear open to God and shut out sin; deafen your ears to the lies of the slanderer and the heretic. Do not let him have your ear who comes to rob you of your heart.
Answer 5. If you would keep your heart, get Christ into your heart. Ephesians 3:17: “That Christ may dwell in your heart.” Nothing can hurt but sin; if Christ is in the heart, He will purify it. His Spirit is the refiner’s fire spoken of in Malachi 3:2. If Christ is in the heart, He will adorn it. He will bring in the rich furniture of His graces, and so beautify the hidden man of the heart. If Christ is in the heart, He will defend it; the castle of the heart can never be taken if Christ is in it. Let Satan dig his mines, lay his train of powder, shoot his balls of wild-fire, yet if the Lord of Hosts pitches His tent in the heart, it can never be taken by storm.
Answer 6. If you would keep your hearts, be careful to keep your thoughts. Jeremiah 4:14: “How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee?” What if you set a watch before the door of the lips if you let your heart run out in vain, impure thoughts? The heart is the presence chamber which is to be kept for God; vain thoughts defile the room and make it unfit for God to come into. The thoughts make way for sin. While the mind is musing, the heart burns. David let his heart rove into wanton thoughts and that made way for the act of adultery (2 Samuel 11:4). Thoughts are purveyors for sin; they first start looking for sin and then the heart hunts it.
Answer 7. If you would keep your heart, keep your accounts well. Bring your heart often to trial; put queries to your heart: “O my heart, what are you doing? Where are you going?” See what work lies undone, what sin you have to bewail, what grace to strengthen; search your evidences and examine your title to Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5). Traverse things narrowly in your soul; see if there is no sin countenanced; search as Israel did for leaven; keep a diary in your heart; see how things go with your soul; do not be a stranger at home. For want of this parlaying with the heart, many are kept in the dark and do not understand the true state of their souls. They live known to others, but die unknown to themselves.
Oh, what wisdom it is for a Christian to be much with his own heart. He who would keep his estate must keep his account books well. Christian, redeem time every day to turn over the book of conscience; trade with your own heart. It will be stealing out to sin; call it to account often. Every night when Seneca’s candle was out, he would ask himself what he had done that day. Frequent reckonings keep God and the conscience friends.
Answer 8. If you would keep your heart, set fences around your heart. Those who would keep fruit or flowers fence them in. There are four fences we should set around our hearts to keep them:
1. The fear of God. Proverbs 23:17: “Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” As in natural fear the spirits recoil to the heart to keep it, so the fear of God pre- serves the heart. Fear puts a holy awe upon the soul and keeps it from sinful excursions; fear bolts the door of the heart against vanity. Proverbs 16:6: “By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” As a nobleman’s porter stands at the gate to keep out everything that is unseemly from being brought into the house, so the fear of God stands as an armed man at the gate of the heart to keep temptations from entering. Fear lies as a sentinel; it stands as a watchman on the tower and looks every way to see what danger is approaching; fear will not admit anything into the soul which is dishonourable to God.
2. The love of God. This is the most forcible argument to prevail with an ingenious spirit. Love without fear makes us presume, and fear without love makes us despair. Love argues like this: “Has God given me Christ? Has He included me in the promises? Has He settled heaven upon me? And shall I walk unworthy of this love? Shall I voluntarily sin against this God? No, I will rather die than sin.” This made Anselm say, “Let me rather fall into hell than sin.” Would you keep your heart? Then surround it with love; death cannot break this fence.
3. Faith in God. This is called a shield in Ephesians 6:16. The shield fences the head and guards the vital parts; this blessed shield of faith preserves the heart from danger. The shield defends all the armour, the helmet and the breastplate. The shield of faith defends the other graces: the breastplate of love, the helmet of hope, and the girdle of truth. When Satan strikes at a Christian’s heart, faith beats back the blow and wounds the head of the old serpent. 1 Peter 5:9: “Whom resist steadfast in faith.” Faith is the best safeguard; faith brings in peace. Romans 15:13: “Peace in believing.” And peace fortifies the heart. Philippians 4:7: “The peace of God shall keep your heart.”
4. A good conscience before God. The heart is placed in the midst of the body and, as it is strongly secured with ribs around it, so it has a film over it in which it is kept. To the ribs around the heart which fence it in, I may compare the graces; to the film in which the heart is kept, I may compare a good conscience. This keeps the soul so that nothing can annoy it. Good conscience is a brazen wall around the castle of the heart; these are the fences that keep the heart.
Answer 9. If you would keep your heart, beg God to keep it for you. Do not set about this work in your own strength, but look higher go to God. He is the great Lord Keeper. Psalm 121:5: “The Lord is thy Keeper.” It is good to always go with such a Keeper, and this is the reason none of the saints are lost, because the Lord is their Keeper. 1 Peter 1:5: “Who are kept by the power of God.” Every ward has a guardian to keep him. Choose God for your guardian. They are safe whom God keeps. Lock up your heart with God and give Him the key.
There are motives that may persuade us to look after the keeping of our hearts:
Motive 1. If we do not keep our hearts, the devil will keep them. Shall we let Satan have them? When an invading army gets into a town, what a work they do: rapes, plunderings, and massacres. When Satan possesses hearts, he carries them at last violently into the sea, as he did with the swine.
Satan is both crafty and cruel. He is crafty: his work is to fish for hearts, and he is very subtle. He has policies and strategies (2 Corinthians 2:11).
He observes the tempers of the body and lays suitable bait. The devil cannot know the heart, but he may observe the temper and constitution. He tempts a sanguine man with beauty and a covetous man with gold. Satan is like the farmer who knows what ground is fit for barley and what ground is fit for wheat. He has been a tempter so long that by this time he has gained experience, and has become a master of his black art.
Satan baits his hook with religion; he tempts to sin under a pretext of piety, thus transforming himself into an angel of light. He tempts some to do away with themselves so that they will not live any longer to sin against God. Who would suspect Satan when he comes as a theologian and quotes Scripture? Just so cunningly does the devil angle for hearts.
Once he has gotten his prey, he is cruel. His cruelty exceeds the rage of all tyrants. We read of Nero, who put the Christians covered with tar and brimstone, and then burned them all night so that they might be a living torch to those who passed by. This is nothing to the unparalleled barbarism and cruelty of Satan! His name is Apollyon, or Devourer. He rent and tore the man in whom he was, and threw him into the fire (Matthew 17:15). If he was so fierce when he was chained, what will he do when he has full power? When he had taken away all Job’s estate, smitten his body full of sores, and thrown the house down around his children, yet all this was, in the devil’s account, but a touch of the finger (Job 1:11). If the touch of his finger is so heavy, what will the weight of his loins be? Oh, then, if Satan is so subtle in fishing for hearts, and so savage when he gets men’s hearts, let us take care to keep our hearts. If we do not keep them, Satan will keep them for us. And then see what havoc he will make!
Motive 2. He who keeps his heart keeps his peace. Where do our perturbations and disquiets come from but the neglect of our spiritual watch? He who keeps his heart all day may lie down in peace at night. What a comfort this will be to a Christian in every condition! In a low condition he may think: “Though I have lost my friends and estate, yet I have kept my heart.” In a sick condition he may think: “I am chained to a sickbed, but it comforts me that I have kept my heart.” In a dying condition he may think: “Death may take away my life, but not my heart.”
The heart is a jewel that God lays claim to, and it is kept for Him.