Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life.
I. LIFE CENTRED IN THE HEART. (Ver. 23.) Physically, we know this is so. It is a self-acting pump, a fountain of vital force. All the physical activities are derived from it. Spiritually, it is so. The connection of the heart with emotion is recognized in all languages. It is feeling in the widest sense that makes us what we are.
II. THE HEART MUST BE, THEREFORE, THE PECULIAR OBJECT OF OUR SOLICITUDE. (Ver. 23.) The sentiments, to put it in another form, are the important elements in character. These lie so close to opinion, that we commonly say either "I feel" or "I think" in expressing our opinions. To instil right sentiments about the important points of behaviour, the relation of the sexes, business, honour, truth, loyalty, is the great work of moral education, and here lies its immense value as distinguished from the gymnastic of the intellect.
III. THE EXTERNAL ORGANS MUST AT THE SAME TIME BE DISCIPLINED. (Vers. 24-27.) Education must not be one-sided. The heart supplies the organs and channels of activity; but these again react upon the heart. The impulses of feeling are in themselves formless; it is the definite organs which give to them peculiar shape and determination. Hence the organs themselves must be trained to receive true impressions and to give them back.
1. The mouth - the lips. They are to be corrected of every "crooked," false expression. What wonderful variety of expression is the mouth capable of - firmness, laxity, tenderness, scorn, love, irony, hate! In controlling the mouth we do something to control the heart. Its contents must be purified from falsehood, coarseness, foolish jesting, malicious gossip, all of which tell upon the central consciousness, and disturb and obscure it.
2. The eyes. (Ver. 25.) They are to be trained to a direct and straightforward expression. The leer of lust, the oblique glance of cunning expressed on the faces of others, or the clear honest light beaming from the eyes of the pure and open-hearted, not only mirror the heart, but remind how the heart may be reached by the self-discipline of the eye.
3. The feet. (Ver. 26.) In like manner, they are to be trained to a straightforward walk. Even in moments of relaxation 'tis well to have an object for a walk. The mind needs self-direction and discipline even in its pleasures; otherwise it becomes dissolute, and waywardly falls into evil through sheer laxity in the spring of wilt.
(1) Action and reaction, between the inward and the outward world, expression and impression, constitute a great law of our spiritual activity.
(2) Hence self-discipline and moral education should be founded on the recognition of it. We must work from the centre to the periphery, and back again from every point of the periphery to the centre of life. - J.
Keep thy heart with all diligence.
Christian Age.The great defect in our system of education is that it turns a man away from himself. Many a schoolboy can describe the continents and islands of the earth, trace out the intricacies of the planetary system, naming suns and moons and stars, who would stand abashed should you ask him the number of bones in the human body, or to trace out the marvellous nervous system that God has given him. Now, Christianity turns man's attention to himself. No other teacher ever equalled Christ in this respect.
I. THE HEART. If we ask why the heart is chosen rather than the understanding, the judgment, or memory, we find our answer in the fact that the understanding may be always subject to circumstances, or may be enfeebled by disease; the judgment may be in error, and the memory may fail. There are three reasons why the heart is chosen.
1. A pathological; it is the fountain of life, through which the blood passes, to be distributed to every part of the system. Stop the heart, and death follows.
2. The heart is the region of sensibility. When the great passions of hope and fear, of love and hate, of joy and sorrow, take hold of a man, he realises the sensation in the region of the heart.
3. The intellect is controlled by the heart more than the heart by the intellect. Men do not follow their thinkings, but their feelings, yet there are teachers proclaiming a religion of pure intellect, excluding the passions or feelings of the soul. Christianity appeals to the emotions.
II. THE KEEPING. We are not to destroy our appetites and passions, but to keep them in subordination: keeping the heart is not murdering it. Vigilance is the price of everything good and great in earth or heaven, Nothing but unceasing watchfulness can keep the heart in harmony with God's heart.
Essex Congregational Remembrancer.I. SOME OF THOSE WEIGHTY CONSIDERATIONS UPON WHICH THE ADVICE IS FOUNDED.
1. The heart is the source of all human conduct. The greatest and basest actions of men did once exist as a simple and insignificant thought. The sallyings forth of purpose might easily have been checked at the gate of the citadel, whereas, when once beyond control, the consequences might prove such as we never ventured to anticipate.
2. Every man is that really which he is in his heart. Conduct is not always a trustworthy basis of estimate. The heart imparts a tinge and character to those streams which issue from it.
3. Scripture represents the heart of man as not in a trustworthy condition, and therefore the more to be diligently kept and guarded.
4. The fact that out of the heart come the "issues of life" adds to the importance of this counsel. What is meant is the issues of our future never-ending existence.
II. POINT OUT IN WHAT WAY THIS DUTY MAY BE BEST PERFORMED.
1. Watch narrowly the course and current of our thoughts and affections.
2. Check them at once, when we discover them to have taken a wrong course.
3. Exercise the mind as much as possible with holy and heavenly themes.
4. Earnestly call down the aid and blessing of the Holy Spirit.
(Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
I. HOW FAR MAY WE HAVE A COMMAND OVER OUR THOUGHTS?
1. It is impossible to hinder irregular, fantastic, evil thoughts from rising up in our minds. But we may choose whether we will cultivate a familiarity with them.
2. It is not in our power to prevent distractions even in our religious addresses to God. While the soul is immersed in matter, it will sometimes fly off in airy wanderings, or flag into a supine heaviness. This is our frailty or misfortune, but will not be imputed to us as a sin, provided we strive against it.
3. Our thoughts are not absolutely free, just after we have received some considerable loss or disaster. But we must not give up our mind as a prey to melancholy, and wilfully indulge our sorrows.
4. Angry thoughts have to be taken into consideration; the passion of anger; the first starts or sallies of this passion; the deliberate and settled consent of the will to it. We are invested with the power to withhold the determinate consent of the will to these primary motions. We may counterbalance one passion by another, and may turn their artillery upon themselves. We may call in our fear to subdue our anger. So far as our thoughts are involuntary, so far they are not sinful. The mind is passive in receiving its notices of things, whether pure or impure; but it is active in its determination, whether to harbour or discard them. So far as it is active it is accountable. It is active when we dwell upon impure thoughts with complacency. We can suspend our judgment. Our mature examination is the consulting of the guide; the determination of the will thereupon is the following of that guide. We may habituate ourselves to the contemplation of the greatest good, and then lesser delights will shine with a diminished lustre.
II. SOME RULES FOR THE CONDUCT OF OUR THOUGHTS.
1. We must not go too much into light amusements. The mind fixed on trifles is disabled and indisposed for greater and more important business.
2. We must avoid the reading of bad books.
3. Call in other ideas to your aid as soon as ever any passion begins to ferment. When we observe in ourselves the least approaches towards anger, lust, envy, and discontent, we should seek God's assistance, and pray for the succours of His Holy Spirit.
4. We must often descend into ourselves.
5. Much may be done by the pursuit of knowledge. The more variety of knowledge the mind is enriched with, the more channels there will be to divert our minds into.
(J. Seed, M.A.)
(T. Starr King.)I. SOME OF OUR HEARTS ARE NOT WORTH KEEPING. Addressing some unconverted men, I say, "The sooner you get a new heart the better." God is very plain in telling us no good can come out of these corrupt, degenerate hearts that we all have by nature.
II. Inasmuch as out of the heart "are the issues of life," IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP THE RESERVOIR FULL. It is bad enough to have an empty head, but an empty heart is worse still. For, other things being equal, a man's force in the world is just in proportion to the fulness of his heart. Heart is power. We all want more heart in our Master's service.
III. STRIVE WITH ALL DILIGENCE TO KEEP THE HEART PURE. A full reservoir is not enough — the water must be clean. A full reservoir means spreading the seeds of pestilence and death. If the heart be not pure, the thoughts will not be pure, nor the conversation, nor the life. A scrupulous conscience and thorough transparency of character are all-important.
IV. KEEP YOUR HEART TRANQUIL. Seek to have a soul calm and peaceful, and at rest. The state of the heart has far more to do with one's comfort, and prosperity, and success, than most .people imagine. From your heart, as from a clear mountain spring, there shall issue influences of health and benediction, to gladden your own lives and to bless all around you.
(J. Thain Davidson, D.D.)
1. Mark or attend unto, inquire into and study the heart.
2. The governance and good management of our hearts, keeping all the motions thereof in due order, within fit compass, applying them to good, and restraining them from bad things.
3. Or preserving, guarding, securing from mischief or damage. It is a peculiar excellency of human nature that man can reflect on all that is done within him, can discern the tendencies of his soul, is acquainted with his own purposes. It is, therefore, his work to regulate as well the internal workings of his soul as his external actions, to settle his thoughts on due objects, to bend his inclinations into a right frame, to constrain his affections within due bounds, to ground his purposes on honest reasons, and direct them unto lawful matters. It is our duty to be looking inward on ourselves, observing what thoughts spring up within us; what imaginations find most welcome harbour in our breasts, what prejudices possess our minds, etc. Thus we may arrive at a competent knowledge of ourselves. This preserves from self-conceit; disposes to equanimity; qualifies our opinion of others; makes wise and prudent; helps to reforming our lives and regulating our devotions, and enables us properly to govern our hearts.
(I. Barrow, D. D.)I. WHAT IS IT TO KEEP THE HEART? It evidently needs to be kept. It is prone to go astray.
1. The heart is to be kept from all improper objects; every object which has no proper connection with present duty.
2. The heart is to be guarded against all improper affections. When placed upon proper objects, the heart may have very improper affections towards them.
II. SHOW HOW THE HEART IS KEPT.
1. Men should always attend to those subjects only with which they are properly concerned.
2. Men must pursue the same method to keep their hearts from improper affections, as from improper objects. They must, therefore, exercise good affections. Love will exclude hatred; faith will exclude unbelief; repentance will exclude impenitence; submission will exclude opposition; humility will exclude pride. Any gracious exercise will exclude any sinful one: only by the exercise of holiness can the heart be kept from sin.
III. THE IMPORTANCE OF MEN'S KEEPING THEIR HEARTS WITH THE GREATEST CARE AND CONSTANCY.
1. While they neglect to keep their hearts, all their moral exercises will be sinful. Those who neglect to keep their hearts live in the continual exercise of selfish and sinful affections.
2. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their thoughts will be sinful. Though bare thoughts have no moral good or evil in themselves considered, yet in connection with the heart they all acquire a good or bad moral quality. No thought is indifferent after the heart has been exercised about it.
3. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their words will be sinful. Men never speak but of choice, so that their hearts are concerned in all their vain or serious conversation.
4. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their intentions, purposes, or designs will be evil. Every evil design is first formed in the heart of the projector.
5. Let men pursue what employment they will, whether public or private, high or low, civil or religious, their daily business will become their daily sin, unless they keep their hearts with all diligence.
6. Men must keep their hearts lest they abuse all the blessings of providence with which they are favoured, and all the troubles and afflictions which they are called to suffer.Improvement —
1. Men are never under a natural necessity of sinning.
2. Since men can guard their hearts against evil, they can guard them also against good.
3. Those who neglect the duty enjoined in the text are in imminent danger.
4. None can be sincere in religion who entirely neglect to keep their hearts.
5. The Christian warfare consists in watching, guarding, and keeping the heart.
6. It is both important and helpful diligently to attend the means of grace.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)I. THE DUTY ENJOINED. We must keep the whole heart in —
1. A state of holy watchfulness.
2. A state of continued devotion.
3. A state of joy and confidence.
4. A state of lively activity.
5. A state of preparedness for death and uncertainty.
II. THE MODE OF PERFORMING IT SPECIFIED.
1. Under all circumstances.
2. In all places.
3. At all times.
4. With all intensity of solicitude.
III. THE MOTIVE DESIGNED.
1. Thoughts are formed there.
2. Purposes are planned there.
3. Words originate there.
4. Actions proceed from thence.Learn —
1. The means of spiritual safety: preservation of the heart.
2. The importance of this exercise. All depends upon it.
3. The necessity of cleaving to God with purpose of heart.
4. Urge sinners without delay to believe the gospel and give their hearts to the Lord.
(J. Burns, D. D.)
I. THE STATE OF THE HEART DETERMINES OUR MORAL CHARACTER. The tenor of our actions will always correspond to the dispositions that prevail within. On whatever side the weight of inclination hangs, it will draw the practice after it. Independent of all action, it is, in truth, the state of the heart itself which forms our character in the sight of God. In the eye of the Supreme Being, dispositions hold the place of actions; and it is not so much what we perform as the motive which moves us to performance that constitutes us good or evil in His sight. The rectification of our principles of action is the primary object of religious discipline. The regeneration of the heart is everywhere represented in the gospel as the most essential requisite in the character of a Christian.
II. THE STATE OF THE HEART FORMS OUR PRINCIPAL HAPPINESS OR MISERY. In order to acquire a capacity of happiness, it must be our first study to rectify inward disorders. Whatever discipline tends to accomplish this purpose is of greater importance to man than the acquisition of the advantages of fortune. Think what your heart now is, and what must be the consequence of remitting your vigilance in watching over it. The human temper is to be considered as a system, the parts of which have a mutual dependence on each other. Introduce disorder into any one part, and you derange the whole.
III. IN WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT CONSIST?
1. The thoughts are the prime movers of the whole human conduct. Many regard thought as exempted from all control. To enjoy unrestrained the full range of imagination appears to them the native right and privilege of man. To the Supreme Being thoughts bear the character of good or evil as much as actions. The moral regulation of our thoughts is the particular test of our reverence for God. Thought gives the first impulse to every principle of action. Actions are, in truth, no other than thoughts ripened into consistency and substance. But how far are thoughts subject to the command of our will? They are not always the offspring of choice. Vain and fantastic imaginations sometimes break in upon the most settled attention, and disturb even the devout exercises of pious minds. Instances of this sort must be placed to the account of human frailty. Allowing for this, there is still much scope for the government of our thoughts. As —(1) When the introduction of any train of thought depends upon ourselves, and is our voluntary act.(2) When thoughts are indulged with deliberation and complacency. Study to acquire the habit of attention to thought: acquire the power of fixing your minds, and of restraining their irregular motions. Guard against idleness, which is the great fomenter of all corruptions in the human heart; it is the parent of loose imaginations and inordinate desires. Provide honourable employment for the native activity of your minds. When criminal thoughts arise, attend to all the proper methods of speedily suppressing them. Impress your minds with an habitual sense of the presence of the Almighty.
2. Passions are strong emotions, occasioned by the view of apprehending good or evil. They are original parts of the constitution of our nature; and therefore to extirpate them is a mistaken aim. Religion requires us to moderate and rule them. Passions, when properly directed, may be subservient to very useful ends. They are the active forces of the soul. It is the present infelicity of human nature that the strong emotions of the mind are become too powerful for the principle that ought to rule them. Two principles may be assumed.(1) That through the present weakness of our understanding, our passions are often directed towards improper objects.(2) That even when their direction is just, and their objects are innocent, they perpetually tend to run into excess; they always hurry us towards their gratification with a blind and dangerous impetuosity. To govern our passions, we must ascertain the proper objects of their pursuit, and restrain them in that pursuit, when they would carry us beyond the bounds of reason. To obtain command of passion is one of the highest attainments of the rational nature.To obtain it we must —
1. Study to acquire just views of the comparative importance of those objects that are most ready to attract desire.
2. Gain the power of self-denial; which consists in our being ready, on proper occasions, to abstain from pleasure, or to submit to sacrificing, for the sake of duty or conscience, or from a view to some higher or more extensive good.
3. Impress your minds with this persuasion, that nothing is what it appears to be, when you are under the power of passion.
4. Oppose early the beginnings of passion. Avoid particularly all such objects as are apt to excite passions which you know to predominate within you.
5. The excess of every passion will be moderated by frequent meditation on the vanity of the world, the short continuance of life, the approach of death, judgment, and eternity.
6. To our own endeavours for regulating our passions, let us join earnest prayer to God. Lastly, the government of the temper is included in "keeping the heart." Temper is the disposition which remains after the emotions are past, and which forms the habitual prosperity of the soul. The proper regulation of temper affects the character of man in every relation which he bears.(1) With respect to God, the good man ought to cultivate a devout temper.(2) Point out the proper state of our temper with respect to one another. A peaceable, candid, kind, generous, sympathising temper.(3) The proper state of temper as it respects the individual himself. The basis of all good dispositions is humility. Hence will naturally arise a contented temper; and from this will spring a cheerful one. To the establishment of this happy temper, the due regulation of the thoughts and government of the temper naturally conduce, and in this they ought to issue.
(Hugh Blair, D.D.)I. WHEN DO OUR PASSIONS BECOME CULPABLE? A sect of ancient philosophers condemned all emotion, held every passion to be culpable, because inconsistent with that serenity of temper, that equal tranquillity of mind, which they thought should ever be preserved. We cannot, however, lay aside our innate dispositions, and with equal indifference meet health or sickness, pleasure or pain. The Stoical doctrine is better calculated for heaven than earth. The passions and affections were all originally designed to have either our own personal good or the good of others for their object, though they are too generally misapplied by our corruption, and degenerate into vices. Our rational and moral powers ought always to have dominion over the inferior principles of our nature. We all stand accountable for the use of our reason, and where reason points out to us good and evil, if we choose the latter, we doubtless appear guilty in the eye of our heavenly Judge. If we cannot wholly extirpate or subdue our passions, yet to subjugate them to government is not only the duty, but the proper and most important employment, of a rational being.
II. OUR HAPPINESS HERE, AS WELL AS HEREAFTER, IS DETERMINED BY THE CONDUCT OF OUR PASSIONS. When they are duly regulated, and act under the guidance and direction of reason, we may promise ourselves all the happiness that our station, or other circumstances of life, will admit. They who are at no pains to discipline and govern their passions, but, disregarding right and wrong, indiscriminately follow whithersoever inclination points the way, may find some pleasure in such pursuits, but none that can compensate for the loss of those interior satisfactions, as well as exterior advantages, that naturally result from a wise and virtuous conduct.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS SELF-GOVERNMENT MAY BE ATTAINED. Consideration, or a right use of reason, is our only remedy. We must often retire into ourselves, and in some calm hour of reflection review the state of the heart. Passions, however strong and vigorous by nature, may be checked in their growth by timely care and prudent opposition. Let us accustom ourselves to deliberate before we act. We should observe, with a watchful eye, all our passions, desires, and affections; keep a constant guard on every avenue to the heart, and be careful to oppose the admittance of any wrong inclination. In order to succeed in this arduous and important work, let us, to our own efforts, add our supplications to Him who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men.
(G. Carr, B.A.)I. WHAT POWER A MAN HATH OVER HIS OWN THOUGHTS! Some men, by the very principles of their make and constitution, are much better able to govern their thoughts than others. Some that are naturally weaker, have, by long use and many trials, obtained a greater power over their thoughts than others. All have a greater power over the motions of their minds at some times than at others.
1. The first motions of our minds are very little, if at all, in our power. We cannot help suggestions coming to us.
2. When a man's mind is vigorously affected and possessed, either with the outward objects of sense, or with inward passions of any kind, in that case he hath little or no command of his thoughts.
3. A man's thoughts are sometimes in a manner forced upon him, from the present temper and indisposition of his body.
4. We have liberty of thinking, and may choose our own thoughts. It is in our power to determine what suggestions we will fix our minds upon.
5. It is always in our power to assent to our thoughts, or to deny our consent to them. Here the morality of our thoughts begins. No man is drawn to commit sin by any state or condition that God hath put him into, nor by any temptation, either outward or inward, that is presented to him. Our sin begins when we yield to the temptation. The sin becomes great as it grows into action.
II. THE ART OF GOVERNING OUR THOUGHTS.
1. We must rightly pitch our main designs, and choose that for the great business of our lives that really ought to be so.
2. We must avoid two things, viz., idleness and loose company.
3. We must be as attentive as possible to the first motions of our minds; so that when we find them tending towards something that is forbidden, we may stop them at once.
4. There are some particular exercises which would prove helpful. Converse with discreet and pious persons; reading good books, and especially the Bible; taking times for meditation; and fervent and constant prayer to God.
5. With our diligence we must join discretion. We must have a care not to "intend" our thoughts immoderately, and more than our tempers will bear, even to the best things. We must so keep our hearts as at the same time to keep our health and the vigour of our minds. As long as we consist of bodies and souls, we cannot always be thinking of serious things.
(Archbp. John Sharp.)I. THE SUGGESTIVE SAYING, "Out of (the heart) are the issues of life."
1. All our words and actions originate there. "All these evil things come from within, and they defile the man."
2. The moral quality of every word and action depends on its inner motive.
3. Thoughts and feelings themselves, apart from actions, are all either good or evil. "The thought of foolishness is sin."
4. Within the heart is formed that "character" which determines most of the actions of the man. We give the name "character" to that complex collection of tendencies and habits which grows up within us all as the sum and result of individual acts continually repeated. The germs of the ultimate character can often be detected in the child.
5. The "issues of life," in outward condition, depend most of all on the heart within us.
6. The everlasting "issues of life" come "out of the heart."
II. TAKE UP THE ADMONITION, "Keep thy heart with all diligence." The margin reads, "Keep thy heart above all keeping." The common estimate of the relative value of the outside and the inside is terribly astray. It creeps into our very religion.
1. We can avoid the evil.
2. We can fill up the heart with good.
(F. H. Marling.)I. THE DUTY HERE ENJOINED. The heart is the seat of the thoughts, the will, and the affections. The avenues which lead to this habitation are the senses, through which a great variety of objects are ever soliciting admission. By the original frame of our nature, there was also another way of admission into the heart, viz., faith. Over these was placed the judgment, as a faithful sentinel, to direct the will Scarcely, however, had this happy constitution of our nature existed when, the judgment being perverted, the will was induced to make a wrong choice. Upon this great revolution in our nature, sensible objects began to occupy our chief attention. They tend to produce the utmost irregularity in the affections, and to banish God, and heaven, and eternity, from the mind. To keep the heart while in this state, would only be to shut up the enemy within the wails. The enemy must be ejected. This God promises to do. To keep the heart with all diligence is to set a constant guard on every avenue which leads to it. It is to exercise the strictest vigilance over our thoughts, and to subject them to the most rigid scrutiny, for the purpose of suppressing, upon its first appearance, what is base, impious, or unjust, and of giving every possible encouragement to the slightest emotions of piety and benevolence. So nice and delicate are the heart's springs of action, so susceptible is it of impressions from external objects, and so greatly is it in danger of being disordered by means of these, that we can never be sufficiently apprised of the manner in which it may be kept with safety.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS DUTY MAY BE BEST DISCHARGED.
1. By summoning up to the view just apprehensions of God, of His greatness, and glory, and holiness, and justice, and authority, and mercy, and love, as exhibited in the plan of redemption, and endeavouring to have these apprehensions habitually impressed upon the mind.
2. We should beware, after having been engaged in any of the solemnities of religion, of exposing them suddenly to the renewed incursion of loose and worldly thoughts, by foolish talking or mixing with vain and giddy associates.
3. We must beware of evil company. And there are secret, as well as open, enemies of goodness.
4. We must carefully abstain from idleness, and rightly occupy every portion of our time.
III. RECOMMEND THE DUTY TO SERIOUS ATTENTION. You live in a world where ten thousand objects are ever ready to pollute the heart, and to seduce it from God. God requireth the heart of man — the whole heart, and nothing but the heart. A heart that is not kept with diligence is not reconciled to God; is not impressed with the love of Jesus; is not sanctified by the Spirit, and is not fit for heaven.
(James Somerville, D. D.)I. OCCASIONS WHEN IT IS OF THE UTMOST MOMENT TO ATTEND TO THIS DUTY.
1. When you draw near to God in the solemn exercise of religious duty. You have then to do with a God who searches the heart. Be upon your guard against those vain excursions of the soul that eat out all the life and spirit of devotion.
2. When you are surrounded with an abundance of worldly enjoyments. There is something in prosperity that tends to intoxicate the mind.
3. When God's afflicting hand is upon you. "In the day of adversity consider"; for consideration and a guard upon the heart are needful.
4. When under provocations from your fellow-creatures. These are very trying periods, and the spirit that is in us often lusteth to resentment and retaliation. Do not be too sensitive of injuries.
5. When your hands are full of worldly business. We walk in the midst of snares. It is no easy thing to keep our souls disengaged, and to live above, while we ere in, the world. Love nothing with a very strong affection that is not immortal as thyself, and immutable as thy God.
6. When you are engaged in diversions and recreations. Very many are in excess given to pleasure, make it the main business of their existence. We ought not to give too much time to recreations, nor seek them for themselves.
7. When you find any tumultuous passions are excited within you. Think what inflammable matter you carry in your bosoms, and be watchful against the approach of whatever may kindle it into a flame.
8. Keep thy heart with all diligence in solitude and retirement. Solitude is not necessarily a blessing. Then only it is a blessing when it is employed piously, with holy feelings and a holy object in view. Whenever you are alone, be present with your God.
II. ARGUMENTS URGING ATTENTION TO THIS DUTY. This duty is important, because —
1. It is the heart that falls directly under the cognizance of God. Be a man's actions ever so regular, if his heart be not right with God, he will, when weighed in the balances, be found wanting.
2. Because of the influence which the state of the heart has upon the conduct. He who is concerned about making the tree good will surely make the fruit good also.
3. Because keeping the heart is essential to our peace. Is there nothing peaceful, pleasant, comforting, in being masters over our own spirits, able to suppress any rising passion, to restrain any rebellious lust that threatens the peace of God's kingdom within — of that inner house of man, himself? What a poor, contemptible, miserable creature is he who has no rule over his spirit, in respect of present things as well as future!
III. DIRECTIONS FOR KEEPING THE HEART.
1. If you desire to keep your heart, endeavour by all means to know it. Endeavour to know human nature in general, its weakness and its corruption. Above all, endeavour to know your own heart, your particular weakness: knowing it, watch that point carefully.
2. If you desire to keep your heart, solemnly feel as in the Divine presence. Seriously consider that God searches the hearts, and that He is with you wherever you are, and whatever you do.
3. If you would keep your hearts, be often calling them to account. I hope that none of you live without self-examination.
4. See to it that your mind be well furnished. Lay in a stock of useful knowledge from the Word of God, from observations of providence, from converse with your fellow-creatures.
5. If you would keep your heart, be often looking up to Him who made it. To find our hearts taken off from dependence on ourselves, and fixed upon God, is a token for good in every part of our Christian course.
(T. Munns, M. A.)
I. THE DEGREE OF RESPONSIBILITY IMPLIED IN THE COMMAND TO KEEP THE HEART. We are not mere machines, we are free, immortal, intelligent beings, fallen indeed from our first estate, crippled in body and soul, yet raised again in Christ. We are free to choose good or ill, and therefore responsible for the choice. To keep the heart is to guard it, to watch it, to subdue it. It is attempting, and by God's grace achieving, the work of self-conquest. The keeping must be habitual. Unless we have been previously vigilant, the tempter, when he comes, will be sure to conquer. One of the miseries of old transgressions is, that it mars the keeping of the heart. We are apt to fall back into a sin which we have committed before. Old sins tend to soften the soul — to emasculate its energies, to destroy those habits of carefulness which are so important in resisting temptation. It is the inward reciprocation with the outward temptation which forms the tempter's vantage-ground. Each sin diminishes by so much our chance of repentance, inasmuch as a fresh lesion and hurt has been inflicted on the soul.
II. WE MUST CHIEFLY REGARD OUR WILL AND OUR AFFECTIONS, because these sway and control the rest of the inner man. By the will we mean that power of the soul which determines and chooses; by the affection, that attribute which loves and adheres. The one is the strength of the character, the other is its sweetness and beauty. And these are specially concerned in the service of God, for if man fulfils his end, God is the choice of his will and the object of his affection. God is the choice of man's will. The will of man must submit to God's will, for God's wisdom and goodness are necessities of his being. By the original constitution of man's nature, God was the object of his affection. Then he should keep his affections for God "above all keeping."
III. ALL THE OTHER POWERS OF THE SOUL MUST ALSO BE KEPT; for influences deteriorating or elevating are being hourly exercised upon them. The memory may be filled with vile images and unholy recollections, or it may be stored with pious thoughts and the sweet remembrance of past mercies. The imagination may be crowded with foul pictures, worldly fancies, and daring speculations, or it may be consecrated by visions of the beauty of God and the splendours of the New Jerusalem. The intellect may revel in the deceitful charms of scepticism and inquiry, or it may bow down in adoration before the tremendous supernatural truths of the Christian Church. The judgment may take its portion in this life and wed itself to earthly success, or it may choose the better part — sit at Jesus' feet and listen to His words. So the whole heart may be perverted or directed; and hence the urgent necessity of keeping it with diligence.
(Bp. A. P. Forbes.)I. THE CITADEL WHICH THE CHRISTIAN HAS TO GUARD. The heart of man is a wondrous mystery, a strange world in itself; its feelings, affections, desires, emotions, cravings, reasonings, wonderings — who shall tell them? The heart given the Christian soldier in charge is a heart that is renewed and yet unrenewed, that is holy and yet unholy, that is spirit and yet flesh. Such is the heart of every man that is born of the Spirit. The germ is there, but all that is good of that germ has yet to be unfolded and perfected. So long as the heart is kept a man is comparatively safe, for it is the key of the position.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING THIS CITADEL. Out of it are the issues of life in man's whole course and conduct, and out of it is the final result of a man's career and course of life. All the streams of life proceed from within. A man's life is regulated by his heart. If the heart be kept the man is kept, and it matters little what else a man keeps; for, after all, a man is what he is in principles, in desires, in emotions, and affections. Every Christian soldier must be aware that it is only by constant vigilance that he can maintain the citadel and prevent its being betrayed. There are two perils — betrayal within and surprise from without. There are many who, instead of keeping their heart, leave its keeping to Satan. And many fall because they allow their hearts to get out of their control.
(H. Stowell, M. A.)
(Dean Goulburn.)I. AN ADMONITION.
1. The act: "Keep." Our hearts are untrusty, unruly, and obvious to be surprised; for such things we are wont to keep.
II. THE OBJECT: "The heart." By "heart" understand inward thoughts, motions, and affections of the soul and spirit, whereof the heart is the chamber. We should keep our hearts in a state of —
2. Loyalty. A loyal heart cherishes no darling sin; scruples at small sins; hates sin at all times. A loyal heart is the same as a "perfect" heart.
III. THE MEANS OF KEEPING THE HEART "above all keeping." Nature hath placed the heart in the most fenced part of the body.
1. As those who keep a city have special care of the gates and posterns, so must we watch over the senses, the gates and windows of the soul, especially the eye and the ear.
2. Make exceeding much of all good motions put into our hearts by God's Spirit, and resist at its first rising every exorbitant thought which draws to sin.
3. Let him that would guard his heart take heed of familiar and friendly converse with lewd, profane, and ungracious company. This "keeping" must be done, because all spiritual life and living actions issue from the heart. This issuing of our works and actions from the heart is that which is called sincerity and truth, so much commended unto us in Scripture. That which is wanting in the measure of obedience and holiness is made up in the truth and sincerity thereof.
(Joseph Mede, B.D.)
1. The first of the three streams marked on this map as issuing from an ill-kept heart is "a froward mouth." Words form the first and readiest egress for evil. The power of speech is one of the grand peculiarities which distinguish man. A vain, biting, untruthful, polluted, profane tongue cannot be in the family of God when the family are at home in their Father's presence. The evil must be put away; the tongue must be cleansed; and now is the day for such exercises.
2. The next outlet from the fountain is by the "eyes." Let the heart's aim be simple and righteous. No secret longings and side-glances after forbidden things, no crooked by-ends and hypocritical pretences. When the eye is single the whole body will be full of light. Straightforwardness is the fairest jewel of our commercial crown.
3. The last of these issues is by the "feet." Ponder, therefore, thy path. The best time to ponder any path is not at the end, not even at the middle, but at the beginning of it. The right place for weighing the worth of any course is on this side of its beginning. Those who ponder after they have entered it are not in a position either to obtain the truth or to profit by it. The injunction applies to every step in life, small or great. The value of weighing anything depends all on the justness of the balance and the weights. By the Word of God paths and actions will be weighed in the judgment. By the Word of God, therefore, let paths and actions, great and small, be pondered now.
(W. Arnot, D. D.)
(J. M. Gibbon.)
(James Walker.)I. THE ISSUES OF LIFE, IN A RELIGIOUS RESPECT, DEPEND UPON THE HEART. All things relating to religious conduct are reducible either to some matter of belief or practice. How far are belief and practice subject to be influenced by the heart?
1. To begin with belief. How much that depends upon the temper and disposition of the heart is easily seen from Scripture, history, and daily experience.
2. Our practice. How far is the practice apt to be governed by the inclination of the heart without the concurrence of the judgment, or even in opposition to it? Men are generally more swayed by their affections and passions than by their principles, and principles are of very little force or efficacy except when they fall in with inclination or grow up into it. Knowledge is one thing and grace another. Orthodoxy is not probity. A sound head may often be consistent with a corrupt heart. It is not what we believe, but what we affect and incline to, that determines us. But our irregular actions seem rather ultimately resolvable into the false judgments which we make than into affection or inclination; the head is first tainted, then the heart. The error, however, both of judgment and practice is really due to the corruption of the heart. When some sensible good is presented to the eye or to the mind the man judges it to be agreeable or pleasant to the sense, and so far judges right. Yet this alone would not determine his choice, because other considerations, more weighty, might keep him from it. But he dwells upon the thought till his heart is inflamed: then he chooses, and not till then. The drift and bent of his soul leaning too much toward it, he cuts off all farther consideration, and is precipitately determined by it. It is the desire, the impatience, the passion of his heart that hurries him into it. Men act against principle, driven on by a prevailing passion.(1) Either we think not at all for the time of the general principles which we hold, but suffer them to lie dormant and useless in us; or(2) if we think of them, we neglect to apply them to our own particular case, imagining ourselves to be unconcerned in them; or(3) if we do apply them, and consequently are self-condemned and sensible of it, yet we hope to repent and to be saved notwithstanding.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED OR CONTAINED IN THE PRECEPT OF THE TEXT. It must consist of two parts or offices —
1. To preserve our good dispositions.
2. To correct our bad ones. These will each of them imply two other things — a frequent examination of our own hearts, and a constant endeavour to wean our affections from this world and to fix them on another.
(D. Waterland, D.D.)
I. THE HEART IN THE BODY OF MAN IS THE CENTRE OF LIFE. As the heart is, so is our general conduct. But if the fountain is poisoned, the streams will carry death and desolation in their course. If the principle of the action be defective or vitiated, the action cannot be otherwise. "Keep thy heart with all diligence," because the state of it determines our real character; and because upon the state of it essentially depends the comfort or wretchedness of our lives. When temptations suited to the latest propensity to sin are presented — when strong inducements are offered to passion not under due control — the practice will follow the corrupt desire of the heart. Thus the evil heart will show itself, and, by its acting, prove the melancholy truth that when the heart itself is not kept, no mere professions, no outward restrictions, will be sufficient to keep us from falling. But, further, a right state of heart is essential to our own comfort and welfare. A man's happiness consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. These are things without a man, which cannot adapt themselves to his wants within. What can outward means avail in lessening the terrors of guilt in an awakened conscience, or in calming the fears of an approaching judgment? To the natural principles of evil in the heart, moreover, Satan is ever adapting his temptations and wiles. And where lies his chief hope of success? Is it not in our remissness? Whilst we sleep he is awake.
II. We proceed to offer SOME SUGGESTIONS AS TO THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS IMPORTANT DUTY MAY BE MOST EFFECTUALLY DISCHARGED.
1. The right keeping of the heart especially includes the government of our thoughts, our passions, and our temper. If, either wilfully or through neglect and inattention, we suffer our hearts to lie open to thoughts of foolishness and sin, and permit them to lodge within us, then the guilt of these thoughts becomes our own. But the due control of the passions is equally essential, if we would keep our hearts aright. As originally implanted in our nature, and kept in subserviency to reason, these were designed to be instruments of good — the elements of what was great and virtuous in human conduct. But sin has disordered them all. In the Christian, the passions are subjugated to Christ. This is an essential feature in his character.
2. But to keep the heart is also to regulate the temper. Whatever difference there may be in natural dispositions, settled depravity of temper, without any effort to correct it, can arise only from the deep and unaltered corruption of our hearts. To oppose and to destroy this natural and sinful bias is one of the great aims of the religion of the Bible; and where this has been in no measure secured it is a mournful proof that the heart has never been brought or kept under the influence of religion at all. If these things be implied as essential to the keeping the heart, how valuable and important are those means which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, will most successfully realise this great object! Amongst these means, watchfulness and prayer.
(C. Buck, M. A.)
(Prof. Elmslie.)I. EXPLAIN THE MEANING OF THIS PRECEPT. We need not, it should seem, be told that we are each of us endowed with a power of reflecting upon our own desires and affections, and with a certain invariable standard within us, by which we are enabled to judge whether these inward principles are right or wrong. Nor should we need to be told that our affections and passions are in a great measure under the influence of conscience, and of the superior calm principles, and instincts, by which it was intended they should be controlled. He is the man of worth, he only is truly so, who can hazard an appeal to the Searcher of Hearts, that he does not indulge any vicious affection within him, but makes it his constant business to purify the heart. I have only to add farther, that the great duty recommended in my text must be understood to signify that we should watch over and resist the first workings of passion, the conceptions of lust.
II. THE MOST EFFECTUAL HELPS FOR OUR DOING THIS WITH SUCCESS.
1. And here, in the first place, we are to turn our thoughts to our Creator. Frequent and serious contemplation of His perfections, and of the relation in which we stand to Him, is undoubtedly the most effectual of all means, in forming the heart to goodness.
2. The second thing I would recommend is a virtuous industry. We are formed for action; and when the powers are not employed in something worthy, they are likely enough to find employment of another sort.
3. It is of very great importance that men choose such to be their intimate familiar acquaintances as have a right temper and a just taste in life; that their daily conversation may be such as will not only not endanger innocence and virtue, but contribute to the guarding and strengthening of them. There is a mighty power in conversation, in the behaviour of our familiar acquaintances, to affect the mind, and to render us like them in temper.
4. Conversing much with the heart, observing the tendencies of the affections with care, and endeavouring to preserve always a just sense of things upon the mind, will be found of the greatest use. Taking the tendency of our desires and inclinations to task with severity, and examining the pretences under which the various gratifications of them are recommended. By such a careful attention to ourselves we shall find out the deceitfulness of sin, and those snares which prejudice conceals from the unthinking; we shall be able to resist temptations with firmness and resolution; for in truth, the success of them, where they do prevail, is in a great measure owing to carelessness and inattention.
(Jas. Duchal, D. D.)
(J. Vaughan, M.A.)1. The heart is a lamp, which the High and Holy One has entrusted to our care. Keep it well trimmed.
2. The heart is a ship. Look to the hull and the rudder, the masts, the sails, and the rigging. Have an eye to the crew, and take care what merchandise you have aboard; mind that you have plenty of ballast, and do not carry too much sail.
3. The heart is a temple. Keep it pure and undefiled.
4. The heart is a besieged city, and liable to attacks on all sides. While you defend one part, keep a good look-out on the other.
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