Keeping the Heart
by John Flavel
"Keep your heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life."
The heart of man is his worst part before it is regenerated—and the
best afterward. It is the seat of principles, and the fountain of
actions. The eye of God is fixed upon it—and the eye of the Christian ought
to be principally fixed upon it.
The greatest difficulty in conversion—is to win
the heart to God. The greatest difficulty after conversion—is to
keep the heart with God. Here lies the very force and stress of
religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and
the gate of heaven a strait gate. Direction and help in this great
work, are the scope of the text: wherein we have,
An EXHORTATION, "Keep your heart with all
In the exhortation I shall consider,
First, The matter of the duty.
Secondly, The manner of performing it.
The MATTER of the duty. Keep your heart. By
heart, in a metaphor, the Scripture sometimes represents some particular
noble faculty of the soul. In Rom. 1:21, it is put for the understanding;
their foolish heart, that is, their foolish understanding was darkened.
Psalm 119:11, it is put for the memory; "Your word have I hid in my
heart:" and 1 John 3:10, it is put for the conscience, which includes
both the light of the understanding and the recognitions of the memory; if
our heart condemns us, that is, if our conscience, whose proper office it is
But in the text we are to take it more generally, for
the whole soul, or inner man. What the heart is to
the body—that the soul is to the man. What health is to the heart—that
holiness is to the soul. The state of the whole body depends upon the
soundness and vigor of the heart—and the everlasting state of the whole man
upon the good or ill condition of the soul.
By keeping the heart, we mean the diligent and constant
use of all holy means to preserve the soul from sin, and maintaining its
sweet and free communion with God. I say constant, for the reason added
in the text extends the duty to all the states and conditions of a
Christian's life, and makes it binding always. If the heart must be kept,
because out of it are the issues of life, then as long as these issues of
life do flow out of it, we are obliged to keep it.
Lavater on the text will have the word taken from a
besieged garrison, beset by many enemies without, and in danger of being
betrayed by treacherous citizens within, in which danger the soldiers, upon
pain of death, are commanded to watch; and though the expression, Keep your
heart, seems to put it upon us as our work, yet it does not imply a
sufficiency in us to do it. We are as able to stop the sun in its course,
or to make the rivers run backward—as by our own will and power to rule and
order our hearts. We may as well be our own saviors as our own
keepers; and yet Solomon speaks properly enough when he says, "Keep your
heart," because the duty is ours, though the power is of God;
what power we have depends upon the exciting and assisting strength of
Christ. Grace within us is beholden to grace outside us.
"Without me you can do nothing." So much for the matter of the duty.
The MANNER of performing it, is with all diligence.
The Hebrew is very emphatic; keep with all keeping, or, "keep,
keep"—set double guards. This vehemence of expression with which the duty is
urged, plainly implies how difficult it is to keep our hearts, how
dangerous to neglect them!
The MOTIVE to this duty is very forcible and
weighty: "For out of the heart are the issues of life." That is, the heart
is the source of all vital operations; it is the spring and original of both
good and evil, as the spring in a watch that sets all the wheels in motion.
The heart is the treasury, the hand and tongue but the shops; what is in
these, comes from that; the hand and tongue always begin where the heart
ends. The heart contrives, and the members execute: "a good man, out of the
good treasure of his heart, brings forth that which is good; and an evil
man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth that which is evil:
for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." So then, if the heart
errors in its work, these must miscarry in theirs; for heart errors are like
the errors of the first concoction, which cannot be rectified afterward; or
like the misplacing and inverting of the stamps and letters in the press,
which must cause so many errata in all the copies that are printed. O then
how important a duty is that which is contained in the following.
The keeping and right managing of the heart in every
condition, is one great business of a Christian's life.
What the philosopher says of waters, is as properly
applicable to hearts; it is hard to keep them within any bounds. God has set
limits to our hearts, yet how frequently do they transgress not only the
bounds of grace and religion, but even of reason and common honesty? This is
that which affords the Christian matter of labor and watchfulness, to his
dying day. It is not the cleaning of the hand that makes the Christian, for
many a hypocrite can show as fair a hand as he; but the purifying watching,
and right ordering of the heart! This is the thing that provokes so many sad
complaints and costs so many deep groans and tears. It was the pride of
Hezekiah's heart that made him lie in the dust, mourning before the Lord. It
was the fear of hypocrisy's invading the heart that made David cry, "Let my
heart be sound in your statutes, that I be not ashamed." It was the sad
experience he had of the divisions and distractions of his own heart in the
service of God, that made him pour out the prayer, "Unite my heart to fear
The method in which I propose to improve the proposition
First, I shall inquire what the keeping of the
heart supposes and imports.
Secondly, Assign diverse reasons why Christians
must make this a leading business of their lives.
Thirdly, Point out those seasons which especially
call for this diligence in keeping the heart.
Fourthly, Apply the whole.