Keeping the Heart

by John Flavel

"Keep your heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life."
Proverbs 4:23

The next season in which special exertion is necessary to keep the heart—is when we meet with great TRIALS.
In such cases the heart is apt to be suddenly transported with pride, impatience, or other sinful passions. Many good people are guilty of hasty and very sinful conduct in such instances. We all have need to use diligently the following means to keep our hearts submissive and patient under great trials:

1. Get humble and abasing thoughts of yourself. The humble man, is ever the patient man. Pride is the source of irregular and sinful passions. A lofty spirit, will be an unyielding and peevish spirit. When we overrate ourselves—we think that we are treated unworthily, that our trials are too severe—thus we cavil and repine. Christian, you should have such thoughts of yourself as would put a stop to these murmurings. You should have lower and more humiliating views of yourself than any other one can have of you! Get humility—and you will have peace, whatever your trial is!

2. Cultivate a habit of communion with God. This will prepare you for whatever may take place. This will so sweeten your temper and calm your mind as to secure you against surprises. This will produce that inward peace which will make you superior to your trials. Habitual communion with God will afford you enjoyment, which you can never be willing to interrupt by sinful feeling. When a Christian is calm and submissive under his afflictions—probably he derives support and comfort in this way; but he who is discomposed, impatient, or fretful—shows that all is not right within—he cannot be supposed to practice communion with God.

3. Let your mind be deeply impressed with an apprehension of the evil nature of an unsubmissive and restless temper, and effects of an unsubmissive and restless temper. It grieves the Spirit of God, and induces his departure. His gracious presence and influence are enjoyed only where peace and quiet submission prevail. The indulgence of such a temper gives the adversary an advantage. Satan is an angry and discontented spirit. He finds no rest but in restless hearts. He bestirs himself when the spirits are in commotion; sometimes he fills the heart with ungrateful and rebellious thoughts; sometimes he inflames the tongue with indecent language. Again, such a temper brings great guilt upon the conscience, unfits the soul for any duty, and dishonors the Christian name. O keep your heart, and let the power and excellence of your religion be chiefly manifested when you are brought into the greatest straits.

4. Consider how desirable it is for a Christian to overcome his evil propensities. How much more present happiness it affords; how much better it is in every respect to mortify and subdue unholy feelings, than to give way to them. When upon your deathbed you come calmly to review your life, how comfortable will it be to reflect on the conquest which you have made over the depraved feelings of your heart. It was a memorable saying of Valentinian the emperor, when he was about to die: "Among all my conquests, there is but one that now comforts me." Being asked what that eras, he answered, "I have overcome my worst enemy—my own sinful heart!"

5. Shame yourself, by contemplating the character of those who have been most eminent for meekness and submission. Above all, compare your temper with the Spirit of Christ. "Learn of me," says he, "for I am meek and lowly." It is said of Calvin and Ursin, though both of irascible natures, that they had so imbibed and cultivated the meekness of Christ as not to utter an unfitting word under the greatest provocations. And even many of the heathens have manifested great moderation and forbearance under their severest afflictions. Is it not a shame and a reproach that you should be outdone by them?

6. Avoid everything which is calculated to irritate your feelings. It is true spiritual valor to keep as far as we can out of sin's way. If you can but avoid the excitements to impetuous and rebellious feelings, or check them in their first beginnings, you will have but little to fear. The first workings of common sins are comparatively weak, they gain their strength by degrees; but in times of trial the motions of sin are strongest at first, the unsubdued temper breaks out suddenly and violently. But if you resolutely withstand it at first—it will yield and give you the victory!