Keeping the Heart
by John Flavel
"Keep your heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life."
When the child of God draws near to eternity, the adversary makes his last
effort; and as he cannot win the soul from God, as he cannot dissolve the
bond which unites the soul to Christ—his great design is to awaken fears of
death, to fill the mind with aversion and horror at the thoughts of
dissolution from the body. Hence, what shrinking from a separation, what
fear to grasp death's cold hand, and unwillingness to depart—may sometimes
be observed in the people of God. But we ought to die, as well as
The last season which I shall mention, in which the heart must be kept with
all diligence—is when we are warned by SICKNESS that our death is at hand.
I shall offer several considerations calculated to help
the people of God in time of sickness, to keep their hearts loose from all
earthly objects, and cheerfully willing to die:
1. Death is harmless to the people of God.
Death's arrows have no sting in them. Why then are you afraid that your
sickness may be unto death? If you were to die in your sins; if death were
to reign over you as a tyrant, to feed upon you as a lion does upon his
prey; if death to you were to be the precursor of hell—then you might
reasonably startle and shrink back from it with horror and dismay! But if
your sins are blotted out; if Christ has vanquished death in your behalf, so
that you have nothing to encounter but bodily pain, and possibly not even
that; if death will be to you the harbinger of heaven—why should you be
afraid? Why not bid death welcome? Death cannot hurt you! It is easy and
harmless; it is like putting off your clothes, of taking rest.
2. It may keep your heart from shrinking back, to
consider that death is necessary to fit you for the full enjoyment of God.
Whether you are willing to die or not, there certainly is no other way to
complete the happiness of your soul. Death must do you the kind office to
remove this veil of flesh, this carnal life which separates you from God,
before you can see and enjoy him fully. "While we are at home in the body,
we are absent from the Lord." And who would not be willing to die for the
perfect enjoyment of God? Methinks one would look and sigh, like a prisoner,
through the grates of this mortality: "O that I had wings like a dove—then I
would fly away and be at rest!" Indeed most men need patience to die; but a
saint, who understands what death will introduce him to, rather needs
patience to live. On his deathbed he should often look out and listen to his
Lord's coming; and when he perceives his death to be near, he should say,
"The voice of my Beloved! Behold He comes leaping over the mountains,
skipping over the hills!"
3. Consider that the happiness of heaven commences
immediately after death. That happiness will not be deferred
until the resurrection; but as soon as death has passed upon you, your soul
will be swallowed up in bliss. When you have once loosed from this earthly
shore, you shall be quickly wafted to the shore of a glorious eternity. And
can you not say—I desire to die, and to be with Christ? Did the soul and
body die together, or did they sleep until the resurrection, as some have
fancied, it would have been folly for Paul to desire death for the enjoyment
of Christ; because he would have enjoyed more in the body than he could have
enjoyed out of it.
The Scripture speaks of but two ways in which the soul
can properly live: that is, by faith and vision. These two comprehend its
present and future existence. Now, if when faith fails, and sight should not
immediately follow—what would become of the soul? But the truth on this
subject is clearly revealed in Scripture. See Luke 23: 3; John 14: 3, etc.
What a blessed change then, will death make in your condition! Rouse up,
dying saint, and rejoice; let death do his work, that the angels may conduct
your soul to the world of light.
4. It may increase your willingness to die, to reflect
that by death God often removes his people out of the way of great troubles
and temptations. When some extraordinary calamity is coming upon
the world, God sometimes removes his saints out of the way of the evil. Thus
Methuselah died the year before the flood; Augustine died a little before
the sacking of Hippo. Pareus died just before the taking of Heidelburg.
Luther observes that all the apostles died before the destruction of
Jerusalem; and Luther himself died before the wars broke out in Germany. How
it may be that by death you will escape some grievous trial, which you
could not and need not endure. But if no extraordinary trouble
would come upon you in case your life were prolonged—yet God desires by
death, to relieve you from innumerable evils and burdens which are
inseparable from the present earthly state. Thus you will be delivered from
indwelling sin, which is the greatest trouble; from all temptations from
whatever source; from bodily pains and failing; and from all the afflictions
and sorrows of this life. The days of your mourning will be ended, and God
Himself will wipe away all tears from your eyes. Why then should you not
hasten to die?
5. If you still linger, like Lot in Sodom, what are your
pleas and pretenses for a longer life? Why are you unwilling to
die? Are you concerned for the welfare of your relations? If so, are you
anxious for their temporal support? Then let the word of God satisfy you:
"Leave your fatherless children to me—I will keep them alive, and let your
widows trust in me." Luther says, in his last will, "Lord, you have given me
a wife and children, I have nothing to leave them—but I commit them unto
you. O Father of the fatherless, and Judge of widows—nourish, keep and teach
But are you concerned for the spiritual welfare of your
relations? Remember that you cannot convert them, even if you should
live. Remember that God can make your prayers and counsels effectual when
you are dead.
Perhaps you desire to serve God longer in this world. But
if he has nothing further for you to do here, why not say with David, "Here
am I—let him do what seems good to him." He is calling you to higher
service in heaven, and can accomplish by other hands what you desire to do
further here on earth. Do you feel too imperfect to go to heaven? Consider
that you must be imperfect until you die; your sanctification cannot be
complete until you get to heaven.
'But,' you say, 'I lack assurance; if I had that, I could
die easily.' Consider, then, that a hearty willingness to leave all the
world to be freed from sin, and to be with God, is the direct way to that
desired assurance; no carnal person was ever willing to die upon this
Thus I have shown how the people of God, in the most
difficult seasons—may keep their hearts with all diligence.
I now proceed to improve and APPLY the subject.