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John Flavel :: I. Use of Information - To Hypocrites and Formal Professors

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A Saint Indeed by John Flavel

I. Use of Information - To Hypocrites and Formal Professors


You have heard, that the keeping of the heart is the great work of a Christian, in which the very soul and life of religion consists, and without which all other duties are of no value with God; hence then I shall infer, to the consternation of hypocrites, and formal professors,

1. That the pains and labours which many persons have taken in religion, is but lost labour and pains to no purpose, such as will never turn to account.

Many great services have been performed, many glorious works are wrought by men, which yet are utterly rejected by God, and shall never stand upon record in order to an eternal acceptation, because they took no heed to keep their hearts with God in those duties: this is that fatal rock, upon which thousands of vain professors have split themselves eternally; they are curious about the externals of religion, but regardless of their hearts. O how many hours have some professors spent in hearing, praying, reading, conferring! and yet, as to the main end of religion, as good they had sat still and done nothing; for all this signifies nothing, the great work, I mean heart work, being all the while neglected. Tell me, thou vain professor, when didst thou shed a tear for the deadness, hardness, unbelief, or earthliness of thy heart? Thinkest thou, such an easy religion can save thee? If so, we may invert Christ’s words, and say, Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to life, and many there be that go in thereat. Hear me, thou self deluding hypocrite, thou that hast put off God with heartless duties, thou that hast acted in religion as if thou hadst been blessing an idol, that could not search and discover thy heart; thou that hast offered to God but the skin of the sacrifice, not the marrow, fat, and inwards of it; how wilt thou abide the coming of the Lord? How wilt thou hold up thy head before him, when he shall say. O thou dissembling false-hearted man! how couldst thou profess religion? With what face couldst thou so often tell me that thou lovedst me, when thou knewest all the while in thine own conscience, that thine heart was not with me? O tremble to think what a fearful judgment it is to be given over to a heedless and careless heart; and then to have religious duties, instead of a rattle, to quiet and still the conscience!

2. Hence I also infer, for the humiliation even of upright hearts, That unless the people of God spend more time and pains about their hearts than generally and ordinarily they do, they are never like to do God much service, or be the owners of much comfort in this world.

I may say of that Christian that is remiss and careless in keeping his heart, as Jacob said of Reuben, Thou shalt not excel. It grieves me to see how many Christians there are that go up and down dejected and complaining, that live live at a poor low rate, both of service and comfort; and how can they expect it should be otherwise, as long as they live at such a careless rate? O how little of their time is spent in the closet, in searching, humbling, and quickening their hearts!

You say your hearts are dead; and do you wonder they are so, as long as you keep them not with the fountain of life? If your bodies had been dieted as your souls have been, they would have been dead too; never expect better hearts, till you take more pains with them: Qui fugit molam, fugit farinam; he that will not have the sweat, must not expect the sweet of religion.

O Christians! I fear your zeal and strength have run in the wrong channel; I fear most of us may take up the church’s complaint, Songs 1:6, They have made me the keeper of the vineyards, but mine own vineyard have I not kept. Two things have eaten up the time and strength of the professors of this generation, and sadly diverted them from heart work: 1. fruitless controversies started by Satan, I doubt not to this very purpose, to take us off from practical godliness, to make us puzzle our heads, when we should be searching our hearts. O how little have we minded that of the apostle, Hebrews 13:9, It is a good thing, that the heart be established with grace, and not with meats; that is, with disputes and controversies about meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.

O how much better is it to see men live exactly, than to hear them dispute subtilly! These unfruitful questions, how have they rended the churches, wasted time and spirits, and called Christians off from their main business, from looking to their own vineyard? What think ye, sirs? Had it not been better if the questions agitated among the people of God of late days, had been such as these? How shall a man discern the special from the common operations of the Spirit? How may a soul discern its first declinings from God? How may a backsliding Christian recover his first love? How may the heart be preserved from unseasonable thoughts in duty? How may a bosom-sin be discovered and mortified?…Would not this have tended more to the credit of religion and comfort of your soul? O it is time to repent and be ashamed of this folly! When I read what Suarez, a papist, said, who wrote many tomes of disputations, that he prized the time he set apart for the searching and examining of his heart, in reference to God, above all the time that ever he spent in other studies; I am ashamed to find the professors of this age yet insensible of their folly. Shall the conscience of a Suarez feel a relenting pang for strength and time so ill employed, and shall not yours? This it is your ministers long since warned you of; your spiritual nurses were afraid of the rickets, when they saw your heads only to grow, and your hearts to wither. O when will God beat our swords into ploughshares! I mean, our disputes and contentions, into practical Godliness. 2. Another cause of neglecting our hearts hath been earthly incumbrances; the heads and hearts of many have been filled with such a crowd and noise of worldly business, that they have sadly and sensibly declined and withered in their zeal, love, and delight in God; in their heavenly serious and profitable way of conversing with man.

O how hath this wilderness entangled us! our discourses and conferences, nay, our very prayers and duties, have a tang of it: we have had so much work without doors, that we have been able to do but little within. It was the sad complaint of an holy one, `O, saith he, it is sad to think how many precious opportunities I have lost, how many sweet motions and admonitions of the Spirit I have passed over unfruitfully, and made the Lord to speak in vain; in the secret illapses of his Spirit the Lord hath called upon me, but my worldly thoughts did still lodge within me, and there was no place in my heart for such calls of God.' Surely there is a way of enjoying God, even in our worldly employments; God would never have put us upon them to our loss; Enoch walked with God, and begat sons and daughters, Genesis 5:22. He walked with God, but did not retire and separate himself from the things of this life: and the angels, that are employed by Christ in the things of this world (for the spirit of the living creatures is in the wheels) they are finite creatures, and cannot be in a twofold Ubi at one time; yet they lose nothing of the beatifical vision, all the time of their administration; for, Matthew 18:10. their angels (even whilst they are employed for them) behold the face of their Father which is in heaven. We need not lose our visions by our employments, if the fault were not our own. Alas! that ever Christians, who stand at the door of eternity, and have more work upon their hands than this poor moment of interposing time is sufficient for, should yet be filling our heads and hearts with trifles.

3. Hence also I infer, for the awakening of all, That if the keeping of the heart be the great work of a Christian, then there are but few real Christians in the world.

Indeed if every one that hath learned the dialect of Christianity, and can talk like a saint; if every one that hath gifts and parts, and by the common assisting presence of the spirit, can preach, pray or discourse like a Christian; in a word, if such as associate themselves with the people of God, and delight in ordinances, might pass for Christians, the number then is great.

But, alas! to what a small number will they shrink, if you judge them by this rule! how few are there that make conscience of keeping their hearts, watching their thoughts, judging their ends…O there be but few closet men among professors! it is far easier for men to be reconciled to any duties in religion, than to these: the profane part of the world will not so much as touch with the outside of religious duties, much less to this; and for the hypocrite, though he be polite and curious about those externals, yet you can never persuade him to this inward work, this difficult work: to which there is no inducement by human applause; this work, that would quickly discover what hypocrites care not to know; so that by a general consent, this heart work is left to the hands of a few secret ones, and I tremble to think in how few hands it is.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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